Friday, January 30, 2009

How does the front porch look?

This article was brought to my attention by a loyal reader. It was a story written in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1991 regarding Debbie Yow and her time as athletic director at St. Louis. The article starts with this passage:

There's a lot about Debbie Yow, 40, that's harder to explain. Since becoming athletic director last August, she has been embroiled in a number of publicized controversies. Some critics have portrayed her as everything from a hard-bitten dragon lady whose zealous management style caused a rift with veteran basketball coach Rich Grawer. Others see her as an overly sensitive little girl who didn't fight hard enough to get the Billikens into the National Invitation Tournament.

Her management style caused a rift with the veteran men's basketball coach? You don't say!

Yow went on to site a common lament of women in a prominent position that if you are tough and assertive you are labeled a "bitch" and that men who are likewise aggressive and tough are praised. That is sometimes true but it is also true that in some cases male managers who are tough and assertive are also just assholes who can't get along with others. Being a manager of a large organization is about much more than being tough and assertive and sometimes it can actually be counterproductive to be either when the issue is more tied into your ego than what is good for the overall organization. Anyone who is good at being a leader knows that irritating people for no good reason is hardly a wise course of action and should have the introspection to know being abrasive isn't an asset. At some point when you demonstrate a talent for rubbing people the wrong way your problems can't be chalked up to chauvinism, old boy networks, double standards or glass ceilings and it is a cheap cop out to invoke those old bromides.

The last paragraph almost made me spit my coffee out.

"Mostly I'm interested in being the best athletic department we can be with the best group of managers involved," she said. "I want to integrate the athletic program with the rest of the academic community - because, and I quote my idol, Dean Smith (North Carolina basketball coach), an athletic department is like the front porch of a house. If a person likes what he or she sees on the outside, they're usually interested in coming inside."

You can read the entire article here.

I'm not even going to go delve into the issue that someone who loudly and pathetically claims to be a "Terp" these days thinks Dean Smith is her idol. My only question is this: How does your porch look these days, Doctor Debbie?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reporting the news or making the news?

Let's be frank, the Baltimore Sun isn't exactly a top notch newspaper, but you would think impartiality and accuracy would be something they would strive to achieve. Apparently the Sun has decided to just be a mouthpiece for the athletic department. In an article today the Sun reported comments by former Terrapin great and current University board member Tom McMillen that the public bickering between the head coach and the athletic department needed to stop. In that article the Sun mentioned this quote from Gary Williams:

Williams said he didn't understand why athletic director Debbie Yow wasn't handling the matter instead of Worthington, who he said "has never won a national championship" as Williams did in 2002.

"Why doesn't the athletic director do that? Does that appear strange?" he said.

The Sun followed up that by reporting that Yow was out of town for the funeral of her sister. Really? That is interesting because Adi Joseph of the Diamondback was told that Yow was in her office yesterday. So the Sun is trying some journalistic slight of hand by mentioning she is out of town (today) as a counter for why she was delegating this boondoggle to a totally unqualified subordinate even though she was in her office yesterday when the proverbial shit hit the fan. This kind of reporting is worse than stupid and lazy it is downright misleading. It is disappointing for the Sun to try such a fallacious stunt to fan the flames of a controversy that benefits no one. All this is beside the point of who authorized Kathy Worthington to contact the press (no surprise the Baltimore Sun) to refute allegations that Gary Williams never even made. There is some question now as to whether the athletic department was told directly not to respond to Williams' comments regarding Evans, Clark and Gilchrist. If that turns out to be true then it is essential that the University take drastic action. As for Debbie Yow the rumors are that her sister's funeral has not stopped her from contacting high level boosters at the University in an attempt to raise money to buyout and terminate Gary Williams' coaching contract.

I support what Tom McMillen said in the story about this needing to stop but a mere cease fire isn't going to solve anything. It is clear that College Park isn't big enough for both Gary Williams and Debbie Yow. While Williams comments were ill advised and a little too self pitying they were made in the heat of the moment after a crushing loss while he was being circled by reporters hoping for such an outburst. The comments of Kathy Worthington have only succeeded in turning this trivial and worthless dispute into a national soap opera. Trying to guess what Worthington or anyone else at the athletic department hoped to achieve by making this an even bigger story while releasing internal University documents in a pathetic bureaucratic attempt to shift blame is a futile exercise. While Williams should focus his time and energy on improving his roster instead of making excuses in the press the athletic department has no business engaging the media on its own accord and lighting a fuse to a bomb that cannot possibly result in anything good for the University, athletic department or basketball program.

The time is coming when Maryland will have to make a tough decision regarding this unsustainable internal conflict. Allowing Debbie Yow and her cronies in the athletic department to "win" this battle would only accomplish the estrangement of the single most important icon at the University of Maryland in at least the last thirty years. Once Yow is gone I have a feeling that Williams will be much more amenable to stepping aside and allowing a transition to a new head coach and hopefully a renaissance of Maryland basketball.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

In better news

2009 recruit and Maryland commit PF Jordan Williams scored 50 points and grabbed 25 rebounds the other night against rival Crosby even though his team lost 73-70. So we have that going for us. Now back to the buffoonery.

Terps collapse again, sniping ensues

I'll write briefly about the loss to Boston College but it isn't even the most important thing that happened with the basketball program last night. The war of words between Gary Williams and the athletic department might have gone nuclear last night and freshman Jin Soo Kim was declared ineligible by the NCAA. In short things are going to hell in a hand basket both on and off the court.

This game was similar to the Miami loss in the the Terps went out to a big lead in the first half and with three minutes left were ahead by 16 points only to squander that lead in the first ten minutes of the 2nd half. Maryland had a chance to extend the lead with Tyrese Rice on the bench with three fouls but still had an eleven point lead at the half. From three minutes to go in the half to the point where the Eagles went ahead 55-54 Maryland was outscored 33-16. Instead of the 3-point barrage Miami used to get back into the game the Eagles pounded the ball inside and used their flex offense to get the ball to their guards near the basket. Boston College pounded Maryland on the glass in the 2nd half and stopped many of the second chance points the Terps got in the 1st half. They also did a nice job of shutting down Maryland's transition offense. When the Terps can't run they have a very hard time scoring and the offense shriveled in the 2nd half. Even though Adrian Bowie dismissed conditioning as a factor in the 2nd half it was obvious that the Terps were a step late on defense and rebounding in the 2nd half while their jump shots were not falling either. It is unusual that a team's defense and jump shooting both disappear if fatigue isn't a factor. Note that Bowie (19 minutes), Milbourne (18 minutes) and Vasquez (17 minutes) all played the lion share of the first half and their combined shooting went from 57% (12/21) in the first half to 30% (7/23) in the second half. If fatigue didn't play a roll in the collapse then they should all see a sports psychiatrist if they give up when their jump shots are not falling as Bowie suggested.

Interesting to note that Rice was hardly a factor all night and did virtually noting until getting a bunch of garbage points late in the game on free throws. It was Josh Southern (who will almost certainly make my all-punk team this year with his chippy, borderline dirty play), Rakim Sanders, Corey Raji and Reggie Jackson who all lead the BC surge in the 2nd half. It was a truly balanced attack. In contrast Maryland got decent games from Vasquez and Milbourne and not much else from the rest of the team. Bowie only scored 4 points in the 2nd half and continues to make some bad decisions with the ball on offense. He has shown that he can't take the scoring load on his shoulders yet. Eric Hayes and Dave Neal were awful again. The pair went 3/16 from the floor including 0/7 from 3-point range and scored a grand total of 7 points in 52 minutes of play. That lack of production killed Maryland and if either had a halfway decent game the Terps would have probably pulled this one out. I think it might be time for Sean Mosley to slide into the starting spot and have Hayes go to the bench. Mosley has his flaws but he is a much better scorer and rebounder than Hayes will ever be, even if you sacrifice some ball handling with the move. The front line behind Dave Neal is so bad that it is hard to say who would replace him. With Kim off the table due to the NCAA determination and with Goins' and Burney's uncertain status there are few options. Braxton Dupree has regressed so badly he offers next to nothing on either end of the court.

Regardless of what is done there needs to be some shakeups if Maryland is going to rebound and win more than a couple of games the rest of the season.

The bigger news is the handgrenades that Gary Williams and the athletic department are now tossing at each other. It seems obvious to me that if you look at the actual transcript of what Williams said regarding Gus Gilchrist and Tyree Evans that the media and athletic department went with their own interpretation of what they thought he said instead of evaluating his actual words. I wouldn't put it past Williams to make ambiguous comments that could be interpreted as a shot at his nemesis and it could be possible that Williams hoped the athletic department would rise to the bait as they did and respond in public. Either way he never actually assigned any blame to the University for the absence of Evans or Gilchrist. The comments of assistant athletic director Kathy Worthington were embarrassing and wholly unnecessary. All those comments accomplished was to make the athletic department look amateurish and clueless. The whole thing is a black eye for the University and the basketball program. Regardless of who you side with in this fracas, and I would chose Gary over Yow every time, this kind of negative publicity is not going to make your search for the next head coach any easier. What established coach would want to enter into such a dysfunctional situation?

At this point the ideal situation would be that the incompetent leadership in the athletic department are swept out and Williams is given a prominent role in picking his successor after he steps down at the end of this season. Williams would never agree to stepping down if Yow would be in charge of naming his replacement. Knowing his personality it would be an anathema for him. Williams prominent role in the University and his ability in fund raising is something Maryland cannot risk given the difficult economic times. The last thing Maryland would want is another prominent head coach estranged from the University for over 20 years like Lefty Driesell was until Gary Williams reached out to him. The lack of leadership at the University these days is such that I doubt anyone will have the fortitude to force some resolution of this crisis one way or another.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Williams: I'm not going anywhere

Steve Yanda reported some comments made by coach Gary Williams regarding the state of the team in the Terrapin Insider on the Washington Post website. It was probably more the subtext of what Williams said that was important than the substance. Williams mentioned that three players who would be on the team this season, Shane Clark, Gus Gilchrist and Tyree Evans are not and that he isn't to blame for that. Some of that is shot at athletic director Debbie Yow and some of it is Williams trying to muddy the water in regards to his recent recruiting failures.

Both a former assistant and the administration failed Clark when he was rejected by the school at the start of classes in 2005. Clark is averaging 4.2 points and 3.2 rebounds as a 17 minute per game reserve. With the play of Landon Milbourne it is unlikely that Clark would be a starter but he may be a decent reserve.

The shady trappings of how Gilchrist ended up in South Florida makes Williams' comments about how it wasn't his call to see Gilchrist go seems odd given that Williams hates the kind of parasites that were part of Gilchrist's circle. There is no question that Gilchrist would make this team significantly better. For South Florida in the last few weeks he is averaging 14.2 points and 5 rebounds and would instantly be Maryland's best post player if he was on the roster. Gilchrist isn't a superstar but his loss significantly hurt the team this year.

Tyree Evans has been playing at Kent State since late December and is averaging 12.3 points per game and shooting 38.8% from 3-point range. Evans is a bit of a chucker and his production has declined recently but he would be the best 3-point shooter on Maryland at 38.8%. Going into the season the backcourt was considered a strength of this team but recent games have to call that into question. The struggles of Vasquez, Eric Hayes, Cliff Tucker and Sean Mosley may demand a reassessment of that assumption. Adrian Bowie has been better than expected but none of the other guards have exceeded expectations. The idea that Evans wouldn't be able to help this group, which was popular a month ago, doesn't seem so accurate these days. Unless a guard starts shooting at a much better pace Evans 3-point ability might have been useful.

The discussion also included references to 2009 recruits Jordan Williams and James Padgett whom Gary Williams referred to as "top 50" recruits. What he probably meant to say was that both are in the top 50 players at their position because neither is a top 50 player overall. Williams said he looked forward to Padgett and Williams arriving next fall. The translation for all of you is that Gary Williams has no intention of going anywhere and that he firmly intends to be the head coach at the start of the 2009-10 season. He won't step aside for a lower buyout that the money left on his contract. There is no ability to come up with the money to buy out Williams contract at the University and there are no big money boosters that will write that check. As long as Gary Williams is watching Baltimore Ravens games in Steve Biscotti's owners box that won't change. The talk about VCU's Anthony Grant coming to College Park after the end of the season is pure fantasy. Williams knows he still has the backing of enough wealthy boosters to hold out for at least another NIT season and his chesty comments illustrate he is more secure than many hoi polloi fans think.

Maryland fans better settle in because the dysfunctional situation with the athletic director and head coach is going to continue for some time to come. It has now boiled down to a test of wills between those two figures and anyone who knows Gary Williams would guess the only way he would leave Comcast Center is horizontal.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Duke crushes Terps

I'm sure everyone was irritated by the constant ESPN mongering of the historic nature of Maryland's loss to Duke on Saturday, even though Reece Davis kept on saying it was the worst loss in the school's history though it wasn't true. But the truth hardly holds back the crew on ESPN these days and even good basketball minds like Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis have been corrupted by the superficiality of the four letter network.

For myself I felt like the 109-75 loss to North Carolina three years ago was much worse even if the margin was smaller, maybe because I was there to see it with my own eyes. Even though the talking heads on ESPN practically went orgasmic over Duke's easy dismantling of Maryland I didn't think the Blue Devils played a stellar game. They shot 42.5% for the game, hardly impressive, and only made 57% of their free throws. With Maryland shooting 28% from the floor and helpless to defend the glass to Duke's mediocre big men it didn't require impressive play to win by a large margin. Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith didn't play all that well(combined 9/28 from the floor). The absolutely smothering defense is what propelled Duke to such a large victory. Prior to the 2005 loss to UNC the Tarheels had scored 100 points in two consecutive games (105 against Cleveland State and 107 against William & Mary) and the 109 surrendered by Maryland was the fifth game that season where they scored over 100. The Tarheels shot 58%, 50% from 3-point range, out rebounded Maryland by 20 and had 27 assists. Now that was complete domination in every area. It is little consolation when you are comparing levels of humiliation, like comparing Dunkirk to Stalingrad. They are both bad the only question is did you recover from it.

The analysis of the game is fairly straightforward. If you can't put the ball in the basket it doesn't matter what else you do. Duke's defense is phenomenal for the level of athletes they have and they play the best position and help defense in the ACC by a wide margin. I was surprised that Maryland looked so unprepared for the Duke pressure in the half court. Adrian Bowie, Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez were all forced out to almost half court by Duke's guards. It took away many of the high screens the Terps tried to run and without a credible post player they were unable to exploit the interior against Duke. Brian Zoubek actually looked like a decent player against Dave Neal who was again over matched and incapable of rebounding effectively. Mike Krzyzewski, who tried soften the humiliation he just give Gary Williams after the game, identified the weakness of Maryland (unlike Leonard Hamilton and Frank Haith) and ruthlessly exploited them. He attacked Neal in the post and exploited Eric Hayes' inability to recover when he peels off to help in the post. He knew that Williams would try to use Bowie's ability to penetrate but used the sophomore's inexperience and questionable decisions against him by attacking him in the half court with relentless pressure. As with most opponents this season whenever Vasquez drives to the lane he had his players swarm to him and defeat his ability to score in the lane or find open teammates. The spacing on offense was horrendous and Maryland was on its heels from the beginning.

Much was made about Vasquez's ill conceived comments regarding the fact that he enjoyed playing at Cameron and his teammates should probably thank him because they escaped the criticism they deserved. Vasquez didn't even take a shot until Maryland was already down 9 points four minutes into the game. In that span Bowie, Neal and Hayes went 0/4 from the floor with 4 turnovers. He scored two baskets in the next three minutes to cut Duke's lead to six with 13 minutes left in the half but never scored again and sat out a large part of the 2nd half. It seems to me that much of Vasquez's passion is gone. I'm not trying to be an armchair psychologist but it seems to me the heckling incident has gone a long way in destroying his enjoyment of the game. He looks listless and detached in the last four games and unless he gets some of his joy in playing the game back Maryland has little chance to be competitive the rest of the year. This has to be the worst slump of his career and he has been largely ineffective in the last few weeks.

While Maryland has shown they can be competitive even when not playing well, the Duke loss notwithstanding, they only have wins over two teams that are a combined 1-10 in the ACC. This week home games against middle of the pack ACC teams in Boston College and Miami will go a long way in determining where this team is going. Right now the abyss is starting them in the face.

The lone positive is that even with the game well out of hand many of the players were still playing hard at the end of the game. Landon Milbourne deserves special recognition as a tireless worker who gives a yeoman effort every time out on the floor. True, most of his 19 points came in garbage time but he sets a good example for his teammates. I think Gary Williams needs to shake things up a little in the front court. The assumption going into the season was that the guard position was a strength but that has not proven to be the case so far. The three guard sets only work well when the players are all versatile and able to knock down perimeter shots. Unfortunately many of Maryland's guards are unable to consistently hit 3-point shots or get themselves open for good looks. It may be time to try out a more conventional lineup with perhaps Jin Soo Kim or even Steve Goins playing an inside role and letting Milbourne float around the lane and allow his athleticism to shine. I doubt Williams will get that radical but there needs to be some shakeups with the offense so dreadful.

I would have to assume that most fans realized Maryland was unlikely to win at Cameron so I am a little puzzled there is so much hand wringing after this loss. I guess the margin is what made everyone lose their minds. To me getting blown out by Duke isn't a measure of how far Maryland has fallen off the college basketball map. A bigger indicator of how far Maryland has declined is the regular losses to mediocre programs like Miami and Virginia Tech, not to mention the American, Ohio and Morgan State upsets.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

ACC Notes

The last unbeaten team in the ACC fell last night as Virginia Tech upset the top ranked Demon Deacons in Winston Salem. As with the upset of North Carolina by Boston College it probably speaks more to the flaws of Wake Forest than the strength of Virginia Tech which is little better than the 7th or 8th best team in the league at the moment. It is obvious that Wake Forest's weak non-conference slate didn't give this young group the kinds of tests they needed before conference play. In some ways the game was a fluke as Virginia Tech shot 37 free throws in a conference road game, without which they wouldn't have been able to pull off the upset. Wake Forest may be very talented but they are inexperienced and seem to lack a well formed identity. They have a collection of wing players who can play both inside and outside but often times try to do too much themselves and marginalize the good guard play from Jeff Teague. They were probably looking ahead to Duke and when presented with a chippy opponent who forced them to play in the half court they looked very ordinary. Wake is still the third best team in the ACC but they hardly deserved to be the top ranked team in the land.

Greivis Vasquez gets to travel to Duke for perhaps the last time in his career on Saturday. It remains to be seen if the junior will return to Maryland or opt for a professional career, either here or overseas, but the recent funk the junior has been in certainly isn't helping his NBA prospects. A guard like Vasquez could easily play in some of the better European leagues and make a hefty six figure salary so it isn't NBA or bust for him as it is for some American players. Cameron has been a fairly cozy place for Vasquez even though the overrate "Crazies" try to heckle him into playing poorly. To the contrary Vasquez usually has one of his best games of the season when he travels to Duke. In two games he has averaged 19 points, 8.5 rebounds and 9.5 assists (almost a triple double) and shot 53% from the floor. Don't be surprised if Vasquez has one of his best games of the season against Duke even if it may not be enough to pull out a win.

I think Duke is probably the best matchup out of the top four teams for Maryland. The Blue Devils are also undersized and guard oriented as are the Terps. Duke made good use of Maryland's sloppy ball handling last season and forced 41 turnovers in their two wins. The Terps are doing a much better job taking care of the ball this season and emergence of Adrian Bowie and Landon Milbourne could give Duke a look that they didn't see last year. Bowie will test the Blue Devil's on ball defense more than any guard they have faced to date this season. How and with whom the Terps defend Gerald Henderson and Kyle Singler will likely determine if Maryland has any shot at an upset. It is worth noting that N.C. State had a halftime lead at Cameron before succumbing due to their terrible guard play.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Terps win vital home game

This wasn't quite a "must win" game because Maryland has a bunch of games they must win to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. A "must win" game would be like the game at Virginia last season that Maryland (sitting at 8-7) lost in embarrassing fashion. The Terps pulled out the win after an excellent 1st half and a very shaky 2nd half, 84-78. The offense looked better than it has in an ACC game so far and the efficiency number, 119.0, is vastly better than the 92.3 they had averaged in three previous games. The 53.7% shooting was also the highest mark of the season surpassing the 51.7% against Delaware State. Virginia isn't a good defensive team and they rank near the bottom of the ACC in defensive efficiency but it was still a good sign after the wretched struggles in the first three games. You had to figure something would give and they wouldn't keep shooting under 40% so perhaps Virginia was just what the doctor ordered. The real test will be if this offensive explosion, and this was an explosion compared to what went before, can be sustained beyond last night.

Adrian Bowie and Landon Milbourne are becoming a formidable duo to go along with a struggling Greivis Vasquez. Over the last two games they are averaging 15.5 points and 17 points per game respectively. Bowie needs to make some better decisions and stay out of foul trouble. He sometimes gets tunnel vision when dribbling the ball and that results in offensive fouls and missed teammates open for shots. Milbourne is showing great aggression and effort as shown by his 7 offensive rebounds in the last two games. He is shooting almost 55% from the floor and providing a great inside game that Maryland was lacking. If he can continue at this clip it will add a whole other dimension to Maryland's team. Before the recent play of Bowie and Milbourne if Vasquez didn't play well this team had no chance to win but now they can still be competitive. Once Vasquez shakes off his recent slump this team could be dangerous and given Vasquez's love of Cameron don't be surprised if he blows up at Duke on Saturday.

Eric Hayes had a nice statistical night and bounced back well from an awful game against Florida State. Hayes did struggle a little once Virginia turned up the defensive pressure in the 2nd half. Hayes will have to play at this level at Duke if Maryland is going to handle the Blue Devil's pressure defense.

Virginia erased Maryland's 15 point halftime lead with some impressive scoring and not turning the ball over like they did in the first half (6 in the 2nd half after 13 in the 1st). Interesting side note that Maryland only scored 21 points off 19 turnovers while Virginia scored 19 points off only 13 Maryland turnovers. The 3-2 zone that Maryland used effectively against FSU broke down a little with Vasquez playing the middle position of the guard trio. He was dropping down too low when the ball went to the wings and it left Virginia with open shots or driving lanes when the ball was reversed. To be fair it was probably because the staff was concerned with rebounding as Virginia killed Maryland on the boards in the 2nd half. I think Vasquez is better on the wing in the 3-2 and Mosley did a great job from that middle position against FSU. I was glad to see Gary Williams use it again.

Dave Neal missed a large section of the game when his eyebrow was split open by an Assane Sene elbow. Without him Maryland didn't skip a beat and the team outscored Virginia 38-26 to close out the 1st half. Dino Gregory scored 8 points and grabbed 2 rebounds in relief of Neal and Jin Soo Kim also filled in well in limited minutes. Frankly, I don't think the team missed him and it showed that somewhere around 15 minutes is what Neal should be playing. I understand the papers wanted to play up the "wounded warrior" angle but Neal was not instrumental in the win. He only came back in the game after Gregory got his fourth foul with about 13 minutes left in the 2nd half. Gary Williams claimed in typical coach fashion that Neal contributes by "talking" on defense that helps the team. I think production in the form of rebounding and defense is more important than locution, but that is just me.

Neither Braxton Dupree or Cliff Tucker distinguished themselves in limited minutes. I think Dupree won't produce much with more playing time but Tucker could be effective in spots. I think the starters (again over 30+ minutes in the Virginia game) are playing way too many minutes and Mosley and Tucker could fill in the gaps. I think until Burney is ready, if that ever happens, Jin Soo Kim deserves some more minutes. A broken record, I know.

It was a good win but nothing to be overly excited about.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Terps surge to overtime, then fall

In a reverse of the crushing loss to Miami the Terrapins were the team that was attempting to come from behind in the 2nd half against Florida State yesterday. They succeeded in sending the game into overtime where they eventually faded but couldn't win the game in regulation if for no other reason than the team is devoid of any great outside shooters unlike Miami. Once again Maryland shot an abysmal 38% from the floor (27% from 3-point range) presenting more evidence that this just might be the worst shooting team that Gary Williams has ever had at Maryland. The 2004-5 team shot 43.9% from the floor, the worst number in the 20 seasons under Gary Williams, while this year's team is shooting 41.6% after the Florida State loss. This group will almost certainly finish behind the 2004-5 team because they would have to shoot better than 46% for the rest of the season to match that rate with an equivalent number of attempts. In its first three ACC games this squad has failed to top 70 points in regulation (they had 66 at the end of the 2nd half yesterday), the first time that has ever occurred under Gary Williams. With the most difficult games on the schedule still to go and Maryland unable to knock down 3-point shots at a reasonable rate it is highly unlikely that number will go up. The odd thing is that Maryland could have easily won either game against Florida State or Miami. What this road trip showed was that even on the road with an impotent offense they are no worse than any other team outside the top four in the conference.

Junior Greivis Vasquez had the game I thought he might have on Wednesday but it didn't happen until Saturday against Florida State. He seemed listless, out of sync and dispirited. All those fans who want to see him play with less emotion got a taste of what this team would be like if that happens and it wasn't pretty. Florida State did a good job of doubling Vasquez every time he drove to the basket and it certainly helped that his shooting stroke was no where to be found. It was obviously reminiscent of his dreadful performance against Georgetown earlier in the season when he scored two points. I feared that all the criticism that Vasquez receives would make him reluctant to be the leader on the floor, which is vital to this team's chances to win. I didn't think it would sap him of his boundless confidence but yesterday's game makes me wonder if that hasn't happened. At times Vasquez passed up opportunities and almost seemed reluctant to shoot the ball. He is struggling with his confidence in his shooting, something I'm sure no one would believe, and clearly with good reason doesn't have much faith in his teammate's ability to score either. It was obvious there is something else going on with Vasquez when he missed two free throws late in the game while shooting over 90% for the season and hitting 35 in a row. There was none of Vasquez's usual extortions of his teammates or demonstrations of passion at a critical success. At the end of the game he looked almost like a catatonic Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It will be interesting to see how Vasquez responds on Tuesday night against Virginia and facing the home crowd for the first time since the ugly events during the Georgia Tech game.

As bad as Vasquez has been shooting the last few games he is far from alone, even if every story will mention his struggles but probably fail to mention that Dave Neal and Eric Hayes have been just as wretched. In the last three games Vasquez is shooting a horrendous 28.8% from the floor while Neal has shot 26.9% and Hayes 35.5% in ACC play. Hayes had one of his worst games at Maryland against FSU. Though he outscored Vasquez in most other ways he played a much worse game. With just over a minute left in the game and the scored tied at 64 Hayes sailed a pass out of bounds. Not only did it deprive Maryland of a potential field goal attempt and a go ahead score it also gave FSU another possession at the end of the game that they would not had otherwise. Instead of finishing 2:1 in possessions Maryland finished the game 1:2. On Maryland's last possession they were reduced to Hayes trying to take the Seminole's best defender, Toney Douglas, one on one. The weakest part of Hayes' game is probably his ability to take the defense off the dribble. Lucky for Maryland Landon Milbourne was there to grab an offensive rebound and tie the game with a put back.

I don't feel like beating a dead horse today but I have no idea why Dave Neal plays as many minutes as he does. Is Neal bricking 3-point attempts in overtime really the offensive strategy? Of all the players on this team are those the hands you want the ball placed in with the game tied in overtime?

Landon Milbourne had his best game of the season against FSU last year and had another great game yesterday. While he was called for traveling on the critical possession in overtime with Maryland only down by two points I think the replay clearly shows he was fouled. Milbourne and Sean Mosley kept Maryland in the game with their 2nd half play and the junior scored 8 points in the last three minutes of the game and overtime. He had 9 rebounds to go with his 17 points and helped Maryland hold its own against a much bigger Seminole frontline. Clearly more of the offense needs to be run through Milbourne because right now he is having to rely on offensive rebounds for too many of his chances.

Sean Mosley bounced back well after a bad Miami game and set another career high with 13 points and 5 rebounds in only 25 minutes of play. He missed a couple of free throws (the one at the end was obviously intentional) but was really good at the head of the 1-2-2 zone defense that Maryland switched to late in the game. Mosley had two steals and scored on several fast breaks from that position on defense. Gary Williams said the 1-2-2 has some "holes" on defense but I think it might be worth showing it more against other middle of the road teams in the ACC.

Another dead horse topic but I really am starting to wonder what Gary Williams is thinking with his substitution patterns. It was no surprise that Maryland faded in the overtime as the starters once again put in a huge number of minutes. Vasquez had a ridiculous 42 minutes for a player who was obviously struggling, ditto on Hayes with 39 and Neal with 31 minutes. Landon Milbourne played 37 but Adrian Bowie was limited to 24 minutes with foul trouble again. As an aside Bowie needs to wise up and stop committing stupid offensive fouls, two against FSU and four in the last two games. He needs to realize that this team desperately needs him to stay on the floor. He can't be giving away possessions with turnovers and compounding that with getting himself put on the bench with foul trouble. With all those minutes was it totally shocking that Vasquez and Hayes, both excellent foul shooters, missed critical free throws late in the game when their legs were gone? Williams' mismanagement of the bench has been shockingly bad and probably cost Maryland both the Miami and FSU games.

This couldn't be more obvious if you notice the players on the court for the final free throw by Sean Mosley. Down two points after Mosley made the first free throw Maryland had to miss and hope for a tip in or quick jumper off the rebound. Gary Williams decided to have a 6-6 Dave Neal in the low block. How on earth was that going to help you? Jin Soo Kim is 6-8 and athletic, Steve Goins doesn't need to be in game shape to tip a ball to a shooter, even Braxton Dupree has a better chance of tipping the ball than Dave Neal. The fact that the rebounds did get knocked out of bounds off Neal is very fitting. It was a decision so utterly absurd I can't even begin to speculate on the strategy by Gary Williams. I've always felt that Williams was one of the best bench coaches in the ACC, if not the nation, but some of the decisions he has made this season have been baffling.

Surprisingly the Terps out rebounded Florida State 44-37 with 17 offensive rebounds. They have done a pretty good job against three very physical teams in Georgia Tech, Miami and FSU. They just can't hit enough shots to win. With the talent gap between starters like Eric Hayes and Dave Neal and the bench being insignificant I'd like to see players like Dino Gregory (16 minutes against FSU), Sean Mosley and Jin Soo Kim playing more and the minutes less concentrated with the starters. On a side note it was disappointing to see Braxton Dupree and Cliff Tucker laughing and joking on the bench with Maryland losing in the closing seconds. I obviously don't know what they were laughing about but they were the only ones on the bench acting that way and I can't imagine what would have possessed them to be so nonchalant in the face of another tough loss. I doubt that they are both going to be on the roster at the start of next season and perhaps that moment is very telling as to why neither of them are playing up to expectations. In the words of George Patton, "I wouldn't give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed."

Friday, January 16, 2009

Crossroads in Tallahassee

Maryland travels to Florida State tomorrow to face a team that has a very similar statistical profile to Maryland but arrives there in a totally different manner. The Seminole's offense is pretty dreadful, even worse than the Terps, but their defense has been very strong. They limited Duke to just 19 points in the 1st half of their game last week. The trio of Chris Singleton, Solomon Alabi and Uche Echefu is a little more imposing than the Miami frontcourt Maryland shut down on Wednesday. While none of those three are impressive scorers they are all athletic and can really block shots on the inside. Singleton and Echefu also have some perimeter skills and will really test Dave Neal and Landon Milbourne (or Dino Gregory) on defense. Toney Douglas leads a limited backcourt and Maryland should have a significant advantage there. Douglas is a jack of all trades guard who does a lot of things well but isn't dominating in any facet of the game. Like the entire team Douglas gets to the foul line frequently and that is a major component of their offense. Leonard Hamilton likes to spread the offense around outside of Douglas, who has taken more than twice as many shots as any other player on the team, and so keying on anyone else isn't likely to be useful.

As with Miami the Seminoles are not a great ballhandling team and will cough the ball up. Full court pressure and perhaps even some half court trapping may yield turnovers and easy scoring opportunities. It figures to be a low scoring game with two teams that really struggle in the half court. If one squad can get out in transition they will have a big advantage. The mental status of Maryland will probably determine whether they can compete again on the road or be defeated for the third time in four games. Florida State is vulnerable but they do play tough at home. The Terrapin backcourt will need to step up big again if they are to pull out a victory.

More on the Vasquez controversy from last weekend. I couldn't let this flimsy and feeble attempt at finger waiving by Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun go without comment. Besides just a rehash of the events and comments by Gary Williams and, don't laugh, Debbie Yow, the column had few insights worth noting and a number of clumsy and inept attempts to justify a benching for Maryland's star player. The suggestion that Vasquez be benched for his outburst is so dopey I'm not even going to discuss the merits of such a course of action. It is equally fatuous to suggest that Gary Williams would have a hard time correcting Vasquez's behavior due to some tired "pot and kettle" cliche about his own foul language. It was a lame, uncreative and lazy shot by Schmuck at the head coach at Maryland. If we're lowering the discourse to cliches by discussing pots and kettles then the last people who should be lecturing anyone on decorum should be the fans at Comcast Center who seem to have a vocabulary of words that only end in the last three letters of Mr. Schmuck's name.

There has not been a NBA franchise in Baltimore in many decades so I guess I'll have to assume that Schmuck hasn't watched much of the "lig" as Gary Williams calls it. If he had he wouldn't have made a doltish comment about how NBA scouts might shy away from Vasquez because he may be a "headcase", as if the NBA has a shortage of lunatics. I guess knifeplay (J.R. Giddens), multiple arrests for drug possession (Sean Williams), petty theft (Marcus Williams) and a suspension for attempting to rearrange the opponent's testicles during a game (Chris Paul) rate as less concerning than a player who curses at some imbeciles in the crowd. You could easily fill a number of NBA rosters with guys who make Vasquez look like David Robinson by comparison. If Vasquez fails to make the NBA it will be because he lacks a great shooting touch and sufficient quickness to play a wing position not because of a silly incident like this.

The most sanctimonious thing Schmuck wrote was that it was "galling a guy who goes there for telling the paying students where to find the exits." I guess this arrogant attitude from spectators got started in the professional leagues where money talks and, well, you get the idea. I dare say that Greivis Vasquez and his teammates bring in millions more dollars to the University of Maryland than Mr. Schmuck or his kids or any other students for that matter, tuition of not. The unspoken implication is also that if you are a "paying" student you're entitled to act like a jackass because your checks get deposited by the University. The converse is that Vasquez, having accepted a basketball scholarship, is somehow less free to express his opinion than the anonymous fools in the student section. Vasquez was corrected by his head coach and the athletic director after his inappropriate behavior but what are the consequences for the crass half-wits who hurled ethic insults at a fellow student? The suggestion that paying fans should not be chastised by anyone who is getting a free ride is a silly and puerile argument besides being completely irrelevant. In that case students on academic scholarship have no basis to comment on the behavior of students who have their parents pay for their school because they were not smart enough to earn a scholarship themselves. The continued life and viral nature of this infantile point of view is fostered by the University itself.

After the embarrassing episode of Duke's J.J. Redick being taunted by the Maryland student section with an original and witty seven letter suggestion that is anatomically impossible the University expressed concern over the incident and then released this pathetic news release. It is basically a list of 15 "sportsmanship initiatives" that the University had enacted in an ineffectual attempt to show their concern without having to show any leadership on the issue. The worst part is that the University's legal office claimed that such profane or vulgar speech was "protected free speech" and hence could not result in the ejection of offending fans. Besides being gutless it is completely specious reading of any free speech jurisprudence. Clearly the legal office is devoid of any constitutional scholars (or backbone) but they could have merely consulted the University of Michigan or President Dan Mote's old employer, the University of California at Berkley to see policies crafted by legal departments that understand the concept of protected speech and which clearly state that obscene or profane chants will result in ejection from their sporting events and possibly loss of ticket holding privileges. The University seems to be more concerned with trying to intimidate bloggers critical of the administration like me by sending them cease and desist letters than about making sure their "fans" conform to legitimate and legally permitted codes of conduct.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Terps squander lead

Things were certainly clicking in the 1st half for Maryland as they ran out to a 12 point halftime lead against a ragged and sluggish Miami team. You had to wonder if the good luck and hot shooting would continue and sure enough it didn't. Maryland led for about 38 minutes of the game and thoroughly outplayed a very mediocre Miami team for about two thirds of the game. Then the team and the coaching staff started watching the game clock and scoreboard instead of continuing to do the things that helped them dominate the Hurricanes until that point.

Miami certainly made some shots down the stretch but there is little glory in hitting wide open 3-point shots and merely relying on the impotent offense of your opponent to help keep you in the game. Miami's coach Frank Haith is probably one of the worst bench coaches in the ACC but it was Gary Williams who made the worst coaching errors in the game last night. After a first half that demonstrated an excellent game plan designed to limit Miami's inside advantage and put pressure on the poor ball handling of Miami's backcourt Williams seemed to drop what had been working. The team stopped pushing the ball up court and backed off its pressure on Miami's Lance Hurdle and Jack McClinton, who combined for 4 turnovers in the 1st half but only one in the entire 2nd half. At the point in the game where 3-point shooting was about the only way the Hurricanes could get back into the game Maryland was still trying to give help with their guards to the low post players that allowed Miami to get a few open looks from outside. The Terps kept doing this even though Miami's frontline had not been able to to much damage all night long. Maryland's big men didn't help much as Dave Neal failed to rotate or hedge on screens for at least two of Miami's critical 3-point baskets late in the game. Still Gary Williams didn't really change the defense as Miami ran the same sideline screens on a number of 3-point baskets.

The offense got conservative with a double digit lead and I think the players and staff tried to just sit on the lead for far too long. Once the offense stopped being aggressive and keeping the opposition on their heels the formerly passive Miami players became emboldened even though Maryland had took it to them for most of the night. There were no fast break baskets once the offense settled into a half court affair, the worst kind of game for this team, and the team struggled to score six points in the final ten and half minutes. Two of those points came on foul shots by Eric Hayes, out of a paltry six attempts for the entire team in a loosely officiated game, and the rest were on two field goals. That was the entire output for over 10 minutes, six points. It doesn't do much good to be an excellent free throw shooting team if you can't draw fouls and a season low six free throws showed that Miami is a pretty bad defensive team and that Maryland wasn't doing the kinds of things on offense that would draw fouls.

Part of that was the execution by the players but it was also the coaching decisions by Williams. The starters played too much of the 2nd half and Williams again got too caught up in the game to substitute effectively. At the end when Maryland needed to come up with defensive stops they were too fatigued to do a good job and while execution was a problem it is obvious that gassed players are more prone to defensive lapses. The starters all played 30+ minutes again and in the 2nd half Eric Hayes and Dave Neal played 15 minutes while Milbourne played 17 and Vasquez played the full 20 minutes. Adrian Bowie fouled out with 53 second left in the game. It was good to see Dino Gregory play more but Williams will have to handle his bench better if Maryland is going to have any sort of chance in the ACC.

With 41 seconds left in the game Eric Hayes shot two free throws to put Maryland up 60-59 but yet Williams decided not to sub either Gregory or Cliff Tucker for defensive purposes. Then with just over 20 seconds left Maryland called a full timeout and did not sub any players on offense. Dave Neal had gone 1/6 in the game and Eric Hayes had been a non-factor all night and yet Williams decided not to put in Jin Soo Kim who he described himself as the best shooter on the team. I don't blame Vasquez for taking those last two shots, that was clearly the play that Gary Williams wanted, but it wasn't a high percentage shot. Having a guard who shoots just over 30% from 3-point range take your last two shots doesn't make much sense. Why not have Vasquez drive to the lane and try to pull the defense and open things up for some shots on the perimeter? Going to overtime would not have gone very well as I think Miami had all the momentum so going for the win wasn't a mistake but the scheme and execution were surprisingly bad from a coach that has historically been very good after timeouts at getting the right play called.

Adrian Bowie had a career night with 23 points on 10/15 shooting with 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. He consistently abused and exposed McClinton on the offensive end and regularly drove past him to score. It wasn't all good as Bowie sometimes dribbled out of control and had two offensive fouls, including his fifth. He also committed 3 turnovers in the last two minutes. Along with Vasquez he was the only player to score in double figures and the only other player who wanted the ball in crunch time.

Landon Milbourne needs to get more touches and he needs to have more than 14 field goal attempts in two ACC games like he did against Georgia Tech and Miami. Part of that is the need for Milbourne himself to be more aggressive but it is also a commitment of the coach to make him a focal point. He is clearly the second best scorer on the team. Dave Neal on the other hand took 18 shots in those two games only hitting four. That is not a winning formula. If you are going to lose at least lose with your best players taking the shots. One of the things I admire about Mike Krzyzewski is that he is unemotional about his substitutions. He knows who his stars and significant contributors are and he plays them accordingly. He doesn't play Dave McClure 25 minutes because he admires the seniors "YMCA" style game or ability to fight through an injury plagued career.

The positive Maryland can take from this collapse is that they had the Hurricanes, at best the 5th or 6th best team in the league, thoroughly beaten on their home court and gave it away. We'll have to see how they respond at Florida State in what is sure to be another physical and intense game.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dearth of Defense

Interesting article in the ACC Sports Journal about the importance of defense and a brief survey of the best defensive players in ACC history.

I would take it a step further and say that looking at the last three teams from the ACC to win a national title they all had at least one if not more than one top notch defender. Duke had Shane Battier when they won the title in 2001 and despite bringing back five future NBA players never made it past the Sweet Sixteen after he left Durham. Maryland won the title in 2002, as we all know, and sported several fine defenders. Juan Dixon is second only to Maryland's Johnny Rhodes on the all time steals list in ACC history. Then you had Byron Mouton who often took the best offensive wing player on the other team every game. Point guard Steve Blake was no slouch on defense either and was as tenacious a defender as there has been in the ACC in recent memory. Chris Wilcox was an imposing shot blocker even though his numbers are not all that impressive. In 2005 North Carolina won a title with two very good defensive players in Jackie Manuel and David Noel. Raymond Felton was a pretty good defensive point guard as well.

In all it does seem to me that at least in the ACC you need a singularly great defensive player if your team is going to win a national title. I don't currently see any of the league's big boys possessing that kind of player. I think the odds are slim that Wake Forest, North Carolina or Duke will get to the national title game. Last season I would have to say that Virginia Tech's Deron Washington was perhaps the best defender in the league. He guarded players from point guard Sean Singletary to power forward James Gist with equal effectiveness. He may have been a punk but he was an excellent defender.

This season I don't think there are any obvious defensive stars in the league. Toney Douglas gambles and gets a lot of steals but isn't a supreme open court defender. I'd have to go with Trevor Booker at Clemson. He is third in the ACC in rebounding and first in blocked shots, though he often goes for the highlight block that prevents his team from recovering the deflection. As for team defense I think Duke is clearly the best in the ACC even though they lack size and a shot blocker in the post. It isn't a golden age for defense in the ACC.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Miami Vice

Looks like Ed Rios has run afoul of Miami head coach Frank Haith again and has been suspended indefinitely. It probably won't be a critical loss though I think point guard Lance Hurdle is a real weak spot for the Hurricanes and without Rios available in case Hurdle struggles it could leave Haith with few backcourt options. Besides senior Jack McClinton the only other true guards on the squad are Hurdle and James Dews. DeQuan Jones and Adrian Thomas are more wing players than true guards and wouldn't be able to provide much ball handling if they were needed. Miami obviously won at Boston College without Rios but then again Harvard also can claim that. Haith likes to spread his minutes around but if Maryland can keep the game close in the 2nd half it will bear watching if fatigue will become a factor for Miami's guards.

The physical frontline of the Hurricanes poses significant problems for the duo of Dave Neal and Landon Milbourne. In recent meetings the soft Maryland frontcourts of Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist got pushed around and abused by Miami's under skilled but relentless rebounders. Forwards Dwayne Collins and Cyrus McGowan are two of the better offensive rebounders in the ACC and it will probably require the efforts of Braxton Dupree and Dino Gregory to keep them off the boards. It would be great to see Jerome Burney, who made a surprise appearance last season at Miami, to get back on the court even if only for a handful of minutes. The low post double teams and sagging perimeter defense that the Terps have played to help out Dave Neal and Milbourne will be deadly against Miami's 3-point shooting. Unfortunately Miami is configured to take advantage of Maryland's weaknesses very well.

The one bright spot for the Terps is that Miami can be rattled with pressure and will turn the ball over. They don't play particularly good defense either but Maryland will have to find its shooting touch to take advantage and be able to set up their full court press.

Gary Williams had a talk with Vasquez after the taunting incident during the Georgia Tech game and let the junior know he could not react to fans like he did on Saturday. It is good that the team can get away from College Park this week, they will stay in Florida to play FSU on Saturday, and not be distracted by the controversy. My guess is that Vasquez will either have one of his best games of the year against Miami, or one of his worst. As I wrote after the game Vasquez can't let himself be distracted by the fans, especially the home crowd, because it can effect his decision making. Why you would go to a game to boo your own team I'll never be able to understand but Maryland has no shortage of those kinds of fans.

If you start tallying the exploits of fans at Maryland over the last eight years or so you don't see a pretty picture. For some reason Maryland supporters seem to have a "little state" inferiority complex and have decided to embrace their outlaw reputation with enthusiasm. Unfortunately it neither helps their team win nor does it make the University look good. This group of fans has drawn most of its recent fame for destructive riots, hurling objects at the parents of opposing players, showing off a limited four letter vocabulary on national television and even booing a team that made it to the first Final Four in the history of the program. Once your program stops winning regularly those fans that were once considered "rowdy" and "hostile" start to look merely stupid and crude. It is only a matter of time before that nasty edge was directed at the Terrapin players themselves. It is a pity because it just reinforces the already poor opinion regarding Maryland fans among the rest of the ACC schools. The only thing Maryland leads the ACC in these days is a bad reputation. At some point the line between passionate support and uncouth hooliganism has disappeared at Comcast Center. Perhaps that is an unfortunate side effect of winning a national title and drawing in many of the worst kinds of fans (and the kinds of students that pick a school because they have a good basketball team) but regardless of what Gary Williams, Debbie Yow or especially Greivis Vasquez say or do the behavior of the fans is the responsibility of the fans alone. There are no excuses or justifications for heckling your own team no matter how the program has struggled or how much money you pay for tickets. Maryland fans are no worse than the average college basketball fanbase, but certainly not among the best. It is time that Terrapin fans drop the brattiness and self importance and get back to supporting the the basketball program they claim to love.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Terps avoid Georgia Tech sting

If you scanned the box score for yesterday's win over Georgia Tech you wouldn't be able to figure out how Maryland had pulled out a victory. The Yellow Jackets were over 11% better from the floor and over 12% better from 3-point range, they outrebounded the Terps by ten and had more assists. Maryland did shoot much better from the freethrow line making 17 to Georgia Tech's 8 but some of that was inflated by the end of game fouling by the Jackets. Then you would see that Georgia Tech turned the ball over an astonishing 28 times. In almost every other facet the Yellow Jackets had outplayed Maryland but when you turn the ball over that many times and it results in an extra 17 field goal attempts for your opponent it you can lose to a team that couldn't find the basket with a diagram.

The Terrapins kept battling when the offense was inept and deserve some credit for being tenacious but the Yellow Jackets gave this game away. Maryland played some solid defense and harassed the young Georgia Tech team with full court pressure in the 2nd half but many of the turnovers were unforced travels and passes that just sailed out of bounds. Georgia Tech failed to capitalize the inside advantage that they enjoyed going into the game even though starter Zach Peacock missed the game with a stomach illness. Alade Aminu and Gani Lawal outplayed Landon Milbourne (who had some foul trouble which limited him to 25 mintues) and Dave Neal handily. Aminu and Lawal combined for 28 points and 27 rebounds while Neal and Milbourne combined for 14 points and 15 rebounds. I'm not sure why commentators seemed to think that Neal did a good job defensively since the numbers don't support that conclusion. He wasn't absolutely terrible but wasn't particularly good either and often required help from the backcourt players that resulted in some open 3-point looks in the first half for the Yellow Jackets. It was the terrible play of Georgia Tech's backcourt that failed Paul Hewitt, not the frontcourt who dominated Maryland.

Sean Mosley was a large factor in turning the game around for Maryland. During a critical stretch that found Maryland down by 10 points with under 10 minutes left in the game Mosley grabbed two rebounds, scored two points and made a critical steal that helped close the gap to two points. He was better than his 10 points, 4 rebounds and 3 steals would indicate. The progress of most freshmen is not linear and Mosley fell back with a poor showing against Morgan State after a season high 11 points against Charlotte but showed yesterday that his role on this team will continue to grow. As my brother observed Mosley is simply a winner. In his first ACC game he flourished under the pressure of a league game with his team in a desperate situation. Few freshmen at Maryland have had that kind of poise and maturity.

Eric Hayes had a very good 2nd half which was vital because he was atrocious in the 1st half. In the 1st half Hayes went 1/7 from the floor but changed that with five buckets in the 2nd half and 9 points in the final eight minutes. He finished the game with 17 points and was the only outside threat for Maryland.

Adrian Bowie was more aggressive in the 2nd half and bounced back from a dreadful game against Morgan State to score 11 points, all in the 2nd half, and grab 6 rebounds while playing with four fouls with 9 minutes left in the game. He limited himself to 2 turnovers and sunk five of his six free throws, which is a sign that he is being more aggressive and going to the basket.

Landon Milbourne had some early foul problems and it took him out of his game yesterday. He gave a yeoman effort on the boards with 9 rebounds in 25 minutes and played sufficient defense. The team ended up being outrebounded by 10 but that probably had more to do with all those missed field goal attempts. The Yellow Jackets only got 9 offensive rebounds out of 49 total which was a clear victory for Maryland.

Greivis Vasquez struggled from the floor again and took a few bad shots to go 5/18 from the floor and a goose egg from 3-point range. He clearly heard it from some clowns in the student section and could be seen yelling at someone in the crowd at the end of the game telling them to "shut the fuck up" after scoring a three point play with about 8 minutes left in the game. Vasquez can be maddening at times but the abuse he hears from idiot fans, particularly in the student section, is an embarrassment. The three critical 3-point baskets that helped Maryland take the lead scored by Eric Hayes and Dave Neal were all made possible by Vasquez drawing the defense and finding an open Hayes or Neal. Neither of them would have scored those points if it were not for Greivis. He had four assists and only one turnover in the 2nd half while logging a heavy 37 minutes of play.

Jin Soo Kim and Braxton Dupree saw some playing time against the big frontline for Georgia Tech and did okay. I was glad to see Kim get more minutes that he had in the three previous games combined but it had to be an indictment of Gary Williams that he had played so little the previous month. Good enough to play 7 minutes against Georgia Tech but not good enough to play more than a minute against Morgan State or Charlotte?

The efficiency stats for this game were dreadful. Maryland had an 80.8 on offense and a 75.2 on defense, just over the worst offensive night of the season against Morgan State(80.6). Though the score was in the 60's the tempo was at a Formula One pace with Maryland's offense playing at 84 possessions while averaging about 70 possessions a game for the season. Maryland's games against Georgia Tech tend to go that way so it will be interesting to see what happens when they go play Miami and Florida State who both play a slower pace than Georgia Tech. Maryland will have to execute better in the half court to have a chance in those games.

Vasquez not happy with home crowd

Vasquez's brash personality may rub some people the wrong way but it doesn't bother me in the least. He may not always play under control or mistake free but he leaves everything he has on the court for his coach and his team. Not many Maryland players can claim that the last five years. His foul mouthed response to some morons in the student section who don't know jack shit about basketball may not have been the appropriate response but I can understand his frustrations with a fickle fan base that spends about as much time whining about their players as cheering for their team. That is the fans that bother to show up with the continued diminishing attendance at Comcast Center. You can read all about this soap opera here. Try to enjoy watching Vasquez while you can because with the way he has been maligned in his time here, particularly this season, he has no reason the return to Maryland for his senior campaign. He probably won't be appreciated enough until he is gone and that is a sad fact. Then Maryland fans can direct their ire to Eric Hayes, Landon Milbourne, Braxton Dupree or whomever else they blame for the program's recent struggles. In the end Vasquez is right neither he nor his teammates need these kinds of fans but he'd be better off just ignoring them. That is easy to say when you are not 20 years old with the kind of pressure that comes with being the best player on a mediocre team trying to avoid the NIT for the second year in a row. The coming two game road trip may not have come at a better time.

Terps find new DC

Maryland went a little against the grain when they hire Massachusetts head coach Don Brown as the new defensive coordinator last week. Massachusetts plays in what was formerly known as Division I-AA, I'm not even going to use the ridiculous NCAA name that division has currently.

Hiring coaches to a higher level of competition is always a risk so in a sense this is a roll of the dice, but I think it is a good move. The last great defensive coordinator that Maryland had in the Friedgen era was Gary Blackney who was also a former head coach. Brown did a pretty damn good job at UMass coaching them to a 43-19 record over five years and more importantly guiding a defense that finished in the top 20 in defense for three years in a row until this past season. He also may hold a record for serving as defensive coordinator for three different Ivy league programs (Dartmouth, Yale, Brown). The Colonial League is no slouch in football as teams like Delaware, Villanova, and Hofstra have all sent players to the NFL recently.

Friedgen claims that Brown will coach a hard nosed and aggressive style which should satisfy most of the fans gripes about the Chris Cosh lead defenses. Brown may not have any experience at a BCS level program but compared to Cosh's resume when he was hired at Maryland he looks like William the Conqueror.

It appears that Al Seamonson will stay on the staff and coach the linebackers while Brown will also handle the cornerbacks. Kevin Lempa, who was in the Ivy League as an assistant at the same time as Brown, will coach the safeties as he did last season.

It will be interesting to see what sorts of changes will be made to Maryland's defensive schemes come the Spring Game. Hopefully this will also serve to shore up some of Maryland's defensive recruits, like corner Travis Hawkins, who may have been looking elsewhere with the defensive job up in the air.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Bye, Bye Bey

Junior wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey will file paperwork for the NFL draft and will not return to Maryland next season. Heyward-Bey's draft stock may have suffered after a solid but under performing season where he caught 42 passes for 609 yards and 5 touchdowns. His per catch average was 14.5 yards and he was the third leading rusher on the team with 202 yards. Though he didn't finish near the top in any receiving category in ACC play Heyward-Bey did well for himself in regards to the Maryland record books. He finished 2nd all time in yards and 3rd in receptions and receiving touchdowns. Though Heyward-Bey was clearly the best wide receiver of the Ralph Friedgen era there seemed to be some unfulfilled promise in his abundant talent. He was also represented the University very well in his time at Maryland.

I think with young receivers like Ronnie Tyler, Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon that Maryland should be fine even with seniors Danny Oquendo and TE Dan Gronkowski departing. That isn't even accounting for less know players like Tony Logan, Kevin Dorsey, Lansford Watson, Kerry Boykins or the injury plagued LaQuan Williams to show some improvement.

Quarterback Josh Portis flamed out this season after missing all of last season after cheating on an exam and getting suspended. He was only used in packages that almost always resulted in quarterback draws and was never seen again after fumbling against North Carolina. Portis only played in one of the last six games for the Terps and clearly seemed to be out of the picture going into next season. With senior Jordan Steffy and Portis leaving Jamarr Robinson is the likely backup going into 2009 with two freshmen quarterbacks showing up this fall.

Another mid-major loss at home

When the inevitable epitaph to the Gary Williams era is written the probability is that it will mention the loss last night to Morgan State along with the losses last season to American and Ohio as the end of an era. It may not happen this year, next year or the year after that but it seems clear that the golden era of Maryland basketball under Gary Williams is over. The hope that Williams would recapture some magic with a bunch of scrappy overachievers seems like a forlorn attempt at nostalgia after last night's debacle. The rest of the season will tell if this collection is a bunch of miss matched second tier talent or a group where the sum is better than the mediocre parts.

There is little mystery why the team lost last night. Turning the ball over 21 times, shooting 28% from the floor in one half and allowing eight 3-point baskets is a solid recipe for failure. Besides perhaps Landon Milbourne not a single person from Gary Williams to Cliff Tucker, who played a scant four minutes, had a good night. It was probably one of the worst coaching exhibitions I've seen from Williams in many years, from his poor substitutions, lack of defensive adjustments and inability to settle his team down on offense he was largely impotent to stop his teams slow decline in the 2nd half.

Not that his team played well. Between Dave Neal, Eric Hayes and Adrian Bowie, who all logged 30+ minutes, there were 12 turnovers. Greivis Vasquez had a dreadful game and chucked his was to a 5/21 shooting night for one of the worst 19 point scoring nights you'll ever see. His defense was shockingly bad against Morgan State's leading scorer Reggie Holmes, although all of Holmes 25 points were not his responsibility. It appeared that neither Vasquez nor his teammates took Morgan State seriously and it came back to bite them in the worst way. As bad as Vasquez was with his shooting he was at least able to get to the free throw line, unlike most of his teammates, and he wasn't the worst shooter of the game as the rest of the team excluding Milbourne, Neal and Bowie went a combined 2 for 19. That is right, two field goals out of 19 attempts.

Eric Hayes started off cold and never got on track. He played 33 minutes and only scored two points on 1/7 shooting, including a donut from 3-point range. Adrian Bowie continues to struggle since getting a starting nod with six turnovers and only one made free throw on three attempts. He was often trailing his man on screens and went over top instead of underneath on low post picks. Mosley failed to follow up his best performance of the season against Charlotte and missed several open shots.

Dino Gregory and Braxton Dupree had a dreadful stretch about ten minutes left in the game that allowed Morgan State to get back in the contest. I think the likelihood that Dupree will contribute anything meaningful to this team is getting slim and his career at Maryland is at a crossroads.

The Dave Neal fantasy continued. Although Neal shot the ball well he did little else with efficiency. Morgan State redshirt freshman Kevin Thompson abused Neal on the inside to the tune of 10 points and 13 rebounds, including 5 offensive rebounds. When the two teams combine to miss 89 field goal attempts you will get lots of rebound chances, heck even Braxton Dupree grabbed six rebounds in only six minutes, so Neal's nine rebounds needs to be tempered by that fact. His feeble attempts to tip the ball to teammates because he was unable to grab rebounds against Morgan State's bigger frontline was pathetic. For a "steady" senior who doesn't handle the ball much he turned it over three times as well. It may be a dead horse but playing Neal 30+ minutes in the ACC is a recipe for disaster. With Dupree playing his way to oblivion the only hope is that Jerome Burney recovers quickly or Gary Williams comes to his senses and tries Steve Goins in the post.

With Maryland trailing and the offense sputtering late in the game I don't understand why Williams never played Jin Soo Kim, the best shooter on the team according to the same head coach. There were plenty of opportunities to sub the freshman in the game at the end. What Maryland ended up with was two low percentage heaves by Vasquez and an ill advised baseline floater by Eric Hayes, who would have missed a two foot putt into an open man hole cover last night. No one was running the offense well and the team settled for the first look they got once Morgan State slowed down the tempo. The team went 1/14 from 3-point range so why not get Kim in there with a mismatch of Thompson or Marquise Kately? Williams got tunnel vision again last night and played all his starters over 30 minutes with disastrous results. Is is just a coincidence that Morgan State outscored Maryland 17-8 in the decisive last six and a half minutes? The starters were gassed. Defensive breakdowns resulted in open 3-point looks, missed free throws, and lack of rebounding.

As I've written before this team will live and die by their shooting. The offense wasn't great before last night and is at best pedestrian. Unless Sean Mosley starts scoring or Jin Soo Kim gets more playing time this group will be walking on a wire the whole season. Forget the rebounding and turnovers, it is the shooting that will determine where this team goes from here. Right now that is looking like another NIT invite.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Terps top Niners

The Terps started off slowly against Charlotte and trailed by double digits at times to Bobby Lutz's team. The periodic slow starts that Maryland was able to overcome against the weaker parts of the schedule turned out to be more dangerous against a competent Charlotte team. The Terps did show better poise and doggedness in the pivotal 2nd half to pull away with a 10 point win that wasn't really that close. The bench had its best game of the season given the opponent that took the fourth best team in the ACC, Clemson, down the wire in a one point loss. I think the poor defensive effort had much to do with a level of complacency that had developed over the last few games against inferior opponents. Greivis Vasquez (27 points, 4 rebounds) proved again that he is the premier player on this team and the best Maryland player since Juan Dixon left campus.

The defensive lapses were the most glaring weakness in this game. Maryland was so worried about Charlotte's athletic frontcourt abusing Dave Neal and Landon Milbourne that they were trying to double when the ball went into the post. This left Charlotte's perimeter shooters open and they connected on seven of their fourteen shots in the first half. This gave the Niners their halftime lead at 41-38. The Terps cranked up the defensive ball pressure and started pushing the ball in transition in the 2nd half to take the lead for good after the first five minutes. Gary Williams switched to a zone defense, looked like a 1-2-2, which really gave Charlotte fits on offense. There were few open looks after that on the perimeter and though the Charlotte frontcourt may be athletic they don't have any real efficient low post scorer.

Sean Mosley may have had a breakout game with 11 points and 5 rebounds. Williams seems to like Mosley as much as any freshman in recent memory, mostly because he is a hard worker in practice and bulldog on the court. Mosley does the little things very well and is savvy for a freshman, but his shots were just not falling. Perhaps his two 3-pointers (he only had one prior to that all year) were a sign the lid is now off the basket. If Maryland is going to make it back to the tournament they will need contributions off the bench like this.

Cliff Tucker also played well off the bench with 8 points and 3 rebounds in only 10 minutes. He got a little sloppy at the end of the game along with Adrian Bowie and allowed the Niners to take a 19 point rout down to the final margin of ten points. If Tucker and Mosley can continue to play this way off the bench Maryland will be a very tough team to play.

Dino Gregory and Braxton Dupree combined to make a pretty effective big man. Those two helped the Terps obliterate Charlotte on the boards and combined for 9 rebounds in just over 30 minutes. Neither scored much but if they can rebound and play defense the rest of the team will pick up the slack. You have to wonder how long Dave Neal will hold onto his starting spot once ACC play starts. Neal got exposed at times by the bigger and athletic players of Charlotte, which more closely resemble the frontcourts of Georgia Tech and Miami than Elon and Bryant. Neal can be a fine bench player but you can't play him 20 minutes in the ACC and expect to get away with it.

Eric Hayes has been struggling with his outside shot recently but hit a few open looks when his teammates looked for him spotting up. He has a habit of sneaking around and getting himself open especially when the ball is in the corner or when he is on the weak side.

Adrian Bowie hasn't played all that great since solidifying his starting spot. He is going through a shooting slump (only one for his last twelve from 3-point range) and has been a little sloppy with the ball (9 turnovers the last three games). Despite all that he is still the best on the ball defender when he is motivated and can create offense with his drives to the basket. For his size he may be the best rebounder on the team. Mosley and Tucker are bound to put some pressure on Bowie to keep his starting spot.

Landon Milbourne has scored in double figures in seven straight games, the longest streak of his career, and is showing some impressive maturation during this season. He is very efficient in his shooting (52%) and is relying less on his outside shot this season. His defense has improved since the beginning of the year though he will be tested more with ACC play starting this Saturday. Milbourne has become a legitimate complement to Vasquez while being able to score in almost every offensive category, he has shooting range out to the 3-point line, scores well in transition and has the best vertical ability of any player on the team. How he fairs in ACC play will be a key to the team's fortunes as he was too inconsistent in league play last year.

The Terps will hopefully get some good news regarding Jerome Burney's injury status this week before the Georgia Tech game. Freshman big Steve Goins is also being evaluated for a potential stress fracture (force these guys to drink some milk, please) but with how little he played before the injury I'm not sure Gary Williams would use him much anyway.