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.


Judicature said...

It seems like at key points in the game Dave Neal worked his "magic" and missed shots, took ill advised 3's or got out-played on the boards. I appreciate how hard he plays, but why is he getting so many minutes? Gary is yelling at him all the time, and he keeps messing up at pivotal moments. Any other player would be sitting on the pine. Any insights?

Esquire said...

There are probably a number of reasons why Neal gets the minutes he does but few of them carry any weight. I can speculate on the reasons Gary Williams plays Neal as much as he does and I think pride and the desire to prove people wrong has a great deal to do with it. The obvious rational explaination is this: Jerome Burney and Steve Goins are hurt while Braxton Dupree has been terrible. Dino Gregory isn't quite the offensive "threat" that Neal is and with an offense struggling so badly he may feel they need Neal's jump shooting ability. I don't agree with that logic but that is probably the reason he is playing. Now I knew that he wouldn't be able to score 10+ points in the majority of ACC games but maybe Gary convinced himself that Neal might be able to pull it off. Contrary to some post game news reports after Miami and GT I don't think Neal is close to being the best interior defender if you factor in rebounding, as you should.

Neal is essentially a slow, unathletic small forward who is overmatched in the low post and can only shoot 10-20 foot jumpers on offense. I'm not sure how that makes him superior to Gregory, Dupree (as bad as he has been) or Jin Soo Kim.