Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Women stumble short of Final Four

When Kristi Toliver finished her freshman season having hit the game winning shot in the national championship game it must have seemed like playing for a national title would be an annual occurrence. Unfortunately the climax of her career happened at the outset and the subsequent acts have been a let down. Maryland became only the second team to fail to make the Final Four in consecutive seasons as a number one seed. As great as Toliver and Marissa Coleman have been in their careers at Maryland this team didn't seem to be able to buckle down and get the defensive stops they needed in crunch time. Louisville played a tenacious and physical defense that had the Terps offense flummoxed for the entire game. Toliver and Coleman couldn't get any rhythm on offense and combined to shoot 11/27 from the floor, with many of those baskets coming when Maryland was already trailing by double digits. It didn't help that Maryland's bench could contribute nothing to help the starters get back in the game.

There is a very frosty relationship between coach Brenda Frese and her former assistant and current Louisville head coach Jeff Walz. It was clear from the the way Walz was celebrating on the sideline that this victory was especially sweet for him beyond just getting his current program to a Final Four. There just seems to be something missing in the program since the magical national title run. The women's team certainly has great talent but they tend to come up short when they get deeper into the tournament and get away from College Park.

In other news here is a good summary of the men's basketball team from the ACC Sports Journal. I agree completely that the fate of this squad really depends on the return of Greivis Vasquez. The rest of the players on the squad have failed to show that they are much more than complementary players. Without Vasquez this team may stumble through the season and be on the bubble again if the ACC is hit with massive defections to the NBA draft but they probably have little hope of doing better than that. With Vasquez they could be very good indeed.

Virginia hired Washington State head coach Tony Bennett to replace Dave Leitao. If you thought Herb Sendek's offense at N.C. State was difficult to watch be prepared to explore a new version of 40 minutes of hell. The last three season Washington State's tempo was ranked 340, 335 and 322 according to Ken Pomeroy. No team in the ACC the last three years ranked below 266 (N.C. State) in tempo. Big Ten basketball coming to your arena! It will be interesting to see how that fits with the players that Bennett inherits from Leitao because their system was almost a direct opposite. A stall ball based offense with an emphasis on half court defense is not really what the players on Virginia are suited for so it will be interesting to see who stays and if they are able to make that transition.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Spring Football notes

The Spring practice for football has kicked off culminating in the annual scrimmage on Saturday April 25. The Spring and Summer practices will be critical to determine a number of pressing issues with this team in flux. A huge group of seniors departed this team and there is a void that will have to be filled by younger players. I'm not sure that it is all bad that this team will have a different character than the squad from last season. There was clearly a lack of leadership last season and the senior class had a fair number of players who never really lived up to expectations. It remains to be seen if the younger players will step up to replace the departed veterans but this team is accumulating more talent if they are sacrificing experience.

Safety Kenny Tate will stay at his position instead of switching back to wide receiver. Tate was the most heralded local recruit last season and was used his freshman season to provide depth at safety. Right now Terrell Skinner and Jamari McCollough are the starting duo at free safety and strong safety with Antwine Perez and Tate are the backups. The depth at receiver probably was the main reason Tate did not switch back to receiver where he would have to learn a new position and likely be put behind as a result.

Defensive tackle Dion Armstrong and LT Bruce Campbell will sit out the Spring to focus on academics. If Campbell were to become ineligible it would be a major blow to the offensive line. The current starters on the depth chart are: RT Paul Pinegar, RG Justin Lewis, C Phil Costa, and LG Lamar Young. Lewis is a freshman and Young is only a sophomore. I wouldn't be surprised if the depth chart gets shuffled after the Spring game.

The defensive line is also being reshuffled. The four starting linemen are: DE Derek Drummond, NT Dion Armstrong (A.J. Francis will play in his spot this Spring), DT Travis Ivey and "Anchor" Jared Harrell. True freshman De'Onte Arnett is already listed on the depth chart and will be worth watching. He is perhaps the most exciting freshman in this class.

Other noteworthy depth chart listings: Tommy Gault is listed ahead of Lansford Watson at tight end, Emani Lee-Odai is listed as the slot receiver replacing departed Danny Oquendo, and former tight end Drew Gloster, who was in danger of flunking off the team, is currently the starting middle linebacker with Alex Wujciak sidelined due to injury. Nick Wallace is listed as the current place kicker with David May as the kick off specialist. Place kicker will be a very interesting spot to keep an eye on before the season starts.

Also out with injury are LB Ben Pooler, FB Cory Jackson, WR LaQuan Williams and DB Richard Taylor.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Talent catches up with Terps

For most of the season Gary Williams tried to persuade his team that if the executed well enough that they could play with any team in the country. It wouldn't matter that they didn't have a legitimate post player or were sorely lacking when it comes to players who can put the ball in the basket on a regular basis if they played "their game." To Williams credit that mantra actually worked for most of the second half of the season when they pulled out improbable wins over North Carolina and Wake Forest. It was also the case that when Maryland put forth a lackluster effort they were capable of losing to any foe, even a struggling Virginia squad that saw its coach get fired after the season.

The Terps never seriously threatened Memphis on Saturday and I don't think it had much to do with effort on either end of the court. It is true that Maryland didn't have one of its better games of the season but they probably didn't play all that much worse than they had against California in the opening round. The difference was that Memphis has much more talented players than either Maryland or Cal. Looking at the rosters from two through nine in the rotation Memphis had an incredible advantage at nearly every position. Memphis forward Robert Dozier had as many points (17) and more rebounds (8) as Maryland starters Dave Neal and Landon Milbourne combined. Dozier and his fellow forward Shawn Taggart combined for 31 points and 19 rebounds in dominating the interior game against Maryland. It wasn't just on the inside that Maryland was outclassed. Tigers' guard Tyreke Evans was able to get past any Maryland defender that Williams tried to put on him and his combination of size and quickness seemed to leave Maryland's players befuddled. Memphis probably got lucky in hitting over 70% of their 3-point attempts in the 1st half but it was a byproduct of their ability to carve up Maryland's defense at will. Doneal Mack did most of the damage from outside with five 3-point baskets to finish with 17 points while first round hero Roburt (not a typo) Sallie added a trio of 3-pointers to finish with 13 points. Don't forget Antonio Anderson who may have only scored two points but notched 11 assists as he helped his teammates dice up Maryland.

The interesting thing is that Memphis hardly needed their bench at all. The Terp starters got outscored 69-53 by the Tigers and outside of Sallie didn't get that much help from the rest of the team. Three of the starters played over 30 minutes even as Memphis approached a 30 point lead. Not that I'm suggesting John Calipari was being unsportsman like or that Memphis was trying to teach Greivis Vasquez to keep his mouth shut when playing a team that came into the NCAA Tournament with a top three ranking. You need to keep your starters sharp in the postseason and after the lackluster performance against Cal State I would have kept the starters in there longer as well.

The wins over North Carolina and Wake Forest, a team that appears to have been a colossal fraud, probably distracted the fans from the sober truth that when faced with more talented foes this team usually lost and lost ugly. This game was a reality check for where the talent level at Maryland stands. Outside of Vasquez there isn't a single player on the team that could carry the Terps to the postseason next year. They deserve a great deal of credit for some gutsy performances under some adverse circumstances but you can't bluff your way through the season with a poor cards because at some point a player with a better hand is going to call you.

I thought it was really foolish of Vasquez to claim that Memphis would have not faired well in the ACC. It is legitimate to wonder how good the Tigers actually are because they have not played anyone good in months but any hubris that ACC teams had going into the Tournament about their league should have been erased for good on Friday night when three teams lost to double digit seeds in the first round. It was a shocking bucket of ice cold water on the idea that the ACC was anywhere near the best league in the nation during the season. I doubt Vasquez's ill conceived opinion about Memphis' ability to compete in an overrated ACC had much to do with the rout but it couldn't of helped matters. Vasquez needs to learn a few lessons about dealing with the media and the fine line between bravado and foolishness. His 18 points and 8/16 shooting were by far the best line of any Maryland player but even he was hard pressed to keep up with Memphis' athletes at times.

I'll be following the rest of the NCAA Tournament and even perhaps giving a look in on the women's team fortunes. I'll also have a series of articles on this season and a review of this squads high and low points. We'll know much more about the prospects of next year's team after Vasquez makes his NBA draft plans and recruit Lance Stephenson makes his decision next week at the McDonalds All-American game.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Then there were three

The ACC absolutely laid an ostrich sized egg last night. Wake Forest, Florida State and Boston College all lost to lower seeds and in the case of BC and Wake not even by close margins. I thought the Eagles would lose to a very athletic USC squad that is playing its best basketball of the season but the collapses of FSU and Wake were somewhat shocking. We all know Lenard Hamilton couldn't coach his way out of a paper bag but losing to a middling team with very little talent like Wisconsin is embarrassing. Four of the five most talented players on the floor in that game were probably on FSU and they had a commanding halftime lead yet Hamilton still found a way to squander what should have been a resounding victory. Buster Sports has an apt description of the end of the game for FSU and Hamilton's futile efforts to extricate himself from that proverbial paper bag. I almost picture Hamilton picking up his white board and drawing a hoop with a ball going through via dashes and announcing to his dumb struck players, "that's the plan, got it?"

I'm not sure what to make of Dino Gaudio. It is probably still to early to judge him as a coach although the early returns are not impressive. I thought he did a good job of guiding him team last season to a 7-9 record but this year, with far superior talent, his team flopped. Forward James Johnson might just be Wake's version of Brandon Costner, talented but too taken with his own abilities to play within the confines of a system if Wake even has a system on offense. The offensive possessions that Wake had when Cleveland State stumbled and let the lead get into single digits were textbook examples of guys who all thought they were already playing in the NBA. There was no off ball movement and the dribbler either chucked a bad outside shot or tried to drive into the teeth of the defense. I think it was clear that the Deacons quit about half way through the 2nd half. Disgraceful performance by all but a handful of players on that team. Who knows what will happen in the off season with the NBA draft but I doubt the Demon Deacons of next fall will resemble this bunch and that might not be a bad thing.

So after the first round of the NCAA Tournament the only three ACC teams remaining are Duke, North Carolina and little old Maryland. Many fans made a point of mocking the Big Ten and even challenging the Big East's supposed supremacy but it has been the ACC that has fallen on its face in this tournament. It is true that teams like Illinois and West Virginia also went out unceremoniously in the first round but out of all the major conferences, save the horrible SEC, the league that has looked the most fraudulent is the Atlantic Coast Conference.

With a first round victory over a higher seed already in the bank I think Maryland is playing with house money at this point. They are very capable of giving Memphis a game because they are playing loose and with low expectations. Memphis is the "should have been a one seed" team that almost had a colossal bracket killing collapse against Cal State Northridge. I think it is likely that the magic run by Maryland will end today but with Gary Williams and Greivis Vasquez the Terps always have a chance no matter what the talent imbalance.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Maryland slips past Bears

Maryland put Cal away with a 10-2 run with 10 minutes left in the 2nd half. Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes both drained 3-point shots and Adrian Bowie sparked the Terps with two driving layups during the three and half minute period when Maryland took control of the game. Vasquez was sensational again with 27 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists and nothing California tried worked to slow him down.

Dave Neal had a very nice performance with 15 points on 6/11 shooting and was in the right place at the right time all game long.

Eric Hayes chipped in 14 points on 4/9 shooting and added 5 points from the foul line. He struggled a little with the quickness of Cal's guards but overall was effective on offense.

Adrian Bowie struggled a little in the 1st half but made some critical plays in the 2nd half including two really huge offensive rebounds down the stretch (at the 7 minute and 2 minute marks) to help seal the game.

Landon Milbourne struggled on defense and committed some silly fouls but his offense was enough to help put Maryland over the top with 9 points and 5 rebounds.

As a team Maryland really played the perimeter well against Cal and held them to 29% shooting from beyond the arc. They were aggressive getting out on shooters and almost always had a hand in the face of Cal's perimeter players. I was surprised the zone gave a good shooting team like the Bears such trouble late in the game but at that point I think Cal had gotten lazy on offense and wasn't moving off the ball anymore. After a great 1st half Maryland's aggressive defense shut down Bears' point guard Jerome Randle.

One weakness in this game was that the Terps left a bunch of points at the free throw line. They missed eight free throws and shot only 66%. On the positive side they got to the free throw line 24 times, which is an absolute explosion compared to recent trends. They will have to do more of the same against Memphis.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mosley rising

A player to watch in the NCAA Tournament might just be freshman Sean Mosley. The freshman wall doesn't seem to be a problem for Mosley given that he didn't play a large number of minutes early in the season. In the three games of the ACC Tournament Mosley averaged 8.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and shot 47% from the floor in 25 minutes per game. Very solid contributions that were all above his regular season averages. He also played some very good defense against taller and bigger players like Duke's Gerald Henderson. While Mosley still struggles with his shooting from time to time and has missed some point blank shots his physical presence on defense and on the boards has been critical.

While Vasquez has been the engine that drives Maryland (17.7 points, 7.6 assists and 6 rebounds per game in the ACC Tournament) he has gotten more help from Eric Hayes in recent games. Hayes' shooting has been fantastic the last few games (68% from the floor, 66% from 3-point range) even though his floor game has been a little shaky at times.

Landon Milbourne is still really struggling on offense but his rebounding and defense have improved recently. 

Maryland has played at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, the site of this opening round, recently. Last season they lost to UCLA and Missouri in a early season tournament. In those two games Greivis Vasquez averaged 18 points and 7 rebounds. It is also worth noting that Maryland has two guards in Hayes and Vasquez that have more experience in the NCAA Tournament than anyone on Cal.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

ACC & Tournament notes

Virginia's head coach Dave Leitao resigned after agreeing to a buyout on his remaining contract for over $2 million. Certainly the Cavaliers were terrible this season, who didn't expect that with Sean Singletary departing off a team that wasn't any good last year, but Leitao has a mixed legacy at Virginia. Some folks knocked his recruiting but he was in the mix for players like Patrick Patterson, Ed Davis and Elliot Williams and Sylven Landesburg has the chance to be a star at Virginia like Singletary. A top 75 player in Tristan Spurlock was supposed to be coming next year and holdovers Assane Sene, John Brandenburg and Mike Scott were developing on the inside. The problems with Leitao seemed to be more about his personality which was viewed as abrasive at times. I think the nonconference schedule turned out to be far more challenging than Leitao thought. Their first six games included three against NCAA Tournament teams (Radford, at Syracuse and at Minnesota) along with pretty solid mid-majors in VMI and Liberty. The Wahoos also played Xavier and a bubble team in Auburn putting a young team in a very difficult spot. During their ACC play Virginia played eight straight games against NCAA Tournament teams. If Virginia had played a more reasonable schedule you have to wonder if Leitao would still have a job. Patrick Stevens at the Washington Times pointed out that the new and expensive John Paul Jones Arena might have been a millstone around Leitao's neck. Two seasons ago Leitao won an improbable 11 games in the ACC and went to the NCAA Tournament as a 4 seed. Does Virginia really think they will hire a coach who will do that in his first three seasons? I doubt it.

There are also rumors that Miami's Frank Haith might be looking to get out of South Florida. With Jack McClinton departing off an NIT squad Haith might be looking to get out of this elevator before it crashes to the basement next year.

To all those commentators who were whining about St. Mary's getting snubbed on Sunday please give it a rest. I'm not sure why people think "fairness" involves major conference teams going to play mid-majors on the road. That is the world we live in folks. Many schools have to pay the Title IX bills with home games in basketball and they are not going to give up tens of thousands of dollars so the Missouri Valley conference can get a better chance at earning at large bids. If you want "fairness" then let's eliminate the automatic bids for all conferences from the ACC to the Southland and throw everyone into the same pot. Fact is the current system is much more fair to marginal schools that just have a basketball team because it is the cheapest route to free athletic advertising than any other college sport. If schools like St. Mary's want to earn at large bids then they need to go on the road and play major conference schools. That is just the way it is. I don't want to entertain any complaining about how St. Mary's can't get those games when TWO of their first three games this season were against non-division I opponents. Don't cry about not getting opportunities to play the big boys when you bring in Seattle Pacific and Vanguard. Maybe if they had played another decent Division I team instead of those two opponents they would not have had to schedule Eastern Washington after the season was over in a pathetic attempt to earn an NCAA bid. I'm glad the NCAA didn't reward St. Mary's attempt to schedule their way into the tournament. 

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tigers and Bears

Maryland's matchup with California could be a very interesting contrast in styles. The Bears are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the entire nation and mostly rely on outscoring their opponents instead of playing defense. Maryland tries not to shoot as many 3-point shots and isn't nearly as successful, ranked 212th in 3-point percentage according to Ken Pomeroy. Maryland is a far superior defensive team, however, with the exception of their perimeter defense. I've only seen Cal play a few times but I don't think they have the inside players to exploit Maryland's frontcourt so I doubt you'll see Maryland play as much zone in this game, given the 3-point shooting of Cal, or give as much help inside as they sometimes do. The Terps will certainly employ the press against Cal and try to force them into mistakes. The Bears don't turn the ball over very often but have not seen the kind of pressure Maryland can put on the ball very often in the Pac-10. Cal may not turn the ball over very much but they also don't cause many turnovers and are near the bottom of the NCAA in steals (325th in steal %) and causing turnovers (287th in turnover %).

California's players:

Guard: Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher are both juniors and were selected to the 1st team All-Pac 10 this year. Randle is an undersized point guard but with a good handle and very quick off the dribble. He has been outstanding from 3-point range (46.7%) and Maryland will want to force him to put the ball on the floor and drive the lane. He has been very successful in getting to the free throw line and will do damage there as well as from beyond the arc. His shooting from outside in Pac-10 play was still very good at 41.7% but did drop off once he got in conference.  It will be interesting to see how the 5'10" Randle plays against the slower but much bigger Maryland backcourt. I would think Adrian Bowie would get this assignment on defense. On defense Randle would be overmatched against any of Maryland's bigger guards like Hayes or Vasquez. Look for Maryland to try to post up if Randle is guarding Vasquez, Hayes or Mosley. Christopher is a bigger guard who can shoot the 3-point shot or go inside but is clearly the second option behind Randle. Christopher struggled a little more than Randle in Pac-10 play and shot 38% from 3-point range and 43% from the floor. Jorge Gutierrez is the main guard off the bench and is more a hustle and defensive oriented player. I wouldn't be surprised if Cal coach Mike Montgomery tries to assign Gutierrez to guard Vasquez if he explodes in the 1st half.

Forward: former Duke washout Jamal Boykin (6'8") is the main post player for Cal and he does a decent job as a complementary player. He can score but is more talented as a rebounder. Small forward Theo Robertson is a wing player who can stroke the ball from outside (42% in conference play) and still play an intermediate game. He is a high flyer who can also play above the rim. His role has increased as the season has gone on and will likely play a big role for Cal in the NCAA Tournament. The other starter is 7 foot center Jordan Wilkes who plays under 20 minutes a game and averages about 4 points and 4 rebounds a game. His size could give Maryland some problems on the offensive glass but he is about what you'd get from Duke's Brian Zoubek. He is more of a role player. Wilkes shares time with 6'8" forward Harper Kamp who is also mostly a role player and defensive presence at 255 pounds.

This game will probably come down to Cal's shooting. If they are hot then Maryland will likely lose but if the Terps can keep the Bears from shooting well from outside I don't see how they will win this game. Cal is a less skilled and more one dimensional version of Duke. They probably have more rugged, but unskilled post players, and lack the ability to bring defensive pressure on opponents that Duke thrives off applying. In the resent weeks Maryland has done well against teams that play poor half court defense and the Bears fit that description. Cal has failed to hold an opponent under 100 in offensive efficiency in 14 of their last 15 games. In contrast Maryland has been able to do that in three of the last six games. 

Cal did play Florida State on a neutral floor earlier in the season and came up short, 80-77. In that game the Seminoles held off Cal's furious comeback (down 11 with under two minutes left) even though Toney Douglas and Chris Singleton had fouled out.

I certainly don't think it will be an easy game for Maryland but I think Cal is an opponent that will struggle to exploit some of Maryland's weaknesses, with the exception of 3-point shooting. Overall it is a pretty good matchup for Maryland. The last time Maryland played a Pac-10 team was number one seed Stanford in the 2001 NCAA Tournament with current Cal coach Mike Montgomery as the Cardinal head coach. Maryland won that game on the way to the first Final Four in school history.

If Maryland can get by Cal then they would likely face number two seed Memphis Tigers in the second round.

On Saturday Duke edged past Maryland to get to the ACC Tournament final against Florida State, which they won. I think in that game Maryland ran out of gas. They won't admit it but three games in three days under the sort of pressure Maryland was under must have been exhausting. They gave Duke a good test but in the end they didn't have the scorers to keep up with the Blue Devils. Duke did a great job minimizing Greivis Vasquez, forcing him to take bad shots and preventing him from attacking the defense so he could creating opportunities for teammates. Maryland did get a bunch of good looks on offensive rebounds but maddeningly couldn't convert on several close shots. I can't remember the last time I saw a box score with 19 offensive rebounds resulting in only 7 second chance points. Kyle Singler destroyed Landon Milbourne and whoever else Gary Williams tried to put on him. He only had 14 points but grabbed 8 offensive rebounds. Jon Scheyer provided most of the scoring punch for Duke with 22 points on 6/12 shooting. Eric Hayes had a nice last five minutes of the game in which he scored the majority of his 20 points but by that time Duke had backed off the defense with a double digit lead and was almost content to trade baskets with Maryland. If that scoring outburst had come a little earlier Maryland may have had a chance to win. At halftime Hayes had five points and three turnovers. Dave Neal, Dino Gregory and Cliff Tucker could only muster 7 points in over 50 minutes of combined play. Besides Vasquez, Hayes and Bowie no one else produced much. Sean Mosley did a very good job on Gerald Henderson (3/14 shooting) and chipped in 8 points.

And one more thing: big props to Duke coach Mike Kryzewski who launched into a spirited defense of Maryland after his team had advanced to the ACC final. He didn't have to do it and he had plenty to focus on with his team but he went out of his way to stump for Gary Williams and Maryland. I'm not sure there is another coach in the league that would have done that. It is clear that he and Williams have a great deal of respect for each other.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Terps get back in NCAA as 10 seed

Maryland not only gets back to the NCAA Tournament with room to spare as a 10 seed but gets a very nice matchup with California in Kansas City. More on the Bears tomorrow.

Enjoy fellow Terp fans!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Terps awaken NCAA hopes

You could almost picture Gary Williams making a speech to his squad like Herb Brooks gave to his USA hockey team before playing the Soviet Union at Lake Placid so many years ago. If Wake Forest played Maryland ten times they might win nine, but not last night, not in this game, not with all that was at stake for Maryland. It is hard to not appreciate this group of players. Lacking the supreme talent of many other teams they find a way to win games that they probably shouldn't even if they also lose games they shouldn't. For the next week or so just forget all the legitimate complaints about the direction of the program and how Maryland has gotten to this point after reaching the pinnacle of college basketball. Those questions will still be there when this season passes into history. Until then enjoy this minor miracle because they are rare and it would be a shame to not embrace it, to squander a gift like this, because for fans these kinds of seasons have a sweetness that is unique and memorable.

It was a complete effort and one I'll have to write about more after the weekend but in the mean time you can read this story from the ACC Sports Journal about how Dave Neal, Landon Milbourne and Sean Mosley helped Maryland out rebound Wake Forest.

Buster Sports also has a summary of the game here. They feel Maryland has earned a bid and so do I. 

Friday, March 13, 2009

One down, one to go

Maryland didn't play great against N.C. State but they made the shots they needed to down the stretch to pull away with a nip and tuck 74-69 victory. The offense was disjointed in the first half until Eric Hayes came in a hit some shots that he couldn't in the Virginia loss while Maryland was down double digits to N.C. State. Playing with the news that a close family friend had died in the course of a routine surgery earlier Hayes had a career night with 21 points on five 3-point baskets. Greivis Vasquez sliced through State's zone and found open shooters like Hayes, Tucker and Neal on the perimeter. Maryland hit 9/16 3-point shots to make up for the fact that there was little inside game for the Terps. Maryland had other contributions from Sean Mosley, Dino Gregory and Cliff Tucker to give them at least some bench scoring. I'm still not sure what is the source of Milbourne's struggles but his offense was lacking again in this game which effects his defense as well. He didn't have a single defensive rebound. How is that possible?

The defense was adequate and when they went to a zone it gave the Wolfpack trouble until they placed shooters deeper on the wing and hit a few shots but the poor shot selection by State doomed them. Ben McCauley had a nice night (14 points, 7 rebounds) but Tracy Smith was a nonfactor having almost as many turnovers (3) as points (4).

Maryland will have to shoot at the same blazing pace tonight and control the boards better if they are to have a chance against Wake Forest.

Here is a nice summary of the 1984 Len Bias led Maryland team that won the ACC Tournament.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Road woes

Neither Maryland nor N.C. State have been particularly good road teams this season. With the ACC Tournament in Atlanta it is closer to a neutral court as opposed to Greensboro or Charlotte. The Wolfpack have only won two games away from home all season: at New Orleans and Georgia Tech. Now Maryland's road or neutral record isn't very impressive but it is better than that. I'm not worried that the coach stylings of Sidley Lowe will catch Maryland unprepared but his players could step it up in one game. The players for N.C. State are mostly a bunch of sulking quitters so if Maryland can get out to an early lead I see them quitting, unlike Virginia. The Wolfpack are dangerous from 3-point range which is likely to be Maryland's undoing if N.C. State pulls an upset.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Turbulent Times

The ACC Sports Journal has a very nice summary of the last few weeks of the season for Gary Williams not so merry bunch. You can see a free premium Terps Insider article by clicking here.

I'm starting to come around to the idea that this team may have overachieved but that in recent weeks they have regressed to the mean. You could easily give them credit for many of the close losses they have endured this season and they certainly would have a much better record but I think bad teams usually lose close games. Maryland may not be a "bad" team this season but they are certainly very flawed. The anemic offense keeps Maryland from blowing out any team, the largest margin of victory in the ACC was 11 points to N.C. State, and the average margin of victory this season was a mere 6.1 points. The average margin of defeat in ACC games this year was 13.2 points and even throwing out the 41 point loss to Duke as an anomaly the margin is still 9.75 points. Maryland had five single digit losses in the conference but also had five single digit wins so in essence I think this team ended with the record they deserved.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Terp links

Buster Sports on the Atlantic division prospects for 2009. Click here.

Who was most responsible for Maryland's failed possession down 64-61 in the Virginia game? According to them Gary Williams. Hard for me to disagree. 

ACC Sports Journal has an interview with John Fienstein that is worth reading. Part I and Part II can be found here.

TW's All-ACC

The media announced their All-ACC selections the other day and there were not really any surprises or outrageous omissions. As Robbi Pickeral wrote on his blog at the Raleigh News & Observer the plurality of the members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association (ACSM) who do the voting for these honors are from North Carolina, fifty nine to be exact. Maryland only has two members out of the 128 voters which is only better than the one voter from Massachusetts. When you consider that Maryland was a founding member of the ACC that is much worse to me. South Carolina and Georgia have six and thirteen voters respectively even though the states only have one ACC member like Maryland. Virginia has 22, Florida 14 and there are 11 members with "regional or national" designation. No surprise that the voting is often skewed in favor of the North Carolina schools.

There isn't much arguing about the teams that were selected. I'm not sure who voted for Ty Lawson on the defensive team but their concept of defense must be letting your man dribble by you. For my money Toney Douglas is the Player of the Year in the ACC. Not only is he one of the best ball defenders in the league but he is the main scoring threat on his team. That is a rare combination.

Here are some additional thoughts on players around the league:

Most Underrated: F Joe Trapani forward Boston College, there is no way this modestly talented Eagles team would be in the NCAA tournament with Trapani's versatile floor game. His 20 points against Duke and 19 points against FSU punched the NCAA Tournament ticket for his team.

Most Overrated: G Jack McClinton Miami, sure he can get hot from behind the arc and is a great shooter with very deep range but what else does he do well? They basically have the same team back from last season minus Anthony King and this year has been an obvious failure. His defense is mediocre at best and he doesn't really make any of his teammates better despite his scoring ability. He is one of those rare players that shoots better from beyond 3-point range than from inside the line. If he looked for Dwayne Collins or Brian Asbury more then the Hurricanes would be a more balanced team and probably in the NCAA Tournament. Honorable mention F Jeff Allen Virginia Tech

All-Grunt Team
These guys don't do much damage in the box score but really make their team better.

Demontez Stitt, Clemson
Calvin Baker, Virginia
Sean Mosley, Maryland
Solomon Alabi, Florida State
Ben McCauley, N.C. State

All-Punk Team
These guys are either dirty players or preening jerks

Jeff Allen, Virginia Tech (two years in a row)
Chas McFarland, Wake Forest (also two years in a row)
Trevor Booker, Clemson (one of the worst preening big men in years)
Gerald Henderson, Duke (not as bad as Dahntay Jones but who is?)
Greivis Vasquez, Maryland (good natured but he crosses the line too often)

Monday, March 09, 2009

Vasquez 2nd team All-ACC

Greivis Vasquez was voted 2nd team All-ACC by the media for the second straight season. Vasquez is the only player since Lonny Baxter and Juan Dixon to finish 2nd team All-ACC or higher in two straight seasons. Forward Nik Caner-Medley finished with two 3rd team All-ACC selections in his career.

You can read the release from the ACC by clicking here. The selection of Vasquez to 2nd team All-ACC might surprise some Maryland fans but it probably shows that the rest of the league has more respect and appreciation for him than do many of his own fanbase.

In other news Patrick Stevens of the Washington Times reports that N.C. State's Courtney Fells will likely play against Maryland after missing the last game of the year with a groin pull. Vasquez torched Fells in the game last week for 33 points but I have a feeling this game will be different.

Virginia spoils Terps postseason hopes

Gary Williams rejected any comparisons to last season before the stunning loss to Virginia on Saturday but though the actors are different the script is very familiar. Going into a game that would have gone a long way towards punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament Maryland squandered much of its goodwill heading into selection Sunday with a loss to bottom dweller Virginia. Now it will probably require at least two wins in the ACC Tournament for Maryland to get back on the right side of the bubble.

The effort and intensity that was there for the North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest games was not there for this game. After getting out to a double digit lead Maryland squandered it with some quick shots and bad decisions on offense and only went into the half up by one, 27-26. The defense certainly faltered in the 2nd half but I think this game was more about Maryland's inept offense than anything else. When you hold a home team to 64 points, removing the free throws at the end of the game due to Maryland fouling, you should be able to win. With a decent offense Maryland should have been leading Virginia by almost 20 points when the Cavaliers started the game hitting only 3 of the first 17 field goal attempts. Instead the Terps looked lazy and lifeless on offense and settled for poor shots. Leading by 13 with 6 minutes left in the half Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes combined to go 0-2 from the floor with 2 turnovers in the next three minutes to get Virginia back within two points.

Virginia switched to a zone defense that caused Maryland all kinds of problems. With Wake Forest having done the same thing the game before you had better expect N.C. State will show Maryland some zone looks on defense in the ACC Tournament. Neither the players nor the staff had any answer for the zone until very late in the game when Neal started getting hot from outside. Why Gary Williams didn't make adjustments I don't know, this wasn't one of his more impressive coaching feats this season. With Hayes, Cliff Tucker and Vasquez all cold from outside there wasn't much Maryland was able to do against Virginia's zone. You would think it would be ideal to put in Jin Soo Kim and hope that with some high screens he might be able to break up the zone with some outside shooting. Kim never took off his warmups however. The Terps probably settled for the outside shot too often in the 2nd half and while Vasquez (1-6 from 3-point range) was certainly guilty of some poor outside shooting Hayes, Bowie, Tucker and Milbourne went a combined 1-11 from outside for the game. 

Hayes is similar to former shooting guard Mike Jones in that you know what you will get within the first 10 minutes of the game. In the 1st half Hayes went 1-4 from the floor and wasn't much of a factor the rest of the game. It is true that he hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 61 but he also went 3-10 for the game and allowed Mamadi Diane to score a bunch of his 23 points. I'm not sure what is going on with Landon Milbourne either but if either he or Hayes had a decent game it was likely that along with the 21 points from Vasquez and 15 points from Dave Neal Maryland would have pulled out a victory. In the last four games Hayes is averaging 8.0 points and Milbourne is averging 9.0 points and Hayes is only hitting 21% of his 3-point shots. Milbourne is shooting well (46%) but he hasn't been moving as much on offense and hence isn't getting open as much. In the last few weeks Maryland has relied on Vasquez (20ppg in the last four) and Dave Neal (12.7ppg in the last four) to be competitive and it is worth noting that the only two victories were when Vasquez scored over 30 points. The bench and other starters have failed the team.

Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker and Sean Mosley haven't been providing much offense either. Bowie has not been the same player since missing time with the flu and Tucker had his two outbursts against UNC but hasn't done much otherwise. Mosley has not shown the scoring touch that people expected coming out of high school.

Neal has played very well the last few games and I have to give him credit for stepping up and hitting the big shots when the team needed him. It is too bad that players like Hayes and Milbourne lack his sense of urgency. Besides Vasquez he has been the only player who has given consistent effort over the last four games.

Dino Gregory plays hard but rarely plays well these days. His rebounding and defense has dropped off even if he is playing against better front lines. Is Dave Neal at any less of an disadvantage than Gregory or Milbourne playing against bigger and taller opponents? Neal seems to be able to find ways to produce against far superior athletes while Gregory hasn't been to successful. Gregory is a tweener who really doesn't have a natural position in college and his lack of ability to play a small and quick power forward or big and physical small forward makes him of dubious utility. For the minutes he has played he hasn't been productive.

This team has started to settle for jump shots and their inability to get to the free throw line has exacerbated their ineffectiveness on offense. In the last four games Maryland's opponents have shot 42 more free throws than the Terps (83:41). With an offense that is so limited that is death. Maryland needs to get better ball movement and try to get more offense going inside but with teams starting to sit back in zones that will be difficult.

I know Vasquez is taking some heat for his shot with Maryland trailing by three and about 30 seconds left. To me that is garbage. Most of the fault with that botched possession goes to Gary Williams. He should have called timeout when he saw that the high screens he was setting were for the wrong defense, with Virginia switching to man on man, but he never did and Vasquez was forced to try a bad shot with most of his teammates standing around. Where is the mention of Eric Hayes coming off Diane on defense when Virginia hit the go ahead basket? It isn't as if Diane had not already scored 20 points in the game. In my mind Vasquez and Neal were right to point out that some other guys on the team have not been focused or ready to play. If Tucker, Bowie, Milbourne or Hayes were even decent it would have been enough. These days it is a roll of the dice whether any of those four will score in double figures and that is not good enough for Maryland to beat a good team. Vasquez and Neal cannot make up for their deficiencies. One or more of those four will have to play dramatically better if Maryland is to make another run at the NCAA Tournament.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Want Gary gone?

Wow, the bloom is off Billy Gillispie at Kentucky. After last night's loss at home to a hapless Georgia team Wildcat nation is out with torches and pitchforks. I think it is too early to pronounce Gillispie DOA and to some extent there is karma involved here the way Kentucky turned on Tubby Smith. This should be a cautionary tale for Maryland fans who think it will be simple to hire a coach who will waltz into Maryland and have this program back in the Final Four. You can read Jeff Goodman's article on Fox Sports by clicking here. 

In other news DB Richard Taylor was awarded another year of eligibility by the NCAA. Taylor was injured in the California game and missed the rest of the season. He missed all of 2007 after injuring his knee that spring. Who knows how effective Taylor will be after missing all that time but with a somewhat shaky secondary going into the fall Maryland can use all the help it can get.

Forty minutes of stats

Converting common statistics to per forty minute numbers does have it's faults but it can illuminate strengths or weaknesses of certain players. Here is a collection of stats for this Terps squad with commentary to follow. Note this includes ACC games only.

PlayerPoints/40 min

No real surprises here. Vasquez is still clearly the best offensive threat this team has but Milbourne and Bowie can be threats, if inconsistently. Tucker is a significantly better offensive option off the bench than any other guard at the moment. His numbers are probably inflated by the two UNC games but he is in a bit of an offensive groove right now and when he starts hot he can do real damage. Dave Neal isn't nearly the offensive threat he would seem to be if you just watched the Wake Forest game. Neal's offensive abilities are rather one dimensional but he can be productive when teams key on Vasquez and let him drift out to the perimeter. Mosley is still struggling to produce on offense but his strengths are on defense and rebounding (as you'll see in a moment.) Gregory is a non-factor on offense and clearly the worst regular rotation player at scoring.

PlayerRebounds/40 min

You can probably throw out the Dupree and Kim numbers, though I don't think either of them are bad rebounders. Their paltry playing time inflates the few rebounds they grab but for a bean pole Kim doesn't do a half bad job rebounding. Mosley shows his worth in this statistic with a very impressive number, even better than the starting "forwards" on the team. Neal and Milbourne are not great rebounders so their stats are what I would expect though Milbourne should probably do better than he does with his physical ability. Gregory has a surprisingly low number for a player who should be all about hustle, defense and rebounding. Bowie is a great rebounder for his size and Vasquez grabs what you'd expect from a 6-5 guard. Tucker and Hayes are not particularly disposed to grabbing rebounds either in body frame or instincts.

PlayerAssists/40 min

This is a stat you'd expect Vasquez to lead the team in and he does so comfortably. Interesting that Hayes and Bowie are at the same level plus Bowie is far better at driving the lane. Based on where they play in the offense Mosley and Tucker are not going to have high numbers. Tucker is more a wing and Mosley is playing more inside these days but I'd say they are about equal.

PlayerTurnovers/40 min

Surprised Vasquez was not at the top? Bowie's decision making with the ball is his only drawback as a point guard. His lack of outside shooting makes him more suited to that position than the "two" guard. As you saw above his assist totals are fine but he needs to cut down on the turnovers, often charges. Vasquez is high because of the risks he takes trying to make a play but his ability to break down defenses is worth the extra half turnover you give up instead of someone like Hayes who doesn't provide many opportunities for his teammates. Clearly Dave Neal's steady play and low turnover rate are what earns him minutes, along with his shooting. He doesn't handle the ball as much as some other players so it is a little skewed but he does have better numbers than Gregory or Milbourne. You shouldn't turn the ball over much when you mostly shoot jumpers and set screens but he does a good job not turning the ball over willy nilly.

Bubble Carnage

Maryland didn't even play last night but may have gotten more help getting to the NCAA Tournament than they could have hoped for with other bubble squads dropping games left and right last night. 

Consider the teams that lost:
  • Florida drops a killer to Mississippi State
  • Kentucky lost Georgia at home
  • Georgia Tech downed Miami to all but eliminate the Hurricanes
  • Virginia Tech failed to upset UNC
  • N.C. State kept BC from solidifying their resume
All in all it was about as good a night for Maryland's post season hopes as you could expect short of them winning. Things are looking much better for the Terps getting in with an 8-8 record.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Magic eludes Terps

While there were certainly flaws in the Terrapin's game last night I think it is impossible to criticize their effort. I think the intensity was there for the whole game but Wake Forest won a nip and tuck game because overall they have the more talented players. At some level Gary Williams feels like talent can be trumped by hustle and execution and that was almost born out last night as it was in the North Carolina win. With a squad that is lacking in talent and physical ability the margin of error becomes very thin indeed and last night a few mistakes here or there cost Maryland a game that they had in their grasp. In six games against the top of the league (UNC, Duke, Wake Forest and Clemson) Maryland is 1-5 this season which indicates that guts and hustle will only rarely best dramatically superior talent. You could very well say that Gary Williams the recruiter has badly let down Gary Williams the coach. Getting this roster in position to earn an NCAA Tournament bid is only slightly less impressive than turning water into wine. This is the frustrating duality of Gary Williams these days. He has few peers when it comes to preparing his team to play but handicaps himself with poor recruiting decisions. To be fair it seems he may have turned that around, especially if he is able to pull off a coup and sign Lance Stephenson, but the damage of some lean recruiting seasons was evident last night.

Dave Neal had a night to remember in his last ACC game at Comcast Center. His 3-point shooting pushed Maryland back into the lead after Wake Forest erased a seven point halftime deficit in just under 5 minutes to start the 2nd half. He scored a career high 19 points, three on a inconsequential last second heave in the closing seconds, and grabbed six rebounds. It baffles me when people talk of Neal being a "post player" because he is nothing of the sort. He is a jump shooter who scores most of his points outside the lane. Neal battles like a bulldog but his limitations eventually cost him and he could do little to stop Wake's overwhelming rebound advantage. To be fair none of his teammates did much to stop Aminu and Johnson from grabbing 12 offensive rebounds between the two of them. It was fitting that two critical plays at the end of the game highlighted the shortcomings of Neal. With just under five minutes left in the game and Wake clinging to a one point lead Jeff Teague (6-2) drove the baseline and dunked over Neal (6-6) to put his team up by three. Then with under a minute left and Maryland trailing by three Neal drove the lane against James Johnson and though he had beat Johnson to the basket was blocked from behind. There was little Neal could do in either case, he was just outclassed by a superior athlete.

Greivis Vasquez couldn't summon any heroics in this game as Wake Forest had to abandon the foolish plan of trying to guard him with L.D. Williams and switch to a 1-3-1 zone to limit his dribble penetrations in the 2nd half. It worked fairly well at times and Vasquez couldn't get his shot to fall going 2/11 in the closing frame. Still there were opportunities for other players to his some open shots when Vasquez was drawing two and three Wake defenders. Eric Hayes missed three open 3-point shots in the last few minutes that could have won the game for Maryland. Dino Gaudio took a gamble that Maryland's outside shooting would cool down and he ended up getting lucky. The shots were there for the Terps, they just couldn't convert. It was essential that some other player besides Vasquez and Neal step up in the last 10 minutes but none did. Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne couldn't produce points when Maryland needed them. I think it would have been better to see Cliff Tucker play a little more towards the end because it was clear that Hayes was having an off shooting night but with Tucker's inconsistency it is hard to claim that would have made a difference. Vasquez and Neal had more field goals between the two of them (14) than the rest of the team combined (13).

Landon Milbourne has been fading badly in the last few weeks and was a non-factor in this game and the N.C. State game. He has only scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds in forty nine minutes of play the last two games. The junior forward is too talented to have that kind of paltry production. He had 17 points and 5 rebounds against Virginia in the last game so let's hope he shakes off this terrible funk he is in.

Eric Hayes struggled with his shooting all night and in the closing minutes of the game missed at least a couple of shots he needed to hit and made an ill advised dribble to the basket that resulted in a blocked shot. As I mentioned earlier I would have liked to see Tucker play a little more in the 2nd half, especially when Wake went to their zone defense, but then again the only shot Tucker made was on a breakaway dunk.

Dino Gregory may also be a hustle player like Neal but his rebounding and defense has been getting worse for a number of weeks now. Three rebounds and two points in 21 minutes? He will never give much on offense but he needed to give a better effort inside on the defensive end of the floor.

Braxton Dupree surprised everyone and gave a few credible minutes in the 1st half. Jerome Burney is likely done for the rest of the season, and possibly his Maryland career, after aggravating his foot injury again. His size may have helped in the Wake Forest game.

Sean Mosley is really struggling on offense. His defense and hustle are always at a good level but he is really struggling to put the ball in the basket. Mosley has also struggled to do much off the dribble lately. At one point Gary Williams was switching him out on offense and substituting him in on defense. He is still one of the better rebounders on the team.

The rebounding advantage that Wake Forest enjoyed and their ability to get to the free throw line (related to all the offensive rebounds as you often draw fouls on put backs) was probably the difference in the game. Wake didn't play all that well but all those extra rebounds gave them the margin they needed to beat Maryland even though the Terps out worked them. Maryland was the tougher and more scrappy team but they couldn't make those critical baskets when they had the chances. Only getting to the free throw line once all game didn't help matters. It was worth noting our old friend Jamie Luckie was officiating this game and he didn't go unnoticed. In case you forgot he was the ref who called a technical foul on Vasquez last year in the Boston College game, fouling him out. This time Luckie called a phantom trip on Vasquez when Jeff Teague just tripped and fell on his face. It was a terrible call and probably cost Maryland a fast break opportunity as Teague had turned the ball over.

Now it is on to Virginia where they will face a crumbling Virginia squad that is 2-5 in ACC play at home this year. Super frosh Sylven Landesberg seems to have hit the freshman wall and is struggling with the increased attention he is getting on defense. The scary thing about Virginia is you don't know who will show up that night. Calvin Baker has picked up the main slack for Landesberg but Maryland nemesis Mamadi Diane has risen from the dead the last few games to score in double digits and it will be his senior night. On the inside Jamil Tucker and Mike Scott are mercurial players as well so Maryland will have to have another strong defensive performance like they have the last few games. Overall I think it is a game that Maryland should win going away but it isn't clear how this group will respond to the pressure of being in the NCAA bubble. Last season's squad crumbled under the weight but this season's group appears to be a more gritty bunch.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Terps show resolve

Greivis Vasquez seems to have shook off his January funk because the junior is shooting over 53.4% (and 45% from 3-point range) in the last three games. Last night he carried Maryland to a win over N.C. State in perhaps even more dramatic fashion that his triple double against UNC because in this game the only other player in double figures was Dave Neal with 11 points. Vasquez scored 33 points including several critical baskets late in the game when the Wolfpack made a run to tie the game at 50-50. Vasquez scored ten of Maryland's final 21 points and made the most critical basket of the game with a floater to put Maryland up by six with under a minute left. I'm not a big fan of his in-your-face 3-point shot in the closing seconds but N.C. State fans are notoriously obnoxious and Vasquez did apologize after the game.

Dave Neal had one of his better games of the season with 11 points and 8 rebounds. The rebound total was his best of any ACC contest and you could tell he was putting far more effort into it than he did against Duke. Neal had only scored 8 points in the prior two games combined and it was good timing for him to "explode" with a few critical 3-point baskets. Maryland needed his contributions because Landon Milbourne fouled out with over six minutes to go in the game after an ineffective 19 minutes of play. Milbourne, along with many of the other players on the team needs to show more consistency. In his last six games Milbourne is scoring a decent but not spectacular 11.5 points per game but the standard deviation in points for those games is 8.2 meaning he has a bunch of one or two field goal stinkers in the mix. It hasn't helped that he has fouled out of his last three games in a row. 

Landon, fouling is what Dino Gregory is in there for.

Cliff Tucker had a solid game after an awful performance against Duke. He is still tentative and unsure of himself when he is forced to play offense in the half court and his defense is still hit or miss but his scoring is needed with Adrian Bowie and Sean Mosley both struggling on offense. The 3-point shooting has been critical for Maryland the last few weeks and Tucker has been surprisingly effective from outside, something that Bowie and Mosley haven't been able to provide. Bowie is still in a bad funk and has only scored in double digits once since the end of January. He needs to get to the free throw line and he can only do that going for the basket. Bowie's rebounding was a strength of his game but has really fallen off the last month. He has only grabbed more than two rebounds once since January after doing it nine times in that month. Mosley has had his opportunities but continues to miss some very makable shots. Right now he seems almost too focused on just playing defense and rebounding.

Eric Hayes put together a solid game with 9 points and 4 assists without a turnover. I think Hayes is better when he doesn't try to do too much and takes his opportunities when he can. He has shown a little more confidence taking players off the dribble but against good defenders he struggles to show the ball on offense. When he can face the basket in half court sets his vision is obviously better. He doesn't pass on the move anywhere near as well as Vasquez so his court vision before he starts his dribble is very important. Over the last few weeks he has been the most consistent scoring guard outside Vasquez.

Against a larger front line Neal, Gregory and Milbourne struggled. Tracey Smith for N.C. State just dominated Neal & Co. with 18 points and 9 rebounds and forward Ben McCauley would have had a much better game had the Wolfpack guards been able to get him the ball. I think Maryland will need help from Jerome Burney in the game tonight against Wake Forest's imposing big men. I shudder to think what James Johnson might do if Tracey Smith can get 19 and 8 against Maryland. It was odd that Gary Williams indicated on his radio show that Burney would see action against N.C. State and yet he didn't get off the bench.