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.


Rik said...

I like the matchup. From your description, and what I've read, Cal seems to be a poor man's Duke. I would think this could be a game -- one of the few games -- where Gary could post up Dave Neal and Dino Gregory and actually have something good happen. I would expect that he would test that early, and go back often if it's effective.

I hope the kids are rested, because I would also expect a whole lot of full-court pressing from Gary too. When you're evenly matched, you have to find ways to exploit the two or three things you might do better than your opponent. Pressing is clearly one of those things for the Terps. Cal's kids are young, and I don't think they've seen a press like Maryland's.

On the flip side, I expect Cal will spend considerable time pitching it around the perimeter waiting for one of the Terps to fall asleep on their perimeter defense (Cliff, load up on the espresso). If that doesn't work, they'll need to try to penetrate and kick out. I haven't seen them play: how are their playmakers in penetration?

If they're not too good at that, I expect Gary will pack Neal and Gregory near the post and let Vasquez, Moseley, Hayes and Bowie creep out on the Bears the way that Duke did on us in the first Duke game. We had no penetration in that game (or much of anything else), and it startled me how far out Duke had pushed their zone on us. We were playing four feet behind the three stripe and still not getting in. It depends on whether Cal can drive inside and kick out, but if they can't the strategy that Duke used on us could be a good strategy for Cal. It depends on how well they are shooting and how far we're laying off.

All three teams are similar, but I don't feel like Cal is battle tested. Their best wins can't touch ours. Then again, they didn't get beat by 41 this year either.

terpsfan said...

Nice preview of the game. It looks like it'll all come down to whether or not the Terps can put perimeter pressure on Cal's very good guards. Please no zone Gary. I would like to see them penetrate against this small lineup, and hopefully Milbourne can get back his shooting touch. Gregory might need to be the guy who gets a lot of touches in this game, and hopefully he can put some points on the board. He has definitely been the most improved player this season, or at least second to Dave Neal. I would like to see a lot of pressure from the Terps, and hopefully our tall guards will cause some troubles for a guy under 6 feet. The Memphis game would be an interesting to watch, so let's win this one.