Monday, March 09, 2009

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.


terpsfan said...

As I said in a previous comment on one of your previous posts, this is not the most shocking thing in the world to a follower of Terps basketball over the past few years. The names change, but the results are the same, and I don't have any explanation for it. This was a compounding issue before these classes. The inconsistency and "playing to competition" seems to be a broken record with this team. Except for 2 seasons ago, when the team actually played great down the stretch (albeit with an expected 1st round loss in the ACC tournament), the past seasons have been the same story - losses at the end of the season in important games. And that includes very early exits in the ACC tournament against subpar teams.

Esquire said...

I think last year Gary overplayed the starters and they wore out by the end of the season. This year it was a little different but the result was the same. I think this loss to UVA was worse than last year because you knew Singletary was going to tear Maryland up in his last home game. Mamadi Diane? Give me a break.

Maryland hasn't played well in the ACC Tournament in almost forever. Keep in mind the 2002 champions lost to N.C. State in the 2nd game of the ACC Tourney that season. The 2003 team lost to UNC in the Tourney after beating them by 40 in the regular season. Bizarre but that is the record. They have only won a single ACC Tourney game since 2004.