The media covering the ACC voted North Carolina and Duke to split the men's basketball title in a shocking development. In the previous 40 years of the informal media survey either UNC or Duke has been chosen to win the ACC 30 times. I'm just surprised the media had not done this before.
Maryland was picked 5th in ACC behind UNC, Duke, Clemson and Georgia Tech. Besides UNC and Duke I don't think there are any ACC teams that have a clear advantage over Maryland. I'll have my picks for the ACC season in the coming weeks but I think 6th place is probably as low as Maryland could finish this year and could be as high as 2nd place.
Senior guard Greivis Vasquez was picked preseason All-ACC and was edged for ACC Player of the Year by Duke's Kyle Singler. Vasquez is clearly one of the best players in the ACC and barring a senior slump will likely be a 1st team All-ACC selection. If Vasquez had a decent 3-point shot he would be a national player of the year candidate.
Vasquez dominated in the first public scrimmage of the year and was head and shoulders above his teammates. With more young players on the roster and senior Dave Neal no longer around this season will test Vasquez's leadership more heavily than any prior season. I think Vasquez will be up to the challenge and seems to relish the opportunity to lead Maryland to its best season in years.
Eric Hayes may not be fully back from his turf toe even though he said that his toe felt fine. Hayes struggled badly in the scrimmage with his shooting and ball handling. On defense he looked tentative and a step slow. Turf toe tends to be a chronic problem and it would be probable that this might be a problem the rest of the season. Right now I think Hayes is the backup point guard, as he was at the end of last season, and I don't see that changing any time soon. Adrian Bowie has worked very hard in the off season and seems to have improved his outside shot. With his superior defense and ability to push the ball it is unlikely that Bowie will give way to Hayes unless he regresses. Bowie's ability to slash to the basket adds a component when on the floor with Vasquez that Hayes cannot. With the improvement of Sean Mosley, who has looked very good so far, I think Hayes' minutes will get reduced this season.
Mosley was a defensive oriented player, contrary to his high school scouting report, and really struggled on offense. I think a fair amount of his troubles were related to a wicked shooting slump that Mosley seemed unable to shake as the year went along. His confidence seems much higher this year and he was much more comfortable in the offense in the scrimmage. I expect significant improvement in his offensive game this season and will be a good contributor either as a starter or off the bench. Mosley is a throwback player who is a strong rebounder, good passer and solid defender. He has good court vision and is almost too eager to share the ball with his teammates. Last season Mosley only touched his potential and will grow into a vital player this season.
Junior Cliff Tucker continues to be an enigma. He has the talent to score bunches of points against the eventual national champion North Carolina but tends to disappear too often in games. In the scrimmage he was matched up against Jin Soo Choi and didn't exploit the matchup they way you would expect against a bigger and slower opponent. I'm not sure that Tucker has the mental attitude to take a bigger role this year.
Choi looked much improved over his freshman season when he looked overwhelmed at times. He is more confident and playing more naturally than as a freshman. I thought Choi more than held his own playing on the wing against a quicker and smaller opponent in Tucker. It seems that Gary Williams will play Choi at small forward more this season which might be more suited to his talents. He has the potential to be a useful weapon off the bench as a dead eye shooter on a team that struggled from 3-point range at times last season. Choi's defense isn't as much of a liability as it was last season and there were times during the scrimmage that Williams had Choi play the important top of the key position in some zone defense schemes.
Senior Landon Milbourne continues to be a solid but unspectacular player. He will likely stay at the "4" spot where he is undersized and more perimeter oriented player who lacks the size to be effective in the low post. He is better trying to drag out his defender away from the basket with his jump shot and then slashing past them. There was a story line that Milbourne was worn down playing in the post all season and that might be true but I doubt Milbourne would have been much more effective playing the wing in the alternative. He is a quiet leader and was willing to subvert his own glory for the good of the team. That is admirable but I don't see Milbourne increasing his 11.4 point per game by very much regardless of what position he plays.
Junior forward Dino Gregory will likely get the other starting spot for the early part of the season. Gregory is active on defense but isn't a great rebounder and has a limited offensive game that mostly revolves around jump shots. He might be useful as a "pick and pop" big man but his low post moves are not conducive to him being reliable scorer. If Gary Williams can turn Dave Neal into a useful ACC player who knows what he might be able to do with Gregory, however Neal was a much more savvy player than Gregory and had a much better instinct for the game.
It wouldn't surprise me to see Gregory quickly begin to slit time with freshman forward James Padgett. Padgett is very active in the low post and showed some decent moves on the offensive end. He runs the floor very well which is essential for a Maryland big man and is a high effort kid. He is still raw and will have problems turning the ball over but has the potential to develop into a nice complement to Milbourne at the other forward spot. Right now he is ahead of fellow freshman Jordan Williams and sophomore Steve Goins to my eye.
Jordan Williams will need a little time to get used to the speed of the college game. Padgett is also new to the college game but played in a much more competitive league in New York. Williams isn't very athletic but has a throwback style game that is mostly below the rim. Not that he has lead in his shoes but he will not wow you with his athleticism like recent forward James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe. On the other hand Tyler Hansbrough was pretty effective in the college game with a mostly below the rim style of play. Williams has ability to develop the footwork and hands to be effective given his size. Apart from conditioning, which is the biggest concern to me, Williams will be physically ready to compete in the ACC.
Steve Goins is still recovering from off season surgery. He looked a little sluggish and out of game shape. Goins is still learning how to play basketball and the time he missed over the summer has set him back in his development. He'll be challenged by the two incoming freshman and unless he starts to commit himself to improving he'll quickly find himself buried on the bench this year.