Monday, November 30, 2009

What ailes the basketball team?

As the 2008 Terrapins proved it can be foolish to judge a team so early in the season but there are signs that the current team may not meet the high expectations that many fans had just a few weeks ago. Coming out of Maui with a 1-2 record, the only win against a foe that doesn't count in regards to NCAA tournament, was the worst case scenario for this group. It wasn't just that they lost to Cincinnati and Wisconsin it was that in both games they were handled relatively easily by their opponent. Neither Wisconsin or Cincinnati are going to blow many teams out, they just don't have the offensive firepower to do that so a 10+ point loss to them is probably not as close as it seems. In each loss the winner went on a large run to end the 1st half and the Terrapins didn't respond in either game.

Much was written about Greivis Vasquez's shooting woes and he still isn't shooting well for the season but the two losses were not a result of his poor shooting. Lost in the focus on his 29% shooting against the Bearcats was the 9 points he scored from the free throw line. In the two losses he scored 13 points from the free throw line which was more than the entire rest of the team (12) combined. As with the last two seasons this team still is not talented and deep enough to compete with good teams unless Vasquez plays well.

That gets to the main problem with this squad. The poor freethrow shooting and rebounding are certainly problems but in the last two losses the poor play of the bench was what doomed the Terps. Specifically Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker have failed to provide the scoring punch as expected to this point in the season. In the last two losses Bowie and Tucker have combined for 7 points on 2/11 shooting in 52 minutes of play. That simply isn't good enough for two juniors with the playing experience of that duo. Bowie clearly is in the doghouse because of his poor efforts on defense and bad shooting. The decision of Gary Williams to play the starters most of the way against Wisconsin was not the correct call but Tucker and Bowie did little in their time on the court to prove it. Unless these two start improving Maryland will be little more than an NIT squad even with the impressive play of freshmen Jordan Williams and James Padgett.

I think the travel and three consecutive games wore on the freshmen and their play showed it. They faced big and physical front line players for the first time and they struggled somewhat. Defensive rebounding is an area they need to improve upon and the free throw shooting must improve from both Williams and Padgett. The two were a shocking 1/11 from the free throw line in the two losses and were largely responsible for the team's shooting woes from the line. Though they had a little setback in the last two games the freshmen did enough if they had gotten the kind of help from the backcourt that you would expect.

The defense against Wisconsin was pretty poor. I thought Jon Leuer would be a very tough matchup for Maryland and he closed the door on Maryland's comeback hopes with 16 points. Landon Milbourne had no chance to guard Leuer one-on-one but the strategy of doubling on Leuer with Eric Hayes was even worse as the marginal Jason Bohannon was left open to the tune of four 3-point baskets. Hayes doesn't have the quickness or defensive instincts to effectively double on post players. Against a team like Wisconsin that understands floor spacing very well that is a deadly mistake.

Even though Maryland returned four starters from a team that slipped into the NCAA tournament at the last minute I think Gary Williams is still searching for the right combination on the floor. I've felt for a number of years now that playing Vasquez and Hayes on the floor at the same time makes for a very unathletic backcourt but until Bowie or Tucker show some more consistency Hayes will probably continue to get 30+ minutes of playing time. Williams and Padgett are not ready to give consistent help defense when the guards are beaten off the dribble. That is one of the few areas where the vastly overrated Dino Gregory will help when he comes back in two weeks.

Maryland should beat Indiana and they must if they hope to avoid another NIT postseason. The crucial test will come against Villanova who will be without super freshman Mouphtaou Yarou who is done for the season with a "viral" infection. With the dreaded "players meeting" already popping up just six games into the season I think Terp fans have reason to be concerned.

Familiar ending for Terps

Maryland ended the 2009 football season in a fitting fashion on Saturday with a 19-17 loss to Boston College. Both the offense and defense did just enough to stay in the game until the end but neither group could do enough to pull the game out. The Eagles moved the ball well with 353 total yards and 20 first downs but the Maryland defense did well in the red zone limiting them to four field goals. Neither offense turned the ball over but Maryland had several critical penalties on defense that kept BC's drives alive including a dumb personal foul on Alex Wujciak on a 1st and 20 play that gave BC a first down at the Maryland 46 yard line. The offense could only convert 3/14 3rd downs and the staff decided to go for it on two 4th downs. Offensive coordinator James Franklin has had several poor 4th down calls this season and he should stop trying to channel Barry Switzer and just punt the ball. The 4th and 1 QB sneak by Jamarr Robinson sealed the game for BC as they added what turned out to be the game winning field goal as a result of the good field position. Robinson lead an inspired drive late in the 4th quarter to get Maryland within two points after an impressive scramble that resulted in a 28 yard touchdown to Torrey Smith. It was a perfect throw and showed some nice poise to keep his vision down field at a critical moment of the game. By the end of the season it was clear that the offense is much more dynamic and exposive with Robinson than with Chris Turner.

I don't begrudge Turner playing on Senior Day but it was clear he wasn't physically up to it. His velocity has never been great but he was behind receivers on a number of crossing patterns that could have been picked off. I think these numbers sum up the difference between Turner and Robinson: Robinson 7.6 yards per attempt, Turner 5.9 yards per attempt. Of Turner's 12 completions (note the official box score has him with 11 completions but the play-by-play shows he had 12) 8 (66%) were completed for 10 yards or less. Robinson had nine completions and 5 (55%) were for more than 10 yards. Maryland's offense has a much better deep strike ability with Robinson's mobility and arm strength. Franklin will have the opportunity next season with Robinson and a hopefully improved offensive line to scrap some of the dink and dunk playcalling he relied on this year. That is if Franklin is back.

The offensive line reverted back to its poor form and only mustered 68 yards rushing by non-QB's while giving up four sacks. The interior of the line, including seniors Paul Pinegar and Phil Costa, struggled to contain the BC defensive tackles, particularly Scafe and Giles who combined for 3 sacks and four TFL's. With the Terps being dominated on the interior that made any running game tough to muster. Still Da'Rel Scott looked good in the limited number of carries that Franklin gave him.

Wideout Torrey Smith was contained for most of the game until he got free and found a hole behind BC's zone for his late touchdown catch.

The defensive line was also mauled by BC's front five. Running back Montel Harris just wore down Maryland's defense with 142 yards but needed 41 carries to achieve that. Still there were too many times that Maryland's entire front was pushed off the line of scrimmage. There had no ability to anchor on the edge when BC went off-tackle or when they did some zone blocking. This is perhaps the area on the team most desperately in need of an upgrade in the offseason. Defensive end Deege Galt did record a surprising two sacks but as with all season his physical limitations were exploited by the opposition.

Alex Wujciak posted another double digit tackle performance but was exposed in pass coverage again and had a crippling personal foul penatlity that allowed BC to hold onto the ball. Speed is a major problem with the linebacking corps at the moment. The other linebackers made some plays and Hartsfield is showing he is one of the better coverage linebackers on the team but overall this group failed to make the tackles when they needed.

The secondary struggled against a rather mediocre BC passing attack. After throwing six interceptions in his prior two games BC QB Dave Shinskie looked fairly comfortable picking his spots against Maryland's defense. There were three penaties by the secondary in obvious passing downs: 3-7, 3-6 and 2-9 which gave BC first downs. Senior corner Anthony Wiseman was beaten on a number of plays including a 66 yard touchdown catch. He finished with 10 tackles for a bad reason as he got picked on repeatedly. Given the poor play of the defensive line and linebackers I guess you can't lay too much blame on this group but they hardly looked good.

Speculation immediatly turns to the fate of head coach Ralph Friedgen and at this point it isn't clear what will happen. I think at a minumum there will be a number of changes at several assistant coaching positions even if Friedgen and Franklin survive.

I hope to write up some position by poisition breakdowns in the coming weeks as the basketball season slows down before ACC play in January. Until then we'll await the decision on the head coach.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Q&A with Eagle in Atlanta

Maryland is playing Boston College again and that means that our annual Q&A with Boston College blogger Eagle in Atlanta. Here are his answers:

1. Montel Harris has had an excellent season with over 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns. How much of that is Harris and how much is the offensive line?

Harris actually deserves credit for much of his success. The line opens the holes, but he is great at finding holes and he seemingly is always able to fall forward for an extra yard or two. He is just another example of BC finding a diamond in the rough.

2. Eagle quarterback Dave Shinskie has thrown six interceptions in the last two games so what is the key to Maryland's defense forcing him into mistakes?

I think most teams realize that they can drop multiple guys into coverage and cause problems for Shinskie. He tends to force things into double and triple coverage and hence the uptick in turnovers.

3. BC's defense seems to be very solid again this season. I noticed that outside of LB Luke Kuechly most of the top tacklers this season are defensive backs. Is that by design or a symptom of something else? Are there any other players besides Kuechly that Maryland's offense will have to worry about?

I would say the tackle stats are in part because the defensive line has been so banged up.The DBs also don't rotate all that often and therefore are on the field for most snaps.

4. I noticed BC was 0/13 on 3rd down against North Carolina and was only 4/15 against Virginia. What did those teams do on defense to force punts?

I wish you could blame it on the opponents doing something unique but much of it is Shinskie. He made plenty of bad decisions and forced bad throws. Ideally against Maryland BC will run the ball more and be in third and short. Ultimately we have an inconsistent QB which leads to inconsistent offensive play.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Reality check for Terps

Maryland came up short in its first measuring stick game of the season. Cincinnati had size, speed and strength that the Terps had not seen up to this point in the season and the result was a disappointing 69-57 loss. It was disappointing not because they lost, I tweeted that I didn't think they were ready for this test after watching the Bearcats dismantle Vanderbilt, but because they didn't compete. They had much of the same lethargy they showed against Chaminade but this time the opponent had just enough punch to knock out the Terps. I'm not sure how well Cincinnati will do in the Big East, they were picked 7th in the preseason which would probably mean they would be just above a bubble team. They are clearly not at the level of Big East heavy weights like Syracuse and Villanova. They play a physical and tough defensive game but are not a very impressive offensive team with only three legitimate scoring threats and a weak bunch of roles players.

Even though Cincinnati controlled the game from about midway through the first half if Maryland had been able to hit a decent number of foul shots or make some layups after they stole the ball off the press it would have been a very different game. For me the story of the game wasn't how good Cincinnati looked but how terrible Maryland played. The Terps shot 35% for the game, went 2/14 from 3-point range, missed 14 free throws, gave up 15 offensive rebounds and still only lost by 12 points. The Bearcats won because during the last nine minutes of the 1st half they went on a 18-5 run to put the game away.

The lone bright spot was that Greivis Vasquez appeared to shake off his early season funk in the second half and scored 19 points to go with 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. He didn't shoot all that well only hitting 5/17, including 0/5 from 3-point range, but the rest of the team hardly shot much better. Eric Hayes, Sean Mosley and Adrian Bowie combined to shoot 4/17 with just 14 points between them. This game clearly illustrated that this team needs Vasquez playing at a high level to compete with power conference teams. They may get by with Vasquez only scoring 9 points against the New Hampshire's of the world but that won't do in the ACC. This team still doesn't have the talent to play without maximum effort every night and post a winning record in the ACC. I doubt this season that anything less than 9-7 in the conference will likely earn an NCAA invite.

Probably the most disappointing aspect of the game was the play of seniors Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne. Hayes was exposed on defense again by the athletic backcourt of Cincinnati and there were several times where he looked like his feet were set in concrete as a player blew by him. His hot 3-point shooting evaporated and he finished with only one assist. Milbourne had a decent shooting night but got into foul trouble again with some lazy defense. Defense, fouls and rebounding are a big part of the game and Milbourne was terrible in all three aspects. Much has been written about Hayes and Milbourne this season but the reality is that the duo are not much more than supporting cast players who are unreliable scoring options. They are the same players they have been the last two seasons and that isn't going to change.

Sean Mosley had a step back last night as he struggled to find his shot and blew several close in shots that reminded me of his shooting woes last season. He finished with 9 points and 4 rebounds but in 34 minutes of play. He'll need to bounce back from this poor effort quickly if the Terps are to avoid leaving Maui with a 1-2 record in the tournament.

Freshmen bigs Jordan Williams and James Padgett were given a stiff test with Rashad Bishop and Yancy Gates. Gates had his way in the post with 17 points and 13 rebounds and will likely be one of the better big men in the Big East. Williams matched foul total and his point total with four in each catagory and struggled to score against the big and physical frontline of Cincy. Padgett played well in the 2nd half and finished with 9 points and 5 rebounds but left a bunch of points at the free throw line. These two will have some setbacks during this season but I think they did about as well as you cold have hoped. If the Maryland backcourt had not been so thoroughly outplayed it probably would have been enough to win.

Jin Soo Choi also got a decent amount of run with Milbourne in foul trouble but contributed little for his 11 minutes. Adrian Bowie had a terrible performance and spent most of the game on the bench as a result finishing without a point for the first time in 43 games dating back to his freshman season. Cliff Tucker played 17 minutes but didn't effect the game much one way or the other. You would like to see more from the two juniors and the combined effort they had tonight just wasn't good enough for players with their experience.

Maryland will face Wisconsin at 4:30pm today in a suddenly vital game. Wisconsin has some talented players but is a little thin after the top three. The Badgers are another gritty defensive team that doesn't have a plethora of weapons but will battle hard for 40 minutes. Trevon Hughes and Jon Leuer present some interesting matchup problems for Maryland. Maryland's pressure defense will have to force some turnovers and result in some transition baskets if Maryland is going to score enough to win unless the halfcourt offense, a weak spot so far, improves overnight.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Notes on Fridge

The Baltimore Sun has an article that undermines the Washington Post story that money will not be an issue in buying out Ralph Friedgen's $4 million contract. According to Tom McMillen who is on the Board of Regents there would have to be an "awfully compelling case" to spend over $5 million on a coaching change in this economic climate. With the University suffering painful budget cuts it might not be politically viable to have the athletic department borrow money from the University endowment. Taking money from the endowment during lean economic times because the athletic director has made decisions that have blown up in her face is absurd, especially if that person gets to keep her job in the process.

Another interesting tidbit in the article is that after last season's 8-5 record a number of football assistant coaches felt like they were owed bonuses based on their contracts. The athletic department apparently disagreed and refused to pay them the bonus they claimed they were owed. I have not seen the contracts so it is impossible for me to say who was right but it is another indication of how poorly the athletic department runs things that coaches feel the need to hire a lawyer.

The Baltimore Sun article seems to have better sources than the usual anonymous source that the Washington Post seems to be using with regularity these days. If the Sun has a better handle on this story, and I suspect they do, then Friedgen might not be as close to getting fired as it seemed on Sunday. My guess at the moment is that Friedgen will have to make numerous staff changes to appease Debbie Yow but that in the end he'll probably keep his job for another season. I would guess in that scenario that offensive coordinator James Franklin would also keep his job.

Borrowing money to buyout Friedgen and Franklin, who are becoming the Abbot and Costello of Maryland football, presents problems from an economic standpoint but then also requires the AD to hire a whole new staff that will probably make just as much as this one. Keeping both Friedgen and Franklin would also present its challenges because you have a head coach who is in effect a lame duck and a coach-in-waiting who seems to be on his way out. What recruit would sign with Maryland given all the uncertainty. The irony is that the Franklin deal was supposed to address those continuity issues but now seems to have only clouded the issue.

I'll add John Feinstein's comments on the coaching situations at Maryland and Virginia in the Washington Post:

And yet, in the euphoria that came with moderate success, both schools spent much too much money expanding stadiums that are much too big with far more luxury boxes than they can reasonably hope to sell on a regular basis. You don't build stadiums or arenas based on how many tickets you expect to sell in your best season; you build them based on how many you expect to sell in an average season....

Remarkably, athletic directors rarely take any criticism when specific teams falter under their watch. Yow hired Ron Vanderlinden, who was a bust. She was just about ordered to hire Friedgen and took every bow possible for his success. Then, when the program slipped, she went out of the way to commit $1 million to undermining Friedgen.

Terps plow Silver Swords

The first 20 minutes of the game against Chaminade were as bad a strech of basketball as this team has played all season. Greivis Vasquez picked up two early fouls that limited him to 22 minutes and his shooting woes continued. The officials seemed to be getting paid by the offensive foul call with how often they calling them but Vasquez made some poor decisions in the first half and the team suffered. Greivis did look better in the 2nd half but Maryland will need him to shake off his early season funk if they are going to make any noise in Maui.

The entire squad looked lethargic on both offense and defense. On offense they were not running the offense well and were settling for jumpers that were not falling. They didn't get much in transition until the 2nd half when things opened up and Chaminade became exhausted. On defense the rotations were slow and the waterbug Steven Bennett gave Maryland guards, especially Eric Hayes, fits with his dribble penetrations. Lucky for Maryland Bennett had a hard time finishing and lacked the teammates to score off his penetrations.

As with the prior three games Sean Mosley was the Gibraltar for this team. Landon Milbourne had a good 1st half scoring but with Maryland down by two at 16-14 with over seven minutes to play Mosley scored 7 points and grabbed two rebounds over the next two and a half minutes to put Maryland ahead for good. The Maui Tournament may be Mosley's coming out party on a national stage. He is playing gritty defense, his shots are falling and his great floor game adds much to the team in addition to his hefty stats. He finished the game with 19 points on 8/13 shooting and 8 rebounds in 27 minutes. For the season Mosley is shooting 67% from the floor while playing every position from shooting guard to power forward. Mosley and Jordan Williams are the best players at drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line. That has been a real weak spot for this group for the last few seasons. Players who can get to the free throw line help take the pressure off your half court offense. Pay close attention to Mosley these next few weeks because I think you will realize he is the best player on the team with Vasquez in a slump.

Eric Hayes continues his torrid shooting from 3-point range. After going 3/6 from outside last night Hayes is shooting 55% from 3-point range for the season. He didn't commit a single turnover and helped to weather Vasquez's early foul trouble. Hayes did struggle with the quicker Bennett and couldn't seem to keep him out of the lane. Overall though Hayes is doing exactly what you would hope he would be given his skills.

Landon Milbourne didn't take a field goal or score a point in the 2nd half but his 10 points and 5/10 shooting also helped Maryland get through the early game milaise. I think he was settling for jump shots too much early on, like the rest of the team, but it was a minor issue.

Jordan Williams and James Padgett struggled with their help defense a little as Chaminade's structured offense challenged them a little more than in privious games. Williams free throw shooting was off in the first half but he stayed focused and game on strong in the 2nd half to finish with 9 points and 10 rebounds. Chaminade had no answer for him on the inside when he started asserting himself. Padgett also found his rythm in the 2nd half and finished with 8 points and 6 rebounds in 10 minutes of play after halftime.

It was also nice to see Jin Soo Choi and Steven Goins back in the game and both scored for the first time this year. Both may be needed against a much more physical and up tempo Cinncinati squad tonight.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bobby Bowden as Faust

I guess anyone who thought this Maryland team would pack its bags and quit was proved wrong on Saturday. It was a heroic effort by Maryland against a desperate FSU team and the farewell game of longtime defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews on senior day in Tallahassee. Quarterback Jamarr Robinson's performance gives the biggest cause for hope in 2010 with an excellent 20/27 passing performace without an interception and 273 yards of total offense. Robinson outperformed the highly touted FSU freshman E.J. Manuel. He looked poised and much sharper than he did last week against Virginia Tech. Admittedly FSU's defense is one of the worst in the ACC but the maturation of Robinson was still impressive.

The return of running back Da'Rel Scott was a big boost for the offense. He is a better blend of power, speed and vision than any back the Terps have and even though he was a little rusty he ran well with 83 yards on 19 carries. Davin Meggett is much better as a backup in relief and his power running between the tackles is a good complement to Scott. A running attack with Scott, Meggett and Robinson could be very effective next season.

Kudos to the maligned offensive line who had their best game of the season. They protected Robinson well and opened some massive holes for the running game. Bruce Campbell had a dominating performance at tackle and the rest of the line, particularly right tackle R.J. Dill, had very solid performances. Let's hope this heavily criticized group can sustain the improvement against Boston College this week.

Torrey Smith just keeps plugging away at an stellar sophomore campaign that already has him one yard shy of the old ACC single season record for all purpose yards by Thomas Jones at 2054. Clemson's C.J. Spiller has already broken that record this year with 2,066 yards. Smith has a good chance to have the most receiving yards in a season since Vernon Davis had 871 in 2005. Right now Smith is first in the ACC in receptions per game and third in receiving yards per game. Trailing Spiller by only 13 all-purpose yards you would have to wonder what kind of attention Smith would be getting if he wasn't on a 2-9 train wreck of a team. It would be a shame if Smith gets stiffed in the All-ACC selections because of that.

Adrian Cannon continues to try and salvage a disappointing season. He had a nifty touchdown catch where he broke tackles to get to the end zone but also had a terrible fumble with Maryland in field goal range and the score 14-13. Cannon is gifted physically be he doesn't have the focus and dedication to take advantage of them. Ronnie Tyler must be feeling the effects of nagging injuries because his production has dropped off dramatically the last few weeks.

Devonte Campbell seems to be making a move at the tight end position with his third straight start. He isn't producing anything on the field worth noting but his blocking seems to be decent.

The defensive line had little chance to symie the FSU running game or contain the atletic E.J. Manuel. The lack of speed on the edge for Maryland's defense was on display again against a dangerous group of burners for the Seminoles. Jimbo Fisher's running game was good enough on 1st down to limit the need for Manuel to convert on 3rd and long. For the game FSU only faced a 3rd and long five times, the longest being nine yards. Maryland by contrast faced eight 3rd and longs with five being 10+ yards. Bert Reed, Jermaine Thomas and Manuel combined to rip of runs of 42, 24 and 20 yards. Maryland's defense gave up six plays of 20+ yards and as has been the case all season were vulnerable to the big play. In the end it is what killed them.

The linebackers had a tough time covering the Seminole players in space and shutting down the off tackle runs. Adrian Moten and Ben Pooler struggled outside though Demetrius Hartsfield and even freshman Darin Drakeford played as well. Middle linebacker Alex Wujciak did pick off Manuel and return it deep into Seminole territory as he did N.C. State's Russell Wilson but he also was unable to make tackles on Manuel in space and struggled to cover down the field. Wujciak seems to be jumping routes and gambling more in the hopes of making a big play.

The secondary didn't have that bad of a game though they didn't come through when they needed to make a play. Manuel only completed 17 passes for 206 yards and was intercepted three times. Cameron Chism, who has had his ups and downs, got his team leading fourth pick of the season. Terrell Skinner looked pretty good with some very nice run support and a few big hits over the middle to go with his second interception of the year. Antwine Perez lead the team with 9 tackles and for the second game in a row three of the top four tacklers were DBs. A sign the defensive line and linebackers are not getting it done.

The play of the game had to be Greg Reid's 48 yard punt return that set up FSU's game winning drive. Friedgen said after the game they were trying to punt the ball out of bounds but Nick Ferrara failed to do that and Reid, who is averaging an astonishing 18 yards per punt return, evaded tackles by Tony Logan and Drew Gloster that should have kept him at a modest gain. It was another special teams breakdown that cost Maryland the game. There have been a litany of big returns and blocked field goals that have really hurt the Terps this season. The special teams were never this problematic when Ray Rychlecki was the coach and current special teams coach Charles Bankins, who is only in his first season, might be on thin ice with the staff shake ups that might occur at the end of the season.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

FSU loss may be gamechanger

After what in my opinion was the most heartbreaking loss of the season against Florida State there are rumblings that Ralph Friedgen's era at Maryland might be coming to a close and that the entire staff, including head coach in waiting James Franklin, might be on their way out as well. According to the Washington Post the $4 million buyout of Friedgen's contract and the $1 million payout to Franklin might not be an insurmoutable issue in getting a new head coach for the football program. We'll all know soon enough if Friedgen is to return but there is a feeling that a sea change has occurred in the attitudes among those necessary to make a buyout happen.

As for the game I'll have more on that in my normal Monday roundup. I thought quarterback Jamarr Robinson had an impressive game and the offensive line had the best game of the season by far. Frankly the unit played so much better than they had all year it was hard to believe. The defense will get a great deal of blame for the breakdowns at the end of the fourth quarter but some really poor playcalling and a special teams gaffe were just as responsible. It was a shame because it was a game this team should have won. The poor fundamentals have to reflect on the coaching staff such as punt coverage and tackling. This staff isn't the worst in the ACC but they are probably not that far off either. Unlike Gary Williams they can't make chicken salad out of chicken you know what and the talent level isn't high enough to hide some of the failings of the staff which have become all to evident this season.

Either way the next few weeks will probably see the biggest change in Maryland sports since winning the national title in basketball.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chant Rant Q&A

Rich at Chant Rant was kind enough to answer a few questions about Florida State and how they arrived at the same dismal place that Maryland has late in the football season. My answers to his questions should be posted on his blog by tomorrow.

Q: With quarterback Christian Ponder out due to injury E.J. Manuel got his first look at the position. How would you grade his performance against Wake Forest?

Rich: I'd give him an A-. Really. He only made one mistake -- throwing an interception caught by a Wake defender in the Deacs end zone (should've given it more air to get the ball over the defender to the receiver behind him). Otherwise he flawlessly executed Off. Coordinator (and Head-Coach-in-Waiting) Jimbo Fisher's game plan. Of course, it was a simplified plan designed to give E.J. confidence and reduce the chance of mistakes.

For example, except for the interception, Manuel didn't throw a single pass more than 9 yards over the line of scrimmage -- yet he was 15 for 20. He was also an excellent ball handler and did a good job of running the option several times. The thing that impressed me most was his knowledge of the playbook. His dedication to studying it and game film ensured that he was mistake-free and grew more confident with every series.

Now will he be able to continue that as Jimbo opens up the playbook and puts more on his young QB's shoulders?

Q: Ponder seemed to like to spread the ball around to many receivers, five FSU players have 27+ receptions, is Manuel also spreading the ball around?

A: He is. Manuel threw passes to 7 different receivers against Wake. Six of those were WRs, and one was running back Jermaine Thomas, who had a 7-yard catch along with his 149 yards on the ground.

Q: I've thought that if there was a hall of fame for assistants then Mickey Andrews would be an automatic inductee. This Florida State defense has not been a vintage Andrews' squad with awful rankings in almost every category. What is the major problem with this group?

A: Several things, two of which are: Though Andrews was a master at stopping offenses in the 80s and 90s, he hasn't adapted well to the new age of spread offenses. Second, other assistant coaches on defense are not pulling their weight as far as teaching skills and developing the raw talent from the top ten recruiting classes FSU has had most years. When Andrews leaves, FSU fans expect there will be a clean sweep of most or all assistants on the defensive side of the ball.

Q: We've all read stories about Bobby Bowden and his future but I'm curious who do you think will replace Andrews as the defensive coordinator?

A: I'm pretty sure only Jimbo Fisher and Bobby Bowden know that -- or at least who they'd like to be the new D.C. While Bobby says he'll make the final decision, most believe that Bowden will rubber stamp the man who Jimbo selects. After all, Fisher will have to live with him after 2010, which is almost certain to be Bowden's last season.

One of the names buzzing throughout the Seminole nation right now -- and a guy who'd be an impressive hire -- is Kirby Smart, the DC at Alabama. Why would the top defensive assistant in the SEC take a lateral step to FSU? The rationale is that he liked his experience in Tallahassee as a grad assistant, and because it's tough running the defense under a head coach who's known as a defensive genius. At FSU, Smart would definitely run his own show.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mosely, a man for this season

The first 15 minutes of the game against Fairfield wasn't very pretty for Maryland. The athleticism of Fairfield really bothered Maryland on offense and gave Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes all sorts of trouble getting the team in their half court sets. The Terrapins got out of that funk thanks to some good outside shooting by Eric Hayes and the do everything game of sophomore Sean Mosley. The last 10 minutes of the 1st half showed the player that Maryland fans hoped they were getting: a rugged, physical guard that is a crafty scorer and a throwback player who embraces the "dirty work" on defense and in the lane. In the final 10 minutes of the half Hayes's shooting got a lot of attention but it was Mosley's 6 points, 3 rebounds (two offensive), one assist and one steal that turned the game from a one point Fairfield lead to an eight point Maryland lead. His steal and score in the closing seconds likely eliminated any chance of a comeback by the Stags. As I observed at the scrimmage Mosley is a much more confident player this year on both ends of the floor and is growing into a valuable do-it-all swingman like former Terp Byron Mouton. His maturation is a critical component of this Maryland team developing into a contender in the ACC.

The last year if Grievis Vasquez had the offensive game he had the first two games this season Maryland would have little chance to win the game, regardless of the opponent. In the three games last season that Vasquez scored less than 10 points Maryland was 0-3 and lost by an average margin of 23 points. This year, with a much improved supporting cast, the Terps have been able to weather some very poor shooting from Vasquez and still win comfortably. When the competition improves Vasquez will have to regain his shooting form if Maryland is going to have a successful trip to Maui next week. Vasquez is pressing a little in his last season. He needs to redefine his role on a team that has other legitimate options this year, unlike last season when he was vastly superior to any other teammate.

Jordan Williams and James Padgett continue to impress with very solid play on both ends. Padgett has no fear around the basket and even when his shot is blocked he comes right back in the low post. Williams has a polished offensive game for a freshman big man that played against less than stellar competition. He has the moves to score in the post or even take the ball from the foul line as he did against Fairfield. Gary Williams has plucked two gems in the late recruiting season after missing on Dante Taylor. Williams is already on pace to outperform many of the top 100 forwards recruited above him. They both have areas to improve upon: Williams is going to foul out frequently if he doesn't get a better feel on defense and Padgett needs to add polish to his offensive game. Regardless the two freshman have been a revelation to this point in the season and the Terps are better off in the frontcourt, even with the depth issues, than they could have hoped going into the season.

Landon Milbourne is quietly having a excellent start to his senior campaign. Playing more power forward with a legitimate big man has done wonders for his effectiveness on both ends of the floor. He is really getting after the offensive glass, tied for the team lead with Padgett, and on defense he has three blocks and four steals in two games. Last year with Dave Neal, who liked to drift to the perimeter where he was more effective, Milbourne was stuck closer to the low block. With Williams and Padgett he has had more opportunities to draw his man out and slash to the basket. It will be worth watching Milbourne in some of the upcoming games in Maui and against Indiana and Villanova where he will face more stout players. Last season his production really dropped off when he had to face ACC post players night after night.

With Dino Gregory coming back on December 12 from his suspension for academic dishonesty the low post should be plenty deep. Jin Soo Choi and Steve Goins seem to be ready to contribute after some injury issues.

Maryland basketball also received another verbal commitment for 2010 in forward Ashton Pankey who playes for St. Anthony in Jersey City, NJ and the famous high school coach Bob Hurley. Before going to St. Anthony the 6-8 forward played for Archbishop Milloy in Queens, NY and was the first freshman to play on varsity there since the Georgia Tech great Kenny Anderson. Pankey is in the mold of current Terp James Padgett as a effort player who plays defense and rebounds but has a chance to get much better on offense. He is very active and seems to possess decent hands. You can see video of Pankey here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hokies bury Terps, again

No surprise that Virginia Tech quickly ended any hopes Maryland had of salvaging their decrepit season with a win over a top 25 team. I didn't get a chance to really review the game film yet so I don't want to make any comments on the performance of the squad right now. It is obvious that there is a significant gap between Frank Beamer's program and the one that Ralph Friedgen has been running since Virginia Tech lucked its way into the ACC. I don't like much about how the Hokies run their football program or athletic department but it is obvious that they have the coaching and talent to be in contention for an ACC football title nearly every season. Maryland is a long way off from that in both areas. In the four games Maryland has played against Virginia Tech since 2004 they have lost by a combined score of 142-37, on average 35-9. This game also exposed Friedgen's comments regarding the Terrapins "bad luck" to be the fatuous bunch of bull crap. I'm not sure if Big Ralph actually believes this team could be 6-4 or 7-3 but for some bad breaks. I think it would be worse to me if he was so delusional or in such denial that he really thinks that is the case. This is a bad team. There is no getting around it. Maybe if they had not had injury issues and had some luck in a game here or there they might be 5-5 with a shot at a mediocre 6-6 record like I predicted they would have before the season. That is certainly better than the potential first ever 10 loss season that they might suffer but it hardly makes them a good team. The Maryland program has a vast amount of improvement needed before there can be any sober talk about contending in a weak Atlantic division. The talent and coaching both need to improve drastically next year or the Terps will be perilously close to another disastrous season if they suffer some more "bad luck."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Good Guys"

Patrick Stevens of the Washington Times has a great D1scourse blog about the Virginia Tech versus Maryland game this Saturday. Maryland will be wearing special Under Armor uniforms in a camouflage pattern in honor of Veteran's Day. Not to be outdone Nike is issuing the Hokies new all white uniforms for the game because, according to a Nike representative, they wanted the "good guys" to wear white since Maryland is having a "Black Out" for the game. I guess honoring veterans won't get in the way of Nike trying to upstage Under Armor. Well done, Nike.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Sloppy play dooms Terps

There wasn't any bad weather to mirror the poor play on the field nor did it serve as an excuse for an impotent offense this week. In excellent conditions Maryland's offense mustered 17 points and only 270 total yards and even before starter Chris Turner left the game with a knee injury the offense wasn't looking nearly as good as the numbers would indicate. If it wasn't for a defensive touchdown and another Torrey Smith kick return the offense had little chance to keep up with State's QB Russell Wilson.

Wilson helped Maryland out by having an inconsistent game with three interceptions even as he passed for 343 yards and three touchdowns. The Wolfpack left points on the field with several touchdown passes that were either dropped or overthrown. Against the 20th ranked scoring offense in the NCAA the Maryland defense had little chance to to keep the Wolfpack out of the endzone. Even with the benefit of four State turnovers the defense still surrendered 482 yards and an astonishing 31 first downs to go with 38 points.

Alex Wujciak had a jumped on a slant route and raced for the endzone to keep Maryland in the game. He finished with 14 tackles to go along with the touchdown but was also beaten in coverage a number of times. Ben Pooler is developing into a very nice linebacker and, though he will make some mistakes due to his inexperience, he has been a great surprise in the place of the injured Demetrius Hartsfield.

The rest of the defense didn't look very good. Corner Anthony Wiseman was repeatedly targeted by N.C. State and surrendered big play after big play. The defensive line couldn't muster any pass rush to speak of and wasn't really all that effective in stopping the run either. Too often when Maryland blitzed the linebackers and defensive backs were stood up by blockers and gave up on the pass rush. Wilson is a threat to scramble but it wasn't cause for the pass rush to stand around and shadow him to keep him in the pocket. The tackling was horrendous across the board. The unit regressed against a very potent offense.

Coming off a bye week the team looked disappointingly sloppy. The ten penalties for 91 yards illustrates that the team wasn't focused and that many of the players are probably looking to the offseason already. It is understandable that midway through a season that has went south so dramatically a fair number of players would start looking to the off season. There are few seniors on this team and the underclassmen are certainly looking to getting away from football and then gearing up for Spring practice. With such a distracted performance after a two week layoff it is clear that there will be no magic turnaround to this season and an ugly six game losing streak to end the season is very possible.

The biggest development from the game is the play of Jamarr Robinson in place of the injured Chris Turner. I have little doubt that if Turner was not injured it would have made absolutely no difference to the outcome of the game. It did force the staff to play Robinson and after a shaky start he seemed to settle down and showed flashes of potential. Robinson seemed to think he was unlikely to play in the game before Turner went down and it showed as he fumbled a snap and missed several open receivers. Robinson clearly is far behind Turner in his understanding of the offense and it has been the criticism of the staff since before the Spring game that his self preparation should be better. We'll see how Robinson reacts now that it is very likely he'll at least start against Virginia Tech and possibly longer. What Robinson lacks in knowledge and decision making to Turner he may make up for in his running ability and playmaking ability. Robinson showed a mobility that Turner cannot come close to and with a leaky offensive line perhaps that will be an advantage. He made several big scrambles late in the game that Turner would have never been able to replicate. Robinson also demonstrated that his arm strength and ability to throw the deep ball are significant improvements to what Turner offered. As N.C. State head coach Tom O'Brien said after the game Robinson is a totally different look at quarterback than Turner. He is weaker in some ways but stronger in others. It will be incumbent on the staff to play to Robinson's strengths in their game plan. Having him sit back and play a dink and dunk passing game like Turner would be a mistake.

Getting a glimpse of Robinson and Maryland's possible future at quarterback adds some intrigue to the remaining games that wasn't there before last Saturday.

My Week 11 Poll

1 Alabama
2 Florida
3 Texas
5 Boise State
6 Cincinnati
7 Georgia Tech 2
8 Pittsburgh 7
9 Utah 5
10 Iowa 3
11 LSU 1
12 Ohio State
13 Oregon 5
14 Southern Cal 1
15 Virginia Tech 2
16 Miami (Florida) 3
17 Houston 1
18 Oklahoma State
19 Arizona
20 Texas Tech 3
21 Wisconsin 4
22 Boston College 2
23 Kansas State
24 Penn State 13
25 West Virginia
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Notre Dame (#18), California (#20), Duke (#21), Oklahoma (#22).

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Mosley, freshmen shine in exhibition

Sean Mosley tied for the team high in points and rebounds last night against division II Indiana(Pa.) with an impressive 14 point and 6 rebound performance on 7/9 shooting. In the scrimmages Mosley looked like a much more confident and offensively impressive player this season and may add a reliable scoring element to complement Vasquez that Maryland didn't really have last season.

Freshman James Padgett was given a start at forward and played well with 8 points and 4 rebounds in 22 minutes. With the nebulous suspension of forward Dino Gregory for academic violations it seems probable that Padgett will get to start his first collegiate game next Friday against Charleston Southern in the season opener. Padgett and fellow freshman Jordan Williams have shown flashes in the scrimmages and exhibition game that would indicate they can be effective if they have to replace Gregory for the rest of the season.

There was some concern in media reports about the rebounding but as of now I don't think that is a serious issue. Jordan Williams is a better rebounder now than Dave Neal was last season and Dino Gregory was vastly overrated in regards to his rebounding. Both Williams and Padgett have posted decent rebounding numbers in the scrimmages and the exhibition game. During last season Neal and Gregory combined for 7.5 rebounds and 11.1 points per game in 40 minutes of play. In the exhibition game, even with a rebounding effort that could have been better, Padgett and Williams combined for 10 rebounds and 15 points. It may have been an undersized opponent but it wasn't as if Gregory and Neal were posting better numbers against the Delaware State and Elon level opponents on Maryland's schedule last season either.

Certainly Dave Neal did some things that neither Padgett or Williams can do right now but it is equally true that Padgett and Williams bring things to the table that Neal couldn't do last season. The loss of Gregory is more a concern of depth right now with Steve Goins nursing a tender knee. That leaves Landon Milbourne, Jin Soo Choi, Padgett and Williams as the only frontcourt players. To be honest that still strikes me as an improvement over last season. It does guarantee that Williams and Padgett will get their chance to develop with plenty of playing time in the early part of the season until Gregory returns (unlikely) or Goins recovers. I felt Goins was behind both Padgett and Williams before his knee trouble but he would at least provide more depth.

There are areas that Gary Williams would like to see improvement such as perimeter shooting, defense and rebounding but usually those areas are rusty this early in the season. It will be worth watching those areas, along with the play of the freshman, when Maryland tips off the 2009-10 season next week.

Monday, November 02, 2009