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.