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.

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