Friday, December 16, 2011

The bomb already went off

In the movie Clear and Present Danger there is a scene in which the CIA's Jack Ryan is in a briefing with the President and there is a discussion among the political operatives of how to handle a potential scandal. Ryan ends up giving contrary advice and summarizes his strategy by saying, "there is no point in defusing a bomb that has already gone off."

The dreadful 2-10 season that Maryland football just finished was the bomb going off. In the last week or so AD Kevin Anderson and coach Randy Edsall have been in damage control mode sending out a letter to fans, that ended up being removed from the Facebook site due to the flood of negative comments, and giving interviews to some of the local media outlets. The problem is the damage has already been done and probably is only repairable with winning, and lots of it.

Edsall started off with the unenviable task of winning over a fan base that wanted someone else. The prospect of Mike Leach coming to College Park with his gimmick offense and scoring tons of points in a conference with a dearth of offense was intoxicating for many fans. The fact that the offensive personnel Maryland had would not have fit his system (including QB Danny O'Brien) or that he rarely could field a decent defense at Texas Tech would not have mattered to fans because the games would have been fun to watch. The fact that Randy Edsall was not Mike Leach was only the start of his problems at Maryland.

It seems fairly clear that Randy Edsall didn't know what he was getting into when he decided to take the job at Maryland. As I have written before the media market in Connecticut did nothing to prepare him for the lion's den he was stepping into at Maryland. If things are not going well the local media will be only too happy to cut you up and feed you to the mob as former basketball coach Gary Williams could have told him. The "one voice" policy that Edsall imposed also probably won him few friends in the media especially since Edsall never says anything of value in his own interviews. Little surprise that sports writers started turning to anonymous players and parents with grievances to generate some spice to the coverage. Virtually every columnist at the Washington Post: Mike Wise, Jason Reid and Tracee Hamilton has taken a swing at the Randy pinata.  Edsall didn't cultivate the media because he didn't think he had to and if he was winning it probably wouldn't matter if the writers liked him but I doubt he foresaw a 2-10 disaster on the horizon either.

Not trying to co-opt the media was a mistake but the real damage (besides the losing of course) was that Edsall's authoritarian law & order approach was never going to sit well with Maryland fans. It is a cultural and political disconnect between most Maryland fans and the head coach. Even before the season began its long slide into oblivion fans were grumbling about the no names on jerseys, the emphasis on grooming and appearance, the subjugation of the individual over the team. I would like names on the back of jerseys just so I can quickly identify who the heck some of the players are but the rest of the issues have little bearing on the success of a team. If we are to take Edsall's comments at face value it is clear he sees these elements of discipline as a end unto itself whereas many fans view them as unnecessary hindrances to fielding a good football team. Truth is these things are red herrings. Some Connecticut players were eager to discuss how they enjoyed the freedom this past season without Edsall looking over their shoulders. That is great and if they had not gone 5-7 against a terrible schedule that might mean something. It isn't probable that Connecticut will do much better because the team rules are more relaxed in future years either. In fact it is likely that this Edsall-less "spring" they are enjoying will result in less, not more, winning. In the end the comments are just self serving claptrap. The paradigm of a disciplinarian or lax players coach are elements of style, not substance. Neither guarantees winning and neither is dispositive on the question of success.

Maryland is the kind of place where the residents are more likely to get upset over the culturally conservative values (if you can even call them that) of their state school's football coach than a doofus politician who antagonizes a major employer in the state with inane resolutions. Randy Edsall doesn't understand Maryland and Maryland doesn't understand him. I'm sure Kevin Anderson has been a little surprised coming from the culture of West Point that fans here view these attempts to conform comportment as an affront to liberty. It is obvious that if this team went 10-2 and not 2-10 these issues would be irrelevant.

I wasn't thrilled with the Randy Edsall hire because I think he didn't meet the criteria that Maryland needed to change the direction of the football program. Unfortunately he has become such a divisive figure due to the failure of this past season and his cultural obliviousness that the real problems with the football program have been lost on many Maryland fans. It is too lazy to blame Edsall for the all failures of the football program. The truth is that Maryland has been floundering in mediocrity since the early part of the last decade. Many fans will rant about Edsall inheriting a 9-4 team and driving it into a ditch without acknowledged that two years prior this team with many of the same players from this year posted the same 2-10 record. When the median win total the last three seasons is two wins the anomaly is a smoke-and-mirrors 9-4 record.

The academic situation at Maryland is worse than many people realize. The prior staff, including James Franklin, recruited too many players that had little or no chance to meet their academic requirements at Maryland. The number of washouts from recent recruiting classes including Caleb Porzel, Masengo Kabongo, Zach Kerr, Dion Armstrong, Travis Hawkins, David Mackall, Pha'Terrell Washington, Taji Thornton, and Bearthur Johnson just to name a few and there are more that could have been included in that list who transferred. Even players who managed to stay on the team like Drew Gloster, Ronnie Tyler (sound familiar), Quintin McCree and Pete White missed games or spring practice due to academic issues. The loss of scholarships due to poor APR numbers is really only part of the story but is a side effect of a deeper problem. The cutting of the academic support staff by former AD Debbie Yow certainly didn't help but the continued deterioration of APR scores over the course of Friedgen's time at Maryland wasn't random luck.

The truth is as a job the head coach of the Maryland football program is a crappy job. Many fans may not want to hear that but it is some bitter medicine they need to force down. The facilities and stadium are, even with improvements, among the worst in the ACC. The budget for the football program is an embarrassment sitting at the bottom of the ACC. The high school talent pool is decent but not deep enough to stock a program with great talent year after year besides the fact that regardless of the Maryland head coach many local kids have little interest in coming to Maryland if a glamour program shows interest in them. Last but not least the fan base at Maryland is about as faithful as Don Draper. When things are going well and you are winning they will fill the seats and when things go sideways they will disappear. That may be unpleasant for some die hard football fans to read but it is the inconvenient truth. When Debbie Yow took over as the AD at N.C. State she took a not so subtle shot at Maryland football fans by saying it was nice to be at a school where the fans actually supported the football team. Yow would never avoid the low road if she could but there was a fair amount of truth in her shot at the fans she left behind in College Park. The fans at Maryland have the football team they deserve.

There is no point to facile rantings like those of John Feinstein who wrote that Edsall should be fired immediately. There is no money to pay off the rest of Edsall's contract or those of his assistants then pay out a new coach an even larger contract. To suggest that the money could be easily made up with increased ticket sales if Kevin Anderson hires a more exciting coach is to be not only credulous but reckless. Mark Twain once said there are two times in a man's life when he shouldn't gamble: when he can't afford it, and when he can. With the financial problems Maryland has at the moment it is not the time to be gambling.

None of this is to assert that I think Randy Edsall will have a successful or long tenure at Maryland. He will get rid of those players who didn't want to be part of the Randy Edsall experience, as should be his right. That is one reason I can't get too excited about the transfers as any player who doesn't want to be there should be moved along both for their own good and the good of the program. His great challenge will be to bring in the kinds of players he wants, with a decent talent and to do it quickly. I'm not sure he is up to that challenge. It is obvious that to a greater extent than the media gaffes, do-rag bans and cliched rhetoric he spouted regularly his biggest mistake was hiring a fairly mediocre staff. As he begins the process of remaking his program on the heels of some unpleasant lessons the decision of who he hires or replaces will go a long way in determining if he gets beyond year three of his contract. When the new television money starts to trickle in there may be a tough decision in year three of Edsall's contract but until then Maryland fans will have to take their own share of the blame for their shambolic football program.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Outpost of Progress

I thought that the game against Notre Dame would go a ways toward informing Maryland fans where this squad is in early December. Most assumed it would be a work in progress at this point even before the injury to Pe'Shon Howard and the NCAA docking Alex Len 10 games of eligibility. There have been more lows (noncompetitive losses to Iona and Alabama) than highs (the Colorado Comeback) but there have been some signs of progress. In studying Notre Dame I felt they would be a good substitute for the bottom half of a dreadful ACC this season. Notre Dame is a team that will struggle badly in Big East play and will likely end up towards the bottom of their league. They lack any inside presence and rely heavily on perimeter shooting and drawing fouls driving to the basket. They are not very athletic outside of a few players (though Jerian Grant is pretty good) and are vulnerable on the boards. If Maryland lost on a neutral floor to this group it would have been an ominous sign for conference play. Having come away with a win it still isn't clear how good Maryland can be but we are seeing signs that barring further injuries to a thin roster that Maryland won't have a Wake Forest in 2011 type of season.

Super sophomore Terrell Stoglin was dazzling in scoring 31 on 11 made field goals in 37 minutes. Stoglin shoulders a tremendous burden on this squad as he is the only player who can create his own shot and the most serious offensive threat. It is unrealistic to expect him to dish out 7 assists a game or play lockdown defense in addition to the scoring burden. He will have some difficult games in ACC play and will force bad shots from time to time but suppressing his gunner instincts isn't going to necessarily help this team be successful this year. Mark Turgeon's motion offense is still a work in progress and although the team did a better job of running sets in this game they are not going to win much playing "system" basketball regardless of how much Turgeon wants to run a balanced attack. I think he understands this but also wants the role players on the team to buy into his system. This is perhaps why Ashton Pankey seems to be in the dog house. On a thin roster there is no other explanation for his one minute of play against Notre Dame. Hopefully he gets his head on straight because Maryland will need his rebounding and toughness in ACC play.

Sean Mosley bounced back from a dreadful game against Illinois and had one of his most complete nights of the season. He was very efficient with the ball and made good decisions on offense. He struggled to guard Grant at times but when Mike Brey went with a five out motion (all five players on the perimeter) it was a tough assignment for Mosley. Mosley is not a superstar and never will be but if he can gain a little consistency he can be a very valuable compliment for Stoglin.

James Padgett has put together a decent two games adding 11 points and 10 rebounds. He did it only shooting 3/11 which for where he puts the ball up is horrendous shooting but he is hustling and getting better on the defensive boards. He is not the wasted scholarship that some fans considered him to be and looks to be on track for a solid campaign and potentially very good senior season. Overall he has ably replaced Dino Gregory's production and in some ways is better.

Nick Faust continued to struggle with his shot. He is now seven for his last thirty five field goal attempts (20%) and only 3/9 from the free throw line in the last three games. His struggles at the foul like may cause problems in a tight game since it is hard to keep the ball out of his hands with so few guards on the roster. Hopefully the softer schedule the rest of the month will help him regain some confidence.

This Notre Dame team is not very good and will likely finish near the bottom of the Big East but I think this was a very significant win for the Terps going into the underbelly of the non-conference slate. They will get Alex Len on the court at the end of the month and then hopefully Pe'Shon Howard in January. Things might not be looking to bad at that point.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Terps fade in loss

I have girded myself for many news stories about a "feisty" or "scrappy" performance in a losing effort for the basketball team. It would be easy to trot out those cliches after the Terps loss to a mediocre Illinois squad last night. Certainly the effort was good for most of the game which you would expect for a primetime game on ESPN (one of only three Maryland games on the prime ESPN channel currently scheduled this season). It had been four days since their last game and the tempo was a fairly pedestrian 61.0 so fatigue should not have been much of an excuse like it may have been in the Iona debacle. Maryland's free throw percentage was actually better in the 2nd half (70%) then it was in the 1st half (53.3%) which would not support the fatigue excuse either. Still there is something off with this team and their 2nd half play. In only notching 27 points the Terps have now scored less than 30 points in the second half of three out of six games. Not surprising that accounts for all three of their losses this year. Managing the stamina of the roster will be a challenge all season for Mark Turgeon but it didn't play much of a role in this loss. To the contrary Turgeon's substitutions may have contributed to Illinois pulling away for the win. With about 17 minutes left in the game Turgeon put Sean Mosley (who had an awful game) and Terrell Stoglin on the bench and put out a squad of Nick Faust, Mychal Parker, Ashton Pankey and two walk-ons. Not surprisingly by the time he put Mosley and Stoglin back in three minutes later Illinois had gained a lead they would not relinquish. I'm not sure what his thought process was with that lineup but it was a blunder by Turgeon that contributed to Maryland losing the game. Turgeon has had some pointed and public criticisms of his players the last few weeks and given his instinct for brutal truth he also deserves the spotlight to be put on some of his failures as well. Given that he is from the Roy Williams coaching school I doubt we'll see much of that from him. I thought his decision not to test the Illinois backcourt with some press late in the game was a mistake as well. They only did it once and it forced the Illini into an immediate timeout. Inexplicably Turgeon never tried it again until the game was already over. With his system you had better be damn good in the half court because they won't cause turnovers and therefore won't get any easy points as a result.

There has been some debate about Terrell Stoglin being a "ball hog" or something to that effect. He did take an amazing 42.5% of the shots when he was in the game, Faust being second with 28.3%, but he was very efficient at 114.0 points per 100 possessions. Given that heavy usage his turnover % was an excellent 15.7 and his effective field goal percentage of 58.8% was very good as well. About the only thing he did poorly was shoot free throws. It is obvious he isn't much of a defensive player so I won't fault him for not getting back on defense like Turgeon did in his beginning to be habitual post game player flogging.

Stoglin has to get more help from his backcourt teammates. Mosley had an awful game scoring only five points and turning the ball over at a 40% rate on his possessions. Turgeon is loath to criticize Mosley, as was Gary Williams, because he is a good kid and a hard worker. This game demonstrated that with Mosley you get great hustle plays mixed in with boneheaded plays that no senior should make. The hope that he will be a scoring factor for Maryland went out the window last season. He doesn't have the skills or mental makeup to be a scorer at the collegiate level. What should be expected is not to foul a three point shooter in the act, not commit dumb offensive fouls or turn the ball over at critical moments late in the game. Mosley did all three. Nick Faust struggled even worse than Mosley but he is a freshman who is playing out of position. It is painfully obvious that Faust has no ability to be a serviceable point guard. Until Pe'Shon Howard returns from injury Maryland will have to muddle through with what they have and Faust will have to try to take better shots and start making some free throws. His shooting percentages are all shockingly bad no matter from where on the floor. He is often too careless with possessions and has done little to get the ball to places on the court that will open up the offense.

James Padgett had a career night scoring with 16 points but his rebounding and defense need to improve, how he failed to grab one defensive rebound in 28 minutes is beyond me. Ashton Pankey also had a dreadful night rebounding. He let Illinois get TWO offensive rebounds off a missed free throw and failed to secure an easy rebound off a miss by Illinois with just 53 seconds remaining clinging to a 5 point lead. It is little wonder he is in Turgeon's dog house. He can be an excellent rebounder when his head is in the game but too often he pouts and has mental lapses.

The game against Notre Dame this weekend in the BB&T will be a directional game for the Terps. It is a game they have an excellent chance of winning given the Irish's poor play this season and loss of preseason All-Big East forward Tim Abromaitis. For scoring Notre Dame relies heavily on three point shooting and getting to the foul line. Defensively they are soft so and lack a significant inside presence so Maryland should be able to score. It will be a good test to see if this group can post a respectable ACC season or if they are going to struggle. If Maryland cannot beat Notre Dame on a neutral court I think they will struggle with middle of the pack ACC squads like Virginia Tech, Clemson, Miami and N.C. State.

Monday, November 14, 2011

More of the same for Edsall, Turgeon wins in debut

The game against Notre Dame was a prime opportunity for the football team to get a quality win and try to end the season on a positive note. Instead the effort and execution was dreadful in a 45-21 drubbing that wasn't even that close. Starting QB Danny O'Brien was largely ineffective before breaking his arm on a scramble in the 2nd half. He is done for the year and may have played his last game at Maryland. Notre Dame was brutally efficient on offense and had their way with the Terp's defense to the tune of 508 yards and 5 touchdowns, the Irish defense scored the other touchdown. From the 2nd quarter Notre Dame scored touchdowns on four straight possessions and put Maryland out of its misery. This wasn't a great Notre Dame team, having beaten only one opponent with a winning record all season to this point, but they were not going to beat themselves. On the other hand this Terp squad is in the process of mailing in the rest of the season. There was fight in this group up until the Florida State game and since then they have not been competitive in the last four outings. In the last four losses they have been outscored 145-67 and it is even worse if you throw out some garbage time touchdowns against Boston College and FSU.

While the offense rarely threatens to string together a number of first downs, let alone scores, the defense has been even worse. Against Notre Dame the tackling was the worst I've seen all season. The run by Jonas Gray that set up a 1 yard touchdown was a horrendous exhibition of missed tackles. Not only was the tackling bad but defenders also took bad angles on pursuit and at times exhibited poor effort when away from the ball carrier. The defensive line did get some pressure on Irish QB Tommy Rees and CB Trenton Hughes had a good game (relative to his teammates, anyway) coming back into the starting lineup.

D.J. Adams returned to the running back rotation but had little effect with 55 yards on 16 carries for a 3.4 yards per carry average. Davin Meggett was also largely ineffective with just 37 yards on 9 carries. Without C.J. Brown's gains in the 2nd half the running game as a whole was largely impotent. The receiver corps has been a weak group all season and that continued in this game. None of the wideouts are consistent or possess significant big play ability. None of the QBs have done much to help them this season and as I indicated earlier Danny O'Brien continued his poor play with a 14/21 and 132 yards and a slew of poor reads and bad throws including another interception returned for a touchdown. Brown produced some yards in garbage time that probably don't mean much as the Irish were playing soft defense with a huge lead.

This team has failed to show much consistency on either side of the ball and it is hard to imagine that they will win either road game at Wake Forest or N.C. State to end the season. It is obvious this is a bad team from players to staff.

Turgeon gets first win
Maryland let UNC-Wilmington hang around most of the game until putting them away with free throws in the closing moments. Relying mostly on solid defense, free throws and rebounding it wasn't a visually pleasing contest. The offense was very uneven, particularly in the 1st half, and it is clear the team will continue to struggle with a lack of ball handlers on the roster. Terrell Stoglin didn't start due to a run in with coach Mark Turgeon of an undisclosed nature. Truth is Stoglin was the only guard who showed much of an ability to score. Sean Mosley showed more of the same we have seen from him over his first three seasons: great effort and hustle and an inability to shoot the basketball with any efficiency. It is too early to judge Nick Faust and Mychal Parker and both have a chance to improve, greatly in Faust's case, over the course of the season, but both will need to produce more than 3/8 shooting in 54 combined minutes like they did the other night. Without the surprising production of Ashton Pankey and James Padgett who combined for 25 points and 15 rebounds it may have been a different result. I think Pankey and Padgett will be much better than fans thought as a duo. They are both content to do the dirty work on the inside and seem more than capable of replacing Dino Gregory's production (vastly overrated by fans) from last season. Berend Weijs needs to do a much better job of keeping out of foul trouble and if he can't stay on the floor Padgett and Pankey will be worn out in the 2nd half of games. It is interesting to note that I think the frontcourt, which was supposed to be a weak area, as a group outplayed the backcourt. We'll know more in the coming games against in Puerto Rico when they have to go against bigger and better forwards. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Shame and Scandal

It has been a rough time recently for Maryland supporters. Gary Williams shocking retirement, the bitter divorce from Ralph Friedgen, the failed courtships of Mike Leach and Sean Miller, the hiring of Randy Edsall, the dismal performance of the football team and the prospect of a long slog of a basketball season must have most fans more than a little weary. I know personally it has been a struggle to be as invested in Maryland sports recently as I have in the past. There is much to talk about with the struggles of Randy Edsall and his constant PR gaffes, the recruiting class signed by Mark Turgeon today and the specter of looming cuts to athletic programs given the dire straights the athletic department finds itself in after Debbie Yow's mismanagement. All those should be analyzed and discussed because in many ways Maryland athletics are at a crossroads.

Yet after reading the media coverage and grand jury reports regarding the burgeoning scandal at Penn State I can only think there are far worse things than losing games.  Some in the media, in an attempt to make sense of as vile a scandal as there has ever been in American sports, have termed this Penn State's "Len Bias moment." At first glance it is an absurd analogy but also incredibly insulting to link Bias' name with that of a scandal that is at its heart the face of human cruelty. The death of Len Bias was a dreadful tragedy and one that in many ways still lingers to this day at the University of Maryland. The wound opened when Bias lost his life has taken many years to heal in the community and the scar of that loss will last for decades still. It may have indirectly exposed some things about the athletic department and Lefty Driesell's basketball program that were unseemly and the attempt by administrators to minimize the fallout from Bias' death only made the school look worse. Bias became a symbol of sorrow at a time when cocaine was beginning to create havoc across the nation. His death took its place as part of the national discourse over the proliferation of drugs but the pain was of a community that lost one of its most exceptional members in a heartrending and shocking manner.

What has transpired at Penn State, based on the available evidence, is something else entirely. I cannot think of another scandal in the history of American sports that involves this level of moral failure by an institution and the individuals charged with the ultimate responsibility of an organization. There may be a few murderers in the history of sports but they all acted as individuals. There are few, if any, acts that surpass the molestation of a child in depravity. The scandal at Baylor by former coach Dave Bliss is the only situation I can think of that even approaches the moral culpability of those people at Penn State that were informed of Jerry Sandusky's behavior. Bliss attempted to slander a player who was a victim of murder, perpetrated by the former teammate at Baylor, as a drug dealer in an attempt to divert attention from NCAA violations that were committed by Bliss. As despicable as that was Bliss had no role in the murder and did not participate by failing to report a crime to the police. There is no corollary for what happened in Happy Valley. It is unprecedented in college athletics. The "scandals" in college sports that Penn State was so proud to avoid, what often amounts to hustling for money on one side or the other, are trifling compared to the rape of numerous children.

Those in power at Penn State were aware over the course of years that there were serious issues regarding Sandusky and his relationship with minors. He held onto his job after the initial legal investigation in 1998 and was given emeritus status and unfettered access to the university facilities even after leaving the coaching staff. A few years later a member of the staff witnessed Sandusky sodomizing a boy in the showers at the gym on campus. Even though a crime was witnessed by an employee on university property the local law enforcement was never contacted. The culpability of the university and the most powerful individual on the campus, head coach Joe Paterno, is unavoidable. If a person you knew for decades and respected was accused of such a heinous crime would you not try to establish what had precisely occurred? Would a grown man in the shower with a 10 year old boy on a late Sunday evening not cause you concern even without the benefit of further nauseating details? Would you not ensure that someone who has the jurisdiction and authority over such a serious accusation was informed instead of a feckless school administrator? In a self serving statement that was equal parts hubris and senility Paterno claimed he wished he had done more but that Penn State's administrators should not focus on his status but on more important matters. What is sad is that Paterno actually believes that his status isn't a major factor in this scandal. What occurred at Penn State was an abdication by those in authority when confronted with something monstrous and evil. It is inescapable that Paterno is the face of that moral failure and a lame justification that he did all that was required under the law doesn't suffice in the face of the exploitation and rape of children.

How did things get to this point at Penn State? Unfortunately there is nothing exceptional about men like Jerry Sandusky. Pedophiles like him are in communities across this nation preying upon children to satisfy their sick predilections. How did Sandusky in particular get away with this for so long? I think the role of college football in this scandal cannot be overlooked. Penn State's football program brings significant revenue into the university but is also a significant gravitational pull for alumni and booster donations. Anyone who knows Penn State alumni knows that the football program plays a central role in the community there like few places in the country. Paterno's pontiff like role with the program has blurred the line between the individual and institution. If the most powerful man on campus received news that Sandusky had been seen molesting a child on campus and chose not to investigate the matter who would do so in his stead? The tsunami of college football money seems to have wiped away any sense of morality at Penn State and unfortunately it isn't just Happy Valley. The wayward beast of college football is what sends a college kid at Notre Dame up in a scissor lift during a gale to film a practice ending with him plummeting to his death. Not a single member of the football staff paid for that tragedy with their job. It results in 12 deaths at Texas A&M setting up the annual bonfire in the name of absurd tradition. The dismal tide of football now has university presidents jumping from conference to conference to chase a few extra pigskin dollars in a manner that would make Gordon Gekko proud. As Lou Mannheim said in Wall Street, "The main thing about money, Bud, is that it makes you do things you don't want to do."

The Frankenstein monster of college football was not responsible for what Jerry Sandusky did but it made it less likely that people at Penn State would do the right thing. If an unknown Penn State staff member had been caught molesting children on campus I would expect that the response of people like AD Joe Curley, Senior Vice President Gary Schultz and Paterno would have been different. The graduate assistant who witnessed the rape of a child in the football building would not have debated contacting the police if the perpetrator was not a notable former Penn State football assistant. This disgrace is a warning for other colleges that invest in the hegemony of the football program as an element of the institution. Now Penn State will be haunted by the stigma of these foul deeds along with all that football blood money. May those who were victimized by Sandusky, under the umbrella of Penn State football,  be successful in their civil lawsuits against these scoundrels.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Edsall's rebuilding project: his image

If you are a head coach of a revenue sport at the University of Maryland and the Washington Post's sports page is running opinion pieces about your program you had better duck and cover. Just over half way through his inaugural season in College Park Randy Edsall has learned that this media market isn't like Storrs, Connecticut. The level of scrutiny in the Washington D.C. and Baltimore markets is on a whole other level. A dishonest bully like Jim Calhoun wouldn't be able to kowtow the media here into reporting stories the way he wanted and Edsall's "one voice" policy with the media isn't going to win him any friends or curb negative stories in the local media. Jason Reid's article on Edsall's "rebuilding" effort at Maryland is a pretty good summary of where Edsall and the football program stand at the moment. After the uniform fanfare to start the season it has been a series of public relations blunders for Edsall and as Reid wrote it has seemed at times the Maryland coach has been talking out both sides of his mouth regarding the status of the program. His gaffs regarding the talent level on the squad and the shape of the program he inherited from Ralph Friedgen are more maddening if you consider that Edsall's rarely says anything of value when he is being interviewed about game strategy, injuries or mostly anything else worth knowing from a fan's perspective.

Basketball head coach Mark Turgeon has done better with the learning curve in adjusting to the new level of media scrutiny in this town. He has the advantage of the blessing of the legendary coach he replaced and he has played that well but he also hasn't coached a game yet. Expectations are not high for the basketball team yet it will be worth noting how Turgeon handles embarrassing losses to rivals like Duke and the inevitable emphasis on the struggles of his depleted squad. Turgeon has a history of griping about attendance, especially in his time at Texas A&M, and he may not be thrilled with a half full Comcast Center with his team near the bottom of the ACC standings.

There are many reasons that one can point to when trying to explain the struggles of the football team this season. Injuries, tough opponents, the expected and sometimes painful adjustment to a new coaching staff are all legitimate reasons. Despite this Edsall has done himself no favors in his public statements and to this point he has failed badly in the court of fan opinion. I don't know a single Maryland fan that had Randy Edsall as his first choice to replace Ralph Friedgen yet Edsall doesn't seem to appreciate that he needs to sell himself to Maryland fans as much as he needs to sell the program. Right now few are buying either.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Eagle In Atlanta Q&A

Another year another Q&A with longtime guest of Boston College blogger Bill from Eagle In Atlanta. Check out his blog for some interesting tidbits regarding Maryland head coach Randy Edsall and his connections to Boston College.

1. Boston College started off the season with 3 losses but it would be hard for any ACC program to win at Clemson and Virginia Tech which were the last two opponents for the Eagles. Is this BC team has bad as their 1-6 record currently or have you seen some signs of improvement?

I don't think BC is as bad as their record. There has been some bad luck, some injuries and some staff shakeups, but ultimately BC could have and should have beaten Duke and Northwestern. The Wake Forest game was winnable. UCF had a lopsided score but BC was also in that game for much of the action. As for signs of improvement, it is hard to tell. They haven't looked that much better against Clemson or Virginia Tech, but as you mentioned, those are two elite teams.

2. The loss of RB Montel Harris Jr. seems to have sent BC's offense into a death spiral but the starting QB and WRs from last season returned as well. Have the struggles been due to failures at the skill positions or on the offensive line?

I don't blame Montel. His replacements at RB have been some of the highlights of BC's season so far. I think the major issue is offensive line. Too often Chase Rettig is running for his life or throwing passes with someone in his face. He is not getting enough protection. Although we don't have great skill guys, it does explain the lack of scoring. Poor lineplay does.

3. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is doing what he always does, amassing tackles at an impressive rate, but the rest of the defense has struggled. Is the defense getting production from any other players besides the star linebacker?

All the linebackers have been good. So good, that BC has started using more 3-4. The problems have been in upfront and in the secondary. BC is thin and young in both areas. In the past we've gotten by with less talent but with smart, experienced players. Now we are left with guys upfront who cannot get a push and DBs who cannot force turnovers.

4. It appears the honeymoon is over for head coach Frank Spaziani sitting at 1-6 with a slate of tough games remaining on the schedule. Given that Dan Henning only lasted three seasons and BC seems to have a history of pulling the plug on coaches who struggle what do you think are Spaziani's chances of remaining at Boston College past this season assuming the Eagles don't go on a winning streak?

Right now I think Spaz will be back. As crazy as it sounds, I think the politics around the program will keep him safe. Our AD painted himself into a corner when he fired Jags and promoted Spaz. He's got a lot of political and financial capital invested in Spaz. Unless other powers around the school take a stand, I think Spaz comes back...even at 1-11.

Many thanks to Bill in a season where both BC and Maryland are struggling.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Seminoles thrash defenseless Terps, 41-16

Maryland looked helpless last Saturday while getting crushed by Florida State. The defense had as bad a performance as any Maryland team since the getting run off the field by California in the 2009 opener. The game went downhill right from the kickoff as FSU scored two straight touchdowns on drives of 7 and 9 plays to open the game 14-0. This Seminole team is not stacked with NFL athletes like past additions but the talent gap between the two teams was painfully obvious. At linebacker and secondary the Terps just couldn't match up with FSU's speed. While the team was able to apply some pressure on E.J. Manuel it was  too little as FSU amassed over 500 yards of offense and five touchdowns. The Terps were particularly bad on 1st down as FSU totaled 290 yards on first down alone! They ran the ball 21 times for 126 yards, a 6.0 yard per carry average, and completed 8/13 passes for 154 yards, a phenomenal 11.8 yards per attempt. It made the job of stopping a pretty good FSU offense almost impossible.

The offense didn't perform much better as QB C.J. Brown couldn't get anything going in the first half and Maryland punted on six of the first seven possessions. Florida State looked at the tape from the Clemson game and bottled up Brown's scrambling leaving him with his spotty passing to move the ball. Brown needed to read the pressure from the Seminole defense a little better as Danny O'Brien, who replaced Brown when he got knocked woozy on a scramble, did several times and audibled to a better play. Not that O'Brien really played that much better completing just 50% of his attempts and getting most of his yardage on a 69 yard jump ball to McCree. In his six drives Maryland punted four times and he had two 3 and out possessions late in the game. I don't put much stock in the garbage time touchdown that O'Brien threw to Marcus Leak with 5 seconds left. The defense was probably a bad matchup for Brown but Randy Edsall has a real mess on his hands since there is no clear choice at quarterback and a back and forth system at quarterback is probably not a great idea if you are trying to galvanize the team to save the season. At this point it probably is worth going back to Danny O'Brien as a starter given some of the weaker defenses coming up for the Terps.

The 41-16 defeat to Florida State was the 5th loss in a row to the Seminoles and only the second worst margin during that time, losing 37-3 in 2008.

It does seem obvious that Maryland needs to recruit a better caliber of athlete to match up with FSU and Clemson, who have been killing it on the recruiting trail the last few years. The Seminoles and Tigers have not been able to match that recruiting with on the field domination, with Clemson's current season an exception, but the Terrapins are going to struggle to compete in the Atlantic Division with the kind of recruits that Randy Edsall brought to Connecticut or even the level of players that Ralph Friedgen was recruiting his last few seasons at Maryland. It remains to be seen if Edsall has the kind of staff that can make that happen.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Terps in transition

I think most Maryland fans anticipated a level of continuity going into this season even with longtime coach Ralph Friedgen being forced out in the offseason. Truth is very little has carried over since last season's 9-4 record. Everything from the staff, multiple starters and even the uniforms has changed. Many fans viewed QB Danny O'Brien and defensive star Kenny Tate as cornerstones of their respective units but neither will start at Florida State this Saturday. It appears O'Brien has lost his starting job due to poor performance and Tate has some unspecified injury that will keep him out for the third game in a row this week.

The new spread offense is very comparable to James Franklin's from last year even though Franklin probably had better talent at the skill positions, certainly at wide out. The defense has bottomed out falling to 87th in the country in scoring defense from 37th last season allowing over 430 yards per game at this point. To be fair Clemson's offense is one of the most explosive units in the nation scoring 35 points or more in every game this season except at Virginia Tech when they demolished the Hokies 23-3. Even so Todd Bradford's defense survived until halftime with Clemson misfiring with the ball but once the 2nd half started the floodgates opened. Injuries have certainly decimated the defense with a grab bag of freshman linebackers all starting in place of the opening game starters. Out of 22 starters for the oh-so-long-ago opener against Miami 10 have either been lost to injury or demoted due to poor performance going into the Florida State game. It is hard to consider that as anything other than a disaster.

C.J. Brown played well in his first start against a leaky but athletic defense. His running ability adds a dimension to Maryland's offense that is impressive. It is true that the zone read spread offense or whatever you want to call Gary Crowton's scheme better suits the elusive Brown over the static O'Brien. Still, O'Brien didn't play well regardless of the scheme or the limitations it may have imposed on him. Brown improved his passing dramatically from the prior week against Georgia Tech and if he continues to improve then there won't be any need for a discussion of the QB controversy. Once defenses adjust to Brown's running ability his passing will be tested but he doesn't face an exceptional defense the rest of the season after FSU.

Guard Pete White did a decent job replacing the injured Gonnella at left guard but you have to wonder if LT Max Garcia's struggles in that game were due in part to losing his starting guard.

Corner Cam Chism had his 2nd pick for a touchdown of the season against Clemson. Chism is a feast or famine corner and he his pick was the defensive highlight of the night but he also struggled in coverage along with CB Dexter McDougle. It isn't their fault really as the pass rush was non-existent and they are not good enough to cover Clemson's wideouts one on one. Defensive ends David Mackall and Keith Bowers have not notched a sack in the last two games and Bowers hasn't recorded one all season. Maryland had one sack on a botched snap even though Clemson passed the ball 38 times. The staff will have to find a way to put more pressure on opposing QBs in the coming weeks which won't be easy with a bunch of freshman linebackers.

Special teams was awful in this game giving up the decisive kickoff return for a touchdown and has been terrible all season. The lack of depth on this team is most apparent in the coverage units which are dreadful. The return units are not much better as Tony Logan has seen his production drop off dramatically.

The schedule lightens up for Maryland after this week with what amounts to three straight home games, the Notre Dame game is at FedEx Field, and then road dates at Wake Forest and N.C. State. A 6-6 record is still very possible even with a loss to FSU on Saturday.

While head coach Randy Edsall hinted Maryland was rebuilding then quickly retreated from those quotes it is clear that the program is in a state of flux. Edsall's dog house is getting pretty big these days as players like Ronnie Tyler, A.J. Francis, D.J. Adams and dare I suggest Kenny Tate are all apparently either phased out or in that process. If Edsall wants to put his stamp on this program and several of those players are resisting that process then it is his prerogative to allocate playing time how he sees fit. However he should also be accountable for the decision to give time to players who are not ready or not talented enough in their place. His decision to run off veteran linebackers Ben Pooler and Ryan Donohue looks pretty dumb at this point as he is forced to roll out freshmen like Mario Rowson and Alex Twine. Many fans are getting restless since the opening win over Miami and unfortunately the road ahead promises to be rocky with the injuries and more than little internal turmoil on the squad. It could be an ugly offseason around College Park unless this team can go on a winning steak to end the season.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Edsall stumbles Friedgen piles on

After the debacle against Temple head coach Randy Edsall made his first major gaffe by suggesting that the football program was undergoing a major restructuring that would take time. To be fair he never said the words "rebuilding" as some had suggested but it was a foolish thing to say on the heels of such a shambolic performance by his team in losing 38-7 at home. Edsall has taken some thinly veiled shots at his predecessor since he took over the job earlier this year. It seems fairly obvious that if the program was in great shape then Ralph Friedgen would still be the head coach. The ongoing academic problems that have resulted in a loss of scholarships due to low graduation rates and the careless violations of NCAA rules that resulted in lost practice time this season are just two examples of some of the problems at the end of Friedgen's tenure at Maryland. In the last two bowl games under Friedgen there were multiple players suspended for either a violation of team rules or academic ineligibility. The graduation rates were declining steadily and a significant number of players had to leave the team due to academic problems. To be fair the erstwhile AD Debbie Yow didn't help by slashing the academic support staff but Friedgen was the head coach and the failings are ultimately his responsibility.

The massive marketing campaign centered around the new uniforms probably inflated expectations too much for a squad with some talent but lacking the depth to contend for an ACC title. The play of stars like QB Danny O'Brien and LB Kenny Tate has been disappointing and certainly not good enough to overcome a lack of quality backups and mediocre starters who are playing because there is no talent behind them. To some extent Edsall is right, this program was in need of more repair than the smoke-and-mirrors 9 win season last year would indicate. While there are legitimate questions regarding Edsall's choice of coaching assistants and skepticism as to his ability to recruit elite players he will need time to institute his brand of football at Maryland. It appears the journey will be more tumultuous than Edsall and some fans would like. Even if the program is in worse shape than Edsall is letting on it was a misstep to characterize a loss, even as bad a stumble as the trouncing by Temple, as indicative of more systematic problems in the program as Edsall clearly suggested in his comments earlier this week. Getting past Edsall's law and order demeanor I thought he was more media savvy than to make such a blunder and he has taken a public relations beating as a result.

About the only person who came off worse in the media this week was Ralph Friedgen. On a Baltimore radio show the former coach just couldn't help himself and once again decided to take the low road while still collecting money from his eight year contract extension he signed in 2004. He said that he "burned" his Maryland diploma and "could[sec] care less about Maryland" while flying his Georgia Tech flag outside his house. His petty comments were reminder of the significant negatives of Ralph Friedgen. The petulance and arrogance of those statements are exhibits as to how he ended up alienating large segments of fans and local high school coaches before he was let go. Maryland did well by Friedgen but Friedgen did even better by Maryland. There were no schools offering head coaching jobs before he arrived in College Park. Since signing his eight year extension in 2004 and collecting over $12 million in salary and benefits Friedgen coached Maryland to a 44-42 overall record and an abysmal 24-32 record in the ACC. The Terps never finished better than tied for second place in the Atlantic division and finished in the top 25 just once. For that performance I think Friedgen was paid handsomely. I can understand Fridge being prickly about the implications of Edsall's comments but he has done himself no favors by making crass comments about his alma mater. He has the right to be bitter if he wants but he could have at least shown some dignity. Pity he couldn't even do that.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Yard Stick & Prisoner's Logic

The loss to West Virginia was illuminating. Maryland fans learned a few things about their team in the process not all of which was negative. It is clear Danny O'Brien is still learning. Though the hype was off the charts for the quarterback coming into this season he has looked shaky the first two games. He threw for a bunch of yards against a depleted Miami defense but also had an awful interception in the end zone that could have cost the Terps the game. Against West Virginia he had one of his worst games in a Maryland uniform. O'Brien looked jumpy in the pocket and threw into double and triple coverage often. For a cerebral player like O'Brien the poor judgement was the most surprising aspect of his struggles. It appeared West Virginia studied the tape of Gary Crowton's offense and had an answer of flooding the passing lanes with zone coverage. O'Brien often didn't see the second or third defender in coverage when he made a pass to a receiver. I'm not all that worried about O'Brien but his play showed that he still has a ways to go before he is an elite college passer.

The defense really struggled to contain the passing attack of West Virginia. Geno Smith mostly had his way with Maryland completing 36 passes out of 49 attempts for 388 yards. The Mountaineers didn't run the ball all that well, maybe because they didn't have to, only managing 3.0 yards per carry and 92 total yards. Corner Cam Chism really struggled and will get picked on all season unless he is able to improve his technique and limit his pass interference penalties. He isn't getting much help from the safety position as Franklin and Robinson are massing tackles but very few positive plays. The Kenny Tate at linebacker move has yet to bear any fruit as the senior stalwart seems to be a non-factor with this scheme. Linemen David Mackall and Andre Monroe are youngsters that could form a ferocious pass rushing duo by the end of the season. Tackle Joe Vellano has been rock solid on the interior. At linebacker the Terps are still struggling to find their way. This group struggles in pass coverage and the scheme doesn't seem to fit the strengths of Tate or Demetrius Hartsfield who are both athletic and capable of attacking the line of scrimmage. The defense continues to force turnovers but has been terrible on 3rd down, 46% on the season, and they gave four 1st downs to WVU on penalties. Maryland may have to hope to outscore opponents more often than not.

One bright spot was the running game. The return of D.J. Adams was a boon to the red zone offense and to Davin Meggett. The physical running of Adams is a good complement to Meggett and he finished with 64 yards and two rushing touchdowns. He and Meggett were the driving force behind Maryland's frantic comeback in the 2nd half. Gary Crowton would do well to focus more on establishing them both early in the game.

From a broader perspective this game highlighted the lack of depth on this squad. In some ways Randy Edsall has to retool the football team's roster as basketball coach Mark Turgeon must do with the basketball team. While it may take Turgeon only two recruiting cycles to build up his roster again it may take Edsall much longer. The depth at positions like linebacker, corner, safety and all along the offensive line need to be addressed in the coming recruiting seasons. It didn't help that in the offseason Edsall decided to show a number of 5th year players the door, LB Ben Pooler would have been useful this season, but there were also academic casualties from poor grades that Edsall inherited from Ralph Friedgen. I think this team can be successful this season but Edsall will need time to upgrade the program after he inherited a team that was 11-14 in the two years prior to his arrival.

If At First You Don't Succeed...
The ACC went back to the expansion well with the surprise announcement that Pittsburg and Syracuse were  fleeing the Big East to join the what has become a refugee conference in the ACC. The used car salesman of our conference John Swofford admitted expansion went more smoothly this time than the last time. We can add Master of the Bleeding Obvious to his list of titles. For me it was another reminder that the ACC is run by buffoons. His comments about having the ACC tournament in Madison Square Garden were presumptuous and crass. Listen to some radio on WFAN in New York and you'll quickly find out how well received those comments were when the father of the Big East, Dave Gavitt, was barely in the ground after dying from cancer on Friday.

If the reasons given by the ACC during the embarrassing news conference on Sunday or behind the scenes leaks to reporters sound familiar, this was about survival, expanding the conference footprint, insurance against a raid by the SEC, et cetera, et cetera, it is because the same kinds of things were said during the last failed ACC raid. In the years since the first merry go round the clear winners were the schools that fled the Big East: Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech. The rest of the conference has little tangible to show for inviting the new house guests to stay as long as they like with their dirty RV parked in the driveway. ACC basketball has sunk to its lowest level in decades and the football programs are as irrelevant as they have ever been. When national title pretenders like Virginia Tech are the best the ACC can put forth you know the ACC is like the NFC West in the professional football, a punch line and laughingstock. Miami's program might be on the verge of NCAA Armageddon and Boston College is in a vortex of football and basketball decline that is stunning. Adding football programs like Pitt and Syracuse is akin to adding another N.C. State or Wake Forest to the ACC. The league has decided to double down on a losing hand.

It is true that Pitt and Syracuse add strong basketball programs to a weakened ACC product, which is why Coach K was so positive about the move in contrast to the first round of expansion. On the other hand people thought Miami was a sterling addition to football when they came to the ACC. All they have produced since is on and off the field embarrassments. There is no guarantee that Pitt will be able to flourish with its brand of physical basketball in the ACC and once Jim Boeheim retires Syracuse could easily fall off the map as well. The bigger problem is that basketball can only earn a conference so much money. In the arms race of revenue the ACC has already fallen behind the Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC and this move will only widen the gap, even if it insures survival.

The more pertinent question for Maryland fans: is this good for Maryland? I think the answer is a resounding no. Perhaps if Maryland was like Wake Forest, Boston College or N.C. State whose athletic programs have little allure to other conferences then preserving the ACC would be of paramount importance. They would have few other attractive options should the ACC implode. Maryland would not be in that boat. With an attractive television market, good academics and solid revenue sports Maryland would be a juicy plum for either the Big Ten or SEC should it be up for grabs. If the ACC did crumble Maryland would be just fine and might be in an even better revenue situation.

As for the competitive implications it makes it that much more difficult to win an ACC title in basketball. In the last 30 years Maryland has three regular season titles and two ACC tournament titles competing against the likes of Duke and North Carolina. How many will Maryland win in the next 30 years with the likes of Pitt, Syracuse and potentially UConn added to the ACC?

The likely result of increasing to 14 members is that a 16 team mega conference with two 8 team divisions is the likely end game. Maryland would almost certainly be placed in a north division with the new arrivals. What will season ticket sales look like when Maryland's home football slate is Rutgers, Uconn, Boston College and Virgina? How will basketball fans react when Duke and North Carolina no longer play in Comcast Center every year but there are yearly games against Rutgers and Boston College? Both those are likely outcomes to this panic move. The idea that the ACC may accept two basketball programs in Syracuse and Connecticut that have had major NCAA violations with their current coaches, in UConn's case while still on probation, is sickening. I don't feel a cobbled together conference that may result from these moves is inherently stable either. My guess is that in 15 years the ACC will look very different than it does now and all of these moves for the sake of stability will not produce a financial windfall nor guarantee the loyalty of any members. College sports has turned into a version of the prisoner's dilemma where the logical choice is betrayal of conference loyalties, fan preference and historical affiliations to chase a few extra millions which amount to a minuscule sum compared with the size of a university budget. The logical choice of "strike first" by the ACC and schools like Pitt and Syracuse leads to an irrational result where few reap any significant benefits and the unknown variables in the future cannot be measured. The odds that the ACC will be able to increase revenue to keep up with the extra mouths to feed are very slim. The Pac-12 signed a television deal that smashed what the ACC was able to negotiate from ESPN and it had little to do with the additions of Colorado and Utah. Many erroneously assume that being "proactive" is the better option but when the future variables are unknowable that is often a mistake. In short I don't see any benefit to Maryland as a school or athletic program by these additions and there is a possibility that we may be locked into a conference that may survive but is a financial weakling at the mercy of the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12. That isn't a rosy scenario by any measure.

I think these words sum up the current situation as well as any I have read:

“What is lost in all of this is that the presidents — the very people tasked with enforcing the N.C.A.A.’s and the Knight Commission’s principle of ‘presidential control’ of college athletics — have proven to all that they are incapable of fulfilling their mandate,” Princeton’s athletic director, Gary Walters, said, referring to a watchdog group for college athletics. “The hypocrisy is almost tangible.”

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Terps triumph in deluge

The weather may have been atrocious at Byrd stadium last night but the play on the field demonstrated there could be bright days ahead for Maryland under Randy Edsall. The new offense under Gary Crowton showed a dynamism that Maryland has not had since maybe the early years under Ralph Friedgen. It was fitting that senior Ronnie Tyler, a player who has been a personal favorite of mine, scored the first touchdown of the season with a spectacular dive at the pylon. Tyler missed the bowl game last season after being suspended and had a difficult spring with his father suffering from a serious illness. It helped that QB Danny O'Brien was as sharp in the new offense as one could expect, save his poor decision on the end zone interception. It is difficult to judge because of the weather complications but the one area O'Brien can improve is his accuracy. Though his completion percentage was very high there were a number of passes, particularly when he was throwing on the move that forced receivers to make adjustments and resulted in incompletions.

O'Brien should be very happy with the play of his patch work offensive line. The group was superb given the low expectations going into this season. Guard Josh Cary struggled with a couple of false starts but settled down. Miami's defensive line wasn't at full strength but O'Brien was well protected and the running game was surprisingly effective against an athletic Hurricane defense. Tackles Max Garcia and R.J. Dill form a very underrated set of bookends and if Justin Gilbert can return from his knee injury in October the offensive line could be a position of strength. There will be tougher tests going forward in the season but there is little to be critical of with this unit after the opening game.

The loss of wideout Torrey Smith might not be a disaster with the emergence of Kevin Dorsey (124 yards receiving) and tight end Matt Furstenburg who were the most reliable targets for O'Brien. Dorsey was a highly rated player coming out of high school and has seemed to fine his comfort zone as a junior. He is a nice blend of speed (notice the 52 yard catch in the 4th quarter) and power. Furstenburg continues the lineage of fine receiving tight ends at Maryland going back to Vernon Davis. He has soft hands and a nose for finding the holes in zone coverage. He has enough speed to get down the seams in the middle of the field as well.

Davin Meggett had nice production at running back with 92 yards on 21 carries. He was a little indecisive at times which is problematic against a fast defense like Miami but had several nifty runs to the outside. There was little success for Maryland up the middle. The absence of D.J. Adams, suspended for the game, was telling in that area and near the goal line. Meggett and Justus (Corrected -ed.) Pickett ( the two T's?) are good in the open field but lack the power to run in confined areas.

The defense provided some big plays, including three turnovers and two defensive touchdowns, but I think there is reason for concern going forward. It was clear that Miami's offense was a little ham strung by the suspensions and Al Golden didn't have all the options that Edsall did with his offense. When Miami committed to a power running game the Terps had trouble stopping it. The long 3rd down conversions that Maryland allowed second string QB Stephen Morris to complete with a grab bag of a receiving corps could be an ominous sign. Though late in the game they got pressure on Morris the pass rush was not always reliable and the 3rd and long pass rush package was largely ineffective. The deep middle of the defense was a little shaky at times and the linebackers, while racking up tackles, struggled in pass coverage. Kenny Tate's move to linebacker was a flop, at least after a single data point. It seemed that Tate struggled to make plays in his new role and was largely irrelevant for most of the night. Perhaps Tate will grown into his new role but if this switch neuters the best playmaker on defense it will have been a huge failure. Andre Monroe probably isn't going to remind anyone else of John Randall (really Matt Millen, you couldn't have gone with Jay Ratliff or someone like that?) but he showed some great potential a substitute off the bench. He had a great swim move and pressured Morris while also being able to anchor against the run.

Kickoff coverage may also be a problem area as kicker Nick Ferrara struggled to get the ball deep and Miami nearly broke huge gains. West Virginia's Tavon Austin could pose some problems to the kick teams. On field goals Ferrara was mostly reliable in very bad conditions but his one miss could have cost Maryland the game.To his credit he came back and kicked a go ahead field goal later in the game.

Overall I think the miscues and sloppy play were minimal for an opening game against a quality opponent. There are many encouraging areas and I expect dramatic improvement over the next few weeks.

As for the uniforms I understand some of the negative reaction, most people outside Maryland don't understand how much pride there is in the state flag. It may not have been a sartorial triumph but I thought it was a great symbol of what Edsall and AD Kevin Anderson are trying to accomplish. Making the University a symbol of pride for the entire state. Maryland has a special advantage of being the public school for an entire state. There are not many schools that have that advantage. There is a transient quality to parts of Maryland that awful places like Penn State and Virginia Tech have been able to exploit. I think it is great that this regime is trying to protect the turf of the home state.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why Mike Leach isn't here

If you continued to wonder how Randy Edsall was hired as the head football coach at Maryland instead of Mike Leach read this and you should have a better idea. Regardless of the merits of Leach's claims against Craig James, ESPN and Texas Tech no AD in the country would hire him with this kind of monkeys-at-the-zoo-poo-fight going on in the background.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Maryland hires Mark Turgeon

I'll certainly have more thoughts on the hire of Mark Turgeon to replace Gary Williams as the head basketball coach at the University of Maryland. My initial reaction is this is a very good hire. Calling him a "solid" hire has a whiff of condescension to it as he is almost certainly the best hire by any ACC program this off season. The only coaches in the league that have more NCAA tournament appearances than Turgeon's five are Coach K, Roy Williams, Leonard Hamilton and Mark Gottfried. Hamilton has been coaching 10 years longer than Turgeon and has one more appearance while Gottfried has been out of college basketball since 2009. The other two on the list are coaching royalty. Turgeon has done very well at a program where it isn't easy to win. Since 1980 Texas A&M had been to the NCAA tournament three times before Turgeon took over from Billy Gillispie in 2007 and they have since been to four tournaments in a row. In the last four seasons Turgeon's team had 11 wins against ranked opponents while Maryland had six. His teams win, play hard, and are well coached.

I'll have more about the details of what Maryland fans can expect from Turgeon's teams in the coming days but suffice to say I think Maryland did very well in this hire.

My thoughts on the coaching search:
It was probably easy to get caught up in the hysteria over the weekend regarding Sean Miller but I don't think Miller was serious about leaving Arizona for Maryland. Contrary to what his camp is leaking out regarding his meeting with Maryland AD Kevin Anderson I think his main goal was to leverage the meeting into a better financial commitment from Arizona. Reportedly upset over funding and support he was promised by the prior athletic director Miller used Maryland interest to not only get a sizable raise but also make a power play. It is now clear who runs the show in Tuscon. Wildcat fans now will be nervous every time a high profile job opens up because Miller is clearly more of a mercenary than a coach.

For all the Maryland fans who are upset that Miller or Jay Wright or Jamie Dixon isn't the new coach at Maryland: get over it. When Arizona's job opened after Lute Olson went over the cuckoo's nest it was such a disaster that they had to resort to interim coaches twice. Sean Miller's hire wasn't some brilliant move by Arizona it was more akin to a Hail Mary. Arizona is certainly on par with Maryland if not slightly better and they offered their head coaching job to every coach with a pulse. Jamie Dixon, John Calipari, Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino, Mark Few, Jeff Capel and even cheater Tim Floyd were mentioned in connection with the search. The Wildcats gone none of them. Sean Miller waffled on Arizona until they made a higher salary offer (sound familiar, Wildcat fans?) as the six or seventh coach they were interested in. When Kentucky finally moved on from Tubby Smith they had to hire the then coach at Texas A&M who turned into a disaster on and off the court. They failed to convince Billy Donovan to take one of the best jobs in the nation even though he coaches at a football school for a basketball program that has little history worth mentioning. No school just picks who they want from another successful program with great resources. North Carolina had to ask Roy Williams, an alum, twice before he took the job. It would be nice for everyone to assume that coaches would scramble to take the Maryland job but it isn't true. You can count on one hand the programs that have the prestige to get their dream hire and even then it is no guarantee. Everyone else is in the same boat including programs like UConn, Syracuse, Arizona, Florida, Michigan State, Michigan and Indiana that have won national titles. You better have some connection (alum, coaching tree, local native, etc.) if you hope to pull a successful coach from a comparable program. Compare the talent on the rosters that Dixon, Wright and Miller have coming back next season (plus their recruiting classes) with what Maryland has and then ask yourself why they would give that up to rebuild at Maryland. Mark Turgeon has left a preseason top 25 squad that could make a run at a Big 12 title to start over at Maryland. Terrapin fans should be happy he was willing to do that.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Last of the Mohicans

I was as shocked as everyone else by the sudden retirement of Gary Williams as head basketball coach at the University of Maryland. When I received a text message from a friend who is a fan of a rival ACC school I thought it was their idea of a joke. Turns out it wasn't. I still have a hard time accepting that after 22 years Gary Williams will not be coaching the basketball team this fall. Williams was much more than a basketball coach he was the most visible representative of the University for most of the last 20 years. His penchant for profanity laced tirades and sweating through his suits are characteristics that those looking for a lazy sound bite will focus on. Those things were part of his persona but they were not the measure of the man. He took a program rocked to its foundation by scandal and tragedy back to respectability and to the pinnacle of college basketball. Along the way he helped to heal some wounds to the University community itself. His success on the basketball floor helped provide money for other coaches to thrive at Maryland. He personally helped to raise almost a quarter of a billion dollars for the scholarship fund, how many other college coaches have even come close to that? My alma mater is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was when Gary Williams arrived in College Park in 1989, both in athletics and academics, and he had a significant role to play in that transformation. He did all these things without a hint of scandal and at the risk of ruining his thriving career to return to College Park. Not a single coach in today's game would leave a program like Ohio State for one in the dire shape that Maryland was in at the time. The ability of then athletic director Lew Perkins to identify Williams and hire him away from Ohio State is a hire for the ages. Some of the other candidates that Maryland considered back in 1989? Jeff Mullins, George Raveling, Bob Wenzel and Ben Jobe. Williams also achieved all this with an administration that didn't always assist him adequately and an athletic director that actively tried to undermine him in the latter half of his career. That Maryland is considered a desirable coaching job is mostly a testament to what Gary Williams has built. It is fitting that the court at Comcast Center will be named after Williams since it would not have existed without him.

Maryland fans are starting to figure out that replacing a legend isn't so easy. I doubt anyone at Maryland expected the level of success that Williams delivered in his 22 seasons at Maryland when he arrived. He is the standard for Maryland coaches and will be for many many decades. Three times his team won or tied for regular season ACC titles, he won an ACC tournament title in 2004, one of the least likely runs in ACC history, and won 10 or more games in ACC play 9 times. His career ACC wins are behind only Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski. Fourteen NCAA tournament appearances, the entire program only had 10 total before Williams, seven trips to the Sweet Sixteen, two Final Fours and a National Championship are highlights of his career. The odds are that the next coach at Maryland won't surpass that record. Very few programs in college basketball can match that success over the 18 years that Williams put together.

To be fair Williams did have his flaws. He was sometimes slavish to his coaching philosophies, running the flex and pressing regardless of his player's skill sets or the appropriateness of  these approaches to his opponent. His weak recruiting is probably one of the most widely heard critique of Williams that up until the last seven years of his career wasn't accurate. His inability to cultivate a stable and productive group of assistants was probably his biggest failure and the main source of his downfall. While Billy Hahn, Jimmy Patsos and Dave Dickerson were not bad assistants they were all failures as head coaches and there is no obvious candidate on Williams' Maryland coaching tree to take the head coaching job. The revolving door of assistants the last eight years has contributed greatly to Maryland's struggles and the collection of assistants under Williams has been some of the weakest in the ACC since the exodus of assistants after the 2002 championship. Williams could be overly defensive about his record as coach and his pride often got in the way of success on the court. There were times I think Williams would rather play "his way" in recruiting even if that placed his team and program at a decided disadvantage. He was often stubborn to a fault and I often wished he would do things differently to prove his doubters wrong. In the end he was true to himself even if it cost him.

There was a different note of melancholy when I sat in the stands at Comcast Center waiting for the retirement ceremony to begin. The bitter knowledge that there wasn't room in college basketball for a coach like Gary Williams any longer is a tough thing to accept for someone who loves the game. It was perhaps fitting that Connecticut's Jim Calhoun, a longtime nemesis if Williams', won his third national title weeks before this announcement. The public embarrassment of a national champion being crowned fresh off of being found guilty of cheating by the NCAA is a fitting prologue for the new era of college sports. This is the era of hucksters, liars and frauds. If your core principles are honesty, integrity and loyalty you might as well be the Amish of college basketball. A quaint throwback that the modern world looks at with a measure of pity and amusement. As Sean Miller and Matt Painter have demonstrated recently there is little shame in using any gambits or schemes you can to extort more money or concessions out of your employer. The ends justify all the lies and deception both in recruiting and with your employer. Some may dismiss these observations as nostalgia but I think you have to be naive or a little jaded to believe that the categorical imperative of doing what is in your own self interest at all times has not been elevated to a pervasive level among the new breed of the coaching profession these days. You would be met with guffaws if you tried to mention words like integrity and loyalty with many of the giants in college coaching these days and that is a sad commentary on the sport. Contrary to what the cynics and moral relativists would say that wasn't always the case.

For all his flaws Gary Williams had integrity. He was a straight shooter. He never did anything as a basketball coach that would embarrass the University and produced a program whose success was envied by many rivals and surpassed by only a few. He has earned the right to walk away on his terms and enjoy the next phase of his life with his new wife. He'll be impossible to replace at Maryland and his stature will only grow as his years in College Park recede into history.

He did it his way. He did it the right way. He is part of a dying breed, not a huckster or phony, a true coach. The last of the Mohicans.

Thank you, Gary Williams.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Football prepares for Spring game

The football team is preparing for the Red White scrimmage this Saturday at Byrd Stadium. As you would expect with a mostly new coaching staff things will be a little different with many players switching positions and new schemes being implemented. Two notable switches include DB Kenny Tate moving to outside linebacker and LB David Mackall moving to a rush end position. The other linebackers will be shuffled as Demetrius Hartsfield will be moved to inside linebacker from outside and Darin Drakeford will be moved to outside linebacker opposite Tate. Hartsfield had a disappointing season last year but played at a very high level as a RS freshman. The trio are probably the most athletic group Maryland has had at linebacker in years. If they play up to their potential Maryland might not skip a beat after losing Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten to graduation.

In regards to defensive schemes coach Randy Edsall indicated they will play more press coverage with the cornerbacks. This will certainly be a dramatic change from the era of Chris Cosh and even Don Brown. Both preferred more zone defense from the corners. It will be interesting to see if corners Cam Chism and Trenton Hughes, who are both about 5'10" and 190 pounds, can play that kind of physical technique.

Replacing punter/kicker Travis Baltz could be a problem. Junior kicker Nick Ferrera got injured and lost the confidence of Ralph Friedgen but will be called on to carry the load this season. Punter Michael Tart will be coming in to replace one of the better punters in Maryland history. The last three punters that the Terps have rolled out, Brooks Barnard, Adam Podlesh and Baltz were All-ACC level players at the position so Tart has a daunting legacy to uphold.

I think the initial uncertainty behind the hire of Randy Edsall has subsided to some extent. The ultimate proof will always be how the team performs this season but the early returns are good. He inherited a poor academic situation from the former coach and athletic director that they have taken pains to remedy. Some of the staff hiring wasn't anything to get excited about but the early returns on the recruiting trail have been very good. There is a buzz about Maryland football among high school players that has been lacking for years. The introduction of a brand new uniform by Under Armor and a opening game against Miami Labor Day on ESPN will also help in that regard.

With NFL Betting about to get started with the lockout heading for a resolution former Terrapin wideout Torrey Smith will wait to see where he is drafted tonight. Let's all hope he gets into the first round like he deserves. Some other possible drafted players include RB Da'Rel Scott, Wujciak, Moten, Baltz and safety Antwine Perez. Besides Smith all the others figure to be mid to late round picks. In the past when Maryland has had good seasons they have seen multiple players picked in the following draft.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Falling Down

A good piece on how Debbie Yow's conspiracy theory outburst is playing outside of Raleigh in the Winston-Salem Journal by Lenox Rawlings. I think he pretty much nails it. Across the college basketball media spectrum from ESPN's Andy Katz, who called the sabotage claim "absurd", to Dick Vitale who characterized Yow's allegations as an excuse for her failure to hire the coach she wanted, to John Feinstein, who claimed she lashed out due to anger and embarrassment because she looked foolish, to the Baltimore Sun's Jeff Barker who was on ESPN's Outside the Lines show yesterday indicating this will hurt her more than Gary Williams this has been a PR disaster for Debbie Yow.

It is a beautiful day.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Schadenfreude, Yow'all

With the ending of the college basketball season and the spring football game still weeks off this would seem to be a dead time in Maryland sports. Thanks to former AD Debbie Yow that isn't the case any longer. Yow has gone from a constant source of annoyance and public relations disasters to a constant source of unintended comedy after she scurried out of town and went to Raleigh to take the same position at N.C. State. At the introductory press conference to announce the hiring of their human consolation prize Mark Gottfried after every other coach in college basketball had turned down her offer to coach the Wolfpack Yow suggested that Gary Williams had "sabotaged" the coaching search. This is what she said after being asked about her reputation for being difficult to work with:

I don't have a reputation across all of men's basketball of being difficult to work with I have a reputation of not getting along with Gary Williams, who has tried to sabotage the search. Come on. We all know that, OK? So whatever. It's not a reputation. It's Gary Williams out there doing his thing. Whatever.

 I don't know about you but the two "whatever" exclamations certainly convinced me. This is the genius of Debbie Yow. At a press conference that is supposed to introduce her new head coach, a guy who had been working at ESPN with all the other washed up coaches and athletes, instead of trying to instill some confidence in this shaky hire and drum up enthusiasm she made the story about her and Gary Williams. What Yow did was all but admit that Gottfried was not her choice to be the head coach at N.C. State and that Williams prevented her from getting the candidate she really wanted, perhaps VCU's Shaka Smart or Florida's Billy Donovan. I've written in the past that Yow seems to have an almost Nixonian level of vindictiveness and paranoia but she normally is good at hiding it. At the end of her tenure at Maryland she let it slip out too many times and it burned her but this was a true Captain Queeg moment that was at the same time spectacular, entertaining and repulsive.

For his part Gary Williams issued a statement that denied any attempts to influence the candidates for the N.C. State head coaching position.

I haven't talked to anyone — coach or athletic director — connected to the NC State search. I don't have any interest in the NC State search, since I'm coaching at Maryland and working hard to run our program. Anyone who says I've had contact with a prospective coach or athletic director regarding this search isn't being truthful.
And with the simple denial Gary Williams comes out looking better than Debbie Yow. Williams hardly needs to engage in a smear campaign against Debbie Yow. She has a well established reputation in coaching circles that, contrary to her opinion, is not good. She added to that chain link by link with her public spats over Gary Williams job performance and her failed attempts to get him fired. Now she has the audacity to try and distract Wolfpack fans from her failure to hire a high profile coach by blaming a whisper campaign from a rival coach. This pathetic excuse followed a bizarre letter sent to Wolfpack boosters the night before which all but confirmed that she had no idea where their coaching search was headed after their short list of potential hires all turned down the job. To anyone at Maryland who has heard stories about her modus operandi none of this is surprising. She has to be one of the most tone deaf athletic directors I've ever seen and that is a competitive title.

The fuse for this powder keg seems to have been lit by Yow lackey CBS Sports website columnist Gregg Doyle when he blew a gasket on a local radio show in North Carolina and accused Gary Williams of bad mouthing Yow at the Final Four in Houston and scuttling the Wolfpack coaching search. I discourage anyone from searching out Doyle's columns because his shtick is the internet equivalent of monkeys throwing scat at the zoo and to characterize him as a hack journalist would be an insult to clowns like Woody Paige and Skip Bayless. Doyle resorted to ad hominem attacks on Gary Williams instead of producing any credible evidence that Williams actually had any influence on other coached running from N.C. State like it was the plague. The fact is there are many coaches in college basketball who are friends with Williams (Tom Izzo, Coach K, Jim Boeheim, Kelvin Sampson, Rick Barnes to name a few) and his former assistants like Dave Dickerson, Jimmy Patsos, Rob Moxley and Chuck Driesell have plenty of stories to tell anyone who would ask about trying to run a basketball program under Debbie Yow. If you know how to use Goggle you'd have all the information you need.

To all Maryland fans out there who thought Debbie Yow was good for Maryland: do you get it now? I'm sure she'll have administrators and the N.C. State legal department sending out emails to Wolfpack blogs and message boards that publish something she doesn't like. Perhaps it was just a coincidence that Turtle Waxing received a cease and desist letter right after going public with my stance that Yow needed to be fired. Thank goodness that miserable shrew has moved on.

Monday, April 04, 2011

That could be Maryland

Anyone following the current debacle that is the N.C. State basketball coaching search should have a sense of why I was petrified of Debbie Yow having a role in picking the next head coach at Maryland. It seems every head coach in America has turned down the Wolfpack or their agents about taking the head coaching job even though they are offering one of the best salaries in the ACC and have a roster that promises to have some talent the next few seasons. Gary Williams doesn't need to mount a smear campaign against Yow as some have suggested, her reputation precedes her. In this case she is just reaping what she sowed. Thank god she isn't doing this in College Park.

In other news it was announced that Maryland would lose three football scholarships due to a low APR (Academic Progress Report) score. Another weight to put on the scale when evaluating the ouster of Ralph Friedgen after last season. It didn't help that the athletic department under the former AD slashed the academic support budget in an attempt to cut costs while spending lavishly on the women's basketball coaching staff. New head coach Randy Edsall indicated he thought things would get turned around quickly in the classroom.

College basketball players don't always make the logical or most informed decision when it comes to giving up their eligibility as Barry Jacobs points out in this article.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

NBA mulling changes to workout schedule

I don't normally care about much the NBA does but the changes they are considering making to the pre-draft workout policies may effect Maryland this year. The NCAA imposed deadline of May 8 to withdraw from the draft allows for virtually no substantive review by NBA scouts of the players who are leaving college early. Simply put the guidance players might get from NBA teams isn't reliable because there is no time for extensive individual workouts or medial exams. Players who thought they might be drafted higher end up plummeting when minor physical problems get discovered or scouts see flaws in their individual workouts. The NBA is proposing changing the workout rules to allow for a basketball version of the NFL combine where all the prospects could get together in one place for evaluations. More on these developments at by clicking here. If they do change the rules (while also making sure not to run afoul of NCAA regulations) players like Jordan Williams might get a much more accurate picture of where they stand on draft boards. Right now there is probably little chance Jordan will get a true picture of his draft status and that isn't good for the player or the school.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

So long, it's been good to know ya

The program announced yesterday what had been rumored for a few weeks, that sophomore forward Jordan Williams will declare for the NBA draft. While Williams has not hired an agent there are concerns that he also may not be academically eligible should he withdraw from the draft and return to College Park. At this point it would seem unlikely that Williams will be on the Maryland roster come this fall. With most draft projections indicating that Williams is a likely 2nd round pick and a probable lockout coming to the NBA in June this would seem to be a very ill advised decision by Jordan Williams. Perhaps the looming lockout will scare some more talented underclassmen to stay in college for another season but slipping into the first round of the draft because there will be a lockout (meaning the drafted players may not even get paid for an entire year) would seem to be the definition of a Pyrrhic victory. If Williams is set on putting his name into the draft against the advice of those around him that have a better idea of what it takes to stick in the NBA like Gary Williams and his former teammate Greivis Vasquez then there isn't much to do in that situation. Undersized players can make it in the NBA like Dejuan Blair, who left Pittsburgh as a sophomore as well, but Blair was a superior college player in a superior conference who outperformed Jordan Williams season in almost every measurable category. Instead of focusing on Blair who is an exception to the rule it would be wise to focus on a player like Chris Taft from Pitt who was also a 6-10 260 pound bruiser who slid to the 2nd round of the 2005 draft and is out of the NBA after developing back problems. Vasquez, Williams' road roommate last season, returned for his senior season and his phenomenal year along with the success of last years' squad helped him land in the 1st round of the NBA draft last year and guarantee him a contract. If Williams were to come back and the Terps were to have a great season then it would likely help his draft stock as well. In the last few drafts only about 50-60% of the players drafted in the 2nd round end up playing more than a handful of games or sticking on a NBA roster. There is likely to be a whole new salary structure in the NBA and perhaps being a 1st round pick won't guarantee the kinds of salary that players in the past have enjoyed or the ability to pocket guaranteed money even if you wash out of the league.

Williams piled up some gaudy numbers during his sophomore campaign but there were aspects of his skills that need significant improvement. He has little range beyond a few feet from the basket and his free throw shooting is still abysmal. Williams has excellent footwork and the strength to bull his way to the basket but he lacks athleticism and won't be able to physically overpower opponents in the NBA. His defense and effort towards the end of the season were shockingly bad as he was manhandled by Ty Zeller, Reggie Johnson and Assane Sene in his last three regular season games. While it may have seemed that Williams took a huge leap from his freshman season much of his improvement can be attributed to two factors. His minutes increased by about 25% from the prior year and he took 150 more shots than he did the prior season. Clearly Williams was demonstrably better than he was as a freshman and without Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne around there were more shots to be had by everyone but you would expect him to increase his scoring and rebounding if he played more and took more shots. In conference his game was slightly more efficient this season as he had an 105.3 rating as a freshman to 109.8 as a sophomore but his field goal percentage (51.5% : 51.3%) and rebounding percentages (21.2 %: 26.9% ; Off Reb 10.7%:11.0%) were very similar if not identical. He really didn't become an appreciably better shooter or rebounder if you examine his tempo free statistics. Williams did do a great job of getting to the free throw line and keeping his turnovers down even though his usage increased substantially. Not all players get better the more possessions they use, such as Sean Mosley and Cliff Tucker, but Williams did and that isn't something to be dismissed. Overall Williams had a great statistical season that probably wasn't quite as good as it looked in the box score.

Losing Williams clearly hurts Maryland's chances next season. It looks to be another down year in the ACC depending on which underclass players decide to join Williams in the draft. Even with Williams Maryland's fortunes depend heavily on the improvement of guard play compared to this season. In college basketball a team can get by with mediocre post players but as Maryland fans witnessed this season you cannot get by with mediocre guard play. If you are going to lose a great player and still post a good season it is better that it be a post player than a great wing player. Perimeter play dominates outcomes in the college game today. There isn't a single team in the Final Four that is dependent on a dominating post player. Butler's Matt Howard is the closest thing among the four teams and he is hardly an offensive Juggernaut. The return of Jordan Williams won't mean much if guards like Terrell Stoglin, Pe'Shon Howard, Nick Faust and Sterling Gibbs cannot give Gary Williams solid play at their positions. If they can Maryland won't have a disastrous season regardless of whether Jordan Williams returns to Comcast Center.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Season ends with a whimper

Maryland's season ended with the third and final matchup against the Duke Blue Devils in the ACC tournament on Friday night. The Terrapins were surprised by their absence from the NIT field that was announced last night and so the disappointing dawn of the post Greivis Vasquez era came to a close. It was a fitting end to a season that lingered too long and for a team that measured itself against the better teams in the country and was found wanting every time.

It was no surprise that the Terps gave Duke a spirited game for about 30 minutes, trailing by 3 with just about 10 minutes left in the game. Trailing by five points at 65-60 Maryland missed its next six field goal attempts that included a few at point blank range and then Jordan Williams missed two key free throws with 6:49 left in the game. Given that free throw shooting was directly responsible for Maryland's early season struggles, with Williams a major culprit, it was fitting that the season would end on the same footing. Duke's Nolan Smith struggled badly in the game scoring 7 points and injuring his toe before coming out of the game for good with the Terps trailing by five. Duke promptly went on a 7-0 run behind Seth Curry who filled in well for the ACC player of the year. One of the major distinctions between Gary Williams group and Duke is that the Blue Devils role players have the ability to carry the team for short stretches of games. Maryland's bench has been unreliable lacks any impact players. That speaks to the deficiencies in recruiting that the Terps have had in the past which has now come home to roost with a team that lacks any impact upperclassmen. As was the case in the prior games Maryland had no ability to contain a struggling Kyle Singer as he torched Sean Mosley, Hawk Palsson and any other player Gary Williams used to guard him.  Maryland's weakness in rebounding was exposed again as the Plumlee brothers grabbed 20 rebounds between the two of them and Singler added another 9. This time Duke did not shoot well from the 3-point line hitting on only 3 attempts from behind the arc all game. It hardly mattered as Maryland allowed them to shoot 58% from inside the 3-point line. Once again the defense was hardly present, a trend that became common as the season wore down. It is an issue that will be of primary importance if Maryland is to return to the NCAA tournament next season.

Cliff Tucker played one of his better games in weeks but 12 points on 4/10 shooting isn't going to beat many ACC teams. Fellow senior Adrian Bowie played 23 minutes but hardly made any impact taking just one field goal in his final game as a Terrapin and finishing with 5 points. Dino Gregory had 10 points on 5/9 shooting but as with the other seniors had little impact on the game. Terrell Stoglin suffered through his worst game in a month as he shot 2/10 and had 5 turnovers. Sean Mosley had another poor shooting day going 2/7 and since the downward spiral starting with the loss to North Carolina has been an abominable 27% shooting the basketball. Mosley is a good kid and hard worker but his offense is broken and he has declined to barely the level of a role player. Pe'Shon Howard had a good scoring night off the bench with 10 points but was out of control with the ball at times, only notching one assist, and struggled on defense. Jordan Williams numbers were very good scoring 16 points and grabbing 16 rebounds but though he is stuffing the stat sheet he seems to not be as dominating as he was early in the season. Perhaps the sophomore wore down as the season went on as he often was saving himself on defense while working significantly harder on offense.

Given some of the surprises on the bubble with Virginia Tech getting rejected yet again and Boston College not being one of the last few teams considered it appears that regardless of the losses to Virginia and Miami that Maryland was no where near getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The lesson for ACC bubble teams is that you had better win some games on the road if you are on the bubble. As I've written before a 9-7 record in the ACC doesn't mean much anymore. Virginia Tech and Boston College were a combined 6-10 on the road in the conference and played just four true road games in the non-conference schedule between the two of them. Clemson also had a bad road record but was 3-0 against their fellow bubble ACC brethren with two emphatic wins at the end of the season against the Hokies and Eagles. That is how the Tigers squeaked into the NCAA Tournament.  Only 4 of the 18 conference wins by Virginia Tech and Boston College were against teams with a winning record in the ACC. The days of the unbalanced schedule mean that a number (9 or 10 wins) doesn't control the argument. It was an awful day for the ACC which reinforced the notion that beyond North Carolina and Duke the league has nothing to offer. Clemson is a nice team but has little chance to get to the weekend and Florida State is a likely first round out, those were the third and fourth place teams in the ACC.