Monday, February 14, 2011

Slip, Sliding Away

Maryland took another step closer to NIT purgatory with the loss to Boston College over the weekend. For me the game was a perfect case study for the struggles of this year's basketball squad. Those struggles are personified by three players: Cliff Tucker, Adrian Bowie, and Sean Mosley. Two seniors and a junior with a decent amount of playing time and experience have utterly failed given the chance to shine as unquestioned starters. Cliff Tucker lost his starting job and hasn't done much worth earning it back. His game against the Eagles was probably his worst of the season as he was shutout, going 0/4 from the floor and turning the ball over 3 times in just 15 minutes. His two turnovers following Maryland leading 50-47 with just under 12 minutes remaining in game were killers at a critical moment in the game. Boston College gained the lead and never trailed again winning 76-72. Tucker also had tremendous problems covering probable All-ACC guard Reggie Jackson, not that any Maryland player did a particularly good job defending Jackson. The dunk that Jackson got off an in-bound play with Tucker guarding him was inexcusable. Tucker probably has the best offensive skills of the trio but has often been inconsequential in the bigger conference games. Sean Mosley has had one of the more bizarre drop offs in recent memory coming off a decent sophomore campaign in which he shot 50% from the floor and had a fairly efficient offensive game. This season he is shooting under 40% in ACC games and just 20% from the 3-point line. His excellent rebounding from last season has dropped from 5.1 per game to 3.9 per game and his turnovers have gone up nearly 20% from last season. His confidence in his shot has disappeared and he is barely worth mentioning as an offensive threat these days. I have no serious explanation for it. He seems to be one of those great high school scorers who never made the necessary adjustment to the pace of the collegiate game and the quality of defenders in the ACC. Bowie has improved his shooting from his freshman year but he is still streaky and can only drive to the basket going left with any effectiveness. He doesn't have good enough instincts or feel for the game to be a good point guard yet doesn't have the offensive skills to be a reliable scorer.

All three players they seem to have skills that make them better suited to be complementary players, like they were the last two or three seasons, but lack the metal toughness and skills to lead the team as starters. While this group doesn't enjoy an excess of talent they also have not progressed the way that a number of other Maryland players have in recent years. Players like D.J. Strawberry, Boom Osby, Ryan Randle, and Landon Milbourne were not highly rated players but matured into vital and reliable starters during their careers. While Mosley has one more year to salvage his career the jury is in on Tucker and Bowie.

I was surprised that Gary Williams didn't adjust the defense based off the last meeting against Boston College when they shot 29 3-point shots (hitting 13). Boston College has an even thinner bench than Maryland and is very dependent perimeter scoring to be competitive. There seemed to be little difference in the defensive strategy that Maryland employed as they were still vulnerable to dribble penetrations, hard cuts to the basket from the perimeter and open perimeter shooters off scramble situations.

Though Gary Williams seemed to feel that the defense let down Maryland I felt like the offensive futility at crucial moments in the 2nd half is what sunk the Terps. After scoring 40 points in the 1st half Maryland was limited to 32 points on a terrible 36% shooting and 1/8 from the 3-point line in the 2nd half. Hard to win regardless of your defense when you can't put the ball in the basket. In the 2nd half Jordan Williams went 1/3, Bowie 0/4, Mosley 2/6, Pe'Shon Howard 2/6 and Tucker 0/2. Williams made six free throws but that was about it from this group. Howard and Terrell Stoglin played well as freshman could be expected in the circumstances and we may see more of the two together on the floor than we have seen up to this point in the season. Jordan Williams didn't have a particularly good game and was absent from the offense as he has been prone to be at times this season. Part of that is the guard not getting him the ball and being content to brick jump shots but Williams didn't always work hard to get open and struggled when BC drew double and triple teams. Williams is a great player but needs seasoning that would give him the ability to not get frustrated and take himself out of games when things are not going well.

Maryland now gets a Waterloo game against Virginia Tech on Tuesday. It is a chance for revenge against the Hokies who came into Comcast and embarrassed Maryland earlier in the year. Virginia Tech is a team that Maryland should have success against with a thin bench and streaky guard play. On the road it will take perhaps their best effort to keep the season alive and escape with a win.

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