Thursday, March 03, 2011

All over but the shouting

The hope that Maryland would extend its modest NCAA tournament streak to three years probably ended during a balmy Miami evening as the Hurricanes, who are six points away from being 1-14 in the ACC, ran the Terrapins out of the gym in a 80-66 horror show in front of crowd that probably consisted of people who thought it was a boat show and wandered into the arena. You can always tell how hard a team is trying by their rebounding and defense. In this case Maryland gave up 55% shooting to Miami, their highest mark of the season, and 52% from the 3-point line. In all the Hurricanes hit 12 3-point shots out of 23 attempts. Combining the one of the worst defensive performances of the season with the worst performance shooting in ACC play turned out to be deadly.

While it certainly appeared to me that the seniors had little sense of urgency I think the bigger issue is that they are just modestly talented players. Like many others I felt that Cliff Tucker, Adrian Bowie and Sean Mosley were better players than they have proven to be over the course of this season. In fairness to them it was probably wishful thinking on my part to assume that Tucker and Bowie would grow into anything more than role players. I did expect this team to be better defensively than they have been. In the early season the defense appeared to be stout but as the ACC season has worn on it is apparent that the defense really isn't anywhere near as good as anyone thought it was. Tucker, Mosley and Bowie have done an awful job in denying dribble penetration or contesting 3-point shots. Gary Williams futile attempts to play zone demonstrate that this group is probably incapable of playing very good perimeter defense. Still I thought the lack of adjustments to a street ball, 3-point shooting team like Miami reflected a very poor game plan by Gary Williams. Miami isn't a very good team and plays a largely unstructured offense that consists of dribble penetrations and players camping at the 3-point line. When they don't to that they throw the ball into Reggie Johnson and rely on him to make a post move or find a cutter or perimeter shooter. It almost appeared that Maryland had not scouted Miami with how ill prepared they were to stay with the open shooter and make Miami beat them inside the arc. I firmly believe that without their 3-point shooting it would have been extremely difficult for Miami to have won the game.  Maryland did little to take that away and some of that failure needs to fall on the coaching staff.

That isn't to say the players didn't have a poor performance. The only player who had a good game was Terrell Stoglin who added another 20+ point game to his freshman tally. His outside shooting and ability to push the ball in transition was responsible for a good but of Maryland's offense. Without Stoglin on the floor the limitations of Bowie, Tucker and Mosley were painfully obvious. Jordan Williams must be still feeling the effects of his stomach bug because he was truly awful. His 3/17 night pretty much shot Maryland out of the game. If he gets his normal percentage of perhaps 9 or 10 field goals out of 17 attempts then the game is fairly even. He couldn't convert even simple shots and his free throw shooting was shaky at the critical moments that Miami ended up pulling away. His defense was virtually non-existent. Williams will probably never be a great defender but his post defense the last two games has been a huge liability for the team. Tyler Zeller and Reggie Johnson exposed some of Williams' shortcomings recently and highlighted that he may be a good rebounder and low post scorer but the rest of his game needs significant improvement.

Adrian Bowie had a decent game with 15 points on 4/8 shooting including 3/6 from outside the arc. His defense left something to be desired but that doesn't make him unique. Sean Mosley has really struggled this season and this game was little different. He did make 2/5 3-point attempts, which for him is a hot streak, but he still shot 3/8 from the floor, was slow to react on defense and turned the ball over too much for a player who handles it as infrequently as he does. Cliff Tucker was a non-factor as he played 7 minutes and did little to deserve even that paltry playing time. He seems to have mentally checked out already and is just marking games until his career is mercifully over. Dino Gregory went back to being, well, Dino Gregory. He scored 6 points and had 6 rebounds on 2/7 shooting. It seems his double digit scoring streak was a bit of a mirage. He has scored 10 points total in the last two games and has gone 4/14 from the floor. Against a Miami team that packed the lane and played zone for most of the game he had little ability to score with his patented jumper. If he can't do that he isn't very useful.

Maryland's bench did little in the game scoring seven points in 30 minutes of play. With Stoglin in the starting lineup and Tucker's inconsistency there is little reliable offense coming off the bench. Hawk Palsson didn't play all that well and had some bad lapses on defense. Mychal Parker made a surprise appearance in the 1st half when Gary Williams was desperate for anyone who could play perimeter defense. He showed some intriguing ability to bother shooters with his impressive wingspan and athleticism but he was a non-factor on offense. James Padgett only played for a few minutes and had no impact.

The Hurricanes had not defeated an ACC opponent by double digits all season yet had a 17 point lead at times and never seemed in imminent danger of losing. Maryland allowed scrub reserve Rion Brown to score 19 points on 6 3-point baskets which should be familiar if you followed the games that guys like Biko Paris, Erick Green, and Talib Zanna who had the games of their careers or season against Maryland. Perhaps it is poor scouting and perhaps it is pure luck, who knows. I think this group lacks leadership and isn't focused on the game at hand too often. Poor 1st halves have doomed this group in a number of games (Miami, UNC, Virginia Tech, Temple, Pittsburgh) and that speaks of players who cannot self motivate and have no teammates to get the squad focused on executing that game. I think the critical weakness is nothing more plain than a lack of talent but it is disappointing that a group of seniors and a junior is being outplayed by underclassmen in many cases.

I don't think Gary Williams has forgotten how to coach. His lack of adjustments against Miami were unfortunate but having poor players can make a coach look very average. Williams didn't forget how to coach once Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne graduated even if he has struggled to find the right lineup or play to the strengths of the limited 2010-11 squad. This hasn't been his best season on the bench but he has probably had to do more fundamental teaching this season than fine tuning, which wasn't the case as much last year. More on that in a future season wrap up.

Maryland finishes the year out at home against Virginia, hoping to avoid another losing season in the ACC. Maryland has only had two winning seasons in the ACC since 2003. That should not happen to a program with the resources and tradition of Maryland. The Wahoos are a dangerous group and if they get hot from 3-point range it could be another long day for the Terps. At this point Maryland is in the same position as every other school needing to win their conference tournament to get into the only meaningful postseason. It is likely this will not be the last game in Comcast Center for the three seniors as they appear all but certain to host an NIT game. Their freshman year at Maryland this group were on a team that collapsed down the stretch losing five of their last six games (including at Miami) before being shuttled off to Minnesota to play in the NIT. It looks like they will have a similar end to their careers and in a way it seems fitting for one of the least distinguished senior classes under Gary Williams. I find myself oddly indifferent currently and just had to laugh at the absurdity of losing by 17 points to a bad Miami team. I've accepted that this group isn't very good and it is time to put our hopes into next season.

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