Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Terps pack it in

In a way Maryland's listless performance in a losing effort against the modestly talented Wahoos was fitting. It would be easy to take shots at seniors Cliff Tucker and Adrian Bowie, who certainly deserve it, but the rest of the squad is also responsible for abominable results the last two games.  In the last three games the defense, always a decent barometer of effort has been almost non-existent. Against Miami and Virginia the defensive efficiency was a horrid 119.4 and 121.3 respectively. Extending that theme opponents assist to turnover ratio was 2.09, 1.18 and 2.17 the last three games which is an indicator that Maryland didn't force many turnovers and got mostly carved up by a modest collection of guards. The effort just wasn't there in the last few games. Jordan Williams' stomach illness was mentioned after the UNC loss but neither Williams nor the rest of the team showed much fight with their slim NCAA tournament chances still alive in the subsequent games.

As Gary Williams indicated in the post game interview this was a team loss, coaches and players. Tony Bennett learned his lesson after the loss at Charlottesville and had a great game plan against Maryland this time around. Virginia slowed the tempo of the game down (61 possessions was the lowest of the season for Maryland), limited Maryland's transition opportunities, didn't turn the ball over, hit their 3-point shots and executed the pack line defense to frustrate Maryland's interior scoring. The inability of Maryland's guards to penetrate and finish was highlighted by a myriad of pointless dribble fakes by the likes of Sean Mosley, Bowie and Tucker. The schizophrenic 3-point shooting (last four games 50%, 17%, 50% and 22%) was part of Maryland undoing as well. In the last three losses the guards have combined to go 12/38 (32%) from 3-point range and they have not been able to punish teams for collapsing on Williams in the post. Pe'Shon Howard has gone 1/13 (8%) from the floor in the last three losses, Mosley 6/22 (27%), and Tucker 5/15 (33%). I'm not sure how much Gary Williams can do with so many of his guards seemingly unable to put the ball in the basket. Without Stoglin on the floor Maryland's perimeter offense is impotent as the other guards can't get in the lane or break down the defense. Stoglin is really the only guard who can run the fast break with any competence.

As I wrote above the defense has collapsed in the last week. Maryland's interior defense hasn't been great all season as Williams and Gregory are not great one-on-one defenders and offer little resistance to dribble penetrations if the guards get beat out on the perimeter. The Terps don't really have any great defenders at the guard position so they are not giving up much with Stoglin or Howard who are not ready to guard on this level yet. Maryland was trailing on screens all game and the big men did an awful job hedging on the high screens. Williams really needs to work on this in the off season. Teams have identified that the further away from the basket the worse a defender Jordan Williams becomes. If opponents make him move out of the lane to guard he struggles to get back in position and often sets up too deep when he recovers back to the baseline. It appears now that the early season defense by Maryland was a bit of a mirage as ACC clubs which have scouted the Terps more extensively have shredded this group.

The weekly random opponent who went for a season high in scoring was Sammy Zeglinski for Virginia who scored 25 points on only 11 field goal attempts. Like Rion Brown of Miami Zeglinski had struggled from outside coming into the game but went on to make 6 of 7 3-point attempts. Maryland's perimeter defense has been exposed the last few games as Zeglinski, Brown, Leslie McDonald (UNC), Scott Wood (N.C. State), Terrell Bell (VT) and John Cahill (Boston College) have all had big games against the Terps from outside. It is no secret that Gary Williams disdains the 3-point shot but in the modern game you better defend the arc and shoot from outside if you want to win.

Maryland goes to Greensboro as the 7 seed thanks to some help from Georgia Tech who knocked off Miami on Sunday to spare Maryland from falling to the opening 8/9 game on Thursday. They will play the Wolfpack who also seem to have packed it in having lost four of their last five games. Even though N.C. State has been terrible under Sidney Lowe, who is probably coaching his last games for the Pack, they have had surprising success in the ACC tournament (5-4 under Lowe) and are a dangerous opponent for Maryland. To get into the NCAA tournament Maryland will probably have to win the ACC tournament as even an appearance in the finals probably wouldn't be enough. It was a very disappointing ending to the regular season that was reminiscent of the collapse the team had in 2008 when they lost 5 of their last 6 games.

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