Monday, February 28, 2011

Another ranked opponent, another loss for Terps

I'm getting a little weary of writing about yet another loss to a likely NCAA tournament team for this basketball team. This time the opponent was North Carolina and the setting was Chapel Hill but the result wasn't any different from most of the other times Maryland played a good opponent. If you are generous and consider bubble teams Virginia Tech, Boston College and Clemson in the tally Maryland is 2-11 in 13 games against teams with a decent chance to make the NCAA tournament at this stage in the season. At this point there isn't much to write that I have not already written about this squad. They are good enough to beat the teams they probably should but not good enough to beat opponents that are marginally more talented than (fellow ACC bubble teams) or teams that are clearly superior (Pitt, Duke, UNC). Sitting at 7-7 in the ACC after the 76-87 loss to the Tarheels last night Maryland probably needs to win out the rest of the season and get to the ACC championship game to earn an at-large birth in the NCAA tournament.

North Carolina's height and athleticism carried them past Maryland on a night when they were ripe for an upset.  The Tarheels shot a meager 40% from the floor and only 29% from 3-point range and didn't really play all that well on either side of the ball. They dominated the backboard grabbing 20 offensive rebounds led by Harrison Barnes and John Henson who had 5 each allowing UNC to shoot 7 more field goals than Maryland for the game. It was a good thing for Carolina that they got so many chances because Henson (3/10), Barnes (9/23) and Strickland (0/6) did an awful job shooting for the night. It also helped that Leslie McDonald scored more points than Maryland's entire bench. Despite all that the Tarheels found enough ways to get the ball in the basket while Maryland continues to struggle to score outside of Jordan Williams and freshman Terrell Stoglin. Once again seniors Cliff Tucker and Adrian Bowie failed to come up big in a critical game. It is clear that unfortunately these two are nothing more than role players. The problem is that outside of Stoglin Maryland doesn't have much to offer to make up for their deficiencies. Pe'Shon Howard has some promise but isn't ready for extended playing time yet and Sean Mosley has been a huge bust as a junior. Mosley seems like a good kid and a hard worker but the evidence is overwhelming that he isn't a scorer at this level and is more suited to be a role player himself. The best guard on the floor was clearly Stoglin but his 2nd half heroics were not enough to make up for a collection of backcourt teammates that cannot produce much offense. When Stoglin was on the bench getting a breather the various lineups Gary Williams employed were hard pressed to muster much scoring or playmaking ability.

Jordan Williams had a great stat line with 16 points and 19 rebounds but didn't play anywhere near as well as that sounds. Tyler Zeller repeatedly burned Williams for 25 points on 10/16 shooting in a manner that should give Williams pause if he thinks he is ready to play in the NBA. Zeller is a fringe prospect in the league but his size and athleticism gave Jordan Williams all manner of problems. Williams supposedly had a stomach bug the night before and did seem sluggish throughout the game but he and Dino Gregory were clearly outplayed by North Carolina's frontcourt. John Henson was a terrible matchup for Gregory with superior size and quickness he had no chance to prevent him from grabbing rebounds or scoring. Gary Williams tried to use James Padgett, Hawk Palsson and even Berend Weijs. Weijs had not played in four games and had only played 13 total minutes in the last month leading up to the game. Against UNC's frontcourt a lineup of two poor rebounders in Padgett and Gregory or a combination of Palsson and one of those two they were bound to get manhandled.

Gary Williams even went to a zone during the game which turned out to be a terrible strategy as it was the last time he used it. Jordan Williams got into foul trouble trying to guard Zeller who set up in the lane like it was his crib so the zone was partly a response to that. It really wasn't a great game plan by Gary Williams and whatever flaws it had were compounded by poor efforts by Cliff Tucker and Sean Mosley.

Maryland has two winnable games remaining in the season with a trip to Miami on Wednesday and then at home against Virginia. Miami has been a house of horrors for Maryland since the Hurricanes joined the ACC but I have a feeling this squad will bounce back from a disappointing loss to UNC and come out with a win.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Terps on the rise

The Terrapins seem to have found an offensive formula that works with a few games left in the season. After floundering with repeated attempts to have Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker and Sean Mosley carry the offensive load with Jordan Williams early in the season it now appears that freshman Terrell Stoglin and Dino Gregory are the scoring complements to that Gary Williams had been searching for all along. In the last four games Stoglin has averaged 20.3 points and 6.5 assists shooting 60% from the floor and 90% from the free throw line. The leaps the freshman has made the last few weeks is extremely impressive and most importantly he has earned the trust of Gary Williams. While the team defense has been inconsistent the offense has been improving dramatically as Stoglin has taken over the primary ball handler duties. The last three games Maryland has torched a couple of very solid defensive clubs in Florida State and Virginia Tech. Jordan Williams is no longer alone as a reliable scorer as Dino Gregory and even Sean Mosley have shown more consistency the last few outings. Gregory has developed a reliable jump shot and is brimming with confidence. He hit a number of clutch baskets late in the game with Williams on the bench with foul trouble. Mosley isn't lighting up the scoreboard but he has been a reliable fourth or fifth option on offense, scoring in double figures the last two games. He still had several bone headed turnovers but is getting to the free throw line and playing better defense.

Adrian Bowie had a good night with dribble penetrations and assists. It was the first time the senior scored in double figures since the Longwood game. It was good to see Bowie play to his strengths and not forcing too much.

Hawk Palsson came off the bench to provide some quality minutes and decent defense when Maryland switched to the zone. He had a role in the impressive defense that Maryland played en route to running away with the game in the 2nd half. He hit one 3-point basket and had another make waived off due to a shot clock violation.

James Padgett also got some time and was able to spell Jordan Williams when he got into foul trouble. He and Gregory had some difficulty against the big Seminole frontline with Williams out but they held it together enough to get through those stretches of the game.

Jordan Williams had a good night, if sub par by his standards, with 11 points and 11 rebounds. I thought the long frontline of FSU would give Williams problems but he didn't seem to get frustrated and withdrawn like he has in earlier games. He stayed with it and put in a workman like performance. I was surprised Leonard Hamilton didn't try to test Maryland's interior defense more often has Bernard James was almost a mere bystander. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that Hamilton did little to put his players in the right position to succeed.

The offense had a very nice mix of dribble drives, intermediate jumpers and 3-point baskets and the variety of scoring probably is the reason FSU struggled to cool Maryland down without resorting to fouling. Maryland made 21/30 free throws and the team is getting much better, especially Jordan Williams. It doesn't hurt that Stoglin, who has been an rock of Gibraltar on the line, has taken 29 free throws in four games.

This win sets up Maryland for a Sunday night showdown with a talented North Carolina team. The Tar Heels lack the singular star that Maryland has in Jordan Williams (sorry but Harrison Barnes isn't there yet) but are athletic and deep. It will be a difficult challenge but a great opportunity to make a statement to the selection committee.

After the game Gary Williams commented on the lack of fans at the game and the mostly empty student "wall" section behind the basket. While it was a poor showing by the students I hardly think it was the time for Williams to take a shot at the support, or lack thereof, by the fans for a middling team that has struggled in one of the weakest ACC seasons in memory. Maryland fans are no different than most others of ACC teams. If you are not winning they won't come in large numbers. UNC had a precipitous drop in attendance last season while in the midst of their NIT season and this year Wake Forest and Georgia Tech have played before somnolent crowds at home. I'm sure if an NCAA tournament birth is on the line when the team returns to Comcast Center a week from Saturday against Virginia that the place will be packed. In the mean time Williams and his team need to focus on making sure that game will be relevant instead of worrying about the size of the crowd or what a student writes in the Diamondback.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Past, present and future

Maryland fans were treated to a glimpse of the past at the N.C. State game on Sunday night as the 2001 Final Four team was honored at halftime and Greivis Vasquez had his number put in the rafters at Comcast Center. It was a feel good night in a season that has been largely devoid of them. Right now Maryland's present isn't all that exciting outside of Jordan Williams. Getting back to 0.500 in the conference was a step in the right direction but unless the squad can continue to build on their six ACC wins it won't matter much. After the game it also became apparent that Maryland fans had seen the future at point guard for the basketball program. Freshman Terrell Stoglin built off some strong performances against Wake Forest and Virginia Tech poured in another 25 point performance against the Wolfpack earning him ACC Rookie of the Week honors. I did a quick review of the game logs on Terrapinstats.com and I think Stoglin is the first freshman since Joe Smith to score that many points in an ACC game. Fact check that for me if you wish. To put that in perspective there have been many great Maryland players who never scored 25 points in an ACC game their entire career such as Steve Blake and Chris Wilcox not to mention that he has as many 25+ point games in ACC play as Chris McCray, Eric Hayes, Mike Jones, and the current senior class combined. The game is starting to slow down for Stoglin and he has a much better feel for the point guard position. He also added 9 assists and only one turnover.

There wasn't much defense played by either side in the game as N.C. State 49% for the game and Maryland shot a season high 58% from the floor. It was an outstanding interior battle between Jordan Williams (26 points) and Tracy Smith (19 points) but neither is an outstanding defender. The under card between C.J. Leslie and Dino Gregory wasn't bad either as they both finished with 18 points. Gregory would be hard pressed to guard Leslie on his own and couldn't prevent him from getting to the rim but was able to exploit Leslie's lazy defense and knock down those baseline jumpers all night.

Scott Wood nearly got N.C. State over the top as he drained 5 3-point shots en route to 15 points. Going zone turned into a disaster for Gary Williams as Wood exploited Maryland's poor perimeter defense easily. With Maryland's opponents shooting over 36% from 3-point range in conference play (ranking them 11th in the ACC) you would think more opponents would try to capitalize. Maryland went back to man to man and oddly Sidney Lowe did little to try to get Wood some better looks once Maryland switched defenses.

Sean Mosley has struggled this season but he was big in the clutch as he scored six of Maryland's eight points in a two and a half minute span when the score was tied at 71 with under six minutes remaining. He was solid on the free throw line as well. While Cliff Tucker did start and played more minutes Adrian Bowie had 5 assists in his 14 minutes of play. Both seniors have been relegated to role players and are unlikely to be more than that going forward.

I've been critical of Dino Gregory but he had the best game of his career with 18 points and 10 rebounds. His offensive game is not an interior complement to Jordan Williams, he is almost exclusively a jump shooting pick and pop artist at this point, but he understands his strengths well and picks his spots. He has scored in double figures in four straight games now. With the lack of production, and playing time, from the frontcourt bench players he and Williams will be forced to carry an unfair load of the scoring and rebounding.

It was great to see Vasquez and his parents celebrate a richly deserved honor when his number was honored in the rafters at Comcast. It is fitting because he is without a doubt the greatest Maryland player to play at Comcast Center and most of the memorable moments at the new arena focus on Vasquez. He probably gave the players some good advice and motivation to finish the season strong. They will need both because they have a long road to walk before they can be confident in getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The game against Florida State, minus Chris Singleton, is the next game that Maryland needs to put in the win column. Though Singleton is gone FSU is still a dangerous team and they handled Wake Forest on the road without much trouble in their last game. Maryland is 9-1 versus the Seminoles at home and the last win by FSU at Maryland was the infamous Valentines' Day game in 2001. Forwards Bernard James and Okaro White have taken on bigger roles with Singleton gone for the season. FSU is still a big and physical front line that may give Jordan Williams problems in the post. Many teams rally their following game after losing a player for the season but then fall flat. Let's hope that is what happens tomorrow.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Vasquez honored

Before the game against N.C. State on Sunday Maryland fans will get a reminder of what the 2011 Terrapins a missing most. Greivis Vasquez will have his now famous 21 honored and placed in the rafters at Comcast Center before the game. For his part Vasquez is as steadfast in his love for Maryland and his coach Gary Williams but the fans didn't always reciprocate. After most of a season with upperclassmen who look about as excited as Jack Nicholson after the shock treatments in One Flew Over the Cockoo's Nest it is worth noting that many fans were sick of Vasquez's exuberance and swagger in his time at Maryland. There wasn't much of that criticism when he was leading the team to a 13-3 record in the ACC, mind you, but certainly when he struggled to lift his modestly talented teammates to a higher level in prior seasons. Vasquez's skills were rare in any player so it isn't fair to say that the current guards are not as good because no player on Maryland since the national championship could match his play on the floor. What is also lacking in this group is the leadership and focus that Vasquez, along with Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes, helped to bring to the squad. I just don't see the level of desire to work, to improve and to win that Vasquez had in his time at Maryland in any of the current upperclassmen. Vasquez himself has said this current squad lacks a leader. Perhaps in the future the freshmen and Jordan Williams can grow into that role but they are not ready for it yet. That doesn't make them bad people. They seem to be nice fellows and decent representatives of the University of Maryland but they are not leaders and not heroes. Maryland needed a hero when Vasquez came along and his large personality filled an equally large hole in the basketball program. This season fans feel the lack of such a presence.
 

On Sunday if you can attend the game please show up a few minutes early and give one of the great Terrapins in the history of the program his due. If you didn't know how great Greivis Vasquez was before, brother, you know now.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Terps come up short, again

It was a familiar feeling for Maryland fans at the end of the loss to Virginia Tech. The team had been close to pulling out a victory, leading for most of the 2nd half, and yet there was a sense that this squad would stumble in a hostile environment. When Maryland needed defensive stops late in the game they could not get them and gave up numerous offensive rebounds en route to a 50 point 2nd half for the Hokies. The myth that this is a very solid defensive team is slowly going by the wayside with the third game in the last five giving up over 1.07 points per possession. The only recent games where the opponent had an efficiency under 107 were Longwood and Wake Forest. The truth is in conference games the defense has been very mediocre ranked 6th in opponents offensive efficiency and 7th in field goal percentage and 10th in 3-point percentage. This should be a decent defensive team but that hasn't materialized so far this season. Freshmen Terrell Stoglin and Pe'Shon Howard have struggled defending from time to time and you would expect that given the adjustment to the college game and since neither player was known as a defensive stopper in high school. Sean Mosley, Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker have done a poor job given their level of experience. Jordan Williams struggles against bigs who can force him move off the low block and Dino Gregory can't guard bigger players in the post. Unfortunately for Maryland the Hokies have both players in Jeff Allen and Victor Davila respectively. Role players Erick Green and Terrell Bell combined to hit 7 3-point shots but going into the game were shooting 25% and 37% respectively from 3-point range for the season. Once again 3-point shooting helps undo the Maryland defense.

Stoglin had a great offensive game scoring a career high 25 points on 7/12 shooting, including 10/10 from the free throw line. He showed impressive aggressiveness going to the rim and getting out in transition. It was a star turn for the freshman [correction-I wrote he was a sophomore in original post] who is getting better and better as he adjusts to the speed of the college game. Once he matures his game watch out because he will be electric. Howard also did well playing 30 minutes and scoring 10 points without a turnover. It is the changing of the guard at Maryland as Stoglin and Howard will continue to take more minutes from flagging seniors Bowie and Tucker.

Jordan Williams had a good night on the stat sheet with a 16 point and 9 rebound performance. At the same time his defense was mediocre as has been the case most of this season, even though he got into foul trouble and had to sit out part of the first half. Williams struggled to get to the free throw line with only 2 attempts (the second lowest total in ACC games this year) and appeared frustrated at times. The last few weeks have shown that while the sophomore is putting together a phenomenal statistical season he has a great deal of room for improvement. Unless he wants to end up falling into the D-league he needs another season at Maryland before turning professional.

The Terps now get the hapless Wolfpack coming to town on the night Grievis Vasquez's jersey will be honored and a Florida State team that is without Chris Singleton. A two game winning streak would get them back in the conversation for a postseason run but the team cannot afford any more stumbles.

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.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Just win, baby

The next few games for the Maryland Terrapins will likely decide the course of the season. With road games at Boston College and Virginia Tech coming up Maryland gets a chance to add to their thin resume and bump their flaccid RPI number to relevant levels. Collectively these two game are just as important as the Duke game was last week. At this point in the season Maryland needs to win, regardless of the opponent or location. It isn't that any one game is vital but the Terps will have to make up in volume what they lack in quality. It appears that North Carolina's resurgence might be legitimate and Maryland will get a shot to beat a young Tar Heels team on the road in a few weeks but that game will only be relevant if they can win in the interval.

It appears that Pe'Shon Howard has returned to the starting lineup. It seems Gary Williams will ride whichever freshman is playing better in that game. It is worth keeping in mind that though Howard has played well the last few games it was against Wake Forest and Longwood. Boston College will pose a much more legitimate test on Saturday and Eagles point guard Biko Paris torched Maryland for 22 points so Howard will need to keep playing at a high level on the road. Side note Paris has not scored more than 12 points in an ACC game since then.

It isn't worth discussing the Longwood game as it was merely an exhibition in the middle of the season. Throw out all the stats from that game because they don't mean much. 

It is also an opportunity to get some revenge on the Eagles after their 79-75 win over Maryland at Comcast Center in December. That loss seemed to stagger Maryland a little as they won three games against poor mid-major opponents but then lost three of the subsequent four contests. The Eagles' reliance on 3-point shooting seemed to take Maryland by surprise and Reggie Jackson's ability to drive to the basket gave the Terps all kinds of problems. Jackson has struggled recently but scored 27 points in the loss to Clemson last game. No Maryland defender had much success against Jackson in the last game so it will be interesting to see what Gary Williams decides to do to limit the All-ACC caliber guard. Given the major minutes that Jackson, Paris and Trapani perhaps the trio is wearing down a bit currently. Only paper thin Virginia Tech has three players playing more minutes per game than Boston College's top trio.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Offense awakens against Demon Deacons

It didn't turn out to be much of a contest between Maryland and Wake Forest last week. Coming off a dispiriting loss to Duke Maryland, led by Jordan Williams' 27 points and 15 rebounds, rolled past hapless Wake Forest with relative ease. The Deacons shot fairly well for the game, at nearly a 46% clip, but couldn't keep from turning the ball over 19 times and that was their ultimate undoing. Enjoying a large lead Maryland's defense slackened in the 2nd half allowing Wake Forest to score with regularity in the last 10 minutes. The rebounding for Maryland was solid as they posted 18 offensive rebounds, most since snaring 22 against Wake Forest in Winston Salem. The defense caused turnovers but was spotty throughout the game in allowing the Demon Deacons to score 70 points even though they turned the ball over 19 times (26% of their possessions) and only managed 13 assists.

The offense for Maryland was humming through most of the game mostly due to Jordan Williams and Wake Forest's inability to slow him down. Pe'Shon Howard got another start as Gary Williams seems to be content to switch out his freshmen as matchups dictate. Terrell Stoglin had started four straight games and eight of the last nine before coming off the bench against Wake Forest. Howard ran the offense well with 8 assists, Bowie also had 6 assists and Stoglin had 5, and only one turnover but his shooting continues to be a trouble spot (3/10 for the game) and he missed several easy shots around the basket. Given how poor a defensive team Wake Forest is it probably isn't worth reading too much into Howard's performance. He also played well against Wake the first meeting with 5 assists and no turnovers but followed that with two terrible efforts against Virginia Tech and Clemson. It is interesting that he played 32 minutes, a career high for the frosh, so perhaps Gary Williams intends to make this a more permanent replacement. Howard has not played well against the better ACC opponents so far this season and doesn't provide the potential scoring that Stoglin can so it will be worth following the two and their playing time against Boston College.

Hawk Palsson had a noteworthy game with 9 points and 3 rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench. Williams seems to be developing more confidence in Palsson as the season progresses and the freshmen continues to have a significant role off the bench. With Sean Mosley's continued struggles on offense I expect Palsson will gain more playing time if he can continue to produce like he did against Wake Forest. Again the Deacons are so bad that we'll have to take the performances of some of the players with a grain of salt. This Maryland team needs all the offense it can get and from any source so if a player is producing points it will be hard to put them on the bench.

James Padgett has struggled a bit lately and this was the kind of game you would hope he could come in and get some meaningful minutes. Unfortunately he only got on the floor for four minutes and didn't look all that great when he did. His rebounding and defense need to improve if he is going to see more minutes.

Jordan Williams may have turned the corner with his free throw shooting. The last three games Williams is hitting 72% of his attempts (24/33) and if he can keep that up the Terps might just be able to ride him to the NCAA Tournament.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Beat Duke week flops

I've felt for many years now that Maryland puts too much emphasis on their games against Duke. Certainly Duke basketball is a measuring stick for almost every program in the ACC with the possible exception of North Carolina. If you can beat Duke in any given year it probably means you are a very solid basketball team. This version of the Blue Devils is a very solid club with two exceptional senior leaders in Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler but isn't an exceptional team either. They are more versatile than last year's edition but overall are probably not as good as the team that won the national title last year. In eight of the last nine opportunities for Maryland to measure themselves against the Blue Devils they have come up short. The fact is that Maryland hasn't been in the same class with Duke for most of the last decade which makes focusing on Duke as if those games define your season even more foolish.

Last night the 2011 version of the Terrapins was found lacking in several areas. Once again the veteran guards failed to produce in a big game as has been the trend this season. The freshmen wilted under the bright lights and looked scared and unsure of themselves. The frontcourt without Jordan Williams was a non-factor in the game. The team rebounding and defense was atrocious. Mike Krzyzewski is a master at getting the matchups that he wants on offense and forcing the other team to play outside of their comfort zone. Even with Nolan Smith not having a vintage game and struggling with foul trouble Duke was still able to extend their lead with role players like Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins scoring more than all but two of Maryland's starters. Even stiffs like Mason Plumlee, who may become the Duke player you love to hate after preening following several garbage dunks while Jordan Williams was abusing him all night on the other end of the floor, had 12 points.

Maryland had little else to fight back with besides Jordan Williams who had another great game with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Williams even made 12 of 16 freethrows, hopefully a portend of things to come. The freshmen did what freshmen do and reverted back to their struggling form of a few weeks ago. The veterans guards continue to show that they are little more than role players who have been forced into starting rolls. Overall this group has been a bigger ensemble flop than The Spirit was, a movie that had a decent if unremarkable cast and yet somehow managed to be less than the sum of its parts. In equal measure Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker and Sean Mosley have demonstrated an inability to be reliable from game to game and even possession to possession. None of them can produce dependable scoring or defense and seem to lack fundamental sense of game and time situations which you would expect from upperclassmen with their level of game experience.

Gary Williams intimated after the game that effort continues to be a problem with this squad. I wouldn't disagree with his statements but I when you have a squad peppered with role players then even a slight drop in effort will get magnified. I don't think the effort was as poor as it was against Virginia Tech I just think that the group was found wanting in skill and talent compared to their counterparts.

Defensively it was a dreadful performance as Duke shot nearly 53% from the floor and connected on 10 3-point baskets. Didn't matter which of the five players Gary Williams tried to use to guard Kyle Singler (at least five by my count) as none of them could contain the senior as he scored with a variety of mid-range shots. The Terrapins also struggled to deny dribble penetrations and when Duke guards got in the lane they rarely were challenged by help defenders. As great as Jordan Williams is on offense opponents are starting to realize that defending is not the sophomore's strong suit.

Once Duke clamped down on Maryland's transition offense the Terps had no alternatives to Jordan Williams. The guards were mostly unable to find the gaps in Duke's defense and struggled to hit open shots the few times they did.

While Maryland may have squandered the last chance to notch a win against a team that will be a top seed in March all is not lost. With home games against Wake Forest, N.C. State and Virginia remaining Maryland need only steel a few road wins in the coming month to be back in the NCAA tournament picture. Things are not as dire as they appear but this was a chance to spring board to a winning streak that would have put them squarely on the right side of the bubble going into the stretch run. For a group that seems to produce poor efforts at home perhaps it is a good thing that they will need some good road wins in the second half of the season.

Random thoughts

If you've read my blog you know my thoughts on Jamie Luckie but together with Mike Eades and Sean Corbin it was a terribly officiated game. The calls were uneven and often made by officials out of position to make a call resulting in a halting game that had little flow.

Teletubbies? Really?

Little doubt that Duke has wrapped up another ACC title.

This Duke team, and the last few years as well, has a joyless robotic quality to it. Very little personality just mechanical and crisp execution. They are the Nick Faldo of the basketball world.

Instead of Beat Duke Week they should have a Casual Fan Week for those fans who only show up for this game next year.



Speaking of uniforms please wear the red on the road, once.