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 Draftexpress.com 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 and if I was the kind of fan who placed NCAA Basketball Props at BetUS I wouldn't be putting money on number 20 being in the starting lineup when the season opens 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.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lowe goes out with loss

Maryland played well in fits against N.C. State but struggled to sustain a high level throughout the game. Jordan Williams looked more like his old self after struggling a little the last few games finishing with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Dino Gregory had a good game with 11 points and six rebounds. Hawk Palsson got a start and really ignited Maryland by scoring 5 quick points to start the game. The bench played well for the first time in weeks as Cliff Tucker, Sean Mosely, Pe'Shon Howard and James Padgett combined to score 29 points. Mosley struggled with his shooting just hitting 2/8 shots and missing several howlers right around the basket. Padgett had his best game of the season on both ends of the floor. His had several good offensive possessions and rebounded much better than he normally does. Duke isn't a great matchup for him though so it will be interesting to see how much Gary Williams uses him. Duke's Kyle Singler has really struggled as of late but was instrumental in Duke's win at Maryland earlier in the season. Mosley, Tucker and Palsson all got torched trying to cover the senior. If the Terps can lock him down they have a shot to win the game. While they won Maryland will need a much better effort tonight to be competitive with Duke. N.C. State had some of the worst shot selection I've seen by any team all season. The Blue Devils won't repeat those kinds of mistakes. Maryland was also too sloppy with the ball and 17 turnovers, like they had against the Wolfpack, will give them no chance to beat Duke.

It was probably the last ACC game for Sidney Lowe as the head coach of N.C. State. He never beat Gary Williams in 9 games. It will be fun to watch who Debbie Yow hires to replace him.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Williams & Stoglin get All-ACC honors

As expected sophomore forward Jordan Williams was voted as a 1st team All-ACC player. Williams' play, like that of his teammates (most, anyway), trailed off towards the end of the season if only slightly. He scored 135 points in the first half of the ACC season and scored 136 in the second half. His shooting percentage dropped from 53% to 50% in the last eight games while his points per shot dropped from 1.48 to 1.36, both excellent numbers. His free throw shooting improved from 63% to an excellent 75% in the last eight games. His rebounding dipped slightly from 11.8 to 11.0 in the second half of the ACC season and while that number dropped slightly he went from 7 double digit rebounding games in the first eight games to only 4 in the last eight. His number of turnovers and fouls also increased over the last eight games. It certainly was a phenomenal season  for the sophomore, the fifth best season for a sophomore under Gary Williams (thanks terrapinstats!), behind only Joe Smith, Jerrod Mustaf, Juan Dixon and Greivis Vasquez. His 11.8 rebounds per game is the best total of any player in the Gary Williams era. Even with all the accolades Jordan Williams has room for significant improvement. His offensive game could use some refinement as he could add a hook shot or step back jumper to his low post moves. His passing out of double teams needs significant improvement as he rarely looks for teammates notching only 11 assists in ACC play. He also needs to work on his defense to become a respectable low post defender. His footwork and reactions are far to slow and he is often not in the right place as a help defender. Williams is never going to be a dominating post defender but he needs to improve his skills as to not be a liability.

Freshman guard Terrell Stoglin was named to the All-ACC freshman team giving Maryland a player on the team in consecutive seasons, Jordan Williams was voted on the team last year. Stoglin rapidly improved at the end of the season after going through a slump and had three of the top five scoring games for a freshman in ACC play under Gary Williams. Only Johnny Rhodes and Joe Smith averaged more points in ACC play as freshmen than Stoglin did at 11.7 points per game. Only Vasquez, Eric Hayes, and Steve Blake averaged more assists per game as a freshman than Stoglin's 3.9 in ACC play. Stoglin made the kinds of mistakes that all freshmen point guards tend to make but seemed to getting better with his decision making as the year went on and showed the ability to be an explosive scorer unlike any other freshman guard during the Gary Williams era. His ability to pick his scoring opportunities while still involving his teammates will be a challenge next season, something scoring point guards all struggle with and not all (John Gilchrist) succeed in figuring out. Stoglin's on-ball defense should dramatically improve because at times he is only a one way player as a freshman. His variety of scoring from 3-point shooting, floaters, step back jumpers to driving the lane make him a potential All-ACC selection in the coming years. If Pe'Shon Howard, who had a fairly good freshmen campaign on his own, can develop next to Stoglin and recruits Sterling Gibbs and Nick Faust are ready to contribute the Terps could have the deep backcourt they lacked this year.

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.

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.