Monday, January 30, 2012

Never a dull moment

It was an eventful week for Maryland basketball with Duke coming to College Park on Wednesday on the night when the court at Comcast Center would be named after former coach Gary Williams. The game itself turned out to be a bit of a letdown as Duke used its superior talent and Coach K out maneuvered Mark Turgeon to post another in a string of wins against the Terps. As I have written before the obsession with Duke in the majority of the fanbase is a negative. Elevating the game above other ACC contests that are probably a more accurate barometer for the program makes little sense. Since winning the ACC tournament by defeating Duke in overtime Maryland has finished on average over three games below Duke in the standings. The fleeting moment back in 2001-2 when Maryland was battling Duke for ACC supremacy is long over. There has only been one game in the last 8 years when a Duke versus Maryland game was crucial in deciding who would win the ACC, yet I bet that Duke will be the only ACC sell out Maryland has all season. It's pathetic.

Oh, well, back to the game. Mark Turgeon's strategy to limit Duke's 3-point shooting was executed well (3/16 from the 3-point line) but it didn't matter as Duke's trio of post players chewed Maryland up on the interior. Turgeon will figure out that trying to grind out a half court game rarely worked against Duke. Opponents have been trying to do that to Coach K and the Blue Devils since, oh, forever. The disparity of coaching experience was on display in this game.

The game became a footnote when former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell was quoted as being opposed to naming the court after Williams. The fact that reporters chose to run the story the day of the ceremony is disappointing but I'm not surprised Driesell opened his big mouth to insert his big foot into it. Who can forget when Maryland defeated his Georgia State team in the 2001 NCAA tournament he was quoted as saying, "Maryland don't [sic] mean anything to me...I'm not emotionally attached to Maryland." Then he went on to say he hoped Georgetown would beat Maryland in the Sweet 16 game. So we know Driesell is a jerk and we also know that he was lying when he said he wasn't emotionally attached to Maryland. It is obvious from his petty and bitter comments that he is still wounded by his ousting as the head coach at Maryland. It is reflective of a man that even 30 years later doesn't get it. Driesell may have done impressive things at Maryland but he was also the architect of his own destruction.

The suggestion that Driesell made that he felt it was an insult to his players (an not him) is pathetic and ridiculous. Tom McMillen regularly attends games and Len Elmore is a vocal supporter of Gary Williams. That was just a sad attempt by Driesell to make himself appear less vain and narcissistic in his attempts to criticize the honor given the Williams. His follow up comments on the radio make him appear even less sympathetic. His obsession with people seeing the court and thinking Williams' "put Maryland on the map" is bizarre and pompous. The idea that Driesell created Maryland basketball is also an insult to Bud Millikan who nearly won as many ACC games as Driesell did in three fewer seasons. While Driesell did gain Maryland a fair amount of notoriety he also presided over a number of scandals and tragedies that had a definite role in the NCAA handing down a death penalty to Maryland during the Bob Wade era. The sanctions that the NCAA handed down for actions under Wade were the bookend to the Herman Veal controversy and the later death of Len Bias. To maintain the misdeeds under Driesell were not considered by the NCAA when handing down sanctions for what today would be minor NCAA violations is to be obtuse.

All of Driesell's arrogant pronunciations when he took the job at Maryland turned out to be braggadocio. It was Williams who rebuilt the program reach a height it never reached was under Driesell. Gary Williams time as head coach at Maryland was a glorious healing of the tumultuous scandals and tragedies that occurred before he arrived. Driesell's tenure ended with such negativity that many in the administration viewed the basketball program as a stain on the university. That is part of his legacy and clearly something he takes no responsibility for creating. His lack of tact was always a trait that got him into trouble but to try to ruin a day of celebration for Williams, who has always been welcoming of Dreisell, when Driesell has the court at Georgia State named after him is the height of hypocrisy and selfishness.

Gary Williams risked his career to save Maryland basketball from the abyss. He has donated his money and time to fundraising for Maryland, funded the athletic department with his successful basketball program and has been the most visible face of the entire school. I would hardly say that Williams' has no ego but his love of Maryland has never been in question. With Lefty Driesell it was always first and foremost about Lefty. His actions in this case may have ensured that there will never be a formal reconciliation between the school and Dreisell. In this case it is Driesell who has continued the ill will as there are some who won't forgive or forget his lack of graciousness.

In some ways it is typical of Maryland sports. Something is obviously the right thing to do yet they can't help but turn it into a botched and tainted result. Do you think anyone would seriously suggested the women's basketball coach should have the court named after her at Duke, UNC or Kentucky? Maryland's biggest foe is not the Blue Devils or Tarheels but infighting and back biting. This was just another example.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Terps winning ugly

It hasn't been pretty but Maryland has managed to squeeze out two home wins to improve their ACC record to 2-1. There have been a number of people on the radio and in the sports journalist world who have expressed surprise that Maryland is 12-4 and 2-1 in the ACC. I think Maryland has merely beaten the teams that they should have and expecting this team to lose 12 or more conference games in a league that is so weak is ridiculous. Given the awful middle of the stuck-in-the-glory-days-ACC if Mark Turgeon manages to lose 12 or more ACC games with Terrell Stoglin and a healthy roster then Kevin Anderson made a mistake in hiring him. I think the road loss to N.C. State and this road game at Florida State probably will give a more fair approximation of the current ability of this squad than beating Wake Forest and Georgia Tech.

Sean Mosley and James Padgett played very well against the Yellow Jackets. Though Padgett struggles to guard quicker players in the post his offensive rebounding is something of a wonder. The pair made 16/17 free throw attempts on a day when Maryland's shooting was atrocious. From the 2nd half against Wake Forest to halftime of the Georgia Tech game the Terps made just 14 of 56 field goals (25%). What saved their bacon was 23 free throw attempts which they converted at almost 83%. There was even a technical foul from Georgia Tech having six men on the court, weird.

I have a feeling we are not going to see a high powered offense from Turgeon any time soon, if ever. His teams play the same plodding tempo that he has employed everywhere else he coached. For now that is helping to keep Maryland from getting to far behind and has served this group well against some lesser opponents.

I think this team has done a good job defensively but they have not really been tested recently. The Wolfpack had little trouble with Maryland's defense a week ago (47.5% FG and 1.09 PPP) so their strong showing the following two games probably has more to do with Wake Forest and Georgia Tech than the Terrapins turning into a defensive buzz saw.

Alex Len has struggled to get involved in the offense the last two games with only a handful of field goal attempts. It isn't just Stoglin's high usage rate either. Len is a good passer for his size but probably needs to be a little more aggressive on offense. He gave up some really cheap fouls against the Yellow Jackets that could have come back to bite the Terps in the butt but Pankey and Padgett played well enough.

Pe'Shon Howard has really struggled since coming back from his broken foot. His offensive game is nearly non-existent as he is only shooting 32% from the floor. While he understands the position much better than Nick Faust he hasn't performed well in running the offense like many assumed he would. His attempts to make a more difficult play than is necessary are Vasquez-esque, but with a fraction of the talent. He has 12 assists and 10 turnovers in three conference games. That is not the ratio that Turgeon was probably expecting. Perhaps his conditioning is an issue, which would explain his awful defense against the likes of Scott Wood and Tony Chennault, but it doesn't really explain his poor decisions on offense. A number of times in recent games he has driven down the lane without any clear plan and ended up tossing a prayer towards the rim. Howard was supposed to be a dramatic improvement over Faust when he got back into the lineup but that hasn't happened. Faust and Howard have each been equally poor on offense (both shooting 32% with Oratings of 84.6 and 75.9 respectively) and while Howard gets more assists he also has turned the ball over more frequently.  Unless Howard begins improving Maryland shouldn't expect to keep a winning ACC record for very long.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Terps open home ACC slate against Deacons

Sorry for the lack of writing the last few weeks. The holidays and a bad back have kept me from writing very much.

The basketball squad had a good December against some questionable mid-major teams. Alex Len and Pe'Shon Howard returned to the lineup from suspension and injury respectively. Len proved from the start that he is a very skilled player. Len still has work to do in almost all facets of his game but he was very productive in  his first college games. He proved against N.C. State that he will be a force in ACC play. His conditioning needs improving and his defense is still somewhat of a work in progress. He is grabbing rebounds and blocking shots based on his size and quickness, not the execution of good fundamentals. When he puts it all together he will be a formidable force on defense.

Howards return has been a little more rocky. His game against Cornell was a very mixed bag and I thought overall he did not play well. Against the Wolfpack he was also uneven and had a dreadful night shooting and trying to guard Scott Wood. Wood isn't exactly Adam Morrison and Howard often failed to stay with Wood especially in the 2nd half. Howard deserves some slack because of all the time he missed with his foot injury but his return has been a very mixed bag. While he has accumulated 26 assists in just five games he also has added 19 turnovers. His assist and turnover rate are nearly identical. Maryland fans will probably have to adjust to the fact that under Mark Turgeon it is rare to have a point guard racking up assists. In his season as head coach at Texas A&M the assist leader on the team never averaged over 3.6 per game. There were plenty of opportunities for assists with Gary Williams' flex offense and emphasis on transition scoring. With all those gone under Mark Turgeon a plodding half court motion style offense is what we're going to get. The scrutiny of how many assists Howard gets or how few Terrell Stoglin has is probably not the best indicator of how Turgeon's offense is working with these players. Howard will not make this team much better if he just focuses on getting assists. Maryland needs a reliable scoring option at the guard spot besides Stoglin. Nick Faust, Mychal Parker and Sean Mosley have struggled to provide that. Unless Howard can magically make those players better scorers, and early indications are not good, then having a "true point guard" back probably won't help as much as fans might expect.

Inserting two new starters into the lineup was bound to cause some problems with other players who had settled into rolls. Faust, Ashton Pankey and James Padgett are pretty much starting over. I thought the team gave a good showing for opening league play on the road against a decent N.C. State squad. Had the game been at Comcast Center it could have easily gone the other way. It is worth keeping in mind that the starting lineup against the Wolfpack had two sophomores, a freshman and an inexperienced junior. The bench isn't very seasoned either. I expect them to play much better tonight at home.