Friday, December 30, 2005

Rumors swirl around Belton

The "facts" behind the Kenny Belton recruitment are growing more uncertain by the day. The Baltimore Sun is reporting from anonymous members of the Maryland staff that Belton never received an offer from Maryland and is therefore not a commit. Belton's father and coach seemed to imply in a Greensboro paper that Belton had received an offer. Nothing is clear about these reports at the moment. The staff is not allowed to officially comment on players who have not signed a letter of intent, which means not till next year for class of 2007 players.

Two scenarios seem likely: there was a miscommunication between the staff and Belton's family or that there is something nefarious going on here. I'm not a conspiracy theorist but it seems odd that Belton came out of nowhere to garner a scholarship offer when Maryland is still going after some of the elite recruits in the '07 class. Maybe some people are trying to make it seem that Maryland is winding up its '07 recruiting so that it will reduce the competition for some of the elite recruits the Terps are still in the running for? Unlikely, but something to consider. The simplest explanation would be just a miscommunication. That wouldn't exactly make things honky dory when you consider the Shane Clark fiasco that occurred only a few months ago.

Around the ACC

Georgia Tech got routed by Utah yesterday 38-10. How could a team upset Miami just a month ago and get embarrassed like that in a bowl game? Answer: Chan Gailey is the coach.

Florida State linebacker A.J. Nicholson was suspended from the teams Orange Bowl game versus Penn State for violation of team rules. There is an ongoing investigation of a allegation of rape against Nicholson. Nicholson was also arressted in the off season for DUI and resisting arrest. This continues the great Bowden tradition of having to suspend players right before their bowl games. Great publicity for the ACC!

In basketball Virginia Tech goes on the road to play Old Dominion and NC State hosts George Washington. Old Dominion should be the favorite in this game as they are 4-0 at home with wins over Georgia, George Mason and DePaul, which are better wins that the Hokies possess right now. ODU also nearly upset Wisconsin earlier in the year and that is one of the toughest places to play in the nation. I'd be surprised if VT pulls off a victory.

The NC State game is more interesting. The high flying and slightly reckless style of the Colonials versus the plodding slow tempo of the Wolfpack. I doubt State's seniors will get rattled like Maryland's did, especially not at home. There will be some matchup problems for the frontcourt of NC State on defense. The Colonials are much more athletic at those positions. As always with State if their 3-pointers are not falling then they will struggle but I expect them to take better care of the ball and pull out a close win.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

We're in Delaware, exciting Delaware.

Actually, I like the Delaware beaches very much but I always thought that Wayne's World skit was funny. Yes, yes, the game.

The poor 2nd half left a bad taste in my mouth, but surprisingly Gary Williams didn't sound too angry about the spotty play that allowed Delaware State to shave 13 points off Maryland's halftime lead by the 10 minute mark. Perhaps he wasn't so perturbed because the defense in the 1st half was so dominating that he must have been giddy at the half. Delaware State only shot 25% in the first half and went to the break with 13 points. They won the MEAC last season and are one of the favorites again this year so they are no pushover in spite of their 2-9 record. All but one of those games was on the road and both Michigan and UCLA struggled to score against their variation of the Princeton offense. It was the first time Maryland was held to under 70 points this season but Maryland still shot a very nice 46% from the floor.

Nik Caner-Medley had a fantastic game. I've been very critical of Nik but felt if he changed the way he played and his shot selection he would be a better player. So far this year both things have happened. He's becoming a true leader on the floor and is doing a great job picking his spots. His scoring may be down from last year but he is playing a much better all around game. He is now passing up open perimeter shots and driving to the basket, where he is converting as well as anyone on the team save Ibekwe. His effort on defense is light years ahead of where it was last season. He'll never be a great defender but his 5 steals last night attest to his renewed dedication to defense. Those who would clamor for Mike Jones to get Nik's minutes need to sit down with a tape of the game and watch their respective play. If you still feel that way afterwards we need to get you some help.

Ekene Ibekwe continues to improve as well. He notched his second straight double-double and fourth straight double digit scoring performance. He's shooting at a 55% clip from the floor and a respectable 67% from the foul line. Ibekwe's emergence is in no small measure due to his ability to stay out of foul trouble this year. In the game last night he passed up a chance to swat at a wing player who came in for a layup, realizing that the basket was not worth him picking up another foul and his value to the team was more important. He has emerged as the most reliable post player for Maryland.

Unless there is some practice issue I still don't understand why Travis Garrison is starting over James Gist. He rebounds a little better than Gist but that is about the extent of his advantage. Gist is far more athletic and active on defense and offense. Travis had another of his notorious slow starts last night when he went 1-6 for 2 points in his first 15 minutes on the floor. Yet Gary Williams insists on starting him game after game. Perhaps Gist isn't earning it in practice but Maryland has a much better chance to go deep into the postseason if Gist is starting by the middle of January. Garrison's offense consists of three basic moves: baseline jumpers, a fade away from the middle of the lane and the spot up jumper from the foul line. That's it. He doesn't get to the foul line much, only one attempt per 5.6 minutes, and for someone with a nice shooting touch has terrible hands.

The Terps are still turning the ball over way too often, with 17 last night. The half court trap that Delaware State went to in the 2nd half gave the Maryland guards some real trouble. Expect ACC coaches to study that film. The guards need to do a better job of passing before the double team collapses on them.

James Gist scored 8 points while only shooting 2 field goal attempts last night. That's what good foul shooting will do for you.

Chris McCray was benched for being late to a team meeting. I love Chris but a senior team captain shouldn't be oversleeping.

Around the ACC

NC State has to have a $5 ticket promotion from Harris Teeter to sell out a Friday night game against 12th ranked George Washington.

Clemson lost in its first real test of the season at Georgia 72-69 but the worse news is that PF James Mays, their leading rebounder and best post presence, has become academically ineligible for the rest of the season. Clemson will become even more guard and perimeter oriented. Unfortunately their outside shooting has been a weak spot all season.

Boston College will get 6-10 Sean Williams back from his drug arrest suspension in time for ACC play. It remains to be seen what kind of shape Williams is in, but his defense and shot blocking are desperately needed by the Eagles.

Air Force is now 2-0 versus the ACC with wins over Miami and Georgia Tech. They defeated the Yellow Jackets last night 54-46. Air Force is a solid squad that will have a great chance at an NCAA bid. Georgia Tech will be in for a rough year, but the talented youngsters will pull off an upset or two.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

New basketball commit

As far as I know it was broken first by a loyal reader of this blog that junior F Kenny Belton, formerly of Salem, Virginia and now at Greensboro Dudley High in North Carolina, has accepted a scholarship offer from Maryland. The 6-7, 220 lbs combo forward had been gathering interest from some ACC schools but this news seems to have caught the recruiting services by surprise as none of them even had Belton listed as a Maryland prospect.

The Roanoke Times is also reporting this story, Salem is a suburb of Roanoke. I expect Belton to play power forward with his solid frame and post oriented offense. He averaged 14.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and shot 52% from the floor as a sophomore. He played on the Boo Williams AAU team with Maryland commit Eric Hayes and other high 2006 talent like Vernon Macklin, Duke Crews, Scotty Reynolds and Chris Wright. With many of those players being seniors Belton will get his chance to shine if he stays with Boo. I wouldn't be surprised to see Belton blossom like Duke Crews did this past year. Crews wasn't highly regarded until he started tearing up the AAU circuit with tenacious rebounding and defense. I'm not sure Belton will have that kind of blastoff but he will be a higher ranked recruit by the end of this school year.

ACC Notes
Looks like Virginia Tech will redshirt about half their team. Forward Wynton Witherspoon who has been battling a stress fracture in his foot will likely sit out the rest of this season. Robert Krabbendam, a reserve center who hasn't played at all this season with a knee injury will try to see if he can play effectively in the next few games before making a decision on redshirting. Not a good position with a bunch of ACC games coming up. Also reserve forward Terrance Vinson is also likely to redshirt. This makes an already thin Hokie team even more depleted. Don't expect them to compete for an NCAA bid. The ACC schedule will wear them down and you'll likely see another second half swoon like last season.

Tune to ESPN
On Saturday. Gonzaga will be playing St. Joes at 6pm in a game that will be shown on ESPN. If you are a fan of college basketball you must watch Adam Morrison any chance you can get. Once they get into the WCC schedule they likely won't be on national tv much so watch this maestro while you can. Watching him fight like a gladiator against John Calipari's Memphis mercenaries was a treat last night. If Batista or Raivio had done better than 8-25 from the floor the Zags would have won on Memphis' home floor.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Top 25 Poll 12/26

1. Connecticut
2. Duke
3. Memphis
4. Illinois
5. Villanova
6. Washington
7. Gonzaga
8. Michigan State
9. Louisville
10. Florida
11. UCLA
12. George Washington
13. Texas
14. Nevada
15. Boston College
16. Maryland
17. Indiana
18. Iowa
20. Oklahoma
21. Wake Forest
22. Ohio State
23. Kentucky
24. Arkansas
25. Bucknell

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Sam's Season

Sam Hollenbach cost Maryland a bowl game. Sam Hollenbach had a dreadful end of the season. There will be changes at the quarterback position. Blah, blah, blah.

Lost in all this is that Hollenbach had one of the better statistical seasons for a quarterback in Maryland history. His 2005 season ranked 7th all time in passing yards, total yards, attempts, completions and completion percentage; 6th in yards; 12th in QB rating. In most of those categories it was the best season for a quarterback since the run-and-shoot days of Scott Milanovich in the mid-1990's. Only Scott McBrien had thrown for more touchdowns in a season since 1994, a list than includes Brian Cummings, Calvin McCall, Ken Mastrole, Shaun Hill and Joel Statham.

Hollenbach deserves some credit for the fact that Maryland was even 5-6. With Joel Statham, who is now bound for I-AA football, do you really think Maryland would have won any of the games they lost? Would they have beaten Navy or North Carolina? Doubtful. Without Hollenbach Maryland would likely be 3-8 to end this season, ponder that.

Yes, Sam locks onto receivers sometimes, he gives up too many sacks holding onto the ball, he has a propensity for turnovers. All this is true. He is also the best quarterback on the roster and will be again in 2006.

Basketball Roundup

Duke handled St. John's at Durham. Both freshman McRoberts and Paulus are playing better and the heart of the team, Williams and Redick, are always solid. They still have no bench, which only provided 10 points.

UNC lost on the road to USC, 74-59. They had 25 turnovers and shot only 37% from the floor. This is still a very young team which only has one notable win against a mediocre Kentucky squad. They will fall out of the rankings once ACC play starts if not sooner.

This could be a rough night for the ACC. Miami hosts the resurgent Florida Gators, a game they could desperately use if they hope to keep their slim NCAA chances alive. Wake Forest and N.C. State both go on the road at Richmond and Alabama respectively. It is the first real test State has had since a road game at Iowa and Wake is trying to right the ship after the bad De Paul loss from last week. Road games are never easy but they should be able to handle a scrappy Spiders team.

A fabulous website for basketball scores and analysis is The Mid-Majority. They have offensive and defensive ratings for each game and a slew of other statistical analysis for each contest. Check it out.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Happy Holidays

Thanks to all my loyal readers, all three of you. It's been a fun year and I feel like this blog has really started to grow in the last few months. It has been a real pleasure to share my passion for Maryland sports with all of you. I wish all of you a happy and safe holiday season and New Years.

It has been a crazy week at my paying job so I apologize for not posting much this week. I'll try to post more in the coming days, including a short analysis of QB Sam Hollenbach's season.

Motor Voter

I've been asked to be a member of the College Basketball Bloggers Association or the "CBBA" college basketball poll. Every Monday I'll have a top 25 poll for college basketball during the season. As a result I'll try to watch more college basketball games and maybe comment on a few here.

Shane Clark
According to CBSsportline's Gregg Doyel former Maryland recruit Shane Clark is eligible to play for Villanova this coming week in the annual Big Five game against Le Salle.

Monday, December 19, 2005

"Lights Out" for Colts perfect season

Former Maryland standout Shawne Merriman helped his San Diego Chargers end the Colts 13 game winning streak and put to rest any chatter about the Colts having a perfect season. As he did when he played for Maryland Shawne Merriman played his best in the biggest game. He recorded 7 tackles and was credited with 2 sacks, while reeking all kinds of havoc on the Colts pass protection. He pressured Peyton Manning on numerous occasions and ran him down on a critical red zone 4th down early in the game. With 9 sacks already this season Merriman is the frontrunner for defensive rookie of the year in the NFL. Getting drafted by Marty Shottenheimer was the best thing that could have happened to Merriman. Shottenheimer knows how to coach aggressive linebackers like the late Derrick Thomas and Merriman.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Portis likely to transfer to Maryland

If you read my previous column you can imagine I'm not doing any cartwheels over this pickup. Portis is more along the lines of the "typical" Fridge quarterback: he can throw and run with equal ability, but I'm not going to predict he'll be the next Joe Hamilton. He was a highly rated quarterback out of high school, having been considered the 4th best "dual threat" QB by, but this is now his third college choice if he come to Maryland. He backed out of a commitment to Utah when Urban Meyer left for Florida and now has quit on the Gators and Meyer. This is not a good sign. He had 81 yards passing in limited mop up duty for the Gators this past season so we really don't know what were going to be getting in 2007, when he'll be cleared to play after sitting out next season due to transfer rules. Hopefully by then Portis will have grown up a little and stop letting his meddling mother run his life.

The 2007 QB situation just got even more crowded. Now Jordan Steffy, Chris Turner, Jeremy Ricker and Portis will fight it out for the starting job in '07. Unless Steffy wins the offseason QB competition this year none of those players will have significant experience. Friedgen has been unable to develop his own quarterback since he has come to Maryland. Joel Statham was a failure, Jordan Steffy hasn't show much promise even when he's healthy which isn't often, and it appears the coach is about ready to throw Sam Hollenbach overboard too. I think that would be a mistake, but we'll see.

Recruit Update

Class of 2007 shooting guard Jeff Jones, who committed to Maryland last month, poured in 34 points in a win over Archbishop Wood the other day. This kid can flat out score folks. He was a great pickup for the '07 class and will be a top 50 player when the final rankings come out.

Class of 2006 commits Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes also both played at Potomac high school the other day, Milbourne for Oak Hill and Hayes for the home school. Hayes scored 19 in an upset win over Baltimore's McDonogh high and Hoya commit DaJuan Summers. Hayes nailed three out of four free throws to ice the game in a 55-54 victory.

Milbourne's Oak Hill crushed an overmatched Herndon high 106-74. Milbourne is showing some very nice shooting range that he didn't have last season.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Terp's hire new defensive coach

Ralph Friedgen announced that he hired Chris Cosh, formerly the linebackers coach for Kansas State, to be the new defensive coordinator, linebackers coach and to assist with recruiting . Cosh held the title of recruiting coordinator at Maryland in 1997 before leaving for Michigan State. It is assumed that Cosh was attractive to Friedgen because of his local contacts since he is from the DC area and a Maryland native. Cosh played at Virginia Tech before an injury ended his career. He's since bounced around a bunch of teams and has been at four different programs since leaving Maryland.

In case it wasn't obvious I'm very skeptical of this hire by Big Ralph. In examining Cosh's resume it isn't all that impressive and in some ways is downright alarming. Consider the three defensive coordinator jobs he's already had in his young career: Illinios 1995, Michigan State 1998 and South Carolina 2003. None of those teams had a winning record for those years and he wasn't asked back for a second year in any of those three seasons. A little concerning, hmm? If he was really a promising young defensive coach why would three different programs send him packing?

In all three of those seasons his defenses had some real drubbings, at least 3 times each season his teams gave up over 30 points a game including allowing 63 points in a blowout to Clemson (South Carolina) and 51 points in a slaughter by Penn State (Illinois). Blackney's defenses only gave up 30+ points 6 times in his first 4 seasons, and giving up those points to Steve Spurrier's Gators or Florida State is a might different than Indiana and Clemson. In Cosh's three seasons as a coordinator his teams gave up 24.5, 26.2 and 18 points per game, which isn't very impressive.

Cosh was saying the same kinds of things about not tampering with the defense of his predecessor and keeping an aggressive scheme when he replaced Charlie Strong, who departed South Carolina for Florida. Well that didn't turn out too well as Holtz fired him after one season in which his defense gave up 36 points and 463 yards of offense per game in its final six.

Another issue that makes me slightly uneasy about this hire is that he can't helped but be tainted by the scandals that rocked South Carolina under Lou Holtz. Going to someplace like Kansas State after that debacle isn't exactly like going to Lordes to get your sins absolved, it's more like going to Bangkok.

I don't quite understand why Fridge made this choice so quickly, as he had said before that they would wait to talk to a few assistants after the bowl season was over, unless he feels he will lose out on some of the top defensive recruits due to the uncertainty. Phillip Taylor and Akeem Hebron, who has committed to Georgia, come to mind and is it just coincidence that the Bulldog commit is taking an official visit to Maryland in the near future? Might be a better sell if he can actually talk to the linebackers coach, hyped as a linebacker "guru", and new defensive coordinator.

There will be some fall out from this choice as no candidate from the coaching staff was promoted. Don't be surprised if Dave Sollazzo moves on soon. I'm not sure how the choice of Cosh will turn out but there isn't much to get excited about right now.

Add another entry into the out-of-control parent file for college recruiting these days. Josh Portis, who was intensely recruited by Maryland last season, has announced he will transfer from Florida because he didn't get enough mop up duty in their blowout of FSU. This is the state of major college sports, a freshman quits because he didn't get enough garbage time in a blowout. His mother spent the whole week blabbing in the Florida papers about why he was leaving; genius move there, mom. She already dragged the poor kid out of two high schools because she didn't see eye-to-eye with the coach. Like Derrick Williams and his papa this is a package deal with Portis and his mother that you don't want any part of, fellow Terps. Sad thing is that Josh is reputed to be a nice kid, but his mother is trying her best to ruin his life.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Undead rivalry

No, I'm not talking about how George Romero didn't like the Zack Snyder remake of his original Dawn of the Dead film. I'm talking about the attempted resurrection of the long expired Maryland Georgetown "rivalry". It's not alive, yet it won't die either. It seems to be all over the media these days, especially around the BB&T tournament last week, and everyone seems to want to see it resume. Everyone except the two programs that is. Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports is the latest to pimp this idea in his recent column. Davis is a local guy from Montgomery County so he has more interest in this game than the average national journalist. Frankly, I can't think of any national sports writer who would care about this matchup. It was never much of a rivalry even before it ended in the Lefty Driesell days. The one-time game at the old US Air Arena in 1993 didn't really change anything. After losing John Thompson decided that he had no interest in playing the return game he had promised Gary Williams at Cole Field House. And that was that.

This "rivalry" isn't based on what occurred on the court, unlike all worthwhile rivalries, it is based on the grudge of a promise broken. The 2001 meeting between the two schools in the NCAAs, when the game really mattered, didn't generate much excitement beyond the fact that Maryland advanced to the Sweet 16. Read between the lines of the quotes from Gary Williams and John Thompson III and there is about zero enthusiasm from either program to see this series revived. It is as dead as Jimmy Hoffa.

I grew up in the Washington area and never quite understood the infatuation with this "rivalry" among some of the locals. I'm not sure what the point is for Maryland to play this game anyway. In the last 15 years there is no comparison between the programs and Georgetown hasn't done much of note to change that in recent years. Short of a Georgetown alum who now writes for the Washington Times no one seriously believes that the Hoyas will overtake Maryland on the local sports scene anytime soon either.

As long as Gary Williams is the coach at Maryland this game will never happen, regardless of Ted Leonsis or anyone else.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Men's soccer bags title

I'm not one of those guys that refuses to watch soccer. I thought the World Cup in 2002 was a very exciting sports event. At the same time soccer probably isn't likely to get me to turn off a Law & Order rerun on TNT. I did watch the last 40 minutes of the men's soccer national title game between Maryland and New Mexico, though it was an accident that I flipped on ESPN. It was a very physical match with New Mexico with lots of tackles and grabbing. Maryland's high powered offense struggled a little and made me more than slightly nervous but they played solid defense and freshman goalkeeper Chris Seitz was sensational, garnering comparisons to Brad Friedel. After their fourth consecutive final four in soccer Maryland broke through with its first soccer title since 1968. Along with the Field Hockey team Maryland now has two national titles already this season, not too shabby.

Wake me up

Did DePaul actually win at Wake Forest last night? It's not like Wake was playing the other Blue Demons, these are the Chicago version. It was the classic, if cliched, trap game. Coming off exams with few students around, a lightly regarded but talented opponent, first action in 10 days, looking past the non-conference games to an opening ACC showdown with Duke in January. Still it wasn't a game that Wake should have lost.

The Wake fans will howl about the foul shooting, but it was the Swiss cheese defense that killed Wake. Whenever the needed a defensive stop they just could not muster the intensity to prevent DePaul from hitting a killer shot. You just can't allow 51% shooting and expect to win. In a stunning turn Wake was also outrebounded 38-30, something that a team with Visser, Ellis and Eric Williams should never allow. Ellis is Wake's version of Travis Garrison. You look at him and think he should at least be a reliable low post player, if not dominating, yet he is enthralled with shooting jump shots from 15 feet.

Justin Gray really struggled with the taller DePaul backcourt. Without a meaningless 3-point basket as time expired he had scored 9 points on 2-10 shooting. It may take until the end of January before Williams and Gray have adjusted to life without Chris Paul. They have to make sure they don't dig themselves too deep a hole with Duke at home and road games at Maryland and NC State in the span of two weeks.

News & Notes

Former Duke player Michael Thompson, who transferred to Northwestern at the beginning of last season, is apparently out of college basketball. He has left the team due to health issues according to reports. I mention this to make a point about recruiting. Everyone assumes that Krzyzewski's recruiting is the gold standard for how to build a basketball program, pulling in McDonald's All Americans like they were on the dollar menu. I'm not going to try to pretend that Krzyzewski isn't the premier college coach, but I will say that those who wish Maryland recruited like Duke need to really think twice. Being able to crow about how many burger guys your coach has coming in only matters in the off season. Once November rolls around that kind of stuff is meaningless.

Thompson was part of a Duke 2002 recruiting class that was widely considered the best in the nation. Looking back the UNC class of Raymond Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants and David Noel was clearly better but at the time Duke reigned supreme. Two of those players, Thompson and Shavlik Randolph were 5-star recruits, both burger all americans and ranked among the top 5 players in the nation at their position. Neither are on the Duke roster this fall. JJ Redick and Sheldon Williams were certainly solid gold players from that class but other 4-star recruits Sean Dockery and Lee Melchionni are merely roll players. Maryland's 2002 class of McCray, Garrison, Caner-Medley, and John Gilchrist was ranked only a few spots behind both UNC and Duke.

In the years since then Duke had Luol Deng in 2003 and Shaun Livingston, David McClure and Demarcus Nelson in 2004. Deng and Livingston both are in the NBA now, Livingston never even got on Duke's campus, and McClure and Nelson have been beset by injuries. So for the last three years Duke has only Sheldon Williams, Redick and Dockery to show for seven McDonald's selections. Not too great, though Williams and Redick are elite players. Even though Duke will still have about six McD AA players on their roster in 2006 I expect Duke to struggle with the departures of Williams, Redick and Dockery. This is an example of the importance of continuity over highly rated recruits.

Football Honors

More All-American honors for TE Vernon Davis and LB D'Qwell Jackson. Davis was voted to AP's 1st team and Jackson was voted to the 2nd team. This was the first time since 1952 that Maryland had two AP All-Americans in the same year and Davis was the first offensive player to win the honor since 1955. Don't think that the commitment of Drew Gloster, an All-Met selection at Good Counsel high school and top 30 WR in the nation, had nothing to do with the honors rolling in for Davis. Gloster will likely be tried at TE and used like Davis was in his two years as a starter. He'll be given the chance to start right away but I feel like Dan Gronkowski will be hard for him to beat out except on obvious passing downs.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Holiday Cheer

I guess you could indulge in all the cliches about "gritty" play and "gutting out" a win to describe the game last night. It was a fairly well played game for both sides in what seemed like an atmosphere more often seen in late January. Both of these teams are loaded with upperclassmen and it was the kind of game you would expect to see given that, except for the last 10 seconds which was a bizarre series of errors and mental mistakes by both teams.

Ekene Ibekwe again showed flashes of the type of player Terp fans hoped he would mature into last year. He finished with 21 points and 9 rebounds against a very good BC frontcourt. His baseline pivot moves are really turning into a fantastic weapon for him. If the other team gives him a little space and his teammates clear the lane with some good spacing on offense he can be deadly. He stayed out of foul trouble and sunk enough of his freethrows, while playing a career high 34 minutes.

Chris McCray came back in a big way from that sprained ankle scoring 16 points on 4-8 shooting along with 5 assists and 5 rebounds. McCray was a tad shaky in the 2nd half and had a team high 5 turnovers for the game, but he sunk his free throws when it mattered.

Strawberry got into trouble and only played 9 minutes in the first half after picking up two early fouls. In his place Parrish Brown and Sterling Ledbetter did a nice job in keeping the offense moving. Neither had a turnover in a combined 13 minutes in the 1st half, but they only played a total of one minute after halftime between them. Clearly Gary will still stick with DJ when the game is tight. Still it was valuable experience for both of them. The Boston College backcourt isn't going to scare anyone in the ACC but they held their own.

Nik Caner-Medley had a very nice game that was quietly effective. He grabbed 7 rebounds in the 2nd half and scored 9 points but rarely threw up a bad shot. His defense on Jared Dudley was more than acceptable. I think Nik was pressing a little in some of the early games, possibly feeling he needed to impress the NBA scouts in Maui, but has settled down recently. Through 9 games last season Nik had attempted 35 3-point shots and so far this season he's only jacked 13 attempts from beyond the arch. Improved shot selection has helped Caner-Medley and the Maryland offense.

Gary Williams started Travis Garrison again tonight. Partly due to James Gist's struggles and off of Garrison's big game against Western Carolina. He rewarded the honor by going scoreless and committing two fouls in only 8 minutes. He came out better in the 2nd half and scored 8 points while grabbing 3 rebounds. If you've read my blog you know I'm not Travis' biggest fan. I think he's much better suited as a bench player, given that he's a notorious slow starter. If Maryland is going to reach it's full potential this year James Gist must be more of a factor than Garrison, who is a fairly limited player by comparison.

Craig Smith earned the preseason All-ACC accolades he received. He is very similar to Maryland's Lonny Baxter. He is crafty around the basket and has great hands with a soft shooting touch. He can score against much more athletic big men. There is not a more technically solid low post player in the ACC. Lucky for Maryland he was limited by foul trouble, though he did play 37 minutes.

Jared Dudley is a great player but struggled last night. He only shot 6-15 from the floor and missed all four foul shots. He doesn't have much range and makes his living around the basket. Maryland prevented him from getting too many second chance points which he lives off. He's a nice player but he probably is the biggest mouth in the ACC, though teammate Sean Marshall also made a solid case. He taunted the Maryland students throughout the game and had been on record as relishing the opportunity to show up the obnoxious student section. If he hadn't been so focused on his gamesmanship he may have led his team to a victory.

Let's be honest, if BC had not shot a dreadful 33% from the free throw line they'd probably have won. To Maryland's credit they forced the deliberate BC offense into 18 turnovers but also got outrebounded 36-31 and allowed 52% shooting. There are things to work on.

Still, it was a great win for the team going into a nice break for exams. Maryland won't play again until the 23rd and ACC play doesn't start up till January 7th. Maryland should be 11-2 heading into road games with Miami and Duke.

Other Notes

How do some of these people get their jobs? Columnist Rick Maese wrote about DJ Strawberry's transition to PG this year and said this:

Strawberry finished last night with four points, four assists and three turnovers. He's tied for the Atlantic Coast Conference lead in turnovers.

If you're going to make a factual statement like that at least look up the numbers to make sure you're correct. I guess Maese has never heard of any of these guys:

Zam Fredrick 25
Justin Gray 38
Greg Paulus 24

Those numbers are their turnovers for the year. DJ has 23 for the season to go along with 44 assists. Get a new fact checker, please.

Friday, December 09, 2005

How's that working out for ya?

Is this as close as you'll come to an admission that he was wrong from Tom Knott? Apparently the Wizards are not better than they were last year and the departure of Juan Dixon hasn't improved their defense or offense as Knott suggested a few months ago. Antonio Daniels was supposed to be an upgrade over Dixon but he's averaging about half the points that Dixon is in Portland and is shooting worse, in most cases much worse, than Dixon from all over the floor. All this while playing more minutes per game. For this cretin Daniels ability to keep playing in spite of a field goal percentage that is abysmal only shows his "competitiveness". Uh, huh. I guess Dixon wasn't competitive even though he produced better numbers. Don't expect to look at the stats of the other "upgrade", Chucky Atkins, and have a favorable comparison to Dixon either. At least Knott didn't try to convince Wizard's fans that getting rid of Dixon and his "chucking" ways for two guys who can't shoot better than 35% from the field is a good thing. Not yet anyway.

Football News
So you thought the 5-6 season was a disappointment? Just wait till football signing day. Penn State has leveraged their impressive season and the efforts of the bitter little pied piper Derrick Williams into a very good recruiting haul in Maryland. Former Maryland leans OL Antonio Logan-El and DT Phillip Taylor are looking more and more likely to end up in Happy Valley. A highly rated linebacker Navarro Bowman, who was originally slated for Virginia Tech, committed to UPS this week. The 2005 season was a disaster in more ways than just on the field and the repercussions will be felt well into the off season. Maryland managed to hold onto DE Melvin Aleaze, who was in prep school this fall, but that only prevented it from being a disaster of Titanic like proportions. Maryland looks to lose out on all five Maryland seniors ranked in the top-100 nationally. I feel like the Maryland high school football scene is becoming very overrated but that is a bad sign for a program that hopes to upgrade itself and needs local kids to stay home.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Terps get healthy

In what amounted to a tune up Maryland blew away Western Carolina last night 87-57. In customary fashion they only led 39-35 at the half and I'm coming to the sobering conclusion that this team isn't going to blow the doors off any opponent in the first 20 minutes this year. Western Carolina is coached by a Herb Sendeck disciple and they play the same kind Princeton style offense. Perhaps it indicates that this team will again struggle with guarding NC State's perimeter shooters down the road.

The absence of SG Chris McCray and PF James Gist may have contributed to the offensive lethargy in this game. McCray was nursing a sore ankle that he injured in Maui and Gist was still feeling the effects of the rugby scrum that was the game on Monday. He played only 10 minutes before leaving the game with back spasms. Travis Garrison replaced him in the starting lineup and put up a career day with 23 points and 14 rebounds. It's always the same with Garrison, tantalizing ability that shows itself in flashes and then fizzles. This was only the seventh double-double of the former McDonald's All-American's career. Looking closer it's easy to see why Garrison was able to grab 14 rebounds against a team that was taunted with chants of "Frodo", as in the Hobbit, and score 12 points on put backs after rebounds. It was a nice game for Travis but don't expect some sort of revelation for this inconsistent senior. He leads the team in rebounding now, which isn't a fantastic achievement in that his fellow frontcourt teammates are great athletes but only mediocre rebounders. I have a feeling he'll be going back to the bench once James Gist is completely healed.

Both Gist and McCray should be ready for the Boston College game on Sunday.

Last night was also a small dose of reality for those who see Mike Jones as the panacea for all that ails this club. In 33 minutes he had 6 points, 1 rebound and 3 assists on 2-7 shooting. Not all that impressive. His defense is better but still a work in progress. I think Jones will have a nice senior year in 2006 but it isn't Gary Williams that is keeping Jones from being a superstar.

Football News
I'd like to forget the 2005 football season but first let's give credit to LB D'Qwell Jackson and TE Vernon Davis who both became the first All-Americans since EJ Henderson in 2002. Word has Vernon Davis declaring for the NFL draft as a junior, which shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Davis is a likely mid-first round pick in the spring, while Jackson is likely a 2nd or 3rd round selection.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Comedy of Errors

Step away from the ledge, put down your bullhorn and "Free Mike Jones" sign, use your hanky to wipe the poison spittle that collected at the corners of your mouth as you cursed every member of this team and calm the fuck down.

One game in December Terps fans, that's all it was. They certainly looked terrible at times and would cause anyone to wonder if this team would ever act like a bunch of seniors and juniors, however if you keep opening the oven every five minutes to check on it this cake is never going to rise. I'm not wavering from my feeling that this is a good team with a chance to be very good if they can mature through the season. I'm not going to make some silly statement like Mike Wise did in the Post about how GW was ready to take off as a program but they have enough talent to be one of the better teams in the ACC if they played there. Not top 3 but in the top half. It wasn't a bad loss like the bunch that happened the last week to Indiana, Iowa, Stanford and other top teams.

A few thoughts on some of the "conventional wisdom" that has come out of Monday's game. First is that DJ Strawberry can't play point guard again. Interesting that a kid who still averages more steals per game than turnovers can't play point guard because he had a rough night and turned the ball over 7 times. It was his worst game of the year, that is obvious, but to portray DJ as the reason Maryland struggled with turnovers is unfair and plain wrong. The other guys on the team committed 18 turnovers, which is usually bad enough to lose a close game by itself. Not one person on the team had more assists than turnovers and only McCray had an equal number of each. I suppose it is easier to single out Strawberry than to mention that every player on the team had at least one turnover and that 7 other players besides DJ had at least 2 turnovers. It's easy for the Post's beat reporter to mention that last season under Gilchrist Maryland never turned the ball over 25 times without mentioning that in last year's GW game Gilchrist had 5 turnovers himself and in the BB&T game against West Virginia the year before he had 8 turnovers. Unless Ledbetter or Parish Brown take point guard growth hormone they are not going to replace DJ, nor is Chris McCray.

Second, that GW's press caused the large number of Maryland turnovers. Couldn't be more ridiculous. Most of the turnovers by Maryland occurred in the half court, not in the open court on a press. The press did give Maryland some trouble, but resulted in only a few turnovers. For every turnover in the press GW probably committed two fouls, which isn't a good trade off. The Colonoscopies only scored 6 points off turnovers in the 2nd half compared to 9 points by Maryland. Only 7 of the 25 turnovers by Maryland were off steals. Their half court pressure did give Maryland fits. They succeeded in getting Maryland to play a sloppy and impatient style of offense that resulted in poor shots and few offensive rebounds. How many unforced turnovers were the result of traveling, offensive fouls and passes that just sailed out of bounds? More accurately, Maryland gave away too many possessions to win in a close game. A great defense doesn't give up 45% shooting from the floor which is what Maryland shot against GW. Their defense is even less impressive when you consider that they let Boston University shoot 56% the previous game. So let's not yap about GW's stifling defense, okay?

I'm sure at halftime Gary was wondering if he had left Mike Jones and Chris McCray back in College Park. The tandem totaled 2 shots in the entire opening 20 minutes. Two shots in a combined 25 minutes of play! I realize Gary's plan was to pound the ball inside to Gist and Ibekwe and early foul trouble by Jones and Ibekwe may have contributed, but that isn't a formula the Terps can live with this year. If I had said before the game that the SGs would have a combined 3 points would you have thought Maryland would be winning?

I love Chris McCray as a player. He's solid in almost every facet of the game and is a nice kid. Unfortunately, even as a senior, he isn't a leader. He just doesn't have it in him. It's not his fault, that's just the way he is. DJ may be the emotional leader of the team but McCray has to realize when the team needs him to step up. He did that in the 2nd half but he can't wait to do that in ACC play. The outcome would have been different if he hadn't been a non-factor in the 1st half.

The frontcourt play was very disappointing. Maryland should have had a huge advantage there. Gist never seemed the same after that collision around the basket and only had 1 point and 2 rebounds after the half. Ibekwe got himself into early foul trouble and wasn't a big factor on the boards, though he did come up with 7 points in the 2nd half. Free throw shooting by the group was abysmal as Ekene and Travis Garrison combined to go 7-13 from the line. Totally unacceptable, especially for Garrison who is a good shooter.

One positive note is that even though Maryland gave up 18 offensive rebounds they limited GW to 38% shooting for the game including 26% from 3-point range. The defense isn't perfect but it is improving.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Post game BB&T

What an atrocious display for Maryland. They played like a team of freshman and sophomores. McCray was a total non-factor in the first half, DJ pressed and turned the ball over, the frontcourt and bench for Maryland was dominated by GW, Nik Caner-Medley was unable to guard the quicker and athletic GW players, Travis Garrison couldn't hit his free throws; in short it was a total team effort. Even Gary Williams misused his bench and didn't switch over to the zone defense quick enough in the first half. Let's not make GW out to be a great team to mitigate the loss either. At best the Colonials are a round of 32 type of team. Maryland must improve dramatically to contend in the ACC.

The perspective is that this games doesn't mean much in the framework of the season. The Boston College game on Sunday is a game with much more meaning for the postseason hopes of the Terrapins.

Call it sour grapes, but the officiating in this game was a disgrace. The referees let the game turn into a rugby match. There was literally blood on the floor during the game. There were several missed calls including a technical foul on Mensah-Bonsu for slapping the backboard after a dunk. The bad calls went both ways.

ACC football season review

I won't hide from my predictions so let's review what I had said about the 2005 football season in the ACC. Here is my predicted order of finish and the actual record:

Predicted Actual
1. Florida State 7-4 (Florida State 7-4 )
2. Boston College 7-4 (Boston College 8-3)
3. Maryland 7-4 (Clemson 7-4)
4. Clemson 6-5 (NC State 6-5 )
5. NC State 5-6 (Maryland 5-6)
6. Wake Forest 4-7 (Wake Forest 4-7 )

1. Miami 10-1 (Virginia Tech 10-1 )
2. Virginia 8-3 (Miami 9-2)
3. Virginia Tech 7-4 (Georgia Tech 7-4 )
4. Georgia Tech 6-5 (North Carolina 5-6 )
5. UNC 3-8 (Virginia 6-5)
6. Duke 2-9 (Duke 1-10 )

So my biggest errors were Virginia Tech (3 games), Maryland (2 games), UNC (2 games) and UVA (2 games). I was surprised Vick played as well as he did. I expected him to play like he did against FSU and Miami the whole year but he only saved those turds for the big games. Virginia really underachieved with a senior QB and a bunch of returning players but injury and NFL defections hurt more than I thought they would. UNC was a surprise team. They were quite good for being relatively young. I probably got caught up in the Sam Hollenbach euphoria too much. The injuries to Heyer, Allen and Henderson were maybe more important than they seemed. For the most part I was pretty close either dead on with Wake and FSU, or only one game off for the other seven teams. Not great but not bad either. No worse than the ACC media hacks who get paid to cover these teams.

Should Maryland play in the BB&T?

To be blunt the answer to the above question is "no". Putting aside the money that the event raises for local charities for moment, from a pure basketball standpoint Maryland has nothing to gain from participating in this event. The Terps already play in the preeminent college basketball conference in America and get plenty of marquee national games as a result. Any program would jump at the chance to have a home and home series with Maryland. Maryland has nothing to gain from playing someone like George Washington, if they win everyone shrugs their shoulders, if they lose it is seen as a big upset. Forget about GW being ranked #19, no one across the country really believes that the Colonials are one of the top 20 programs in the nation. High profile teams are willing to come to the MCI center for the chance to play Maryland on a "neutral" court and that is the only reason. They don't come to play a team that barely matters in its home city let alone anywhere else.

With the BB&T becoming an all local event this year it makes even less sense for Maryland to participate. Unless this changes for next season I don't see Maryland participating. I don't have any interest in cultivating a rivalry like the Big Five in Philadelphia. You can't manufacture that kind of thing in the first place and moreover I could care less about GW or Georgetown. There are few if any ties between the schools and frankly neither are on Maryland's level. Georgetown may be able to build something under Thompson, but GW will always be a 2nd tier A-10 program. Maryland has enough great rivalries in the ACC and it doesn't need to create any more just because it would be neat for the "locals".

The Washington Post had a funny article about the BB&T and GW's obsession with Maryland. I suppose it is a natural result of the fact that Maryland is the preeminent local sports power, probably second only to the Redskins, and GW can hardly get a blurb in the sports section. Given that the GW students are dimwitted rich kids from New York and New Jersey it makes even more sense. During the Boston University game the students started chanting "We want Maryland!" and cheered when the score was posted showing Maryland behind to Minnesota. That shows the contrast in the programs only too starkly. Maryland was playing a nationally televised game against a Big Ten team that had made the NCAAs last year while GW can't get a major school to play them except in an away game. There is no rivalry with GW. Maryland always has far bigger goals than beating GW, such as winning the ACC or a national title, but for the Colonials it is normally the biggest game of their season. It must foster some bitterness when the highlight of your basketball season comes in December every year.

Dookie Miracle
Lost in all the hoopla surrounding Sean Dockery's last second heave that beat Virginia Tech the other night was how ordinary the Dookies looked. Against a totally over matched Hokies squad the Blue Devils shuffled through the game like zombies and yet developed a double digit lead with only a handful of minutes left in the game. The offense was lethargic and the defense porous. Sheldon Williams, in spite of 21 points and 19 rebounds, has been in some kind of funk this year. He isn't the dominant defensive player he was last season. The new players on Duke don't appear to have any sense of what their roles are and Paulus and McRoberts have struggled as a result. JJ Redick still chucks up shots he has no business taking and with Demarcus Nelson out Duke is suffering from a real lack of athleticism. They certainly don't look like the #1 team in the nation and I have a feeling we'll see that when the go to play Texas.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Seven year itch

The ACC won the seventh ACC/Big Ten Challenge, a made for ESPN event, in seven years. For the numerologists out there that is every event since it was started. The Big Ten isn't as bad as that record would indicate but this event seems fairly boring to me at this point. Maybe they'll do a better job of mixing opponents, but how exciting can it be to wonder if Maryland is going to play Wisconsin every year. The juice has been squeezed out of this event, though it makes you wonder why the other conferences don't get into this action. The SEC, Big XII, Big East and Pac-10 all stand around like dorks at the prom while the ACC and Big Ten prance around like Rodgers and Astaire. Does it really boil down to something as simple as the programs in those conferences don't have the twig and berries to play these high profile early season games? If the ACC can get NC State to play a decent team in the first month of the season the other conferences should be able to convince their members.

But, I digress.

Maryland survived a scare by the Gophers last night. Yes, they survived with a 17 point win. The slow start model that Maryland has been following since last season has been mentioned even on the radio so it can't be that important to discuss here. The real difference is last year's squad would have folded like origami after going down 23-8 as they did last night. I had the same feeling last year when they got torched by Clemson the first time. It was almost impossible to believe. I think I whispered something about point shaving to no one in particular when I saw the score. It was a bad first 10 minutes, not Iowa vs NC State bad, but hard to watch. Then Caner-Medley made some steals, who knew he played defense, and Mike Jones hit some threes and before you knew it Maryland was back within six at the half.

Once Dan Monson got ejected for a Network "I'm mad as hell" moment you knew it was over for Minnesota. They were scrappy and kept the score respectable for most of the game. The Gophers were not the pushovers that everyone assumed they would be without Vincent Grier, who had that look in his eye on the bench that said, "if I was playing we'd be killing them". Probably true. I'll spare you the cliched "trap" or "letdown" game discussion. Let's move on and discuss the play.

Travis Garrison got the start with both Ibekwe and Gist still weak from some stomach thingy. You could tell that both were drained, as they both missed free throws off the front rim. So Travis had his day with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Nice stat line, but the Gophers' early advantage was in some part due to his dreadful play in the first 6 minutes. In the second half Minnesota let him do the only thing he's very good at, spotting up with jumpers at the high post and shooting foul shots. If you prevent Travis from doing either of those he simply cannot hurt you. Despite grabbing 10 rebounds he let a decent rebounding Minnesota totally dominate Maryland on the glass. The final tally was 43-31, with 20 offensive rebounds, which makes me think we need a young priest and an old priest for the backboards in Comcast. I suppose I should accept Travis for what he is and rest easy that he isn't getting into the starting lineup any time soon. Back to the bench TG.

There are the various Mike Jones supporters who will claim he saved the game or maybe even a few diehard Caner-Medley fans who have been stuck on a desert island and just returned last night...nah, not even that would ever happen, but it was DJ Strawberry who really saved this game for the Terps. He took over in the 2nd half and his ferocious defense even seemed to rattle the other Gophers he wasn't even guarding. In the first two and a half minutes of the 2nd half Strawberry did the following:

  • Assist to Ibekwe for a monster dunk on first possession
  • One steal and another not credited to him but knocked into Garrison's hands for an easy layup on the press
  • Made two shots including a 3 point play
By the time he was substituted for Mike Jones with 17:26 left Maryland had routed Minnesota with a 13-1 run. He scored 12 points in the 2nd half on 4-7 FG attempts, made all 3 free throws, had two steals all with nary a turnover. Now do we understand why Gary Williams loves him, kids?

Gary will have plenty to work with in practice the rest of the week: defense, rebounding, shot selection. Still, considering Chris McCray disappeared for a large part of the game and the Terp's two best big men were stricken with an illness, it wasn't that bad of a night.

Did you know?
Maryland has six players averaging double digits in points at the moment? James Gist is some bad pizza away from making that seven players. There is no team in the league with better depth.

Other Game Notes

Duke vs Indiana: Killingsworth gave the Dookies all they could handle. 34 points on Sheldon Williams? Unbelievable. If the Hoosiers had anyone else who could score they may have won. Paulus looked very shaky against the Indiana pressure. Oh, and Redick scored 29 points on 10-17 shooting. Yeah, he stinks.

Georgia Tech vs Michigan State: Didn't see much of this game but it seemed to be similar to the Maryland game. Lightly regarded foe suprises overconfident favorite. Spartans looked flat to me. Tech played very well in a hostile environment. This will pay dividends later for Paul Hewitt. If Ra'Sean Dickey can play at that level in the ACC, look out. Still the Jackets will have more downs than ups this year.

NC State vs Iowa: Naismith was rolling in his grave last night. Whatever it was, this gruesome beast of a game wasn't basketball. Imagine sitting at halftime and having someone tell you that at 25-22 it was going to be even worse in the 2nd half? Both teams played so badly the CIA was whisking the tape of the game off to those secret prisons to replace the tortured bunny sounds used in the interrogations. I hear they even got how Osama likes his coffee. Iowa did everything possible to give the game away, but NC State would have found a way to lose even if you spotted them 4 points. I have a dreadful feeling that this is the way State is going to play more athletic teams(meaning every ACC foe) all year since it seems the only way they'll be able to win. Nice to see Herb Sendeck whining after Evtimov's phony attempt to get a foul called on his desperation chuck at the end. When you have to give the ball to Evtimov at the end of a game and hope he makes something happen, you're in trouble Herbie.

Northwestern vs Virginia: They're both very fine schools...oh yeah the game. Do I have to talk about this? If UVA can get this out of Reynolds and Diane on a regular basis they might have a fighting chance in the ACC, but they probably won't. It was on ESPNU, what else is there to say?

Must Read
Great article by Wilbon on why people in this town love Juan Dixon, and why you should too.