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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Notes from the Bucknell Blowout

In case you missed it, the Maryland men found success in their first game of the season. They shot down the Bucknell Bison convincingly, winning 81-52.

It highlighted some of the ideas I talked about in the preview, but solidified some other issues I wondered about before everyone was healthy and on the floor. I'm going to approach this with the mindset that there is no "bad" stuff, just "not-so-good" stuff.


- Landon Milbourne and Cliff Tucker had great games. Milbourne led the team with 16 points on 5 of 9 shooting. He made all of his free throws and didn't turn the ball over once. Tucker had 14 points and 5 rebounds, plus he dazzled with 2 picked pockets that just created a whole lot of excitement. Adrian Bowie deserves at least an honorable mention for a 12 point game with 3 dishes and 2 steals when Eric Hayes got in some foul trouble.

- Only 11 turnovers in this game. That's the kind of basketball the Terps will need to play to win the nailbiters.

- Bucknell was held to 31.7 percent shooting and only 18.8 percent from long range. They shot less than 50 percent on free throws, which might happily be attributable to the crowd. Overall, they put up brick after brick. Maryland had good defensive rebounding, particularly from some unexpected characters: Braxton Dupree, Dino Gregory and Dave Neal each had 6 boards.

- You had to be there because it doesn't show up in the stats: Sean Mosley looked very solid. He only made one of his 5 shots, but he dished out 4 assists, grabbed 4 rebounds and only had one turnover. Furthermore, he looked pretty passable on defense for a debut game, and he seemed to have the maturity of an older player. Mosley carries himself diffently than other rookies, and he moves and passes with confidence. Definitely look for him to earn some minutes in conference play.


- Overall, Greivis Vasquez had a great game. I want to make that clear: 13 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists to go with a single turnover is friggin' great for any point guard. However, he's a leader, so he's held to a higher standard. His shooting was absolutely abysmal - 5 for 16 is just not good. It's frustrating to watch a talented player try to do it all. Greivis will drive into the lane, but instead of passing out, he'll try a hook shot 5 feet away from the hoop against two bigger guys. Those shots NEVER drop. I think his biggest problem is he goes for the big play rather than the easy play, and that's not a quality you want a point guard to have. He's the best player, but one thing he needs to learn how to do is simplify. If you don't have a good shot, don't frickin' shoot.

- The fact that our rebounding came from bench players is a little alarming, because that won't be the case in more competitive games when opponents are more physically imposing and will dominate Neal and Gregory. Neal really was the surprise of the night, but he's not going to go up against 6'8 non-athletic centers in the ACC who don't have post moves. The ACC frontcourt will be far more physically dominant than Bucknell, and the rebounding margin in this game was only three total. Where's Jerome Burney? Asleep? He managed only two rebounds and one block with no points in 10 minutes. He's sinking on the depth chart even though he could be the most athletic big we have. Gregory could be on the rise with some of his gutsy play the other night.

- People who weren't bad but didn't do all that much or not enough to leave an impression: Hayes, Jin Soo Kim, and Steve Goins (who hardly played at all).

We'll see what happens tonight to further test these observations.

Go Terps!

EXTRA: Forward James Padgett has officially signed with the Terps for next year. Welcome to the family!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Essential Maryland Terrapins Preview

Here we are, folks - on the edge of another basketball season.

We all love the pigskin, we really do. But basketball is where it's at. There's no feeling like gathering together inside the Comcast Center, screaming your lungs out while watching the fast break across court end with a hellacious dunk. Admit it, Terp fans. When the Fridge gets a ring, maybe we'll think about switching religions.

So how is basketball stacking up this year? Prepare to find out tonight when the Terps take on Bucknell in the first matchup of the season. Meanwhile, let's take a look a little further into the season:

THE LOWDOWN: This year, we're going to find out how quickly the youth can grow up. While junior backcourt mates Eric Hayes and Greivis "Gravy" Vasquez have logged enough minutes in the last two seasons to be considered veterans, the key to Maryland's success will rest in the hands of guys like Cliff Tucker, Braxton Dupree, Adrian Bowie and Jerome Burney. And you know even Sean Mosley and Jin Soo Kim, two brand-spankin-new guys will get their shots (literally). Greivis is undoubtedly the leader, but he can't try too hard to win by himself - it was his downfall last year. Lots of scoring from different players and trying to limit turnovers will be how this team wins games. Interior offense and defense could be huge concerns.

THE STARS: No matter how much he's hated by his own fans, Greivis Vasquez can single-handedly compel his team to win or fail miserably. Therefore he's the leader. He had some amazing statistics last year: 17 ppg, 6.8 apg, 5.7 rpg and even posted a respectable assist-to-turnover ratio (1.55) despite perception that he couldn't hold onto the ball for beans. True, he gives away turnovers, but he's probably the best point guard in the conference, not to mention among the best in the country. Appreciate him. However, Vasquez's greatest problem has been trying to do it all. His shooting percentages aren't that great, and he could fluxuate wildly with his shooting and how he controlled tempo of the game. He sometimes sees opportunities that aren't there when he gets anxious, so he'll have to learn how to control his impulses.

Eric Hayes is probably a starter at shooting guard or point guard (it's really up to whatever Gary wants to do) and hopefully will actually provide his much-ballyhooed outside shooting. His defense is relatively weak around the perimeter and he has trouble creating his own shot. With the rise of sophomore Adrian Bowie, Hayes will have to really perform better than he did last year. Hayes' fan base should pray his foot injury has healed since last year. However, even off the bench, he can still provide this team with pinpoint passing and consistent shooting, especially if he can weasel his way to the foul line more often.

Junior Landon Milbourne was a solid contributor (8.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg) last year if an unspectacular one. This year will be different because he'll actually get starter minutes, possibly as many as 30 per game. Add that idea to the fact his shooting and strength have improved, we're looking at a core player for this team who will hopefully gain consistency that caught on toward the end of last season. There's talk he'll start at the 4-spot in place of a bigger guy to make up for the lack of skill at that position and clear some of the crowded backcourt. If Gary chooses to do this, Milbourne will probably end up with about 13-14 ppg and 6-7 rpg. He's not as vocal as GV, but he can lead the team with improved play.

ON THE RISE: Adrian Bowie has got to be mentioned first. He captured the imagination of Terp fans last year when he showed his ability to steal and drive against bigger guards. This year, it appears Bowie's shooting is better from three and he's as quick as ever. Although Gary is loyal to a fault to his upperclassmen, I can't see a scenario with things going as they currently are where Bowie doesn't eventually eclipse Hayes in the starting lineup (unless the lineup is Bowie, Hayes, Vasquez at 1, 2, and 3).

Sophomore Cliff Tucker similarly has more confidence and is moving better with the ball. His size and speed combo will make him a great wing threat this year. Depending on Milbourne's starting position, he might make the starting roster at the 3-spot. The question is can he guard and improve his rebounding? That's going to be the weak spots of this team, and if he can do those things, he'll fill an area of great need and carve himself an integral place in this squad.

QUESTION MARKS: Let's go with every big man on the Maryland roster. Sophomore Braxton Dupree looks like he might win the starting center job by virtue of being the best offensive player in the crowd and hustling harder this year. However, he still lacks the athleticism you want to see in a scoring big man and his defense is a liability. Redshirt sophomore Jerome Burney could establish himself as heir to the Rejection Throne that James Gist left behind at graduation. However, he doesn't rebound consistently enough for a man with his size and sheer athleticism, and you would definitely love to see him score more than two points (on free throws) against friggin' Northwood University. Dino Gregory and Dave Neal don't really look like they're going to do much, and frosh giant Steve Goins is too far away from being court-ready.

Please consider this: James Gist and Bambale Osby averaged a combined 27.4 ppg, 14.4 rpg, and were the second- and third-best blockers in the ACC. Do you believe for a second this group of FIVE post players can replicate or replace those numbers this year? Milbourne might still give this group some juice, but as things are, it's not overly impressive. Can they step it up enough to at least win?

FABULOUS FRESHMEN: Sean Mosley and Jin Soo Kim, despite high school highlights or anything anyone might have seen in any sort of exhibition game, remain mostly unknown quantities. As much as fans have speculated Mosley could be a starter this year, I'd say it's doubtful given Gary's history of playing upperclassmen who have been in the system. As excited as I am personally about Kim's sensational debut, he still has a lot left to prove, not the least of which he won't injured against 230-240 lb. guys his height. They are special, and I would guess that at the very least they'll see about eight minutes each, but there are a lot of people Gary needs to give time to in the backcourt, and time can stretch thin. Also, these guys are surefire scorers, but how well can they defend? The best defenders will get the most minutes this year - everyone back there can score.

THE STRENGTHS: Guards and small forwards... offensively. We have quick athletes who can actually shoot better this year. Many of the young'uns from last year have improved confidence and will be able to take on greater responsibility. I can see about 50-60 ppg coming from this group as the year goes on, and Maryland could be one of the top scoring teams in the ACC this year if they can come up with a good mix of slashing and shooting. Between the hard drives and the threes (not to mention free throw shooting which was outstanding last game), there's a scoring machine lying in wait.

THE WEAKNESSES: Interior scoring and general defense. Let's face it. We're missing Gist and Boom like the Dickens. Gilchrist's transfer (and arguably Shane Walker's) really hurt us. There is no one who will fill the center/power forward roles who can definitely score with a variety of post moves. Dupree and Neal have limitations, and everyone else is fairly raw. Kim might see some minutes here, and he can score, but he might not, either. Plus, who's going to be the main blocker? Burney? He can do it... but he needs to actually DO it.

Also last year, the perimeter was like a sinkhole for quick guards and forwards. We were torched by Eric Maynor, Sean Singletary, Jonny Flynn and DeMarcus Nelson. Hell, we were torched by crappy fast guards too, like American's Derrick Mercer. Hayes and Vasquez are still presumed starters, so it's up to them to shore up the outside. There is absolutely no (NONE) chance of success if the back three are opening up the gates too often for drives to the hoop. The only way we can hope to win is make opposing offenses one dimensional and force them to work harder to get inside where the really weak spots are. A porous perimeter that leads into a toothless inside D won't get us anywhere, even if we average 80 ppg.

OUTLOOK: To put it briefly, we'll be lucky to make it to the NCAA Tournament.

But you never know for sure. There could still be some surprises. We'll start finding out tonight.

Go Terps!

Photos courtesy of baltimoresun.com.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Rising Stars in Terp Basketball

So it's been pretty hard to get out of the negatives when it comes to Men's Basketball at the University of Maryland. However, the team gave the fans some hope today in a 104-60 win over Northwood.

Yes, OK, it was an exhibition against a crappy, crappy team. But still, the Terps operated well and executed their plays, as well as hustled hard for rebounds and tough points. If you didn't come out this afternoon, you missed a good one.

Gary Williams had to put the Terps' reputation of "playing down" to competition to bed, and they did that and more, scoring an epic 104 points on a remarkable 50.7% FG percentage as opposed to the 75 points last year against Concordia and 86 points (in just an 11-point win) against Carleton in previous exhibitions in previous years. It was a dominant offensive statement, and fans might have that to look forward to.

From my observations at today's game, here are the guys that are going to be shaping basketball this season:

-LANDON MILBOURNE: If there's one player I would bet my butter on for taking the next step this year, it's gotta be No. 1. Landon Milbourne is a hustler and a leader on the court. He's not a star, but he looked very solid today, and his game is very versatile inside and outside. He has the ability to shoot well, but also bangs with bigger guys, sort of Booth-like if you will (not to say he's close to that good). He'll be a starter at the 3 or the 4 spot, and I guarantee you, he'll hold it down. I'd predict 12 or 13 ppg and 6 rpg for the season. A solid contributor.

- ADRIAN BOWIE: I underestimated him last year, and he made me look like a fool for ever doing so. On Saturday, he showed a new dimension beyond his speed, slashing and hustle - his improved shooting. Last year, both he and Cliff Tucker pretty much refused to shoot from outside the arc, like they didn't have confidence in their 3-point game. That's changed. He was 2-for-3 today on the outside and 6-for-7 total with 16 points. He wasn't shaking the world with his ballhandling and when he was called to be a point guard, but he didn't mess up either, with only one turnover during the game. Bowie won't start to begin the season, but he could easily eclipse Eric Hayes if he uses his minutes effectively.

- BRAXTON DUPREE: The big guy still has issues, but he definitely will see a bigger role this year. First of all, he lost 25 lbs. which goes a long way into improving his hops and endurance. Perhaps as an effect of that weight loss, he's hustling more and getting extra boards, even over bigger guys. Today he had 8 points and 8 rebounds in 20 minutes, but he needs to improve his shooting percentage and turnover rate, but whether he's ready or not, he's probably the starter at center given he's the best offensive threat. How long he keeps that job is up to him. Jerome Burney and possibly Steve Goins (who is actually just a giant) wait in the wings to take the spot if he can't hold onto it.

- JIN SOO KIM: Anyone who was at the game knows what the crzae is all about. The freshman, who wasn't even eligible until this week, had 18 points in the second half and finished with 20 points total in only 20 minutes. He was nothing short of sensational. He didn't have amazing shooting numbers, but he wasn't afraid to shoot. He isn't big, but he was hitting the post hard and getting fouls (he made 7-of-8 at the line). He came up with 3 hard rebounds against 6'10 guys and 7-footers. The Terps were even calling backdoor passes for him in the second half. As a disclaimer, I'm personally excited because he's the first Korean-born basketball player in Division I. As a part-Asian, I feel exhilarated by his gritty play that's going to be erasing some stereotypes about Asian basketball player - namely that they're soft and not as competitive as American players. Anyone who watched Kim will tell you he was as determined to win as anybody on the court.

Now all that said, here's where we're lacking: post scoring and defense. Although Maryland held the Northwood Seahawks to ridiculously low shooting percentages, there were some pretty bad blown coverages on the perimeter, and only 2 blocks from post players from the best-blocking team in the ACC last year. You wish like hell Gist and Boom hadn't left when you see how the backcourt and small forwards have improved. But we have what we have (Dupree, Burney, Neal and Goins), and we're going to have to pray that they suprise rather than disappoint.

Overall, I saw positive things in the Terps' first action on the court this season. Be there to see how they fare against Bucknell this week!

Go Terps!

Photos courtesy of baltimoresun.com.