Butler Did It. Terps Did Not.

What an awful day.

It started by me going to FIVE different sports bars in Chicago to look for the game. None of them had it. Why on Earth would a sports bar choose not to buy the Direct TV package for the NCAA Tournament? It took me an hour and half to find the game.

By the time I found the game at an unbelievably packed ESPN Zone, there were seven minutes left in SECOND HALF. That’s right. I missed the majority of the game. I can’t comment on what I didn’t see. What I saw in the last 7 minutes made me sick.

We missed plenty of opportunities, that’s for sure. There are three things in the final minutes that I am still struggling to get my arms around and probably will be until November.

1. With less than three minutes to go, the Terps were down 2 with a chance to tie, and DJ (running the break) decides to take an off-balance 15 footer with 30 seconds left on the shot clock. ABSOLUTELY INEXCUSABLE! If Mike Jones had done that, I think Gary Williams would have ripped Jones’ heart out of his chest and shoved it down the guard’s throat while it was still beating. Instead? They get back from commercial and there is DJ, calmly sipping water. That sequence summed up the frustrations of DJ’s tenure at Maryland.

2. Fast forward to the final minute. DJ cutting to the hole catches the ball and gets blocked by a Butler player who was clearly late to the spot. Offensive foul, Maryland. What? Were we playing Duke? How can a professional official make a call like that? Ruin a team’s season on such a terrible call? Whoever that guy is, he should be ashamed of himself. If he happens to live in the Greater Chicago area, I wouldn’t be surprised if he discovers his house TP’d.

In my mind, this as yet unnamed official has earned a place in history next to the umpire from the 1996 ALCS (the Tony Tarasco game), and the entire crew from the 2001 Final Four.

3. What followed that horrendous call absolutely mystified me. 39 seconds left, down by 2 points, Gary Williams decided to play defense rather than foul. That may have been his worst decision in his tenure at Maryland. Read that sentence again. I am serious. I simply don’t understand it. I have not seen any post game comments (nor do I want to), but what explanation could Gary possibly give for that decision?

In that situation, you need to force the other team to beat you. By letting Butler run down the clock to under 4 seconds, we did them a huge favor. I would have rather taken my chances with these Butler kids shooting pressure free throws, than Maryland having to go the length of the court in four seconds for a tying score. I will never understand this even if Dean Smith, Phog Allen (from the grave), and John Wooden tried to convince me otherwise.

Sure, people will argue that Maryland should never have been in that position. The missed free throws killed us. Mike Jones hit four straight threes and then Gary puts him the bench? Why?

In summation, I am really f-cking pissed. I ran around Chicago (on St. Patrick’s Day no less), fought crowds, walked for what felt like miles, and still missed the majority of my team’s elimination game. It always sucks when your team gets eliminated from the Tournament. It sucks even more when your team shouldn’t have lost said game.

Butler is good, I’ll give it to them. But Maryland had 20+ turnovers for the game. 40 turnovers in two games? I guess this is a good time to remember that two freshman handle the point guard duties for the Terps. Not that I saw it with my own eyes, but I think it is clear that they showed their “freshman-ness” today.

As for the seniors, I suppose it was a fitting end for the careers of Jones, Ibekwe, and Strawberry. Dumb plays, sloppy passing, poor shot selection, but they were in it to the end. Those kids fought for four years and never gave up. Each of them possessed great athletic skill, but the tragic flaw in each of them was between the ears.

That’s sad but true. Now it is on to the “D” League or Bulgaria or Turkey or Italy or wherever they wind up playing professional ball. I wish them the best, but I doubt we will see any of them in the NBA. I give Jones the best shot because of his shooting and athletic ability, but I am not holding my breath.

I’m not quite ready to start looking ahead to next year, but there is nothing left for Terp fans to do. Maryland loses much of their scoring, but next year should be an improvement.

Returning to the frontcourt will be Osby and Gist. The backcourt will be run by Hayes with Vazquez at the two spot (if Jai Lucas comes, we start three guards). Burney and Milbourne will be in the mix. So will our incoming freshman class. We will be extremely young, but if we can make the Tournament, we will be more experienced and positioned to advance past the second round. At least, that is what I am telling myself so that I can get to sleep tonight.

Turtle Soup is not done. I will be posting throughout the year leading up to and including the football season. I will be making some major changes to the site so please send me your emails, so that I can be sure to keep you updated on any changes. Thanks for everything this season. You have all made this blog better than anything I could have ever hoped.

Here’s to a great season and an even better 2007-08.

-JG

Winning U-G-L-Y

Stephen Curry got star treatment by the officials today. Make no mistake. He is a legit player. But that call against Ibekwe that fouled him out? Pleeeaaase. I thought I was watching Dwayne Wade in the NBA Finals last year. The kid can shoot, but he has not earned that yet.

Regardless, Maryland cannot expect to win more games turning the ball over like that. General Greivis needs to calm down. Without Hayes steadying the offense in the second half the Terps may be headed home right now.

My hat goes off to Osby. He really stepped up nicely when Ibekwe predictably had to sit down with foul trouble.

Speaking of, what is wrong with Ibekwe? He is fine when he is out on the court (11 and 11 today) except when he is committing stupid fouls. Gary exacerbates the problem by putting him in the backcourt when they run the press. Huh?

And Strawberry? What is wrong with him? Taking jump shots with 30 seconds on the clock? Forcing passes? Stick to what got you here, DJ.

Now Butler is good, but Maryland does not have to play perfectly to beat them. Maryland needs to play better, but not perfect. Regardless, I expect a strong performance on Saturday. If the Terps win, we have had an outstanding season. Anything after that would be gravy. Everyone on the court knows this.

A flat performance would not be in this team’s character.

Now, I just finished watching VCU heroically take down Duke. I can’t say I was surprised. I predicted that very result in my last post. But, I’ll tell you what startled me even less. The ridiculous partisan treatment that the announcers give the Dukies. Did anyone else see that obvious flop that Paulus made midway through the 2nd half? The official motioned for him to get up, yet the announcer said he was “clobbered”. I rewinded it and the VCU player was just standing there.  Paulus just fell down in hopes of drawing a whistle.

It disingenous and it is obvious that Coach K teaches this behavior.  It’s been happening for years with his players.

I’m so tired of this. Sean McManus, President of CBS Sports is a Duke alum, and boy does it show. Watching Duke on CBS is painful.

A fellow alum of ours apparently got fed up to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYOgC2Qbqh4&NR

This may be the funnest YouTube video of all-time. That is why Duke sucks.

I can’t wait for Saturday, but neither can Butler fans.  Bring it on.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

This is Turtle Soup’s virgin NCAA Tournament.  After three seasons, we have finally popped our Tournament cherry.    When I wrote my first piece in October 2004, I predicted that the defending ACC Champion Maryland Terrapins would go to the Final Four.

Who could have imagined that it would take three years (and three different websites) before we would even get into the dance?  Regardless, we are here.

On to the issues of the day.

One thing is for sure about the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee: they have always been kind to our Terps.

I do not know what it is, but can you recall a instance when Maryland got a lower seed then they deserved?  Sure, you can argue that not getting in the last two years made up for it, but I have to say, I like our draw and am grateful for the #4 seed.

I am still terrified of Davidson.  But, as has been mentioned on this blog by some readers, I’ll take my chances needing to beat two mid-majors on the way to the Sweet Sixteen.  Seriously, who would you rather play in Round 2: Kentucky or Butler?  Ask Kansas what they think.

Now, I won’t mention round 2 again. It does not exist. The Terps need to focus on Davidson.  Our boys are quicker, bigger, and faster.  Regardless, Davidson will make us earn it.  This Curry kid scares me, but I will take my chances with Gary Williams at the helm.  He has been here so many times before.

Maryland has an outstanding record in the first round.  19-2 for those keeping score.  Sure there have been the Santa Claras, College of Charlestons, and UNCWs, but on the whole; Gary always has the boys ready to play.

I wanted to write about our chances of making a run in this Tourney, but I can’t bring myself to do it.  I just can’t live with the negative karma that such talk produces.  There will be no counting of chickens on this blog!
Davidson, Davidson, Davidson.  That is all Maryland fans need think about.

I will however prognosticate  about the rest of the field.

I’m down on Winthorp (We demolished them remember?). I’m high on Texas A&M.  I’m down on Texas because everyone else is picking them for the Final Four.  (In life, go against the consensus as often as possible.)

One team that is an 11, 12, or 13 is going to the Sweet Sixteen.  Mark it down.  My guess is VCU.  They get what I think is an easy game in Round 1 against Duke.  Can you believe they gave Duke a #6 seed?  What does this team have to do to be in the bottom half of the bracket?  They beat no one of significance all year besides Georgetown and if they met again, who would be betting on?   I can’t wait to see Duke get bumped in Round 1.

In terms of projecting the field, my one piece of advice is to go with the teams that seem to have fallen in seed based on one late season slip up.  (see Nevada, UCLA).  Go against the teams that had a ridiculous run in their conference tournament to sneak in with a bid; or get bumped up in seed a few extra notches. (see Arkansas, Miami OH,and, Oregon).

As for me, look for me at the United Center on Friday night.  I’ll be in one of the skyboxes (it’s good to be in sales sometimes) rooting against Kansas.  Why go to a sub-regional if you aren’t going to root for upsets?

Go Terps.

Fiance fight, No write

Didn’t really have time to collect my thoughts on our seeding due to the headline above.  So I will do so tomorrow.

Some quick hits:

– Love the seed. In the words of Tom Hanks from Saving Private Ryan, “Earn this.”

– Davidson is dangerous, but Maryland has an excellent record in the first round.

– I think we play ODU in round 2 (if we get there).

Choke Job

I’m pissed. Mostly because they displayed no effort. But I am also pissed because I wanted to watch basketball this weekend. Now? Ugh.

This is a bad loss. Real bad. Miami is terrible. The Terps fell short in just about every “hustle” category. Rebounding, second chance points (related), and turnovers. Don’t even get me started about the free throw shooting.

We shot 3-18 from three. That is about 8 too many. We win by pounding it inside. There is no other way. Even when we are trailing, we need to stick with the game plan.

This is what happens when the team isn’t ready to play. Who is to blame? The players, obviously. Clearly, they felt as though they had earned a bye and could just waltz through this one. The problem is that the game can get away from you quickly can’t it?

The Terps can come from behind. We have seen it this season. The wins against Illinois and UNC prove it. The difference between those games and today’s loss was that the Terps played well throughout in the first two contests. Maryland willed a victory from two strong teams on those occassions. Today? There was no will.

So where are we? Are we #4 seed? #5 seed? #6 seed? Personally, I don’t really care. We will have enough talent to beat our first round opponent regardless. Everything depends on what effect today’s loss has on the psyche. Can they pick up the pieces and play like the way they closed the season? No one knows. Not even Gary Williams.

That is what scares me the most. The players are probably scared too. The worst part? We and the players have to wait a week to find out.

Thoughts on Tournament Eve

If Virginia or Va Tech advance to the ACC Final, Maryland will have the opportunity to avenge at least three (potentially four if UVA advances) losses from earlier in the year. Now granted, this will require four straight wins including a neutral site victory against UNC; but the fact that this discussion is not pure fantasy is a testament to the quality and confidence our Terrapins have displayed over the last month.

I cannot emphasize enough how much Gary Williams deserves ACC Coach of the Year. Look how much the team has improved this season. That is the definition of coaching. It’s the same players as the ones who sucked in January. The difference is that they are now playing as a team. Gary’s finest performance ever.

I laughed this week as I thought about playing Miami. Just about every Terp fan looked at that loss back in January and thought that it would be the loss that kept us out of the Tournament. Who could have imagined that it would have been the loss that kept the Terps from earning a share of the ACC Regular Season Title?

Of course we should know better than to play through those kind of scenarios in our heads. I think everyone would agree that we don’t get the joys of February without the despair of January. The loss to Miami, as it turned out, was an essential part of the maturation process. In an odd way, the Terps and their fans should be grateful for our seven losses. They have made us contenders.

Tomorrow, we get to thank Miami in style. While we are at it, I expect an equally inspiring “thank you” for Boston College on Friday. Anything beyond that is too hard to guess. I will say this: whomever beats the Terrapins this weekend, will have earned the title.

Before I sign off for the night, I’d like to take one last parting shot at Duke. If they lose tomorrow, here is my argument for sending them to the NIT:

– Their non conference wins look less impressive every day. Air Force looks atrocious. Indiana couldn’t beat anyone on the road all year. Gonzaga, Temple, St. Johns? All having bad years. The only quality win is Georgetown.

– Aside from a sweep against a reeling Boston College, none of Duke’s ACC wins came against teams with a winning conference record.

– Duke is 4-6 in their last 10 games.

– Take away the officiating gift against Clemson and Duke would have finished the ACC Season 7-9.

If Duke loses tomorrow and Fla St. or Clemson can advance to the semis, I say the ACC gets seven teams in the Dance and Duke should stay home. I know it will never happen but it absolutely should.

The Terps of Dangerfield

Maryland’s 20 point win yesterday felt more like surgery than a game. NC State could not compete. Everything seemed like a methodical march to inevitability. Jones and Strawberry were unstoppable. Forcing their will on to their opponents. Yet, there were the freshman. Cool and focused decision makers. Dishing out dimes as needed and not turning the ball over once in the second half. The big men have come along too. Like a caterpillar to a butterfly, the Terps have completed the transfomation from also-ran to full-fledged juggernaut.

Maryland fulfilled reader Kaze’s prophecy on Saturday. They won out. Yesterday’s win completed what is arguably the most improbable run in school history. Sure, there are Terp teams from days gone by that have had longer winning streaks (most recently the 2002 squad), but there have been precious few that have pulled off the metamorphosis of our 2007 version.

Gary has accomplished what every coach dreams about. He molded freshman and seniors to form a team that was greater than the sum of its parts. The best part of this is that for the Terp faithful, we got to watch and be a part of what might be the most exciting and satisifying event in all of sports: an unexpected season. These last three weeks have been as memorable as they have been unprecedented. For that, we owe everyone associated with this team our gratitude.

Much will be made over the coming days about post-season awards. Dave Leitao (or is it Dan? Actually, who cares?) looks to be the front runner for Coach of the Year. Sure, UVA swept the Terps this season and they finished a game ahead in the standings. That is likely to put Leitao over the top. No matter. We know better. All things being equal, if given the chance, Gary will out-coach Leitao when it matters most.

Actually, it will be fitting if Gary doesn’t get the award. No Terp player will find their way on to the ACC first team, nor will Vasquez win Freshman of the Year. Deep down, I think that is how Gary wants it. I think there is no better motivator for this team than to be ignored. Why not have that start at the top with Gary? Respect? Who needs it?

Quietly, the Terps are the most feared team in the conference and a dark horse Final Four candidate. The longer we go unnoticed, the better.

As I watch the UNC – Duke game, I’m torn. Sure, I’d love the Terps to get the bye in the ACC Tourney, but that means we would likely play Carolina in the Quarterfinals. However I had Zen-like realization a I watched the game. Instead of worrying about who the Terps are playing; other teams are worried about playing us. You think Carolina wants any part of the Terps right now? Let the chips fall where they may. Our boys will be ready.

In terms of respect, it may come this week. I would expect the Terps to find themselves in the Top 15. Anything less, and the Rodney Dangerfield show will continue its uninterrupted run in College Park.