Basketball Season Preview, Part 2: The Good

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In the first half of my season preview (the Ugly), I outlined some of the biggest questions our young Terps will have to answer in order to be successful this season. Now, let’s take a look at the schedule and try to make some relatively unbiased (as if) predictions for the season to come.

Let’s break the season down into three manageable parts:

1. The No-Way-In-Hell-Could-We-Possibly-Lose Games

North Florida, Hampton/Tulsa, Lehigh, Northeastern, Morgan State, Ohio, American, Delaware, Savannah State, Holy Cross.

Total that up and you have 10 guaranteed wins. If any of these games wind up in the loss column, well you can pretty much forget the season because our RPI ranking will sink so low, that it will be extremely difficult to dredge it up to at-large status without some big ACC road victories (UNC).

2. Out-of-Conference Tests

Illinois (at home), O’Reilly Auto Parts Semifinal Game (likely UCLA), O’Reilly Auto Parts Championship/Consulation Game (either Mich St. or Missouri) , Charlotte (Away).

First of all, what the hell is the O’Reilly Auto Parts Classic? Can’t there be some sort of screening process for sponsors? I mean there are plenty of brands out there willing to shell out dollars for a sponsorship and the best they could come up with was O’Reilly Auto Parts? I actually went to the O’Reilly Auto Parts web site (yes, I am a loser) and of the four flagship schools participating in the Tournament (Maryland, Missouri, UCLA, and Michigan State), only one of them (Missouri) actually has an O’Reilly Auto Parts Store located in the state. Who are the ad wizards who came up with that one? Seriously, I think we if all threw in $100, we could rename the Tournament ourselves. How does the “John Scheyer Disturbing Facial Expressions Classic” sound? But I digress.

Back to the preview. I think that of the games listed above, Illinois at home will prove to be the easiest. That program has been hit pretty hard in recent months (you may recall Jamar Smith’s DUI related accident that injured several of his teammates). What’s more, we beat these guys on the road last year and I think that we will be able to handle them at Comcast.

While we are here, do you think it is possible to for the ACC and Big Ten to vary the matchups a little? I think that over the last 8 years, Maryland has played Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Illinois. Could a brotha get an Iowa or a Michigan as a change of pace? Sheesh!

Charlotte concerns me because it is a road game and in the middle of the ACC schedule. That is a trap game if I ever saw one, but we will be favored.

As for the “John Scheyer Face Classic” games, I think it is a stretch to assume we will win the thing. UCLA will be tough, so look for us to be playing in the consolation game. I do think we can eke out a win against either Michigan State or Missouri (Note: this is played in Kansas City, so Mizzou is basically at home should we meet them).

So what to make of this jumbled mess that is the challenging part of our non-conference schedule? Let’s say three wins and one loss. For those keeping score, that gives the Terps a 13-1 non-conference record. Historically, this is in line with most of Gary Williams’ teams. The Terps rarely make it out of the non-conference schedule unscathed, but it is just as rare thay they have more than two losses. Looking at this year’s crop of opponents, I am sticking a 13-1 stamp on it, wrapping it in a bow, and calling it day.

3. The Meat (aka ACC Schedule)

What do we know? We know UNC is the odds on favorite to win the conference. We know that Duke has John Scheyer prominently involved in their plans (this is a good thing for us, trust me). We know that UVA has a Terp killer in Singletary. As for the rest of the schools, it is exceedingly hard to predict anything. BC could suck or finish second in the conference. I feel like I could say the same about Wake, NC State, and Va Tech. I can’t imagine a world where Florida State, Clemson, and Miami are simultaneously in the upper echelons of the conference, so let’s assume its more of the same from those bottom feeders. Ga Tech is always a wild card. I never know what to expect.

So what does this all mean? Let’s try to keep things simple. At worst, the Terps will finish 6-2 at home and at best they could go undefeated. I just can’t see them losing more than two conference games at home. As for the road games, I envision somewhere between 3 and 5 wins. All told, I think the Terps will likely grab somewhere between 8 and 11 conference wins.

As much as I’d like to believe the number will be closer to 11, reality tells me that with this many underclassmen; the number will be closer to 8. I think the Terps will head into the ACC tournament with a 9-7 record, 11-5 if we get some breaks along the way.

If I were to place a weighted average on some scenarios, it would like this:

10%: 20 – 10 (7-9) NCAA bubble. Need two ACC Tournament wins to get in

20%: 21-9 (8-8) Good side of the NCAA bubble. Still need to win a game in the ACC Tourney to punch the ticket.

40%: 22-8 (9-7) Somwhere between #5 and #8 seed depending on the ACCs

20%: 23-7 (10-6) #4 seed in the Tourney

10%: 24-6 (11-5) #2 seed in the Tourney

When one throws it all together, it is easy to see that Gary has built this team for 2009 and 2010. These guys will be good this year, but if everything goes according plan; they could be cutting the nets down before the end of the decade.

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Terps Picked To Finish Sixth In The ACC

Is there any poll with less credibility than the annual preseason poll by ACC beat writers? I think when Maryland won it all in 2002, the writers still picked the Terps to finish third in the conference that year. The bias toward Carolina (UNC and Duke in particular) is so obvious and has continued on for so long, that it is comical.

The post season polls for that matter are just as bad. I love when UNC freshman role players make the second and third team All-ACC, while upperclassmen leaders from Maryland, UVA, et. al. barely get honorable mention.

Whatever.

Gus Gilchrist Commits to Maryland

This is huge news for Terp fans. Gilchrist is 6’10: and 240lbs. He is a shot blocker and a rebounder who can finish. He is rated as a 4-star recruit and a top-10 player at his position. That sounds like exactly what the Terps need. Suddenly, Maryland is overloaded with young big men. Shane Walker, Braxton Dupree, Jerome Burney and now Gilchrist. Gilchrist will likely enroll for the spring semester, so he will not be eligible until after January 1.

It is possible that Gary will hold him out for the entire year, but I would imagine that would entirely depend on how he is matching up in practice with the other big men. Throw in the kid from Korea and the other one who may be coming from Sudan and it looks like the Terps are going to be fine.

Let’s just hope Gus is not like his eponymous predecessor and doesn’t turn into a crazy meshugena

Maryland Gets Shoveled by PooVA

Questions that remained unanswered after Saturday’s loss:

How many times can Al Groh call that shovel pass before Maryland stops it? Will the Ralph Friedgen ever throw the ball down the field again (Could some one introduce him to Darius Heyward-Bey)? Seriously, when did the Fridge become so conservative? I used to think it was because he had no confidence in Steffy, but now I’m not so sure. Chris Turner looked fine tonight and Maryland has one of the fastest players in college football. Why can’t we throw one or two deep balls to him per game? Even if it gets intercepted; it is as good as a punt. Where’s the risk?

The Terps had so many chances to win this game. The dubious pass interference call on the last drive. The bad spot on fourth down. It’s really maddening. The Terps have now lost two games that they should have won. This is a talented team, but until the coach starts believing in them more, they aren’t going anywhere.

Terps vs. PooVa

So UVA is 6-1? Who have they played? They have a nice win against GaTech at home, but then again, so do the Terps. Besides that, show me the quality win? UConn? Middle Tennesee State? Pittsburgh and Duke are terrible. Somehow, UVA is #19 in the BCS standings? Explain that to me please. Any team that is 6-1 deserves respect, but Maryland should feel confident coming into the Homecoming game on Saturday night. This is a rivalry game (or as close to one as Maryland Football has to a rivalry game) and the Terps are playing well right now. Oddmakers essentially have this one listed at even money (the home team always gets 3-4 points and Maryland is 4 point favorite), but i can’t figure it.

Our Terps are better than the media or the national polls suggest. Aside from WVU, the only team that has beaten Maryland this year is Maryland (that’s the last time I reference the Wake game). Perhaps the media is knocking us down for the way we have been winning. After all, it has not been all peanuts and balloons. Let’s not forget the near collapses against GaTech and Rutgers. Maryland escaped both of those contests, but not after nearly blowing big leads. Somehow, they keep finding ways to win. This attribute is a hallmark of Ralph Friedgen. Frankly, I think the Terps should be getting credit for winning this way, not getting knocked down. It illustrates character. Winning teams have character.

(Of course, the Terps lack of respect at the polls could simply be because no one outside of the Maryland is actually watching, but that’s another story.)

Remember the Clemson game last year? What about the Miami game? Florida State? NC State? Maryland has squeaked by quite a bit over the last two seasons, yet our boys continually seem to come out on top, aside from Wake Forest. (Dammit! I told you to forget about Wake Forest!). How long can the magic last? No one knows, but if Chris Turner continues to gain confidence; he will be able to take pressure off the defense. Our running is solid and so is our run defense. Two things that UVA has yet to face in tandem this season.

Here’s my prediction: if the Terps can prevail against the Cavs, then I expect a fired up 7-2 Terps squad to play host to BC for the Coastal division title on November 10. As a Terps football fan, could you hope for anything more? We know that our boys won’t be playing for a national title any time soon, so being in the hunt for the ACC Title is our only goal. Tomorrow will be the next step in that long process.

Terps Hoops Preview Part 1: The Ugly

Welcome to the fourth year of Turtle Soup’s coverage of Maryland Basketball. It’s good to have you all back for what should be a thrilling season.

Next to March Madness, there is no time as exciting as Midnight Madness. So much hope, so much possibility! The 2007-08 edition of the Maryland Terrapins will be no different. Gary Williams will go into the season with five freshman and three sophomores among his top 10 players. We will be young and we will be fun, and of course, they will aggravate the crap out of me. The over/under for the number of times that my wife questions why she married me is seven. Let the good times roll.

Nevertheless, when the games do start, I expect Gary Williams to trot out the following five when we begin play against North Florida: wait, North Florida? I have heard of South Florida U. I have heard of Central Florida, Florida Atlantic, and Florida International, but from under what rock did North Florida crawl? I have no idea what conference claims North Florida (or is it Northern Florida), but it better be a D-1 school. Anyway, the starting five:

C- Braxton Dupree

PF- Bambale Osby

SF- James Gist

SG- Greivis Vasquez

PG- Eric Hayes

It is not the best starting five during Gary’s tenure, but it is exceedingly talented and filled with many question marks. Considering my tendency to start with the negative, let us begin by addressing those question marks.

1. Backcourt defense. Vasquez and Hayes lack the lateral quickness needed to stay with most ACC guards. This is probably the most gaping hole going into the season. I can visualize Singletary and Lawson slicing through these two as they get to the lane at will. We simply don’t have a defensive stopper like DJ Strawberry to put a clamp on the quick guards. Don’t get me wrong, I expect Vasquez to build on his success from last year. He could well emerge as a lottery pick or late first rounder if he can make the leap to another level; but before NBA scouts can take him seriously, his defense needs to dramatically improve.

Did you happen to see what Kobe Bryant did to Vaz at the World Basketball Championships this summer? If you missed the first five minutes of the USA vs. Venezuela game, then you missed two Kobe steals and some vicious in-your-face drives. Kobe took Greivis out of the game from the start. And it was because of his quickness (see above).

2. Braxton Dupree. Before even playing a game, he has been inducted into the all-time name team at Maryland. (His locker is next Exree Hipp’s and adjacent to Herman Veal’s for those keeping score.) All kidding aside, Dupree’s inexperience at the five spot is of major concern. He is the wildcard. If he can get us 10 ppg and 8 rpg, then we will be good to go up front. If we can’t rely on him or if he is prone to foul trouble, then watch out. It could be a long year.

(Note: If Dupree proves effective early in the season, coaches will start going at him in the first half. A key stat will be how many times Dupree picks up his second foul with 10 minutes or more to go in the first half. If he sits more than he plays in the first half, the Terps will be too thin up front. Of course, this is all moot, if the kid can’t play as advertised.)

3. James Gist. Mr. Gist simply can’t have off-nights. He needs to be assertive and demand the ball in the half court. He is our best half court scorer and number 1 option. In the past, he has displayed that odious tendency to disappear in games. James Gist will need to take 10-15 shots per game in order for Maryland to be effective. With two guys (Hayes and Vasquez) who can get in the lane and create, he should get some nice looks.

4. The bench. No one on the Terp bench has played significant minutes at the college level. Consider the fact that David Neal is by far the most experienced guy. We have four freshman and Landon Milbourne. These guys could give us 25-30 points per game, or they could give us 5 points. I honesly have no idea. This terrifies me.

Some have wondered (including a mysterious “Chris” on Heather “I’m not sure why I got this job” Dinich’s blog on the Baltimore Sun site) whether or not Milbourne will start over Bambale Osby. To those I say this: have you been following Gary Williams for the last 18 years? Bambale is a senior and he has experience. Not only that, but Gist is a natural small forward who happens to be deadly accurate from three. Gist needs to concentrate on scoring and Osby will take some defensive pressure off Gist. I love Osby’s hustle and defense. He definitely proved to me that he can guard big guys in the ACC. He is a beast and a great glue guy. Let’s see if Milbourne can score a point or two before we anoint him as the starter.

Those are my concerns. What are yours? In the next post, I will look towards the upcoming season and try to make some predictions. I recommend that you wear your rose-colored glasses while reading.

Maryland vs. GaTech Preview

I am going to be flying to NYC tomorrow and I will not have access to the Internet for most of the weekend. Thus, I am posting a preview of tomorrow’s decisive tilt against the Yellow Jackets now. The Jackets have some nice wins in their favor, most notably at Notre Dame (I don’t care how bad they are, that was the first game of the season in a hostile environment and Tech torched them.) and against Clemson, but Maryland has a few things going for it:

1. We nearly beat Tech in Atlanta last year (we fell apart at the end a la Wake this year), so there is no fear. The Terps know that they can play with these guys.

2. Tashard Choice is one of the best backs in the country and he is the centerpiece of their offense. Well, the Terps handled Ray Rice soundly last week, and we should be able to keep Choice in check as well. Rice and Choice. Choice and Rice. What great last names, eh?. When I am reincarnated, I am coming back with a last name that is a noun, I swear it. Or at least one that isn’t so darn Jewish.

3. The Terps are at home. Byrd Stadium is our friend except when WVU is involved.

None of the above may matter because this game has wildcard that will essentially determine the game and the season: Chris Turner. Is what we saw in the second half against Rutgers, the real deal? Has the Fridge finally found a QB who can run his offense? I am extremely cautious because you would think that two months of practice would have given the Fridge time to discover Mr. Turner. He was third string until Quiz Maestro, Josh Portis cheated in his discussion class, so maybe it is just a case of being buried on the third team and not getting a solid look from the coaching staff. Regardless, tomorrow we will know if Turner can be relied upon to lead the team.

One thing is for sure, and that is that Steffy is not the answer. Even before that Rutgers player committed battery against him with that helmet to helmet hit, Steffy was killing us. He simply can’t throw down the field and get it into our playmakers hands. He took too many sacks and made awful decisions. He is D-U-N. If we are forced to rely on Steffy at any point the rest of the way, you can forget about a bowl game. Count on it.

The good news is that Maryland has all of the other pieces in place. Solid run defense and a punishing rushing attack usually translates into 8 or 9 wins at the collegiate level. Throw in a QB who won’t kill you with mistakes and can keep defenses honest by going down the field, and the Terps could be a tough out as we get into the meat of the ACC schedule.

Show you got what it takes, Mr. Turner. The Terrapin Nation-State is watching.

On a final note, how much would you pay to see a Biggest Loser: Celebrity Edition with The Fridge, Charlie Weis, Frank Beamer’s Goiter, and that coach from Kansas (I think his name is Mangino)? Now that’s a riveting Final Four