Terps Hold Off Illini, 69-61, For A Huge Win

I saw the future tonight and it’s names are Braxton Dupree and Cliff Tucker. Dupree played like an uber Lonny Baxter in the first half. He has Baxter’s wide body, but more defined and slightly taller. There is not an ounce of fat on that kid and yet, he has a nice touch around the basket. He’s our rebounder folks. When the game started, I thought something might be wrong with Osby. Why wasn’t he in the starting lineup? Then as Dupree picked up where he left off against Lehigh, the question answered itself. He’s better than Osby. I am salivating at having him in the pivot for the next four years.

As for Mr. Tucker. He will be starting over Milbourne by midseason. He has a decent touch, is fearless around the basket, and he can leap out of the building. Once he learns the offense, he will be a star.

Eric Hayes played the best game of his career tonight. Like it or not, he will need to play out of position all year. He is our best shooter. Check that. Our only shooter. There is no one else who can hit a jumper with consistency (namely Vasquez and Milbourne. More on them in a minute)

If you had told me before the game that our best two players, James Gist and Greivis Vasquez would have off-nights, then I wouldn’t have even watched the game. That’s how sure I would have been that we would lose.

Gist needs to assert himself offensively. He is not demanding the ball and he looks tenative with his open jumpers. On the bright side, he brought it from the defensive end. He is a show-stopper on that end of the court.

Vasquez is mired in AWFUL shooting slump and that pales in comparison to his horrendous decision making. While he has cut down on the turnovers, the shot selection is so bad its mystifying. My buddy Danny calls him Nik Caner-Vasquez. Unfortunately, the comparison is appropriate. I can deal with the shooting slump. Eventually, those shots will start to fall, but the fadeaway threes with 20 seconds on the shot clock? The alley-oop pass on the break when Illinois has three men back on defense? He knows better.

It’s not all bad. At least he took care of the basketball. Combined, Hayes and Vasquez accounted for 14 assists against only 3 turnovers.

Jay Bilas said after the game that Maryland is the third best team in the ACC behind Duke and UNC. Umm, apparently, he did not watch any of the games in KC last week. Bilas is wrong, but he may be on to something. The Maryland team I saw tonight could have beaten Missouri and probably even UCLA. We had 44 turnovers (maybe more) in those two games. If we had just taken better care of the ball, last week would have turned out differently.

Maryland continued to take care of the ball for the second straight game (only 12 turnovers), but they have not solved some key problems. Despite Hayes’ shooting, we are missing a significant piece that all good perimeter teams have. All of Hayes’ perimeter points came as a stationary shooter. Think about the way Steve Blake used to shoot vs. the way Juan Dixon did. Blake was the stationary shooter: catching kick-outs off penetration; while Juan was always in motion, coming off screens or shooting off the dribble. Hayes cannot provide that. It is not his game. In order to get consistent production from the outside, Gary needs to find someone who can fill that void. Let’s hope one of the freshman swingmen can emerge during the season because I don’t think Vasquez is the guy (12% from three- YIKES).

I can’t remember the last Maryland squad that was more comfortable playing games in the 60’s than in the 80’s, yet here we are. This squad is not capable of filling up the stat sheet with lots of points. But if you contrast that with their athleticism, the lack of point production is confounding. This team is a contradiction. They love to get out and run, but they have yet to score more than 75 points all year. It’s not just the poor shooting percentage and the turnovers. Tonight they shot 47% from the field and only turned the ball over 12 times. Most Terps teams would have put up 85 points with similar stats.

Tonights win didn’t answer all the questions we have about this team, but it did open up possibilities again. The NCAA Tournament seems possible now and if we can find a consistent perimeter scorer, watch out. Jay Bilas may wind up being right.

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A Beasley Few Recruits

Some of you may have noticed a freshman by the name of Michael Beasley playing for the Kansas State Wildcats. For those of you who have not, Mr. Beasley turned heads over the last two weeks by averaging more than 30 points and 20 rebounds during Kansas State’s first five games. At 6’10, Beasley can score inside and he has a deft touch from the outside (not to mention his voracious appetite for rebounds). He’s already being billed as the early favorite to be the number 1 pick in the 2008 NBA draft. Michael Beasley is from suburban DC.

I think you know what is coming next….

Since Maryland won the National Championship in 2002, the following players have matriculated from Maryland high schools: Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay, Kevin Durant, and the aforementioned Michael Beasley. That’s quite a list, huh? Schools from all over the country plucked these immensely talented kids. From Connecticut to Texas, the schools came calling. As we all know, none of these players went to Maryland. Has any other flagship institution (read: major D-1 state school) in the history of college basketball failed to recruit so many blue chip players from its home turf?

Now, if you read this site regularly; you know that I am not a Gary hater. But the above paragraph is simply too hard for me to understand. The reason that always seems to emanate from College Park is that Coach Williams doesn’t like to recruit players who will only come for one season and then leave. Gary prefers to find the “diamonds in the rough” who he can mold into top D-1 players.

I can’t buy this argument for two reasons. First of all, what was Steve Francis? Most people knew that he was going to jump to the NBA after one year. Yet, Gary still recruited him. If the above is true, why recruit him? Secondly, and most importantly, isn’t achieving consistent and continued success at the collegiate level hard enough? Does Gary really need to add a degree of difficulty by refusing to recruit the best players? For a guy who knows how hard it is to beat the Dukes and UNCs when they are able to recruit nationwide; this is odd behavior. To me, this argument is the classic example of throwing the baby out with the bath water. I just don’t understand it. It makes no sense and therefore, I don’t believe it.

Let me give you two more likely scenarios:

1. The college game is more corrupt than we all think. In order to get a top recruit, a combination of the school, coaching staff, and alumni must bribe that player with money and other perks. I’m not one to throw out accusations, but why on Earth would a kid from suburban DC want to go Kansas State? It’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s not a basketball school. Bob Huggins is not even coaching there anymore. speaking of which, why did Huggins leave after one season that was by all accounts, successful? We all know that Bob Huggins is no Boy Scout. Was he forced out? Did the administration not like what he was doing? Who knows, but it is awful fishy.

2. The other explanation is the scariest to me. It’s that Gary Williams simply either can’t recruit top players or consistently loses out to other coaches. All of the success, the Sweet Sixteens, the National Championships and Gary is not able to translate that to success on the recruiting trail. How is this possible? Does Gary fall apart in these kids living rooms? Does fumble and bumble his way through his sales pitch? There is no secret that recruiting is the part of the job that Gary hates the most. but I don’t think that in and of itself explains his continued blue chip failures.

Frankly, I do not care about the explanation. Maybe it is a combination of all these factors. All I know is that I am sick and tired of it. Michael Beasley would look damn good in the five spot alongside James Gist. At some point, Maryland needs to start keeping the talent in the state.

Brenda Frese has built a powerhouse by winning every major recruiting battle within 150 miles of College Park. And that is a huge part of her success. She looks at the recruiting trail in the same way that she approaches a game during the season. Winning a recruit is just like winning a game. Brenda doesn’t like lose on or off the court. Maybe Gary just cares about winning on the court. Maybe one day he’ll realize that the two are directly related.

The Sling Box Dream

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am living the dream. That’s right. The Sling Box Dream. I installed a sling box at my parent’s house and I am now able to watch the Baltimore Comcast channels. That’s right. Ravens, Wizards, Orioles, and of course, the Maryland Terrapins. To that end, I was able catch most of the Maryland-Lehigh game today. (By the way, the announcers were terrible. Anyone know who those clowns are? If my announcer is going to have an accent, I’d prefer it to be of the “bawlmer” variety. Who needs to hear some dude from the Bronx with NY accent?).

The really good news is that Maryland was able to significantly cut down on the turnovers. The team only committed 12 for the entire game as opposed to the 20+ they had been averaging. We hit some threes too, but somehow, we couldn’t pull away until that big run midway through the second half. The reason that Lehigh was able to hang around was poor our three point defense and foul shooting. Now, those are bugaboos with which we are all too familiar. We lived with those for most Gary Williams’ tenure (his teams never could defend the three). Frankly, I’d rather deal with poor 3PT defense and foul shooting. The turnovers were killing me.

Now, before we all get too excited, let’s see the Terps play a low-turnover game against a quality opponent. They will get their chance on Wednesday when the Illini come to town. The Illini are struggling (at least I hope they are. If Duke is blowing out good teams, then I am not ready to handle the ACC season).

There was definitely progress today. Vasquez and Hayes took care of the ball. Braxton Dupree was a force inside. Gist made some nice defensive plays.

I still don’t see anyone who can consistently not knock down a jumper (three or otherwise), but I hope it is just a mix of the freshman getting used to the college game and Vasquez and Gist mired in a shooting slump. Hayes is still too tentative with his jump shot. I saw him pass on open looks a couple of times. As a natural PG, that is the correct instinct. However, he is supposedly the best shooter. Gary needs to switch his orientation to that of a spot up shooter. As long as Gary is going to have Vasquez bring up the ball, Hayes needs to be running off screens or spotting up from three. The concern (as was pointed out by a comment from an earlier post) is that Hayes has a slow release. The ball just takes too long to get out of his hands. Still, if he works to get open he will have the opportunities to knock them down.

I feel much better after today’s game. If Maryland could have just taken care of the ball in Kansas City, I think we would have escaped with at least one win. Today, felt different. The team made a concerted effort to take better care of the ball in the halfcourt. The careless passes were mostly gone. Clearly, Gary has them focused on running the offense and focusing on the task at hand. The fact that it came against a cupcake Patriot League opponent matters little. The Terps had been their own worst enemy. Not today. Let’s hope they are cured. We get to find out on Wednesday.

The Verdict Is In: Terps Not Ready For Prime Time

The stat sheet will tell it all: too many turnovers and gawd awful three point shooting are killing this team. Missouri shot the ball almost 20 more times than Maryland. Since the object of the game is to score the most points, a differential like that will almost always translates into a win for the team holding it. There are only two statistics that can explain shot differential: turnovers and offensive rebounding. We aren’t good at either, but the turnover situation is grave. It is the worst that I have ever seen and I have been watching Maryland basketball for 25 years. It simply cannot continue if this team is going to win any games against quality opponents this year.

Perhaps even more alarming is that Dick Vitale repeatedly said tonight that this Terps team was the least talented team we’ve had in 10 years. (Considering the fact that 10 years ago we went to the Sweet Sixteen, I think he was referring to the team we had the year before Joe Smith arrived. In case you forgot, Chris Kerwin was prominently involved with that squad. That means he thinks this is the least talented team we’ve had since 1992-93. That’s 14 years!).

Say what you want about Dickie V. (I can’t stand him personally), but he does know talent. With all of his “Diaper Dandy” blather; he has seen his share of good young players. He doesn’t think we have any. Yikes!

Since I have only actually seen one game on TV, I am not exactly the best judge of talent here. But since I am writing this post, I am going to do some judging anyway.

Eric Hayes, besides borrowing my 6th grade haircut, has been horrible. Yes, he was more aggressive tonight, but the stat sheet does not lie. He could not hit a three to save his life and he dribbled the ball off his foot three times. That would be funny if he wasn’t our primary ball handler and best shooter! That is just not getting it done. He was brought in as the second coming of Steve Blake and at this point, that sounds like a cruel joke. I don’t think Steve dribbled the ball off his foot three times in his entire career. So far, Hayes gets an “F minus” and frankly, I am having serious doubts as to whether or not he is a D-1 caliber player.

Greivis Vasquez has been erratic to put it mildly, but I know that he has the talent. He demonstrated it time and again last year. In my view, he has been victimized by poor decision making and a shooting slump. Of course the two are related (bad decision making often leads to bad shots). My guess is that he may be overcompensating for what is missing out on the floor. It is either that or he has regressed from last year which I doubt is the case.

Landon Milbourne doesn’t appear to be able to create his own shot. All of his points come from put backs and I have yet to see an ounce of aggressiveness from him. In the long line of Maryland swing men (Exree Hipp begat Rodney Elliott who begat Laron Profit who begat Terrance Morris who begat Byron Mouton who begat DJ Strawberry), Milbourne looks like the worst of the bunch. I know it is early but every one of the guys above were better at this stage of their careers.

James Gist needs to shoot 15 times per game, not the 10 that he has been averaging. Everyone on the team knows this, yet it does not happen. Why? The reason, I believe, is that Gist doesn’t create opportunities. He either catches the ball on the low block and uses a post move to get to the hole, or he is knocking down the open jumper. In either case, he requires a distributor to get him the ball. The problem is that defenses are collapsing into the paint because Maryland can’t hit anything from outside. This means that Gist can’t bail us out of a shooting slump. To be effective, Maryland needs to be hitting it from long range to give Gist some operating room. He can’t create offense when things break down. He is just not that type of player.

Boom Osby has been the most consistent player to date. But, here is the problem: he can’t be our go to guy. He is a role player. If he is our first or second choice in the half court, we will continue to lose.

The Freshman have not shown me anything that points to consistent offense. Dupree has shown flashes and so have Tucker and Bowie. But they are all far away from being able to contribute consistently.

The first step is to cut down on the turnovers. Gary has his work cut out for him. It could be a long year.

Game Thread: Maryland vs. UCLA

The Terps are listed as 10.5 point dogs tonight against the #1 the top-ranked Bruins. I just hope that we can play with them for the full 40 minutes. Anything less than a cover, will be disappointing.

My plan is to re-post here during the game, so feel free to stop by and throw in your two cents….

MVN has added a chat feature to the site this year, if you click on the chat feature under the post and you will be able to chat it up with your fellow Turtle Soupers during the game.

Go Terps! Think about beating #1 Florida in the 2002-03 season.

First Half Thoughts:

Talent-wise, Maryland played better or equal to the Bruins in the first half. Aside from some horrendous shot selection from GV, and some equally horrid officiating (Seriously, do the officials realize the Osby is even there? The blown over-the-back by Love; the beautiful spin move by Boom the was called a hook? What about the play in the paint where Osby went up; got hacked, and the official called a travel. Marvelous job our unbiased crew.); the Terps played reasonably well when they weren’t turning the ball over two out of every three trips down the court.

I just don’t understand all of the sloppiness. We need to work the ball inside to Gist and Osby. They can both beat their man. It will also get us to the line a little. We have no outside shooting whatsoever, but if we pound it inside; it should give us some open looks. The press worked well and we are benefiting from not having Collison in there. Take advantage of it!

After the game:

They are sloppy and couldn’t shoot for much of the night. However, if you take away the first 6 minutes (The Terps dug themselves into an 11-2 hole) and the first 4 minutes of the second half (the Bruins turned a 10 point lead into a 20 point one) and the Terps outplayed the Bruins. So, for 30 of the 40 minutes, the Terps were the better team. The defense was great. The officiating was bad (Osby got NO respect, not even an ounce), and the shooting was AWFUL.

No threes, no made jumpshots until the final four minutes (didn’t they look loose in those final few possessions?) and still they were in the game. The Terps just need to settle down and learn to believe in themselves. The turnovers have got to stop too. Since John Wooden’s team beat us tonight, perhaps Gary and the boys could take some of his sage advice to heart: be quick but don’t hurry.

There is a good team in all that mess we saw tonight just waiting to come out. The Terps scored 41 points in the second half despite not really being on the court for the first four minutes. For a young team, there were a lot of positives to take away from this loss.

What does concern me is the way Gist was completely removed from the game in the second half. He was a non-factor. Our lack of outside shooting allowed UCLA to collapse and swallow him up. He looked inconsolable after he fouled out late in the game. Note to James: we play tomorrow. All is not lost. Buck up big fella. We weren’t going undefeated anyway. Let’s go out tomorrow and scavenge a split out of this tournament.

Disaster Averted Redux, Maryland Escapes in OT Against Northeastern

As I listened to Johnny Holliday over the web, I actually wrote the first paragraph of the post assuming that we were going to lose.

“Disaster Strikes, Maryland Loses to (gulp) Northeastern University

I am at a loss. The panic button is officially pushed. I cannot believe that I am writing these words. All of sudden, this team appears to be too young and inexperienced to do anything this year. One close game against a cupcake opponent is one thing; but to have two close games–and actually lose one of them is unthinkable. There is officially no floor for this team. The Terps could be bottom feeders in the ACC. Forget the NCAA tournament, can we finish over .500? The freshman are not ready for major college basketball, and besides Vasquez and Gist; the other guys are glorified bench players.

OK. Back to reality. Some will say, that a win is a win; but I know differently. The turnovers are absolutely killing Maryland and there are no words to describe the rebounding differential. UCLA and the ultra-quick point guard deluxe, Collison, are licking their chops. We could lose by 20 – 25 points on Monday. I just do not understand the performance in these last two games.

It is really hard to find a silver lining in this win. If one exists; it starts with the seniors, Gist and Osby. They saved the Terps tonight. Gist was an absolute beast with 27 points. Osby, in a complete reversal, hit 8 of 9 free throws down the stretch to bring the Terps back from a six point deficit.

Say what you want about the parity that exists in college basketball, but the error-filled performances in the first three games are unchartered territory for the Maryland program under Gary Williams. Maryland ALWAYS blows the Hamptons and Northeasterns out. Suddenly, they are taking us to OT??? Are Northeastern and Hampton not your run-of-the-mill cupcakes? Are they bracket busters? Maybe you could make a case for Hampton, but I really think that this is more of a case of Maryland just not being ready for prime time.

The Terps are inexperienced and sloppy. I shudder to think of what will happen on Monday. Let’s just hope that the players don’t lose confidence. With the big opponents that are looming on the schedule; we cannot afford a self-esteem crisis in light of the tangible problems we saw tonight..

All is not lost. They are young and will learn to play as a team as the season moves on. However, it is clear that there will be some bad losses and frustrations along the way. I am damn glad that it did not come tonight, but one was to think that it will be a longshot for the Terps to come back from Kansas City with anything but two losses.

Terps Escape Disaster, Win By Six

Dear Lord, was that an ugly second half. What was worse? Osby’s free throw shooting or Vasquez’ turnovers (all eight of them)? I don’t care what anybody says about how good Hampton is or how athletic they are. The Terps beat them by 36 points last year.

Gary will likely treat this game as a loss in terms of the way he will conduct practice for the rest of the week. Most pressing is the turnover situation. Vazquez is out of control. He’s like a drug. You want the ball in his hands because of what he is capable of doing; but you are equally afraid when the ball is in his hands because of what he is capable of doing. Tonight was no exception. A career high in points and turnovers. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Gist seems prepared to take it to another level this year. Before cramping, he turned in an efficient 16 points and 12 boards. He added a couple of threes in addition to his inside points. As the season progresses and he gets his legs under him; I expect him to make even more strides as the team leader.

Milbourne has a smooth jumper, and overall I like what I see; but it is impossible to tell if he is reliable. When the level of competition ratchets up next Monday, we will learn what he really can do. The same is true of the other freshman. I like Bowie’s quickness, and Cliff Tucker has a full complement of skills.

The Terps have a “tune up” against Northeastern this Thursday (it better be a tune up) before heading to Kansas City for a shot at UCLA. In between now and then, the Terps have a great deal on which to work. I think we can play with UCLA, and frankly, that is all I we can hope for. I know it is early, but it is clear that this year’s Terps have a long way to go. I hope that they can improve quickly.

If I were to give Gary a homework assignment, it would be this: make sure that Eric Hayes runs the half court offense and find a way to get Greivis Vasquez involved by having him move without the ball (think the Juan Dixon curl play that resulted in that short jumper in the paint that always went in). The offense will run smoother and both players will be happier. Oh and Boom Osby needs to shoot about 1000 free throws between now and Thursday night.