How Did the Terps Beat Carolina?

If anyone else has been following the Tarheels blast through the East Region, you are probably wondering the same thing. Louisville is an excellent team. That Terrance Williams is a special player, but Louisville can’t do anything to slow Carolina.

Louisville threw a 2-3 zone at UNC after made buckets and UNC either shot over them or grabbed the offensive board and laid it in. Tyler Hansborough runs the floor better than any big man I can remember.

As I watch UNC dismantle their opponents, I keep trying to picture the Terps playing them. It’s not a pretty picture. I can’t seem to remember how we beat them.

Whenever UNC would start to pull away, I’d flip over to ESPN to watch the Maryland women playing Vanderbilt. The Lady Terps are dominating. It would be great if one Maryland basketball team could cut some nets down this April.

Speaking of which, Vasquez could learn a thing or two from Kristi Tolliver, Maryland’s point guard. She didn’t attempt a shot in the first half, yet she dominated the game. She dished out assists and had no turnovers. Every thing she did made things easier for her teammates. She also lightning quick. Alas, neither Messrs. Vasquez or Hayes can be taught quickness. You either have it or you don’t.

“His Real Name Is Mosley”

“I’m MOSLEY!!!” That is my favorite line from “Midnight Run” and what better way to introduce a discussion about Maryland’s most heralded incoming freshman? Alonzo Mosley (played by Yaphaet Kotto) has to be one of the great all-time buddy movie characters and I am looking forward to the joy I will get from making endless references to him over the next four years.

(By the way, How amazing is YouTube? I mean if you are looking for an obscure movie clip, it is just a click away. I love technology.)

Now, our Mosley, Sean Mosley, will be coming to Maryland from Baltimore, my hometown (actually I’m from the suburbs, but whatever). Mosley just capped a phenomenal senior season in which he averaged 27 ppg. He finished his career as the second all-time leading scorer in the history of Maryland High School basketball with over 2900 points (Rodney Monroe is #1 and he fared pretty well in the ACC I’d say).

There has been much talk about how Mosley will provide much needed balance to the Terps offense by giving the Terps a legitimate three point shooter. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

The only problem is that the information I find on the young man, seems to indicate that perimeter shooting is a “weakness”. Did Gary recruit another Adrian Bowie? The Terps desperately need a three-point shooter who isn’t going to kill the Terps in other ways (see: Eric Hayes). If Mosley can’t knock down treys, are we going to have to rely on Hayes to be Mr Three Ball?

Can someone talk me off the ledge here? Why is scout.com saying that Mosley needs to work on his perimeter game?

A (Not So) Quick Note on the Zone Defense

Since I write a blog about Maryland basketball, it is hard to get excited about events that do not include the Terps. Nevertheless, the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is the best sports weekend of the year and I enthusiastically gave the goings on their due attention.

I have a long personal history with the Tournament. I’ve been to Las Vegas eight times during the first weekend. I was in the Mandalay sports book in 2003 when Drew Nicholas hit The Shot. If you ever wanted to see ten twentysomethings piling on top of each other in a sportsbook, that would have been your chance. My buddy Danny’s father was there and to this day claims it was his favorite moment ever as a sports fan. A die hard New Yorker, Danny’s dad has lived through some of the greatest sports moments of the 20th Century, yet that shot and our reaction to it, remains his favorite.

(Interestingly enough, the guy who played Kenny Bania on Seinfeld was there that day rooting for UNCW. At one point, standing right next him, I yelled “Bania is killing me!”. He walked away.)

So, whether the Terrapins make the field or not, the NCAA Tournament is still special. After all, while my Vegas tradition has waned, I still have the myriad pools and other exotic betting opportunities that can only be found during March Madness.

But I digress.

So it was with this excitement that I sat down to watch the opening round game for one of my predicted great eight teams: Clemson. As the Tigers slowly disintegrated on Friday night; it became apparent that the neither Coach Oliver Purnell (a Lefty Driesell disciple, by the way) nor his players had any answers for Villanova’s 2-3 zone defense. I had an epiphany.

The zone defense is an equalizer. It forces teams out of their comfort zone (pun intended) and can negate individual matchups that a more talented team would exploit in a more conventional man-to-man defense.

I began to wonder, why don’t more teams utilize the zone? After all, until recently the NBA made zone defenses illegal because they were too effective. Teams often couldn’t score consistently against a good zone and scoring totals suffered. Even now, the NBA only allows zones on a limited basis.

Certain coaches became known as gurus of the zone defense. Jim Boeheim and John Chaney come to mind. Both coaches almost always have been able to get their respective teams in the Big Dance during their career and have usually been able to advance beyond the expectations of their seeding. Part of the reason for their success, I think, is that too many teams play man-to-man defense and when they run into a team that plays a tough zone defense; they can’t figure out how to score against it.

This happens all the time with Maryland. I can’t tell you how many times over the years that I have seen Maryland get taken down by a lesser team because they couldn’t solve the zone defense (both Temple and Syracuse have consistently gotten the better of us).

Which brings me to the ultimate question of this post? Why don’t more coaches, and specifically, Gary Williams focus more on perfecting the zone defense? Am I missing something? Is there a negative side effect that a zone causes? As far as I can tell, a pressing team, a running team, a half court team should all be able to play a zone defense without it negatively effecting the offensive end of the floor.

I’m no basketball expert, so I am sure that I am missing something, but what is so great about the man-to-man defense? How many teams that specialize in the zone get one game farther than expected in the NCAA Tournament? It seems like every year, there are two to three teams that sneak into the sweet sixteen because of their zone defense.

Could Maryland benefit from running zone? It would have to help with rebounding right?

Maryland’s Season Ends Predictably

Post Mortem

When the clock struck double zeros, it was another miserable ending in what was almost an uninterrupted string of miserable endings. It is really saying something to call this year’s Terps the most inconsistent squad ever to play for Gary Williams, but it is true.

(I say this and I remember the John Gilchrist years! Winning the ACC Tournament after finishing 7-9 in the regular season is the very definition of inconsistent, but this year’s team surpassed that standard.)

The reason I give this year’s team the “edge” is that the 2008 Terps could not even play consistently within the same game. At least with Gilchrist, you knew pretty much from the get go what you were getting that night. Every single starter on this team has disappeared at times this season. No one played consistently from December through March. That is epic.

Maryland turned the ball over so many times this year that it became the team’s hallmark. The same guys are going to be bringing the ball up the court next year, so something needs to change. It’s been said before, but what scares me the most is that no one demonstrated marked improvement in limiting turnovers during the season. Vasquez and Hayes made dumb passes against N. Florida and they were making the same dumb passes tonight. It’s maddening and it is not getting any better.

Since Steve Blake’s departure, Gary has brought in two top 10 rated point guards (Gilchrist and Hayes). Vasquez turned out to be better than both, but none of them are good enough. I’m not giving up on our sophomore guards just yet, but there needs to be significant improvement if Maryland is to return to the NCAAs with regularity.

It would be great if the backcourt was the only area in need of improvement, but alas, there is concern up front as well. Jamar Smith is the last Terp who could score with his back to basket. That is four straight years without a post scorer. Garrison sucked beyond belief. Bowers was worthless. Ibekwe was soft. Gist was soft too and did most of his scoring on fastbreaks and turnarounds. Osby was the closest thing we have had and that is really saying something. For a player as limited as Bambale Osby to emerge as our best post scorer over a four year period is a shot across the bow. We need better big men and I am looking at you, Gary Williams. Can you bring us a legit power forward or center one of these years? Maybe Augustus “Big Caesar” Gilchrist is such a player, but who knows? (Yes, I just coined that nickname)

Another point of concern is the Clemson loss. The team simply never recovered from that game. Gary Williams will need to rebuild the team’s psyche during the offseason. Make no mistake, The Terps are damaged goods. Our turtles are snake bitten and that feeling will not go away until we see the Terps get a lead and hold onto it for 40 minutes.

Which brings me to another problem. I can recall many leads blown, but I can only recall one deficit overcome (UNC). This team did not believe it in itself. There was no confidence that when the an opponent took the lead that the Terps could take the punch and fight back. They just rolled over and died. There was no fight.

The talent is there. The attitude is not. Greivis Vasquez will enter his junior year as the unquestioned team leader. I know that he has plenty of fight in him. But will the team rally around him? Cultural differences aside, he operated on a different wavelength from everyone else on the team this year. How many times did he zig while the rest of the team zagged causing yet another turnover?

The Terps face the fundamental challenge of learning to play as one team and not 5 individuals just playing on the court at the same time. With essentially the same cast returning, whether or not they are up to challenge will determine how the rest of the decade plays out.

(Shuddering).

Syracuse Gameday Thread

The NCAA Tournament just is not the same if the Terps are not participating. It is still an unbelieveable sports day. Our Terps have been placed in TV purgatory, also known as ESPN U for tonight’s “Splenda Sixteen” game (thanks for that Diamondback Russ).

I wanted to mention a little positive press that Turtle Soup got yesterday. One of the Baltimore Sun’s Terp beat writers, Matt Bracken, gave Turtle Soup a nice plug in his recent article about Terrapin Blogs. You can read it here. It looks like we will be linked to the Sun on their Blogroll, so hopefully that will grow the number of Terp fans who come here.

In case you are wondering, we’ve had close to 2000 unique visitors and more than 25,000 page views in the last three months. For a one sport blog, that focuses on a regional team, I am thrilled.

If you read through the excerpt, it is clear that his favorite part of the blog is the engagement that readers have with the site. That is a testament to all of you who read this site. You make it what it is. Thanks for all your support this year and here’s to a great offseason and even better 08-09 campaign.

Now, let’s hope the Terps can go out and win tonight so we have another opportunity to see them on TV before we head into the offseason.

Terps Snap Out of Funk, Down Minnesota

Well, wouldn’t that have been nice three weeks ago? The Terps finally finished a game and can celebrate a road win. Too bad it is in the Not In Tournament.

Gary Williams shook up the line up and rotation hoping to test out some player combinations for next year. The freshman played well. There was even a Braxton Dupree sighting and it appears as though he is actually alive. Hayes ran point for most of the game with Bowie and Vasquez completing the three guard rotation.

Terp fans should get used to seeing three guards on the court together. With two more newcomers to the backcourt coming next season, Gary will have his hands full finding the correct mix. Bowie looked mostly good tonight, but his handle is suspect. He played excellent defense and got to the rack easily.

Maryland still cannot rebound with any kind of consistency. Perhaps the departure of Osby and Gist who are better known as shot blockers than rebounders, will actually help things. Guys like Dupree and Burney will need to be strong on the glass next year.

There are still so many questions. Maryland is now and will be next year one of the most athletic teams in the country. Can they play together consistently? A deep run into the NIT or not, we will have to wait until next year for a satisfactory answer to the question.

Why Maryland Should Be Kicking Itself….Or

….how I put the chemistry problems of twelve 18-22 year old boys and their coach into perspective.

Before I get to the question I posed in the title of the post; I am going to attempt to explain Maryland’s season through a complicated metaphor. That’s right. I’m going to compare the University of Maryland’s Men’s Basketball team to, of all things, the US Economy.

Still here? That last sentence didn’t scare you off? Well then, here goes.

The entire banking sector of the economy is behaving like Maryland did in the last 10 minutes of the Clemson game: panicked.

These banks have worked together for years. They have borrowed money from each other and bought securities from each other. All of a sudden, there is no trust. Instead of extending Bear Stearns a lifeline of credit, the banks hovered like vultures waiting for them to collapse. Everyone is out for themselves. Sound familiar?

That’s how I think the last seven Terp games played out. Instead of working with Greivis to run the offense, everyone seemingly forgot their roles. Out of sync and turnover prone, the Terps slowly disintegrated until there was nothing left but Greivis running around haphazardly forcing passes and chucking up bad shots because no one else was doing anything.

So it is with the current financial crisis. Mortgage securities caught the cold, but none of the other credit markets stepped up to bring stability. James Gist disappears, no one fills the void.

An investment banking pillar, Bear Stearns, is now toast after a distinguished 85-year history. Similarly, Maryland is in disarray. A school with an elite pedigree and a team comprised of proven winners who are now, if I can continue the metaphor, a bunch of soon-to-be-laid-off losers.

Now the Fed has attempted to give a couple of “slaps in the face” to the financial markets in hopes that they would come to their senses. Lord knows what measures Gary Williams has taken to prove to these kids that they are good and they should trust themselves and each other.

Which brings me back to the title of this post. Why should the Terps be kicking themselves? Let’s start with a look at some key team statistics I uncovered; or put another way, the Most Frustrating Team Statistics in the History of Maryland Basketball.

In ACC play, Maryland finished tied for first in FG% (47.5%) and also finished first in FG% defense (41.6%).

Read that a couple of times. If you don’t believe me, the proof is here (just sort by the FG% in the first chart). When you shoot the ball well and defend well, you should win. Period. End of story. Have you ever heard of such a thing for a team that finished SIXTH in the conference?

Adding insult to injury, the Terps finished first in the conference in assists and second in blocks. Can an entire fan base simultaneously and spontaneously combust out of frustration?

Of course, we know the counterbalance to these gaudy stats: turnovers and rebounding. Now we are getting somewhere. Limiting TOs and hitting the glass are the pillars of effort and focus on a basketball court. The best rebounders are not necessarily gifted athletes. They are just the hungriest. The teams that protect the basketball best, are not the best dribblers. They are just the most focused.

Why did this team lose its focus and stop trying? We’ll never know, but methinks it comes down to chemistry. This team just didn’t click. It’s impossible to outline all of the ways this team had bad chemistry, but I will point out two of the most obvious.

  • The Greivis – Hayes situation caused more of a problem than I think any of us realized. Two point guards on the floor at the same time proved disastrous.
  • Our quietest player was our senior leader (Gist) and our most outspoken player was a sophomore. How many problems did this cause that we don’t know about?

I’m sure there are more and I will leave that up to the ensuing discussion, but after looking back at the wreckage of this season, it is hard not to think about how good this team could have been.

In what I think will prove to be the most important offseason since 2001, Gary Williams and the boys will need to figure out how to live up to the potential that is brewing inside the numbers. There is a great team in there somewhere. I know it.