2008-09 Basketball Preview Part I

The clearinghouse drama surrounding Jin Soo Kim notwithstanding, the Terps are getting ready to open the season in two week’s time. I can’t recall a season with so many questions for the Terps. Media expectations have not been lower since Joe Smith’s freshman year in 1993.

Maryland opened that 1993-94 season with a stunning win vs. Georgetown. The media, alumni, students, and the ACC at-large immediately recalibrated their outlook for those Terps.

Before this trip down memory lane gets your heart all aflutter; let me remind that this has no chance of happening this year. The Terps open the season against Bucknell University. Bucknell has proven themselves to be frisky recently. Most notably, they took down Kansas a few years ago in the Big Dance. Nevertheless, this is nothing but a warmup and a chance to get a look at our Terps. No one will be jumping up and down after the conclusion of this one regardless of the outcome. (If it turns out to be a close game; I’m afraid we will be in for a long season, my friends).

Which brings me to last season. In case you have tried to blot out the memory of last season’s roller coaster ride; allow me to remind you.

Here’s where we left off with our Terps last year:

  • Maryland finished 4th in the ACC in FG%
  • Maryland led the ACC in FG defense
  • Maryland was 2nd in the ACC in assists
  • Maryland led the ACC in turnovers
  • Maryland led the ACC in blocks

The main driver behind all of these statistics (good and bad), was Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez returns for what everyone acknowledges will be his final season in College Park. Vasquez is as polarizing a figure to wear a Maryland uniform as I can ever recall. You either love him or hate him. Sometimes you hate him, then love him; and sometimes you love him then hate him. You never know what to expect. He’s like dating a schizophrenic. Just when things seem OK, the wheels fall off.

Like the team statistics, Greivis’ individual game statistics were the best of times and they were the worst of times. He led the conference in assists AND turnovers. He averaged almost 20ppg, but shot a terrible percentage (especially from three).

As a sophomore, he became the heart and soul of the team. The role was his because the Terp seniors (I’m looking at you in particular, Mr. James Gist) were incapable of rising to the occassion when the chips were down. The Terps were at their best when Vasquez was on, and they were at their worst when Vasquez was off.

Success this season hinges on two things:

1. Serviceable front court play on both sides of the floor

2. A reliable second scorer to complement Greivis Vasquez

For this season to be a success (read NCAA Torunament berth), a second man needs to emerge as a reliable option under pressure. Last year, Gist disappeared too much. Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne were not ready for those roles as sophomores. Though a senior, Bambale Osby was not athletically capable. The freshman on the bench were….freshman.

The 2008-09 Terps will have plenty of candidates to step into a void this year that was never actually filled last year. Are Braxton Dupree and Jerome Burney ready to lead? Probably not. Can they become reliable rebounders and interior defenders? They have to. Between the two of them, the Terps need to get 20-25 points and 15-20 rebounds per game, and shoot 70% from the FT line. That is a tall order for two guys who played mostly in mop-up duty as freshman.

For the Terps to be successful, we don’t need Burney and Dupree to become stars, we need them to become serviceable. Gentlemen give us competence, not stardom. That’s all we ask.

Maryland’s scoring is going to come from the backcourt. We all know about Greivis. He will get his opportunities. But who emerges as our second and third scorers? The most likely candidates are: Eric Hayes, Landon Milbourne, and Sean Mosley.

Eric Hayes was much maligned as a sophomore. He lost his starting point guard slot and looked overmatched at both ends of the floor throughout the ACC season. Many (including myself) blamed his struggles on the fact that he is simply not a Division I caliber athlete, and was unable to guard or score against elite competition. The pessimist in me says nothing has changed. The cockeyed optimist in me says that Hayes’ ankle injury sustained early in the season, never fully healed and it caused him to play tentative. He lost his first step and as a point guard that is a death sentence. What’s more, the optimist in me says that Hayes is now a junior and comfortable in his role with the team. For those who think I am deluding myself (I probably am); I will leave you with this regarding Eric Hayes: he scored 28 points in the most recent intrasquad game on 12-18 shooting.

With apologies to Cliff Tucker, Landon Milbourne is probably the best athlete on the roster. He dramatically improved from his freshman year to his sophomore campaign. So much so, that he went from a benchwarmer to a starter. He displayed flashes of brilliance along with extended periods of silence. His continued improvement is absolutely crucial. Because of our lack depth in the frontcourt; Milbourne will often be playing as the Four and this should give him opportunities to use his quickness on the offensive end. He needs to get the Terps between 15-20 points including 1-3 three pointers per game. We probably need 5 – 7 boards from him as well.

Sean Mosley, by all accounts, is an incredible talent. He’s strong, quick, and has a great jump shot. He’s an elite player and most expect him to contribute on both ends of the floor this season. The question for me is how quickly can he adjust to the speed of the college game? Is he Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley– immediate difference makers from the day they walked on to campus? Or, is he in the mold of Landon Milbourne– a great talent in need of seasoning who needs to age before he can be relied upon? He’s Maryland’s most highly touted recruit in some time, but he plays shooting guard. If Maryland has one thing, it is too many shooting guards.

So who is my pick for reliable number 2? I’m going with Landon Milbourne. He’s bulked up in the off season, and I expect we will see more “on” nights than “off” nights this season. He can score from the outside and he can get to the rack off the dribble. He’s reliable from the stripe and he is a good defender. He’s my guy. If it is going to happen, Milbourne will be the one to emerge and help Vasquez lead us back to prominence this season.

There you have it; if we get 25 and 12 from the Dupree-Burney combo and Milbourne can emerge as an all-ACC second teamer; Maryland will go back to the Tournament. If not, we will be in for a long season. Either way, I can’t wait to find out.

I’ll be posting my thoughts as to the schedule in a few days.