Better Know A Cliff Tucker

I think I am starting to lose control of this blog. When I am checking my own blog for updates from Diamondback Russ; I think it is safe to say I am no longer in control. I have to say that I love it. Keep up the great work, Russ.

Now, back to my 12-part series on the returning/incoming players to the program. Over the last few weeks, I’ve profiled Mosley (briefly), Eric Hayes, and Braxton Dupree. Now, let’s tackle the player that I think will make the biggest improvement over last year’s performance.

As a point of comparison, let’s look at Cliff’s freshman stats as compared to Terrance Morris’ freshman year. Morris nearly doubled Tucker in points, but to be fair, T-Mo played with a less crowded bench and at the same time a better supporting cast of starters.   Three of Morris’ teammates would play in the NBA (Ekezie, Profit, and Jasikevicus), and Terrell Stokes was a steadier point guard.  Sure, Vasquez delivered more dimes, but as we all painfully know; he also led the ACC in turnovers.

Nevertheless, I think the comparison is fair.  Both Morris and Tucker are gifted athletes that have a knack for making the tough plays look easy.  Both are lean and possess a smooth stroke.  Sure, Morris is taller and played a different position, but I think we could see a similar leap in production with Tucker that we saw with Morris between his freshman and sophomore campaigns.

Morris improved from 7.4ppg to 15.3ppg.  I think Tucker can do the same.

Last season, Cliff Tucker displayed flashes of absolute brilliance.  Against Illinois, Tucker dazzled with a barrage of threes  and dazzling finishes.  Simply put, Tucker is the best athlete on the team.

Despite his natural abilities, Landon Milbourne will be the starter heading into fall practice.  Tucker, however, should be breathing down his neck.  Tucker has the better repertoire of skills, but Milbourne is more game tested.  My sense is that whichever man can play consistently on both ends of the floor (something that rarely happened last year); will get the starting nod.

Someone will need to replace James Gist’s point production next year.  To me it is clear that Tucker has the higher ceiling than Milbourne and is the only returning player with the potential to give the Terps 15ppg (besides Vasquez). Gary Williams must give Tucker the opportunity to assert himself and become the number 2 option in the half court.

A Cliff Tucker who averages 15ppg will take tons of pressure off the Terps young frontcourt.  Maryland will still need  inside scoring, but if Cliff Tucker and Grevis Vasquez are giving the Terps 30 points per night, than the big guys (Glichrist, Burney, and Dupree) can focus on rebounding and defense.

Clearly, much is in flux.  Mosley needs to get eligible.  Bobby Maze may not come to College Park, but Tyree Evans could.  Who knows?  Even Greivis could leave.  One thing is for sure, Cliff Tucker will be an integral part of both the success and failure of next year’s team.

Rating the Freshman

This weekend’s game at UNC has the potential to turn the Terps season around. As I die hard, I can’t bring myself to say we have no chance, but we have no chance. I fear that it will demonstrate what we know to be true. This team is a mish-mash of parts that don’t quite fit together –yet or maybe ever.

Much has been written that the majority of the rotation is made of freshman. So I am going to break down what I think about each of them.

Adrian Bowie

The positives: When on the floor, he is our best defensive player. Always. That will guarantee him playing time in Gary’s system. He seems to have a decent handle and his decision making has improved over the last seven games. His quickness will help the Terps against the quickest point guards in the conference. He has a huge test against Lawson this weekend which has the potential to be a defining game for him.

The negatives: If he can shoot, I have not seen it. His handle is not that of a point guard, but without a reliable jump shot, he is no shooting guard either. I’m not sure what he can offer in the half court. It seems that the majority of Bowie’s points this season have come on drives to the paint. If you are 6’2″ and not named Allen Iverson, you need to find other ways to score. Bowie needs to come off screens and hit jumpers. The flex offense can’t work without guards who can do that consistently.

The verdict: If he can develop a jumper, we have a keeper.

Jerome Burney

Who? You will eventually remember him as the guy who started on the 2010 UConn Final Four squad and won the MOP Award. In his acceptance speech, he will extend his middle finger at Gary Williams.

Braxton Dupree

The positives: Size and strength. He actually has quickness and agility too.

The negatives: Imagine Lonny Baxter’s doughy body combined with Travis Garrison’s manos de piedra (stone hands), and a dash of Mario Lucas’s defensive effort. It’s a horrid combination.

The verdict: I hope that all of the negatives are tied to his lack of understanding of the system in which he is playing. If the proverbial light bulb goes on between now and next season, he has the potential to be great. We saw flashes against some early season opponents so we know that he has the ability to score in bunches. To extend a tired metaphor, I just hope that light bulb doesn’t have a dimmer switch.

Dino Gregory

Never heard of him. Is he on the team?

David Pearman

Ladies and Gentlemen, the next Jason McAlpin!

Cliff Tucker

The positives: He is a gifted athlete who posesses the smoothest jump shot on the team (I say this because Eric Hayes practically shoots a set shot.). Tucker can create his own shot. No small feat in the ACC. He can take it to the rack or he can pull up from anywhere.

The negatives: He doesn’t know what he is doing out there. As maddening as that is, it is perhaps that the most promising thing about him too. The flashes he has shown could become the norm if he can learn the flex offense. His defense is terrible too and needs to improve dramatically. With his athletic ability, he should be one of the best defenders on the court, yet he is one of the worst. Right now, there are just too many holes for him to be consistent.

The verdict: Of all the freshman, Tucker has the highest ceiling. By his senior year, you will grow to love him. I promise.

Shane Walker

Shane is the forgotten man. I honestly can’t remember one thing (positive or negative) that he has done all year. Despite writing a regular Terps blog, I can’t say that I have seen every minute of every game, but I have watched enough and not a single moment stands out. All I know is that is the guy is the “project”. Hailing from England, he is supposed to develop under Gary’s tutelage.

I feel like I’ve seen this before. You never know what you are going to get with the “project”. For every Hassan Fofana, there is an Obinna Ekezie. Some of these guys develop into consistent performers, and some transfer after one season. No one can tell you which one Shane will be, Not even Gary knows.

In Summation

So there you have it. Gary’s got a mixed bag. At this juncture, the freshman nucleus of Bowie, Dupree, Tucker will be the group that Gary will build around. A big man, a quick guard, and a slasher. On paper, that is what you want. The problem is that the promises made on paper ain’t worth much.

If this were 2002, I would be giddy. All of these guys are loaded with the potential to be great and back then; Gary got the most out of his players. Ahh, but there is the rub. Potential ain’t worth shit anymore. Either Gary has lost his mojo or he has been knocking on the wrong doors for five straight years. I’ve been disappointed with a litany of potential stars. Strawberry (don’t forget the first 3 and half years), Mike Jones, Travis Garrison, Nik Caner-Medley, John Gilchrist, etc. etc.

Now, I am seeing it again. In his second year, Greivis Vasquez has disappointed as those who came immediately before him. I even renamed him Nik Caner-Vasquez. I’d be more optimistic that he will eventually learn if I hadn’t endured the last 5 years of Maryland basketball.

So now, I am supposed to believe these freshman will develop? I’m sorry but I have lost faith. It is going to take a great deal for me to get it back.

A miracle win at UNC would be a start.