Just Win Baby… Please!

Here we are.

Just hours from the biggest game of the season for us fans.  But we all need to remember it’s the biggest game of some of the players’ lives.  In the final day of the regular season, the Terps have it all in front of them.  Win a game against a rival on their home floor and they nearly clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament. 

It’s that simple.

It’s that difficult.

There are no sure things with this Terps team, we all know that.  They are not talented enough to blow a team out.  In fact, they haven’t blown a team out since December when we played Elon.  So don’t expect it today.  Expect a usual battle between a bottom team in the ACC on their home floor and an overachieving team that has a ton of heart and desire.  I’m not sure it will be enough, especially with all this on the line, but I sure hope it will be.

We haven’t had a good history in 3 of the last 4 years in winning games at the end of the season that we have to win.  Today, that can change.  Today we can make it happen.  Today we take that step back towards having the rest of the country ‘Fear The Turtle’ once again.

If we play like we have the past 5 games, we will win this.  Everything has broken our way this week to set up the Terps for an NCAA bid.  If they lose against Virginia, we don’t deserve to go. 

Everyone knows what is riding on this game.  You think we are nervous, think about the players.  But despite our limitations, we are a better team that Virginia.  We are a better team than the one that beat UVA earlier in the season, now they just have to prove it.

I said earlier in the year that these guys were losers, that they did not come through in the clutch and didn’t have the confidence to win close games.  Despite the losses to Wake and Duke, this team has proven it can win in the clutch, and it can win close games.  In the past month, the Terps have proven they are winners and they just need to do that just one more time. 

The tournament starts today. 

This is Round 1. 

Let’s get it done and move on.

Advertisements

The Case for Memphis

Most sportswriters are busy dissecting the merits of the Kansas Jayhawks and the Memphis Tigers in an effort to hypothesize who will emerge victorious tomorrow night. I say, who cares about the handicapping? The real question is which team is worth your rooting support?

The University of Kansas draws its basketball bloodlines straight from the source. Their venerable and winningest coach, Phog Allen, whose eponymous Allen Fieldhouse serves as the Jayhawks homecourt; learned the game of basketball from James Naismith himself (Naismith also coached at Kansas). It doesn’t get much more pure than that. When the inventor of the sport coached at your school, then I think it is safe to say that you are a basketball school.

Another interesting fact about the University of Kansas is that their mascot, the Jayhawks, dates back to the 1850’s and was the name of the Kansas militia that defended the “free staters” of Kansas from the pro-slave Missourians on the other side of the border.

With such outstanding tradition that stretches beyond basketball and into the annals of US history; it is hard not to throw my support toward the Jayhawks. But, I can’t bring myself to do it. Perhaps it’s my perpetual hatred of Duke and Carolina. I just can’t root for a perennial contender. Kansas and their fans are the ultimate “haves”.

It is a poverty of riches in Lawrence, Kansas every national signing day. Flush with McD’s All-America’s and blue chippers Kansas always gets the best of it. As a die-hard Terp fan used to playing the perpetual third-fiddle in the ACC; I am turning my back on the Jayhawks and their tradition.

Yes, I’m pulling for sleazebag, John Calipari and the mid-major powerhouse, Memphis. Sure, they are filled with immeasurable athletic talent and a disturbing habit of missing free throws, but they have my support. The Tigers have never won a title and as a former long suffering fan (and now, newly suffering), I am pulling for Memphis and their alumni.

There is nothing like seeing a school celebrate its first Championship (except for Maryland celebrating its second) and when the nets are cut down tomorrow night; here’s hoping that they are singing in Memphis.

What The Soup Is All About!

I’ve been impressed folks with the intelligent discussions regarding the analysis of this year’s underachieving team and the outlook and strategy for next year. It’s so interesting to read the opinions that don’t start off with ‘this guy sucks’, ‘fire this guy’, ‘they are pathetic’, etc. Thanks to posters Gerry, ricksterps, frustrated fan, Wheels, and CT (among others, please don’t be upset if you weren’t mentioned, there were a lot of great comments).

I can see the points of a lot of your arguments regarding the individual players, Gary, the NIT, etc. I’ll let you continue to discuss it as we get set to find out the NIT schedule Sunday night.

The most frustrating thing for me is to see all the bubble teams losing in the past few days and realizing that if we could have just held a 20 point 2nd half lead at home, we would have been in. I think we still would have lost at UVA, but probably would have had the confidence to beat BC, who looked horrible against Clemson. Ugh.

Anyway, I think the person who mentioned changing the way we play next year has a great point. I think Gary has to hope he has the horses to go back to the pressing, fast paced game he coached so well in the past. We will always be a team that turns the ball over, and between 10-15 turnovers a game is acceptable with that type of game, but the 20+ has to stop. These new guys coming in should hopefully be able to handle the ball better, and the returning players better get to work starting next month. As for this year’s squad, let’s hope Gist (who works his butt off) can play his final game at Comcast Center in front of a decent crowd and leave with a win. That would be my only wish for the rest of this disappointing season.

Strengths & Weaknesses

Okay, now that we’ve had nearly 24 hours to vent, analyze, etc., I was asked to write a strengths and weaknesses column for Roster Magazine. First, though, it’s been interesting reading the comments on Wednesday night’s game. There was a lot of blame and not too much praise going on. “Vazquez and Osby were good, the rest of the team stunk it up” pretty much sums up the game. In my opinion, it’s all about confidence. Despite falling behind, Virginia Tech had confidence that they could come back and win because they did so 6 weeks ago. On the flip side, the Terps were tight at times because most of the players lacked confidence. They were not aggressive. They were passive. They played scared. They WERE scared to blow it and we all saw what happened. There is still hope for this year. As a buddy mentioned to me earlier, a win over Miami and we are back in control. Miami has a 28 RPI. It won’t be easy, but any team that can beat UNC on the road can beat Miami, especially if they have a ‘we beat Duke letdown’.

Okay, now for those strengths and weaknesses. Please chime in to agree or disagree or add something I may have forgotten.

Strengths

The Inside Game – Bambale Osby and James Gist have been a force in the middle for most of the season. They lead the ACC in blocked shots and they both make it tough for any player to drive to the hoop. They are decent rebounders and have good offensive games. Osby may have only one good move in the post, but he is so strong, it often doesn’t matter. Osby’s free throw shooting has improved greatly this season which means teams are more reluctant to foul him. When aggressive, Gist is a force inside. He’s not always consistent, but when he is focused and not taking his game way outside, the Terps big men are among the best 2 inside guys in the ACC.

Half Court Defense – Every college team has lapses in defensive play, but for the most part, the Terps half court defense is solid. When they fight through screens and play physical inside, it is tough to score on them. Case in point. When the Terps offense disappeared for 8 minutes in the first half against Virginia Tech, they were still ahead when they finally snapped out of it. That was all defense. Most teams are able to take advantage of Maryland when the Terps turn the ball over because they are able to score in transition. When the Terps do not turn the ball over, their defense can win them games.

Greivis Vasquez – When playing smart, he is our team. Vasquez brings the energy and scoring that can turn games around. Case in point, the Florida State game on February 16th. His 3 3-pointers early in the 2nd half turned the game around. He can get other players involved and has the ability to jump start a sluggish offense. Vasquez plays good defense as well and is quick to come up with a steal when the opponent is not careful.

Weaknesses

Turnovers – Maryland could perhaps be the most generous team in college basketball. They turn the ball over time after time after time. They have had some games where they have protected the ball and usually those were fairly easy victories. But the TO’s have turned would-be blowouts into close games and turned close games into losses. If they were smarter with the ball, this team wouldn’t be worrying about having to make a late season run to get into the NCAA tournament.

Bench play – The bench has been a question mark all season because 4 of the 6 guys that have come off the bench this season have been freshmen. These guys could end up being good players, but they are not now. The bench players come in and play like freshmen. Some games they are good, some games they are horrible. Sometimes they are good and horrible within a minute. In order for this team to be successful, the bench has to contribute. They don’t have to do a lot, but they have to be able to give the starters a breather and be able to score.

Greivis Vasquez – Yes, he is a strength and a weakness. Anybody who has watched the Terps this season has seen a guy who looks like an all-american one minute and then throws a horrible pass or takes a horrible shot the next. As much as Vas helps the Terps, he hurts them with dumb play. The problem is, he knows what he is doing is wrong. He says so. But rarely has he had a game where he was smart throughout.

Secret to Success – As they proved by beating UNC in Chapel Hill, Maryland can win against almost anyone. As they proved early in the season to Ohio and American, and recently to Virginia Tech, they can lose to anyone. They must be smart with the ball and work inside first, then out. Vasquez must hit shots and get the others involved as well. They must get something from their bench as well as be aggressive, not timid. They must believe in themselves.

Another big must. If they play a game where the refs won’t let them play physical, they are doomed. Their big men pride themselves on playing physical, but if touch fouls get them into trouble, Maryland does not have the depth to overcome that. They become a jump shooting team and they are not good enough shooters to be successful.

Profiling the Field – Maryland

Editor’s Note: The following article will appear in the March Issue of Roster Magazine. To our regular readers, please don’t accuse me of jinxing the Terps. I had a deadline!
Maryland

17-9 (7-4)

RPI 50

Seed #3-10

Seed Explanation

Yeah, that’s right. I went with an eight seed spread for the Terps Tournament destination. With a total of five games left in the regular season and a potential of three more games in the ACC Tournament (commence anti-jinxing superstition now); the potential for big swings in the seeding is tremendous.

Much to the chagrin of Terp Nation (and my own superstitious nature), I will work under the assumption that the Terps will get the three more wins that every basketball pundit in the known Universe thinks they need to get to the Big Dance. Given what is not actually a given, here’s the Terps Tourney outlook:

  • 3 more wins, 20-11 (10-6 ACC) – 10 seed
  • 4 more wins, 21-10 (11-5 ACC) – 7 seed
  • 5 more wins 22-9 (12-4 ACC) – 6 seed
  • 5 more wins + a loss in the ACC Semis, 23-10 overall – 5 seed
  • 5 more wins + a loss in the ACC Finals, 24-10 overall – 4 seed
  • 5 more wins + winning the ACC Tournament, 25-9 overall – 3 seed

It’s not often that Selection Committee rewards 9 or 10 loss teams with the lofty seedings listed above. The reason the Terps can be seeded so high is that if they win out; Maryland will have tallied 16 wins in their final 19 regular season games. If we extend that to the ACC Tournament, the Terps could potentially head into the dance with 19 wins in the last 22 games. That my friends would make the Terps one of the hottest teams in the country and the committee would reward that accordingly. Now, I will stop talking about “what ifs” and won-loss record projections because I will not be able to dodge the lightning bolt headed my way if I continue.

Key Wins

Home: Illinois, Wake Forest, NC State

Away: UNC, Ga Tech, Boston College

Bad Losses (cringing)

American U, Ohio U, VCU, Missouri

Or, as Terp fans will forever remember: the Lost December.

Prime Time Players

James Gist and Greivis Vasquez are fuel for the Terp engine. At 6’6″ Vasquez is a big guard who runs the point, but he can also get into the paint and has the strength to finish. Greivis provides the emotion that unifies the whole team. As most Terp fans will tell you, they have a love-hate relationship with Sr. Vasquez. Lately, it has been mostly love, but his hotheaded and out-of-control play led to many of those cringe-worthy December defeats. His emergence has keyed the Terps resurgence and he has asserted himself as one of the best players in the ACC. If his path to maturity continues along its current trajectory, Mr. Vasquez will be playing in the NBA in the not-too-distant future. Simply put, the Terps continued success rides on the heady and clutch play of their sophomore guard, Greivis Vasquez.

James Gist is Mr. Steady. At 6’9″. he provides the inside presence and can work for a good shot when the clock is running down. Gist is a sublime athlete with a deft touch. At times, he has been too passive and has let the game come to him, but Terp fans know that he will always be the first option in the half court. What’s more, few players in the nation can finish on the break like Jim Gist. Defensively, he has trouble with smaller players on the wing but his leaping ability often allows him to recover and block the opponents shot.

Prediction

I hate making predictions. I really do. I’m almost always wrong and when it comes to my favorite teams; I always overshoot it. All I’ll say is this: For the last 14 games, the Terps have played like one of the 20 best teams in the country. IF they can maintain this course, IF they continue to take care of the basketball, IF they continue to take high percentage shots; THEN the Terps should find themselves in the Sweet Sixteen. And IF the breaks fall their way, then an Elite Eight is not out of the question.

Butler Did It. Terps Did Not.

What an awful day.

It started by me going to FIVE different sports bars in Chicago to look for the game. None of them had it. Why on Earth would a sports bar choose not to buy the Direct TV package for the NCAA Tournament? It took me an hour and half to find the game.

By the time I found the game at an unbelievably packed ESPN Zone, there were seven minutes left in SECOND HALF. That’s right. I missed the majority of the game. I can’t comment on what I didn’t see. What I saw in the last 7 minutes made me sick.

We missed plenty of opportunities, that’s for sure. There are three things in the final minutes that I am still struggling to get my arms around and probably will be until November.

1. With less than three minutes to go, the Terps were down 2 with a chance to tie, and DJ (running the break) decides to take an off-balance 15 footer with 30 seconds left on the shot clock. ABSOLUTELY INEXCUSABLE! If Mike Jones had done that, I think Gary Williams would have ripped Jones’ heart out of his chest and shoved it down the guard’s throat while it was still beating. Instead? They get back from commercial and there is DJ, calmly sipping water. That sequence summed up the frustrations of DJ’s tenure at Maryland.

2. Fast forward to the final minute. DJ cutting to the hole catches the ball and gets blocked by a Butler player who was clearly late to the spot. Offensive foul, Maryland. What? Were we playing Duke? How can a professional official make a call like that? Ruin a team’s season on such a terrible call? Whoever that guy is, he should be ashamed of himself. If he happens to live in the Greater Chicago area, I wouldn’t be surprised if he discovers his house TP’d.

In my mind, this as yet unnamed official has earned a place in history next to the umpire from the 1996 ALCS (the Tony Tarasco game), and the entire crew from the 2001 Final Four.

3. What followed that horrendous call absolutely mystified me. 39 seconds left, down by 2 points, Gary Williams decided to play defense rather than foul. That may have been his worst decision in his tenure at Maryland. Read that sentence again. I am serious. I simply don’t understand it. I have not seen any post game comments (nor do I want to), but what explanation could Gary possibly give for that decision?

In that situation, you need to force the other team to beat you. By letting Butler run down the clock to under 4 seconds, we did them a huge favor. I would have rather taken my chances with these Butler kids shooting pressure free throws, than Maryland having to go the length of the court in four seconds for a tying score. I will never understand this even if Dean Smith, Phog Allen (from the grave), and John Wooden tried to convince me otherwise.

Sure, people will argue that Maryland should never have been in that position. The missed free throws killed us. Mike Jones hit four straight threes and then Gary puts him the bench? Why?

In summation, I am really f-cking pissed. I ran around Chicago (on St. Patrick’s Day no less), fought crowds, walked for what felt like miles, and still missed the majority of my team’s elimination game. It always sucks when your team gets eliminated from the Tournament. It sucks even more when your team shouldn’t have lost said game.

Butler is good, I’ll give it to them. But Maryland had 20+ turnovers for the game. 40 turnovers in two games? I guess this is a good time to remember that two freshman handle the point guard duties for the Terps. Not that I saw it with my own eyes, but I think it is clear that they showed their “freshman-ness” today.

As for the seniors, I suppose it was a fitting end for the careers of Jones, Ibekwe, and Strawberry. Dumb plays, sloppy passing, poor shot selection, but they were in it to the end. Those kids fought for four years and never gave up. Each of them possessed great athletic skill, but the tragic flaw in each of them was between the ears.

That’s sad but true. Now it is on to the “D” League or Bulgaria or Turkey or Italy or wherever they wind up playing professional ball. I wish them the best, but I doubt we will see any of them in the NBA. I give Jones the best shot because of his shooting and athletic ability, but I am not holding my breath.

I’m not quite ready to start looking ahead to next year, but there is nothing left for Terp fans to do. Maryland loses much of their scoring, but next year should be an improvement.

Returning to the frontcourt will be Osby and Gist. The backcourt will be run by Hayes with Vazquez at the two spot (if Jai Lucas comes, we start three guards). Burney and Milbourne will be in the mix. So will our incoming freshman class. We will be extremely young, but if we can make the Tournament, we will be more experienced and positioned to advance past the second round. At least, that is what I am telling myself so that I can get to sleep tonight.

Turtle Soup is not done. I will be posting throughout the year leading up to and including the football season. I will be making some major changes to the site so please send me your emails, so that I can be sure to keep you updated on any changes. Thanks for everything this season. You have all made this blog better than anything I could have ever hoped.

Here’s to a great season and an even better 2007-08.

-JG

Winning U-G-L-Y

Stephen Curry got star treatment by the officials today. Make no mistake. He is a legit player. But that call against Ibekwe that fouled him out? Pleeeaaase. I thought I was watching Dwayne Wade in the NBA Finals last year. The kid can shoot, but he has not earned that yet.

Regardless, Maryland cannot expect to win more games turning the ball over like that. General Greivis needs to calm down. Without Hayes steadying the offense in the second half the Terps may be headed home right now.

My hat goes off to Osby. He really stepped up nicely when Ibekwe predictably had to sit down with foul trouble.

Speaking of, what is wrong with Ibekwe? He is fine when he is out on the court (11 and 11 today) except when he is committing stupid fouls. Gary exacerbates the problem by putting him in the backcourt when they run the press. Huh?

And Strawberry? What is wrong with him? Taking jump shots with 30 seconds on the clock? Forcing passes? Stick to what got you here, DJ.

Now Butler is good, but Maryland does not have to play perfectly to beat them. Maryland needs to play better, but not perfect. Regardless, I expect a strong performance on Saturday. If the Terps win, we have had an outstanding season. Anything after that would be gravy. Everyone on the court knows this.

A flat performance would not be in this team’s character.

Now, I just finished watching VCU heroically take down Duke. I can’t say I was surprised. I predicted that very result in my last post. But, I’ll tell you what startled me even less. The ridiculous partisan treatment that the announcers give the Dukies. Did anyone else see that obvious flop that Paulus made midway through the 2nd half? The official motioned for him to get up, yet the announcer said he was “clobbered”. I rewinded it and the VCU player was just standing there.  Paulus just fell down in hopes of drawing a whistle.

It disingenous and it is obvious that Coach K teaches this behavior.  It’s been happening for years with his players.

I’m so tired of this. Sean McManus, President of CBS Sports is a Duke alum, and boy does it show. Watching Duke on CBS is painful.

A fellow alum of ours apparently got fed up to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYOgC2Qbqh4&NR

This may be the funnest YouTube video of all-time. That is why Duke sucks.

I can’t wait for Saturday, but neither can Butler fans.  Bring it on.