2008-09 Basketball Preview Part II

Before I make my feeble attempt to predict the Terps’ record; I’d be remiss if I didn’t make mention of something I neglected to mention in Part I of my preview. PC was right to point out in a comment made in that post that Maryland must cut down on turnovers.

This is absolutely crucial. I didn’t mention it; because it is almost too obvious to mention. It is the elephant in the room hanging over the entire season. The Terps ruined a guaranteed Tournament berth because they could not limit their careless play. Maryland must limit the number of turnovers per game to under 15 in order to have a chance to win. Preferably, they commit less than 12 per game.

The Terps will not beat an upper division ACC opponent while committing more than 15 turnovers. It won’t happen. Too many times, the Terps tallied 20 turnovers or more-and in most of those instances , Maryland lost. This year, in games they limit turnovers to 12 or less; I suspect the Terps winning percentage will be in 90%+ range.

Eric Hayes did a surprisingly good job of taking care of the rock last year. If you don’t believe me, look up his assist to turnover ratio. He actually led the team in A/T ratio with 1.9/1; although the fact that no player had a ratio better than 2/1 is an embarrassment. Great PGs should be in the 2.5/1 range or above. (UNC’s Ty Lawson was 2.4/1).

Watch the turnover situation closely in the early going. If Vasquez starts giving the ball away; Gary will move Hayes over to PG permanently.

So how do I see the season unfolding?

The Gimmies (8 wins):

Bucknell, Youngstown State, Vermont, Delaware State, American U, Bryant (huh?), Elon, Morgan State.

If the Terps lose any of these games; we are, in a word, fucked.

Old Spice Classic (1 win, 2 loss)

#7 Michigan State, Ok St/#11 Gonzaga, Opponent TBD

Look, the Terps aren’t going to win the Old Spice Classic. They will be expected to escape with a win. I’m tempted to pencil them in for two wins because I think it is guaranteed that either Gonzaga or Michigan State is overrated. I think MD will have the best athletes on the floor in both of those games.

In case you are curious, the other potential opponents for the Terps are Wichita State, Siena, Tennessee, and Georgetown. (How sweet would a win over Georgetown in the finals be? Where would that rank on a scale of 1 -10? a 15?)

Other Non-Conference Tests (3 wins)

Michigan (home), George Washington (neutral), Charlotte (home)

Michigan sucks. We beat Charlotte on the road last year, and damnit, I’m sick of losing to GW every year. They aren’t good. We should win by 15 points, and frankly, Maryland fans deserve a win in this “rivalry” that is inexplicably competitive.

So headed in to the ACC schedule, I’ve got the Terps sitting at 12-2. Seems plausible, right? Things seem to be setting up nicely for the conference schedule.

ACC Season (10 wins)

Home Wins: Georgia Tech, Viginia, Boston College, Virginia Tech, Duke, Wake Forest

Home Losses: UNC, Miami

Road Wins: Florida St, Georgia Tech, Clemson (revenge!), NC State

Road Losses: Miami, Duke, UNC, Virginia

I think the ACC is relatively weak this year. Aside from Duke and UNC, no one else scares me. Some of my predicted highlights:

-Maryland wins the Gus Gilchrist Classic vs. Va Tech.

-I can’t envision our big guys competing with Hansborough, so UNC will sweep.

-I hate Duke too much to ever concede a sweep. We get a win at home and Jon Scheyer makes a funny face during the game (who am I kidding? That’s every game).

-Miami is like kryptonite to Maryland so they get us twice.

-Clemson will get beat simply because the Terps have it circled on the schedule, and the entire fan base needs a catharsis.

-We can’t beat UVA on the road. I don’t know why.

-BC, NC State, and Ga Tech suck.

According to my count, the Terps will finish the season 22-8 (10-6) in the regular season. That’s good enough for a #3 seed in the conference and a #5 seed in the Big Dance. Yes, in perhaps his greatest coaching job ever, Gary Williams gets it done and proves the doubters wrong.

I’m Jeremy Gold and I approved this message.

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.

Terps Football Preview

Before I get going, a couple of housekeeping notes….

  1. My lack of production this summer is inexcusable. Not that you care, but I’m chalking up my hideous performance to the fact that my company is going through a major transition (we are combining with our parent company), and this basketball offseason has depressed me beyond belief. With the Fall semester quickly approaching, we are popping out of hibernation. I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank all of the loyal Turtle Soupers who kept this site alive during our sporadic summer postings. Thanks so much.
  2. ESPN’s college hoops crew should be taken out and shot for that hatchet job they recently published where they attempted to rank the best college basketball programs of the last 25 years. In that time, less than 20 teams won a National Championship, and even fewer went to 11 straight NCAA Tournaments. Yet somehow, Maryland was ranked #28? That is asinine. Thank God, no one actually takes the writers at ESPN seriously (sans Bill Simmons of course). They do employ Dick Vitale after all.

(Speaking of which did anyone catch this tidbit in Sporting News this week? It’s a throwaway puff piece on Greg Paulus, but it contained this gem: “Dick Vitale is….Awesome….I love listening to him and he is one of the best in the game.” Shocker. Perhaps Vitale’s incessant bloviating about Duke has something to do with him being one of Paulus’ favorites?)

Onto the task at hand. Before I begin, I want to say that it is nearly impossible to predict a season’s worth of college football performances in the month of July. All I know is that everyone and their mother is short-selling the Terps because of the questions at QB. I’ve heard the negatives already:

– Jordan Steffy has been concussed five times and sucked even when he did play.

– Chris Turner is not D-1 caliber athlete.

– Josh Portis is an idiot.

Aside from Portis’ intelligence, I can verify the other two statements. Steffy is totally worthless. Turner is no athlete. Between the two, I’d take Turner any day of the week. As far as I’m concerned, his “big” wins at Rutgers and vs. BC have earned him the starting nod. Portis should only get the nod if Turner starts to crap the bedearly in the season.

The Terps will return one of the best playmakers in the nation, Darius Heyward-Bey. He will be the number 1 option. The Fridge will need to get Heyward-Bey involved in creative ways if his QB is unable to hit him for long plays down the field. Ralph exceeds at finding ways to get his skill guys the ball, so we should continue to look for that in 2008.

Graduation hit the backfield hard, but Morgan Green and De’Rei Scott are intriguing youngsters and should present a1-2 punch for the Terps.

The bottom line for me is that I think the Terps QB problems are overstated. Between Turner and Portis, someone will emerge as a consistent performer.

As for the defense, Linebacker Erin Henderson is gone by way of the NFL Draft and Isaiah Gardner, J.J Justice and Christian Varner in the secondary have graduated. Despite these losses, the Terps Defense always seems to find a way to keep the team in the game.

So how do I see the schedule unfolding? Here’s my scientific analysis:

Aug. 30 Delaware – No Joe Flacco. No chance for the Blue Hens. Terps 1-0

Sept. 06 @ Middle Tennessee – Weird road game spells danger. Playing @MTSU is not exactly like playing @Florida, but early road games scare me. But, I don’t care. What’s the point of writing a blog about the Terps if I don’t think they roll over MTSU? Terps 2-0

Sept. 13 California- What’s not to love about the Terps first intersectional game with the Pac-10 in God knows how long? A win here, and the Terps are riding high. It’s a noon ET start which will hopefully make Cal a little travel weary for kickoff. Cal probably has better personnel, but this game is a chance to make a statment. The home crowd lifts the Terps to a rousing victory. Terps 3-0

Sept. 20 Eastern Michigan. No hangover here. EMU is a cupcake. Terps 4-0

Sept. 27 @ Clemson. It’s back to reality. The Tigers are simply too good to lose in Death Valley this year. Who are we kidding? The Terps aren’t even good enough to beat them in College Park. Even so, if the Terps make it this far and remain undefeated; who in Terp Nation won’t be glued to the TV for this one? Terps 4-1

Oct. 04 @ Virginia – Well, the Terps have to win a road ACC game at some point. Who better than a little revenge against UVA? Lord knows they are beatable. Without Howie Long Jr. inflicting damage, I think the Terps can win this one. Terps 5-1

Oct. 18 Wake Forest – The Terps can’t win all their home games, but they gave one away last year at Wake. The Terps return the favor. Terps 6-1 (Do you believe bowl eligible in October??)

Oct. 25 North Carolina State – Worst team in the ACC besides Duke. The Terps won’t win any easy games in the ACC, but this may be the closest they come. Terps 7-1 (are you enjoying this yet??)

Clearly, the schedule is front-loaded. The Terps must win the early games because it gets ugly in a hurry.

Nov. 06 @ Virginia Tech – Loss. Terps 7-2

Nov. 15 North Carolina. UNC is still a year away. Terps get to eight wins. Terps 8-2

Nov. 22 Florida State – Loss. Terps 8-3

Nov. 29 @ Boston College – The good part: Hey, the Terps play after Thanksgiving! The bad part: In New England. Loss. Terps 8-4

There you have it. Whoever said I that I don’t wear rose-rolored glasses? My predictions are definitely wrong, definitely optimistic, but definitely possible. Either way, it shoud be an exciting Fall for Fridge’s boys.

After last season’s basketball collapse, the Orioles predictable fade, and the Ravens going into the season with Troy Smith as the starting QB; I could go for a wild and exciting season in Byrd Stadium.

Basketball Season Preview, Part 2: The Good

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In the first half of my season preview (the Ugly), I outlined some of the biggest questions our young Terps will have to answer in order to be successful this season. Now, let’s take a look at the schedule and try to make some relatively unbiased (as if) predictions for the season to come.

Let’s break the season down into three manageable parts:

1. The No-Way-In-Hell-Could-We-Possibly-Lose Games

North Florida, Hampton/Tulsa, Lehigh, Northeastern, Morgan State, Ohio, American, Delaware, Savannah State, Holy Cross.

Total that up and you have 10 guaranteed wins. If any of these games wind up in the loss column, well you can pretty much forget the season because our RPI ranking will sink so low, that it will be extremely difficult to dredge it up to at-large status without some big ACC road victories (UNC).

2. Out-of-Conference Tests

Illinois (at home), O’Reilly Auto Parts Semifinal Game (likely UCLA), O’Reilly Auto Parts Championship/Consulation Game (either Mich St. or Missouri) , Charlotte (Away).

First of all, what the hell is the O’Reilly Auto Parts Classic? Can’t there be some sort of screening process for sponsors? I mean there are plenty of brands out there willing to shell out dollars for a sponsorship and the best they could come up with was O’Reilly Auto Parts? I actually went to the O’Reilly Auto Parts web site (yes, I am a loser) and of the four flagship schools participating in the Tournament (Maryland, Missouri, UCLA, and Michigan State), only one of them (Missouri) actually has an O’Reilly Auto Parts Store located in the state. Who are the ad wizards who came up with that one? Seriously, I think we if all threw in $100, we could rename the Tournament ourselves. How does the “John Scheyer Disturbing Facial Expressions Classic” sound? But I digress.

Back to the preview. I think that of the games listed above, Illinois at home will prove to be the easiest. That program has been hit pretty hard in recent months (you may recall Jamar Smith’s DUI related accident that injured several of his teammates). What’s more, we beat these guys on the road last year and I think that we will be able to handle them at Comcast.

While we are here, do you think it is possible to for the ACC and Big Ten to vary the matchups a little? I think that over the last 8 years, Maryland has played Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Illinois. Could a brotha get an Iowa or a Michigan as a change of pace? Sheesh!

Charlotte concerns me because it is a road game and in the middle of the ACC schedule. That is a trap game if I ever saw one, but we will be favored.

As for the “John Scheyer Face Classic” games, I think it is a stretch to assume we will win the thing. UCLA will be tough, so look for us to be playing in the consolation game. I do think we can eke out a win against either Michigan State or Missouri (Note: this is played in Kansas City, so Mizzou is basically at home should we meet them).

So what to make of this jumbled mess that is the challenging part of our non-conference schedule? Let’s say three wins and one loss. For those keeping score, that gives the Terps a 13-1 non-conference record. Historically, this is in line with most of Gary Williams’ teams. The Terps rarely make it out of the non-conference schedule unscathed, but it is just as rare thay they have more than two losses. Looking at this year’s crop of opponents, I am sticking a 13-1 stamp on it, wrapping it in a bow, and calling it day.

3. The Meat (aka ACC Schedule)

What do we know? We know UNC is the odds on favorite to win the conference. We know that Duke has John Scheyer prominently involved in their plans (this is a good thing for us, trust me). We know that UVA has a Terp killer in Singletary. As for the rest of the schools, it is exceedingly hard to predict anything. BC could suck or finish second in the conference. I feel like I could say the same about Wake, NC State, and Va Tech. I can’t imagine a world where Florida State, Clemson, and Miami are simultaneously in the upper echelons of the conference, so let’s assume its more of the same from those bottom feeders. Ga Tech is always a wild card. I never know what to expect.

So what does this all mean? Let’s try to keep things simple. At worst, the Terps will finish 6-2 at home and at best they could go undefeated. I just can’t see them losing more than two conference games at home. As for the road games, I envision somewhere between 3 and 5 wins. All told, I think the Terps will likely grab somewhere between 8 and 11 conference wins.

As much as I’d like to believe the number will be closer to 11, reality tells me that with this many underclassmen; the number will be closer to 8. I think the Terps will head into the ACC tournament with a 9-7 record, 11-5 if we get some breaks along the way.

If I were to place a weighted average on some scenarios, it would like this:

10%: 20 – 10 (7-9) NCAA bubble. Need two ACC Tournament wins to get in

20%: 21-9 (8-8) Good side of the NCAA bubble. Still need to win a game in the ACC Tourney to punch the ticket.

40%: 22-8 (9-7) Somwhere between #5 and #8 seed depending on the ACCs

20%: 23-7 (10-6) #4 seed in the Tourney

10%: 24-6 (11-5) #2 seed in the Tourney

When one throws it all together, it is easy to see that Gary has built this team for 2009 and 2010. These guys will be good this year, but if everything goes according plan; they could be cutting the nets down before the end of the decade.

Terps Picked To Finish Sixth In The ACC

Is there any poll with less credibility than the annual preseason poll by ACC beat writers? I think when Maryland won it all in 2002, the writers still picked the Terps to finish third in the conference that year. The bias toward Carolina (UNC and Duke in particular) is so obvious and has continued on for so long, that it is comical.

The post season polls for that matter are just as bad. I love when UNC freshman role players make the second and third team All-ACC, while upperclassmen leaders from Maryland, UVA, et. al. barely get honorable mention.


Terps Hoops Preview Part 1: The Ugly

Welcome to the fourth year of Turtle Soup’s coverage of Maryland Basketball. It’s good to have you all back for what should be a thrilling season.

Next to March Madness, there is no time as exciting as Midnight Madness. So much hope, so much possibility! The 2007-08 edition of the Maryland Terrapins will be no different. Gary Williams will go into the season with five freshman and three sophomores among his top 10 players. We will be young and we will be fun, and of course, they will aggravate the crap out of me. The over/under for the number of times that my wife questions why she married me is seven. Let the good times roll.

Nevertheless, when the games do start, I expect Gary Williams to trot out the following five when we begin play against North Florida: wait, North Florida? I have heard of South Florida U. I have heard of Central Florida, Florida Atlantic, and Florida International, but from under what rock did North Florida crawl? I have no idea what conference claims North Florida (or is it Northern Florida), but it better be a D-1 school. Anyway, the starting five:

C- Braxton Dupree

PF- Bambale Osby

SF- James Gist

SG- Greivis Vasquez

PG- Eric Hayes

It is not the best starting five during Gary’s tenure, but it is exceedingly talented and filled with many question marks. Considering my tendency to start with the negative, let us begin by addressing those question marks.

1. Backcourt defense. Vasquez and Hayes lack the lateral quickness needed to stay with most ACC guards. This is probably the most gaping hole going into the season. I can visualize Singletary and Lawson slicing through these two as they get to the lane at will. We simply don’t have a defensive stopper like DJ Strawberry to put a clamp on the quick guards. Don’t get me wrong, I expect Vasquez to build on his success from last year. He could well emerge as a lottery pick or late first rounder if he can make the leap to another level; but before NBA scouts can take him seriously, his defense needs to dramatically improve.

Did you happen to see what Kobe Bryant did to Vaz at the World Basketball Championships this summer? If you missed the first five minutes of the USA vs. Venezuela game, then you missed two Kobe steals and some vicious in-your-face drives. Kobe took Greivis out of the game from the start. And it was because of his quickness (see above).

2. Braxton Dupree. Before even playing a game, he has been inducted into the all-time name team at Maryland. (His locker is next Exree Hipp’s and adjacent to Herman Veal’s for those keeping score.) All kidding aside, Dupree’s inexperience at the five spot is of major concern. He is the wildcard. If he can get us 10 ppg and 8 rpg, then we will be good to go up front. If we can’t rely on him or if he is prone to foul trouble, then watch out. It could be a long year.

(Note: If Dupree proves effective early in the season, coaches will start going at him in the first half. A key stat will be how many times Dupree picks up his second foul with 10 minutes or more to go in the first half. If he sits more than he plays in the first half, the Terps will be too thin up front. Of course, this is all moot, if the kid can’t play as advertised.)

3. James Gist. Mr. Gist simply can’t have off-nights. He needs to be assertive and demand the ball in the half court. He is our best half court scorer and number 1 option. In the past, he has displayed that odious tendency to disappear in games. James Gist will need to take 10-15 shots per game in order for Maryland to be effective. With two guys (Hayes and Vasquez) who can get in the lane and create, he should get some nice looks.

4. The bench. No one on the Terp bench has played significant minutes at the college level. Consider the fact that David Neal is by far the most experienced guy. We have four freshman and Landon Milbourne. These guys could give us 25-30 points per game, or they could give us 5 points. I honesly have no idea. This terrifies me.

Some have wondered (including a mysterious “Chris” on Heather “I’m not sure why I got this job” Dinich’s blog on the Baltimore Sun site) whether or not Milbourne will start over Bambale Osby. To those I say this: have you been following Gary Williams for the last 18 years? Bambale is a senior and he has experience. Not only that, but Gist is a natural small forward who happens to be deadly accurate from three. Gist needs to concentrate on scoring and Osby will take some defensive pressure off Gist. I love Osby’s hustle and defense. He definitely proved to me that he can guard big guys in the ACC. He is a beast and a great glue guy. Let’s see if Milbourne can score a point or two before we anoint him as the starter.

Those are my concerns. What are yours? In the next post, I will look towards the upcoming season and try to make some predictions. I recommend that you wear your rose-colored glasses while reading.

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