Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Maryland Basketball Moves Back to Center Stage

So now that the Ravens season is done, we can finally turn the page and move on to college basketball; just as much a part of this state's sports culture as football in my humble opinion. Around the Harbor will be switching focus primarily to the Terps and college basketball (though there will be some discussion on the Orioles offseason thus far and the coming Ravens offseason moves).

With that out of the way, let's get to tonight's crucial (yet unconvincing) win over the rival Virginia Cavaliers. I know a good number of Maryland fans don't recognize this as a rivalry, but historically the Terps and Cavaliers have been rivals and their recent encounters in all sports have begun to fuel that rivalry. This game in particular, which ended with a Maryland win by the score of 84-78, was far closer than it should have been and indicative of the second-half struggles this team has had in their recent ACC play. Regardless, their improved shot selection and rebounding helped this team edge out the Wahoos.

The good:
- Eric Hayes quietly had a very good game, making two key three pointers (albeit on an overall 2-7 beyond the arc) and dishing 11 assists with zero turnovers. Hayes' decision making has been suspect for the last couple seasons in my opinion, and this game really shows a turn in a positive direction. The key for Hayes offensively is to have more faith in his three point shot and not be too eager to drive to the basket; when Hayes is playing to his strength there's a far better flow to the Terps offense.
- Dave Neal and Landon Milbourne both had solid performances both scoring and on the glass. While Neal only put up 8 points, his shots came at the right times in establishing the tempo at the start of the game and giving the offense a spark when they were struggling in the second half. Landon on the other hand put on a more statistically impressive show, converting on all of his free throws and shooting a solid 5-9 resulting in 17 points. Landon Milbourne's mid-range jump shot is, in my opinion, the key to his game and when he's hitting it he can be a major offensive force.
- Gary Williams was able to get more of his bench involved in the game. Yes, the bench is thin and you certainly want the best players on the floor, but the starters need more rest to be effective in the second half. Plus, the only way these bench players are going to improve is by throwing them into the fire; there is no way the Terps can be a tournament team if Gary uses the smaller rotation employed in the Miami and Florida State debacles. Dino Gregory and Sean Mosley made solid contributions off the bench tonight, and both will be vital down the stretch.

The bad:

- Dino Gregory needs to keep himself out of foul trouble. Maryland only has two true big men in Dino Gregory and Braxton Dupree. Given Braxton's ineffectiveness offensively and defensively, Dino Gregory must step up and be able to take on significant minutes. And speaking of Braxton, he continues to struggle with his shot and in controlling the boards. With Braxton's frame, at the very least he must be a presence in the paint and haul in more rebounds than he has been; I believe if he played with a little more fire he could do just that.
- The second half struggles of this team is more than just a passing concern. In losses to Florida State, Miami, and Morgan State, the Terps held second half leads that they could not hold onto. In particular, Miami and Morgan State were well in hand before the Terps coughed them up. Certainly an improved rotation and staying out of foul trouble are the top two goals to avoiding these collapses.

That's about it for now; let's hope the Terps build off of this success to give Duke a run on Saturday. Trust me, I'm not the most optimistic Terps fan by any stretch, but keep this in mind: based on their track records, these two facts are true of Gary Williams' teams:
1) They can lose to anyone on any given day (Morgan State).
2) They can beat anyone on any given day (Michigan State).

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