Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Okay So... Orioles Now, Huh?

It seems like Maryland sports did us good these last few months, which if you had asked me in December I thought we would have the most active spring training analysis out there. The lack of which was a result of all the other great achievements that pushed the upcoming 60-70 win season to the backburner. While we are all in mourning over the Lady Terps’ fall in the Elite Eight, let’s appreciate the run that they made and the excitement that the men’s team gave us in miraculously making the tournament and upsetting Cal in the first round.

However, I have to say a bit about the Louisville game last night. When a team gets accustomed to coming from behind like Maryland had this NCAA tournament, fans will wait and wait for that big run to come. A few times I thought it was there- when Krisit Toliver made a three pointer followed up by the supporting cast putting together a nifty layup. At the end of the day, a team’s stars have to come through and make the plays to create momentum and take the game over. The Cardinals did an excellent job of stifling Toliver and Coleman for the most part and forcing the other role players to keep the Terps in the game. And they did, for the most part. The intensity however was clearly on the side of the Cardinals and every time Maryland looked to make a run Louisville didn’t flinch. I don’t know how much the variety of defenses Louisville threw at Maryland was the result of their Coach Jeff Walz’s tutelage at the hands of Brenda Frese, but it was effective. This was a terrible way for Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver to end their careers at Maryland, that is all I can say.

Now I suppose, with about a week left until Opening Day, we are finally compelled to turn our eyes to the Orioles and the disastrous starting rotation, the Matt Wieters-watch, and look once again for improvement. It seemed like last year we entered the season with the same sort of patience, but fans quickly grew restless when the expected outcome actually came to pass. Fans said before the season that they knew the Orioles would be awful but were happy with the direction it was going; they were essentially told it would get worse before it got better. And yet as the trade deadline approached there were many Baltimore fans who wanted the Orioles to make a move; to add a bat to strengthen the middle of the lineup or make a push for a high quality shortstop. This year could even be worse than last year if the pitching staff plays to most people’s (not mine) expectations. Let’s hope that patience keeps up this time around.

The most exciting and most hyped part of this season (both locally and nationally) is the arrival of Matt Wieters in Baltimore sometime this summer. He is being hailed as the next Longoria, or even more incredible- the best catcher in the American League (yes, including Joe Mauer)! We often forget how young Wieters is and how much development he may need- hitting against real major leaguers is much different than spring training or AA work, and catching against some of the smartest hitters in the game is a tremendous challenge for a rookie catcher. Look, I am certain he will do well in the long run, but how will fans react if he is hitting .220 a month into his time with the O’s? I don’t think it will happen, but if he does struggle the fan base will have to restrain themselves and keep up the patience a bit longer.

Since the last baseball season ended for the Orioles, we have seen Joe Flacco lead last year’s 6-10 club to the AFC Championship game. We have also seen the Maryland football team play erratically game to game en route to a Boise, Idaho bowl win. The Men’s basketball team disappointed then massively improved to squeak into the NCAA tournament, and the Women’s team played out of their minds until coughing it up in the Elite Eight. And of course along the way Maryland soccer picked up a national championship. All of the teams we closely follow here on ATH made the postseason, something rather incredible considering how negative the news seems at the time. Now we enter a season that seems slated to test our resolve for rebuilding. Whether we like it or not it’s Orioles time, brace yourself.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Lady Terps Aim For the Final Four

On the women's side of the NCAA Tournament, the 1-seed Lady Terps are one game away from the Final Four in the Raleigh Bracket. At 7:00 PM they will go against 3-seed Louisville for a trip to St. Louis.

Against 4-seed Vanderbilt, Maryland nearly blew it, going down 18 points early. But Marissa Coleman took over, scoring a clear career high 42 points and the Terps got the lead just in time, winning 78-74 over the Commodores. This was the second straight year the Lady Terps defeated Vanderbilt in the Sweet 16. Last year they lost to Stanford in the Spokane bracket, this time they face Louisville in the Raleigh.

Louisville has a very big weapon, their head coach Jeff Walz. Coach Walz was Maryland's primary assistant to Brenda Frese just two years ago and was a key recruiter of the 2006 National Championship team. Most of the current Maryland players that were recruited during Walz's time in College Park still talk to him and even attended a Louisville game this season. These players include Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver. Although Walz did not recruit a few of Maryland's key players, including the down low players Lynetta Kizer and Dee Liles, Coleman and Toliver are the main players on this team. It will be interesting to see if this relationship is a big factor.

The game tonight is at 7:00 PM. The winner goes to the Final Four, and the Terps are looking to defend their one seed.

(Photo credit: AP)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Jeremy Guthrie Named Opening Day Starter For Orioles

The Orioles have named Jeremy Guthrie the Opening Day starter according to Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun. He did this last year and will faceoff against C.C. Sabathia when they host the Yankees on April 6th.

Guthrie has spent most of his spring training with the U.S. WBC team, but he barely pitched at all. Now back in uniform with the Orioles he has struggled getting into his groove. Koji Uehara was thought to be the best pitcher so far in spring training, but the Orioles will stick with their ace Guthrie and start him Opening Day.

With so many questions about the Orioles rotation, Guthrie will need to be back to form. The fact is this rotation has a lot of arms but nobody standing out that will be in the rotation. The O's don't want to throw their top three pitching prospects into the fire yet, them being Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, and Jake Arrieta, but in order to ensure that the Orioles don't bring them up yet, they need their stopgaps to perform. Having a solid ace will easily help matters. A lot of support will be needed from Guthrie and Uehara in order to lead the rotation successfully.

(Photo credit: AP)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Orioles Moving Closer to a Defined Rotation

After it was announced today that Danys Baez will not be in contention for the starting rotation, the Orioles have now focused the competition on five pitchers searching for the remaining three starting spots. Danys Baez was eliminated from contention for most likely two reasons: 1) He was relatively ineffective this spring in pitching to an underwhelming 5.54 ERA, and 2) Baez was unable to utilize his offspeed pitches due to either injury or lack of confidence (or both). It was admirable that Baez has made such a strong attempt to come back, but it simply makes more sense from the team's perspective to have him earn his spot out of the bullpen rather than putting him in a role that he doesn't belong in.

So now the final three rotation spots will be filled by some combination of: Hayden Penn, Adam Eaton, Mark Hendrickson, Alfredo Simon, and Brian Bass. In my opinion, none of these five qualify as a solid major league starter, but as of right now they are the best options the Orioles have without risking their young prospects. Of these five only Hendrickson seems to be a lock for the rotation in that the Orioles front office went out of their way to sign him and at the very least he is a veteran who knows how to pitch (even if he is better suited as a swingman). The next name I would guess would be Adam Eaton for the same reason as Hendrickson, in that while Eaton has pitched poorly in recent years, he is a veteran who has been around and is more likely to be a stable presence. Alfredo Simon, a relative unknown, is likely to claim the last spot if only for his somewhat impressive spring over some of the other pitchers in camp. Both Brian Bass and Hayden Penn have been given ample opportunity to succeed (particularly Penn, who has one more chance to make a statement as he takes over Baez's scheduled start on Thursday), but they simply haven't produced as others have. Furthermore, Brian Bass would have had to show a good deal this spring to change minds in the organization after he struggled mightily late last season. Hayden Penn was once a top prospect but is now out of minor league options, so it's most likely that the team will put him as the long reliever and hope that he comes around at the major league level.

So what does this all add up to? A very very frightening year for Orioles pitching. The pitching depth in this organization is excellent, but right now the Orioles are in a very "wait, wait, not yet" mode with their pitchers. Top prospects like Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, and others are simply too young to come up. Others like Troy Patton, Rich Hill and Matt Albers are still waiting to get over the hump coming off of injury. Thankfully arms like Patton, Hill, Albers, and Bergesen should be ready to come up at some point this year, but Orioles fans need to be understanding of this situation. The major league pitching will be bad this year, possibly historically bad at the start of the season. But patience is key, because the future is coming; it's just not here yet.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Final Thoughts on Maryland Basketball

Maryland's run through the NCAA Tournament ended over the weekend after the Tigers completely dominated the Terps 89-70 in the NCAA Second Round in the Kansas City regional. Greivis Vasquez's comments on Memphis's conference came back to haunt him, as the Tigers took Maryland down easily. The 10-seed Maryland upset 7-seed California in the first round, but their run is over.

Looking back on this team, it is quite the story on how well these men played. Everything did not seem to look right for Maryland. They had no dominant front court, with their tallest starter being a 6'7'' player that was seemingly out-of-shape. Their leader was the target of everyone, including some of the home fans. The head coach was under attack from some fans and the media. The athletic director and coaching staff continued to fight. The Terps were picked to finish 11th in the conference. Losses to Morgan State and Virginia seemed to nullify wins against North Carolina and Michigan State. But through everything, this team made it to the NCAA Tournament and won a game, which is much farther than almost anyone had them going.

Dave Neal, a player widely considered a joke coming into the season, became an important leader on the court plus a credible player. His clutch three-point shooting and heart were invaluable. His basketball career might be over, but he stepped up when needed in his senior year.

Greivis Vasquez remained the leader of the team despite constant attacks from arrogant Maryland fans and the media. Though he was not perfect by any means, his play was key to Maryland's success. Without him, it is hard to imagine Maryland being competitive.

And Gary Williams is probably the best story of them all. Every year a number of people, coined Gary-haters, attack him for not being a good coach, apparently believing that 13 NCAA Tournaments out of 16 years is not enough and that we should be in the Sweet 16 every year. Even after winning a game in the Tournament and losing to a very high seeded team, they still call for his head. The athletic department and the media was on his back constantly. Through all of it, he kept his team motivated and backed up his players, and they in turn backed him up and turned the 08-09 year into a very successful one. Despite the problems the team had, the lack of size and consistent shooting, this team was turned into a very good one that could compete with the best. Not to mention winning the first round for the eighth straight opportunity.

I want to give congratulations to everyone in the Maryland basketball program for a great season. We will hopefully see you all next year.

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Preview: (10) Maryland vs. (2) Memphis- Fight for the Sweet 16

While the rest of the ACC (save for UNC and Duke) are falling apart, the Terps are still in the hunt after the first round. They are taking on a popular Final Four pick in many brackets, not to mention last year's runner-up in the Memphis Tigers, the #2 seed in the West Regional. Let's take a look at Memphis, and what Maryland will have to do to pull off the upset.

(2) Memphis 32-3 (16-0), Conference USA

What to Watch Out For: The Tigers have a different player leading just about every statistical category. Much is made of Tyreke Evans with his 16.6 points per game, but they have weapons all over the court with the presence of Shawn Taggart and Robert Dozier underneath, both averaging over 7 rebounds a contest. They should be able to hammer the boards over Maryland’s undersized lineup. However, Maryland has had to overcome this in just about every ACC game this season, so this will be nothing new. Against the Cal State Northridge Matadors, their bench also shined as Roburt Sallie could not be stopped from three point range en route to 35 points. Their bench is not usually a significant part of their offense, but Sallie could be a real player to watch if he gets hot again.

What you Might Not Know: This is also a much improved free throw shooting team, with all but one starter shooting 70% or better from the line. A major knock on this team last season was their lack of consistency at the charity stripe, and it may have even done in their national championship hopes last year. However, I still feel good if Maryland has to foul late.

Why Memphis Can Win: In the first round, Memphis was (by admission of their players and Coach John Calipari) looking ahead to the next round and wasn’t prepared for the aggressiveness of Cal State- Northridge. They should be geared up for this one, especially with Greivis Vasquez unwisely stoking the flames by claiming that Memphis would finish under .500 in the ACC. Northridge utilized a pressure zone defense to limit Memphis’ opportunities for good shots, limiting the Tigers to 1-13 from behind the arc with the exception of Sallie’s barrage of threes- Memphis now has more experience with this style, the same one Maryland used against California and the same one the Terps will likely try today. Additionally, Memphis has a great deal more experience in the tournament than Maryland and will react to the pressure with more composure than the Maryland squad that was hammered in the second round in their last foray into March Madness.

Why Maryland Can Win: This team just has “it” right now. They seem to be finding ways to win that they never could rely on earlier in the season. Eric Hayes has finally decided not to be a pure shooter and drive to be basket with more regularity, which should catch the Tigers off guard as they carefully watch Greivis Vasquez. While Vasquez shouldn’t have called out Conference USA, there is no question that they have been tested more often in conference than the Memphis Tigers. They have fought tough against the top teams in the country on a consistent basis late in the season, while Memphis hasn’t played against a truly high quality team since February 7th against Gonzaga, and lost against the two other tournament teams they played this season, Xavier and Syracuse, early in the season. Gary Williams will be able to come up with a creative game plan to enable Maryland to run with Memphis and take advantage of their speed to neutralize their opponent’s size advantage.

The Rundown: Memphis will be able to concentrate their defense on Vasquez to bottle up his opportunities and force his supporting cast to make plays without him- they won’t be able to make enough, though they will keep it close early. Maryland simply isn’t deep enough to keep up with Memphis for a full 40 minutes, and Vasquez will get into foul trouble as he plays even more aggressive to get out of the Tiger’s pressure D. Vasquez talked about “showing [Memphis] what the ACC is all about.” The ACC is 3-4 so far in this tournament, and I just don’t see it getting much better. Memphis might not be very tested, but they are overflowing with talent and are too deep to fall apart late in the game.

Memphis is favored by 9 points. The nod goes to the Tigers, but the Terps should cover.

Photo Credit: (Baltimore Sun/Karl Merton Ferron)

Free Kicks: Pat Myself on the Back Edition

So I know things have been sparse and spotty on the blog this week, but trust me there is a very good reason. I have been in the Midwest on a business trip, Falco is broadcasting games left and right, and Windsor... is in Disneyworld. Yes, Disneyworld. I am not sure what he ever did to deserve such a joy as the rest of us are slaving away to keep this shop open, but he has decided that Space Mountain trumps Maryland in the Big Dance. If MD hadn't beaten Cal, I might not have blamed him. So for this week you have been left with me, and no I don't post during my meetings (unfortunately). Before I hurry and post a last minute preview for the Memphis game, let’s take a moment to sit back, relax, and line up for the kick…

The Official Patting Myself on the Back Moment

Back on Tuesday, I predicted three major upsets that most of the prognosticators were overlooking. I called (10) Michigan to take down (7) Clemson, (12) Western Kentucky over (5) Illinois, and in the biggest shocker, I thought (13) Cleveland State's defense would be too much for (4) Wake Forest and in doing so I predicted the upset. I was wrong on one count- Cleveland State scored 84 points, far above what I thought. This incredibly lucky swathe of correct predictions deserved a bit of recognition, though even I didn’t think I would hit all three. In retrospect I wish I had had the resolve to go with (11) Dayton over (6) West Virginia; while I thought it would be close I didn’t think Dayton would win. West Virginia could have gone far in this tournament, they just got a bad draw in taking on one of the few solid mid-major teams to get an at-large this year.

Ravens Not Standing Pat as Draft Approaches

Early in this offseason you could have counted the number of draft needs into about half-dozen positions. While the number of positions the Ravens could use long-term help at hasn’t diminished, the need for some of them has taken a back seat. The signing of nickelback and kick returner Chris Carr helps solidify the punt return and kick return depth with the loss of Jim Leonhard, and I love the signing of L.J. Smith. When healthy, Smith is one of the best receiving tight ends in the NFL. He hasn’t been healthy much over the last two years, but he won’t be on the field as much as the #2 tight end behind Todd Heap. Heap has been plagued with injuries on his own over the last few seasons, and Smith will help make this unit much deeper- we won’t be caught with Edgar Jones at #1 if Heap goes down. With starting cornerbacks Dominique Foxworth and Fabian Washington set, the Ravens have replaced their top three cornerbacks from this time last year with Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle, and (thank God) Corey Ivy off the team. They could still use some help, but this pretty much narrows the 1st round options. I know Ozzie Newsome likes to go with “best player available”, but let’s hope that player is a wide receiver.

Maryland Takes on Memphis, Looking for Sweet 16 Berth
You think I would take this on in a Free Kicks segment? I gotta start on the preview!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Postgame Analysis: Terps put Golden Bears in Hibernation

If you are a Maryland fan you have to be thrilled about this win. Maryland was picked by many prognosticators to take this game with the way they played in the ACC tournament. Four players (Vasquez, Bowie, Hayes, and Neal) had at least 14 points, and the Terps were lights out in the second half, raising their field goal percentage from 37-49% from halftime to the final buzzer. Greivis Vasquez was a man possessed, racking up 27 points and 7 rebounds along with countless pressure-induced steals late in the game.

However, California did little to help themselves. They shot an abysmal 29% from three point land, 14% below their season average of 43%, highest in the nation. Many Terps fans will chalk this up to Maryland’s stout zone defense, but throughout the game the Bears had some great looks at the basket but they just went completely cold. Additionally, this is not a team that has had to rely on their inside game and as such, they didn’t make nearly as big of an impact in the paint as they could have against this undersized Maryland lineup. Despite all of this, Maryland took the Cal game plan and completely turned it on its head. Once Cal lost its composure and confidence in its outside shot, the Terps were able to eliminate the only other offensive options for the Golden Bears.

The key factor in this ballgame was Gary Williams’ coaching. He did an amazing job in planning for this game and taking the opponent out of their element entirely. For all their deficiencies in size, this team will never be out-worked or out-coached. A lot of focus will be given to Vasquez, and deservedly so, but this was one of Coach Williams’ better games this season (and that is saying something). Now Maryland will go on to face Memphis, which struggled early against Cal State- Northridge before pulling away late, likely indicative of simply overlooking their opponent and sleeping on the low seeded Matadors. They won’t be sleeping on the Terps, but we will save that for another day.

I think this game deserves an MVP/LVP:

MVP: How could it be anyone other than Greivis Vasquez? He makes this team function; without him this team gets outscored by anyone. However, I will give it to someone else just for variety. Dave Neal was a presence inside, and as I cited during the game, he was everywhere on the court. He kept Cal from taking over inside and even racked up a steal to complement his 15 points and 4 rebounds. His performance isn’t huge in the stat line, but the lone senior is playing all-out to have just one more game.

LVP: This is hard, but I have to give it to Sean Mosley. He disappeared early in the game by racking up 3 careless fouls and going 1-4 in his field goal attempts. He had 2 assists to 1 turnover, but he just wasn’t a factor when the rest of his compatriots were stepping up their games.

(10) Maryland vs. (7) Cal, In-Game Reactions- 2nd Half

And the second half begins…

MD 46, CAL 44; 15:14 2nd Half: This game is getting pretty chippy. The Terps have racked up 4 fouls already this half, giving Landon Milbourne 3 on the game and 4 other players saddled with 2. For their part, Cal’s best defender, Jorge Gutierrez, stayed on the court with 3 of his own. Maryland is going to have to play with a bit more discipline, or the bench will be under a lot more pressure. The Golden Bears seem to be playing much looser this half and it might soon start to show on the scoreboard.

CAL 51, MD 50; 11:49 2nd Half: Cal took their first lead at 14:39 after Adrian Bowie missed a wide open three pointer. The Terps took it back at 13:55 but gave it back again soon after. The story of this game so far has got to be Dave Neal- he has never been the most athletic or the most talented player on the court, but he is fighting for one more game in a Terps uniform. He is making all the hustle plays he can and has given Maryland life when they needed it the most. Someone besides Neal and Vasquez is going to have to get hot.

MD 59, CAL 51; 9:55 2nd Half: So just after I write that someone new is going to have to get hot, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne respond with consecutive three pointers to give Maryland their largest lead of the game. Talk about good luck… While Cal has developed a strong presence inside (who hasn’t against Maryland?), they continue to live and die by the three. So far the Bears have been let down by a 4-16 effort so far from behind the arc. I would like to say it is the Terps zone defense that is keeping Cal at bay, but they have missed a lot of good looks today.

MD 63, CAL 53; 7:54 2nd Half: A lot more commercials this half, huh? Anyways, Greivis Vasquez seems to be right into his 2nd-half, big-game self. He launched an air ball but followed it up with a brilliant steal and layup. Maryland is playing with a lot of confidence right now, and the Cal players seem to be getting too anxious for this stage in the game. Cal’s poor shooting seems to be getting into their head- I haven’t seen them play this sloppy all game. They need to stop pressing these deep shots to have a strong chance of coming back, but it is tough to ask a team to change its M.O. in the NCAA tournament.

MD 74, CAL 61; 3:32 2nd Half: Cal is 2/3 from three point range since the last break, but Maryland’s defense has been absolutely incredible, forcing a 5 second violation, a couple steals, an offensive foul, and a host of bad shots from the #7 seed. The whole Terps squad is getting into the act now, this is fun to watch for a Maryland fan.

MD 76, CAL 66; 2:11 2nd Half: The Golden Bears have started a full court press and hit another three pointer to cut the lead to 10. It might not be too late for Cal if they can get into rhythm from behind the arc (better late than never); Maryland is going to have to take their time and not give Cal too many quick possessions.

Maryland 84, California 71; FINAL

Postgame Coming Soon!

(10) Maryland vs. (7) Cal, In-Game Reactions- 1st Half

I am set to write my first ever postgame, but I thought this might be a welcome addition to our blog in the meantime. I have decided to set out my reaction to the game as it comes, updated at some of the commercial breaks when it appeared that things had changed somewhat in momentum or style. Enjoy, postgame will follow the 2nd half reactions!

MD 16, CAL 12; 13:27 1st Half: Maryland has picked up the pace on Cal, something I really didn’t expect- though a fast game is always a good way to make up for a lack of size. It also hasn’t hurt that the Golden Bears can’t seem to hit from the field, going only 33%; way too low for a team that relies on solid shooting.

MD 17, CAL 15; 11:36 1st Half: I am impressed with how Vasquez is rising (yet again) to the occasion, on both offense and defense. The Terps are also getting to the line, which is a welcome surprise compared to what we have seen this season.

MD 24, CAL 21; 7:31 1st Half: The shots are starting to fall for Cal, as they are doing a good job of establishing their confidence at the rim and then going back to the perimeter; the 3s could start hitting home soon. Greivis has picked up another foul and had to sit- which was followed immediately by turnovers on 2 straight possessions. Any question as to how much this team relies on him? Someone else will have to step up the scoring.

MD 24, CAL 24; 3:56 1st Half: Make that 4 straight turnovers, after which Gary Williams had no choice but to put Vasquez back in. Cal’s abysmal shooting is the only thing keeping this in Maryland’s favor, though the Terps are shooting no better. 36% from the field for the Terps, 34% for Cal- neither team is in rhythm from the field.

MD 34, CAL 31; Halftime: Dave Neal hits a three and continues to be overlooked by this Cal defense as he racks up offensive rebounds and gets relatively open shots. Unfortunately, this is not the Cal team we have been accustomed to seeing all season, it is unlikely they will continue to shoot so poorly in the second half. Maryland has faded in the second half of a lot of games this season; they will have to keep up their tough defense and start hitting those jump shots. They spent a few too many possessions trying to draw fouls than actually trying to make the shot by the rim and draw a foul in the process.

The First Round: Terps Take on California

10-seed Maryland is set to begin their NCAA Tournament with their first round match against 7-seed California today in Kansas City.

This will be a matchup of a lot of three-point shooting plus problematic front court play. Neither team has very good big men and rely on perimeter play for needed points.

They have one of the best three-point shooters in the country, Jerome Randle, who coming into this game is a 46.8% shooter beyond the arc. He is a 5'10'' guard who is speedy, and will be an interesting matchup with either Bowie or Vasquez. All the perimeter shooting will come from three people, Randle, Patrick Christopher (37.6%), and Theo Robertson (49.1%, 60 less shots than Randle), who combine for 408 of Cal's 468 three-point attempts this season. As a team they shoot 43.4%.

Their main big man is 6'8'' Jamal Boykin. If that name sounds familiar, it is because he is a Duke transfer. He averages nearly 9.6 points and 6.4 boards a contest. But like Maryland, they don't have many big men and do not rely on winning the boards.

So where does this leave the matchup? This game will be decided by the better perimeter defense. Both teams will expect big shooting from the other; Cal's trio of Randle, Christopher, and Robertson vs. Maryland's perimeter trio of Vasquez, Hayes, and Neal (yes, Neal). Teams hate to live and die by the three, but these teams are very similar in style of play.

Maryland fought hard to get here amist all the turmoil from critics and the media, but they are here now. Good luck to the Terrapins on Thursday.

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Opening Round Games to Watch for... and Under-the-Radar Upsets

March Madness is upon us, with Maryland making an incredible run into the tournament after being left almost for dead by more than a few prognosticators (ATH included) earlier in the season. It is incredible, though not so surprising I suppose, that no one is calling for Gary Williams’ head anymore, though he will still have to do a lot more to return Maryland to its traditional place among the nation’s better (and more consistent) programs. In the meantime, let us revel in the glory that is March Madness- and whether the Terps make it to the Final Four or are knocked out by 3-point-shooting Cal, Maryland fans can rejoice in the rejuvenation of this team over the latter part of the season.

However, as we are inundated with predictions from every bracket, we would be loathe not to include some of our most eagerly awaited matchups from the first round, which will be fun to watch regardless of whether they will make anyone’s Final Four predictions. The joy of March Madness is watching teams that have nothing to lose and are going at one another to stay alive for just one more game. These opening round games will be intriguing enough to make you tune in whether you are a fan of the teams, whether it impacts your bracket, or whether you are just a casual fan.

#5 West Virginia v. #11 Dayton: Dayton is an explosive at-large from the A-10 looking to obtain some credibility against a physical West Virginia squad. I love WVU this year because they can shoot from the outside and have great physical play inside, but Dayton has a decent resume, having beaten Marquette early and Xavier later in the season. I think this is a classic battle of two teams that are probably equal on the court but seeded according to their conference strength.

#8 Louisiana State v. #9 Butler: These are two teams that were both favored going into their conference tournaments but faded in critical games to the eventual winner. How insane is it, by the way, that the #1 team in a major conference winds up as a #8 seed? Not that insane when you look at the SEC this year. We haven’t seen these teams up against high caliber opponents very often this season; we should learn a lot watching these teams take on one another.

As for upsets, VCU, Siena, and USC are cited as being great teams that could make a splash, but let me throw out a couple others you may have overlooked:

#13 Cleveland State over #4 Wake Forest: Wake has played down to competition this season, and if they are caught sleeping against a strong defensive team like Cleveland State this could be a huge upset.

#12 Western Kentucky over #5 Illinois: Just because Illinois can be really bad some nights. And WKU has won 11 of their last 12 games, and their mascot is… well, something.

#10 Michigan over #7 Clemson: Am I a Michigan fan? Yes. Is that why I am calling this upset? Only a little. A diary writer on one of my favorite blogs put it this way when describing Clemson’s offense: “They average 79 points a game to Michigan's 67. Given the ACC at times can be dump-and-go Olympics where defense gives way to LOOKHOWFASTWERUNUPDOWNTHECOURTOMGTYLERHANSBROOOOOOOugh, though, means they might be mildly taken aback to find defenders rotating.” If Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims manage to combine for their obligatory 32 points, Clemson may not be able to overcome the 1-3-1 zone defense that took down Duke, UCLA, Illinois, Minnesota (twice) and Purdue this season.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Maryland Lacrosse Roundup: Taking On The Best

As the country focused on the NCAA men's basketball tournament, the lacrosse world continued to roll on with some of Maryland's teams taking on the best in the sport. UMBC took on Maryland in an in-state rivalry, Johns Hopkins faced-off against Syracuse in a title game rematch, and Towson took on #1 Virginia.

UMBC Upsets Terrapins Again
The #10 Retrievers seem to have #5 Maryland's number lately, with another upset in College Park, winning 9-7 on Saturday. This is the third time in a row that UMBC has upset Maryland.

A big defensive first half saw UMBC go into the locker room up 4-1. Maryland never got their footing, as runs of 5-1 and 4-1 were plenty to take down Maryland. Maryland shot more times but most of them missed the net completely, so Jeremy Blevins was not tested in goal much. The UMBC midfield once again ruled, with Alex Hopmann and Kyle Wimer each getting two goals and an assist, while two Terrapins, Grant Catalino and Ryan Young, scored hat tricks.

This was UMBC's lone match of the week, improving to 4-2 and will take on Ohio State on March 21st. Despite an angry Dave Cottle from that loss, Maryland rebounded and defeated Bryant 13-6 on Sunday, helping by three-goal days by Dan Groot and Travis Reed. Maryland sits at 5-2 and will play their second in-conference game on Saturday against North Carolina.

Battle at the Top: Hopkins Downed by the Orange, Towson falls to Wahoos
Two Maryland-based teams traveled on the road to take on the top teams in the country, and both fell. #8 Hopkins lost in their rematch of last year's title game to #2 Syracuse 14-11 and Towson's struggles continue with a loss to #1 Virginia 11-2.

In front of over 9,000 fans at the Carrier Dome, this match had a lot of hype. Hopkins got out to an early lead against the defending champs, but a 6-0 run and later a 5-1 run by Syracuse was too much for the Blue Jay defense. Syracuse had very accurate shooting, getting 29 shots on goal, and while Michael Gvozden saved 15 of them, it was not enough in the end. Four Blue Jays ended with a couple goals, led by Kyle Wharton, who also had three assists.

In the short run, Towson looked like they could at least hang with Virginia. Down 4-0 at the end of the first quarter, the Tigers got two quick goals at the start of the second to cut the lead in half. But that is all they could muster. Towson would not score again and got hit by a slow 7-0 run through the end of the game. Towson did win the face-off game with Mitchell Rosensweig grabbing 12 of 17 faceoffs, but that and the overall defense is about all that went well in the end.

Hopkins falls to 3-2 and will return to Homewood Field for a battle with #1 Virginia over the weekend. Towson is now at 1-4, will head home to take on Robert Morris on Saturday afternoon.

For the rest of the teams in the state:
--#15 Navy had a seven-goal quarter in two wins during their road travels, one in the 10-8 victory over Lehigh and the other in a 10-5 win against Holy Cross. They improve to 6-2 and will play their second Patriot League match on Saturday against Colgate.
--#18 Loyola defended their home field well, giving #17 St. John's their first loss 10-7 plus defeating Bryant 15-11. Now at 5-2, the Greyhounds will take on UMass on Saturday.
--Mt. St. Mary's earned their first win of the season with a 12-9 victory over Manhattan thanks to freshman attack Christian Kellett, who scored hat trick goals and assists. The Mount will continue MAAC conference play against Marist on the weekend.

The Around the Harbor Lacrosse Standings Through March 15th:
(overall record, record vs. in-state teams), new Inside Lacrosse rankings
Navy (6-2, 1-0), ranked #13
Loyola (5-2, 1-0), ranked #t-14
Johns Hopkins (3-2, 1-0), ranked #7
UMBC (4-2, 1-1), ranked #6
Maryland (5-2, 1-1), ranked #10
Mt. St. Mary's (1-3, 0-1)
Towson (1-4, 0-2)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

MARYLAND IS IN

The University of Maryland has made it to the NCAA Tournament as an at-large bid, getting the 10-seed in the West region, giving the Terps their second NCAA Tournament bid in the last three years. They will head to Kansas City to take on 7-seed California, and the winner will take on the victor of the 2-seed Memphis vs. Cal-State Northridge game.

Maryland was the third final at-large team taken plus the last team from the ACC to earn a bid. It took a strong ACC Tournament showing with two wins, including a win over Wake Forest, to push them into the tournament. When the first region came out, a number of people, including Gary Williams, were worried when they saw Arizona grab a 12-seed, as they were a team fighting for a final at-large bid. But the Terps got their spot in the next region.

This season has been a real tribute to Gary Williams and the poise of this team. So many times this team was counted out by media and fans. At the start of the season when the undersized lineup was shown, after getting upset by Morgan State, after Duke destroyed them in Durham, Vasquez's issues with the fans, after all of the problems between Gary and the athletic department, some fans calling for Gary's head, and after the Maryland loss to Virginia. But through all of that, this team fought hard and earned their bid despite their problems.

Congratulations to Maryland to making it to the NCAA Tournament, and from us here at ATH, we say good luck. Also congrats to Morgan State for their accomplishment in making the tournament as well.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Terps ACC Run Ends: Duke Defeats Maryland

Maryland's run in the tournament is over with their loss to Duke in the semifinals 67-61 on Saturday, the third time this season they fell to the Blue Devils. The Terps end their tournament with two wins and a loss, including a win over top-10 Wake Forest.

The Terps were close throughout, but fatigue caught up to them in the end. Maryland did not have much of an answer for Kyle Singler on the boards, who despites shooting 3-12 had a double double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Jon Scheyer had the other big night with 22 points, going 4-10 from beyond the arc. In the end, Duke went to the free throw line more and converted those shots.

Eric Hayes had a monster night, hitting numerous shots towards the end of the game and keeping Maryland close, finishing with 20 points; 15 came in the second half. Greivis Vasquez ended with 14 points and six rebounds.

Now the question becomes, will the Terps make the NCAA Tournament? They did most of what was necessary, a convincing win over Wake Forest and getting to 20 wins, finishing 20-13, and not ending with a bad loss. They gained a lot of attention with that Wake win to add to their Michigan State and North Carolina wins. Some say the Terps are a lock, some are not sure. Regardless, we will not know for sure until the selection show. But Gary Williams and the Terps did what they could do to get themselves back on the map.

Maryland Keeping Its Tournament Hopes Alive

Who needs the regular season? This is the question that some basketball fans have been thinking while watching the madness start early this year in the conference tournaments. The Maryland Terrapins have certainly been a part of that, stunning the ACC with their convincing win over Wake Forest yesterday evening in which Greivis Vazquez nearly had a triple double and the Terps out-rebounded the taller and more athletic Demon Deacons.

It's very easy to say that this win was just a product of Greivis having another transcendent game, but it reminded me of the UNC game in that the rest of the team played exceptionally sound and smart basketball. They out-toughed Wake Forest from the opening tip and, unlike their previous matchup, forced Wake Forest into a litany of fouls. Maryland got to the free throw line, which has been their strength all season, and capitalized on Wake Forest's errors. Two names that I would like to throw out there for players who deserve commendation: Sean Mosley for finally stepping up offensively and playing a complete game, and Dino Gregory for his monumental improvement in play over the past few games. Dino Gregory has been a crucial part of both of Maryland's wins thus far in the ACC tournament, particularly against NCState where he grabbed a career high eight rebounds.

Now Maryland comes up against the hated Duke Blue Devils, with a scheduled tip off of 3:30 pm for a chance to go to the ACC tournament. Maryland possibly got themselves in with the win over Wake, but given the shrinking state of the bubble, I have serious doubts as to whether or not Maryland will be able to sneak in without a win today. Luckily for Maryland they have already played Duke twice, and they already have a blueprint for how to win. That blueprint being, play the same game they did against Wake except do not sag so much on defense. Maryland needs to get to the foul line, and play hard pressure defense. The Terps will need to play a perfect game to take down the Blue Devils, but they've shown that they're more than capable of doing that on any given day.

(Photo Credit: Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Free Kicks: College Basketball Edition!

These last few days have been great for college basketball, it is only appropriate we devote a free kicks to it. Let’s line up for the tipoff…

Early Exits for Many Bubble Teams
Providence, Miami, Arizona, Kansas State, Northwestern, Rhode Island, and UNLV all went down yesterday, all but ending their hopes for a bid to the NCAA Tournament. This should be good news for any bubble team still hoping to make a run (Maryland, anyone?), as this year appears to be historically weak as far as teams stepping up and making a case. So many bubble teams appear to be fading down the stretch, and very few mid-majors appear ready to take an at-large bid away from the major conference teams. Only Cleveland State, with its win over Butler, was able to “steal a bid” and put more pressure on the bubble teams from major conferences. Sure, Penn State, Temple, and Oklahoma State won, and Baylor’s run in the Big 12 tournament is cause for concern, but I would’ve bet that the Nittany Lions and Cowboys already had bids before their conference tournaments.

Of course, this all comes back to Maryland. Maryland has to win today to have any chance at a bid, but the rest of the country appears to be doing them a lot of favors.

Big East Tournament Living Up to Hype
Maybe the Big East really is the best conference. First DePaul, who had no wins in all of conference play, takes out the bubble hopes of Cincinnati and played Providence down to the wire. Then West Virginia pastes Notre Dame to the floor and puts a stake in their at large hopes. What is their encore? A dominating win over Pitt, arguably the best team in the nation. I may hate the Mountaineers, but they are recovering quickly from their regular season finale against Louisville.

And that of course leads us to last night’s SIX overtime thriller between Syracuse and Connecticut. I will spare the recap, but last night’s performance was inspiring to me for one critical reason. These teams were not battling for a bid, and not even (really) for seeding. Syracuse has a slightly better seed to gain from a win, but UConn may get a #1 seed regardless- they were playing for pride. It was almost 1:30 in the morning before all was said and done, and these teams were exhausted. I don’t see how they can get up for the physical play of West Virginia, but I will be watching to see whether Syracuse has anything left in the tank.

So… What Does This Mean for Maryland?

Well, as I said before, Maryland hasn’t been hurt by so many bubbles being popped in the conference tournaments, and while some teams may solidify their resume a great deal of damage has already been done. Some of these teams would already be placed ahead of Maryland even with a loss in the first round- Miami, for one, so Maryland will still need to do a lot more than scoreboard watching to go to the tournament this season.

It starts today against a rested and rejuvenated Wake. Maryland had far too much trouble with NC State last night, doing nothing to assuage my worries about their performance outside of the friendly confines of the Comcast Center. The Terps gave Wake everything they could handle and couldn’t pull together a win at home, so I have to question their chances tonight. Eric Hayes will need to be a consistent 3 point threat; he has disappeared far too often for stretches of the game and left the pressure entirely on the shoulders of Greivis Vasquez. When Vasquez has all the pressure on his shoulders he tries to do more than he can pull off and commits puzzling turnovers and falling away shots that are incredible when they hit… but rarely do. Mosley will have to take a more aggressive role offensively to complement his solid defensive play.

In the end, I can’t discount Wake’s size or desire in this one- they will be able to massively outrebound Maryland and they want to prove to the selection committee that they are in fact deserving of a #2 seed. I can’t give the win to the Terps; the -6.5 line in favor of Wake sounds conservative to me. I hope I am wrong, and luckily I usually am.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

First Round Complete: Maryland Defeats NC State

A close game to the finish, 7-seed Maryland came out with the victory 74-69 over 10-seed NC State in the first round of the ACC Tournament. They advance to the second round where they will take on 2-seed Wake Forest on Friday.

The Wolfpack had an early 21-8 lead as Maryland's shots were not hitting at all. Key three-point shooting from Eric Hayes and Cliff Tucker put Maryland in the lead, but the teams went into the locker room tied at 29. After getting an early lead in the half, the two teams would go back and forth: between 12:23 and 3:54 no one had more than a two point lead. The Terps were helped by foul trouble to NC State's key players. After getting a four-point lead, Maryland kept the lead with Hayes's free throw shooting and never looked back.

Hayes ended with a career high 21 points on 5-6 three point-shooting, plus Greivis Vasquez got a double-double with 17 points and 10 assists. Dave Neal ended with 10 points, hitting his only two perimeter shots.

Maryland takes on Wake Forest next, a team ranked #9 and one that defeated Maryland just a few weeks ago. A number of NCAA bubble teams have been falling quick, including Providence and Miami, but Maryland at 19-12 still has work to do. If they lose to Wake, it is over.

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

The ACC Tournament: Maryland's Last Chance

It is the final chance for Maryland to make their case for the NCAA, the ACC Tournament. Maryland as the 7-seed will take on 10-seed NC State, a team they defeated by 11 on the road (eight until the last shot), and the winner takes on 2-seed Wake Forest.

Maryland has won only one ACC Tournament game in the last four seasons, that being against Georgia Tech two years ago. It is consensus that the Terps probably need two wins to have a chance. They have gotten a little bit of help so far, including Miami getting defeated by Virginia Tech.

NC State is a 16-13 team that has lost three of their last four games. They shoot 38% from three-point range with their experienced guards Brandon Costner and Courtney Fells, and they do not have much size either, but a number of 6'9'' players will help. This will not be an easy game for Maryland, and things are not looking good after their loss to Virginia, but they still have a chance.

Game against NC State is tonight at 7:00.

(Photo credit: ACC)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Around the Harbor Radio On Tonight, 10-Midnight!

Tune in and enjoy!

www.wmucsports.com

First Look at Ravens Biggest Needs in NFL Draft

Well, as free agency starts to wind down, it is time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft as the way for the Ravens to fill several glaring holes- and not all of them on offense. While the acquisition of Matt Birk may have dulled the impact of losing Jason Brown and Dominique Foxworth could become a solid cover corner in the Ravens scheme, Baltimore is far from a complete team. Let’s take a look at some of the positions Ozzie Newsome will look to fill next month in the draft (in order of this blogger’s sense of priority).

Wide Receiver- Not only do the Ravens lack a consistent deep threat (Demetrius Williams simply hasn’t panned out the way we had hoped), all three starting receivers look to become free agents after this season. It has been a long time since the front office has been this close to the cap, and likely won’t be able to hold onto all of them (and they may not even want to). With a legitimate speedster at #2, the coaching staff would be able to move Mark Clayton to his natural position in the slot and allow Derrick Mason to stay on short routes to compensate for his declining speed. I love the way Hakeem Nicks plays, and his crisp route running would make life much easier for a young quarterback like Joe Flacco, but he doesn’t have true gamebreaking speed. Not to be a homer, but it would feel great to get Mr. 4.30 40-yard dash Darrius Heyward-Bey in a Ravens uniform to line up along the sideline.

Tight End- At the end of the 2007 season, Baltimore fans were surprised by the pass catching ability of mostly blocking tight end Quinn Sypniewski, who reeled in 34 balls for 264 yards in his sophomore campaign. He should return this season from a year on Injured Reserve and give the Ravens some depth at the position. However, with Todd Heap’s recent injury struggles and a lack of true playmakers at the position, Baltimore will almost certainly look to target a pass catching tight end, perhaps as early as the second round. There is a glut of similarly talented tight ends in the draft who should be available late in that round, and any one of them could fit into the Ravens scheme- a quarterback’s best friend is a consistent receiving tight end (just watch the end of the Titans-Ravens playoff game). It is critical that some pressure be taken off of Todd Heap over the middle of the field- a receiving threat on the other side of the line might be just what this offense needs.

Defensive End- I know I am going out on a limb, but I would not at all be surprised if the Ravens went after a tweener end/outside linebacker. With Terrell Suggs held for a year on a franchise tag and Trevor Pryce not getting any younger, it is critical that the Ravens have a legitimate backup plan to develop from within the organization. I thought Dan Cody would be that player a couple years ago, but the Oklahoma standout simply could not stay healthy and missed out on a heap of talent. The only player the Ravens have at right end behind Pryce is 32 year-old Marques Douglas. They will need a better plan than that going forward.

Offensive Line- The Ravens had one of the youngest offensive lines in the NFL at the beginning of last season. This season they should be near the middle of the pack, with the addition last season of Willie Anderson and this year’s acquisition of Matt Birk, both of whom might not be playing football 3 years from now. Anderson himself could save the Ravens $2.9 million in much needed cap space with a release, something that could happen if the front office is able to reel in a right tackle in the second or third rounds. Adam Terry has battled injuries and inconsistency, and it is possible that another competitor in the mix could make everyone better. Having Birk leading the line with accelerate the mental development of a young line; Baltimore may even look to pick up a “project” at center in the 5th or 6th rounds to learn from the veteran.

Honorable Mention: Cornerback- I will give a pass here because of Foxworth, but this situation bolts up to #2 if Samari Rolle is released.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Maryland Lacrosse Roundup: The State at War

The state of Maryland threw each other's lacrosse teams at one another this week, leading to some great games all around. UMBC took on the rebuilt Johns Hopkins, Towson tried to defend its home turf against Maryland, and Navy got ready for the Mount.

Blue Jays Hold Off the Dogs
The Retrievers tried valiantly to come back in the fourth quarter, cutting a seven-goal lead to just two, but in the end it was not enough. #9 Johns Hopkins won over #8 UMBC 14-11 in UMBC Stadium, handing the Retrievers their first loss.

After going into the locker room 8-6, Hopkins decimated the UMBC defense, scoring five goals in 15 minutes to put the score 13-6 with just over 10 minutes to go. UMBC had a five-goal run in the fourth, but it just wasn't enough. Michael Kimmel and Steven Boyle ended with hat tricks for the Hop while Alex Hopmann led with four goals for UMBC.

The rest of the week was good to the victor, not good to the defeated. Hopkins won 12-7 over Hofstra thanks to a five-goal effort put forth by Kyle Wharton while UMBC lost a defensive thriller to #5 Princeton 6-5 at home after giving up five goals in the third period. 3-1 Johns Hopkins will take on Syracuse on Saturday in a rematch from the '08 national championship while UMBC sets their sights on Maryland the same day.

Terps Hold Off The Tigers
Both #6 Maryland and Towson put forth a strong overall effort, but in the end the Terps took home the victory 9-7 in Towson's home opener, getting key shots in the second half. With the win, Maryland improves to 4-1, and Towson falls to 1-3.

After Towson scored the first goal, both teams went into halftime tied at two. Both sides kept their starting goalie; Maryland went away from the two-goalie system for the second straight game, staying with Jason Carter. Maryland went on a tear into the third quarter, scoring four goals, then held off a 3-0 run by the Tigers with a 3-1 run response that would win it.

All nine goals were scored by Maryland attacks, led by Grant Catalino's four. Tim Stratton and Justin Schneider both scored a pair. Both goalies had solid games, Carter for Maryland had seven saves and Towson's Bob Wheeler had nine.

This weekend Maryland hosts a pair of home games against in-state rival UMBC and Division I newbie Bryant. Towson will head south to play Virginia, the #1 team in the country.

Navy Tackles The Mount
The three-goal first quarter is all that #14 Navy would need, defeating Mt. St. Mary's 6-2 in Emmitsburg.

Navy only fired five shots in the first quarter, hitting three. After the two sides traded goals, the Mids had a five goal run from midway through the 1st to the final minute of the fourth quarter, having good defense the whole way.

Six different Midshipmen scored goals, with Joe Lennon having two assists added to his score. R.J. Wickham was barely tested in goal, saving three shots for Navy while allowing two.

Later in the week Navy defeated Lafayette 14-9 for their first Patriot League win and improved to 4-2. Meanwhile, the Mount could not stop Zach Greer and Bryant, losing 7-6 in a back and forth battle. The Mount are still winless at 0-3. Navy will hit the road this week against Lehigh and Holy Cross while Mt. St. Mary's will take on Manhattan.

In other lacrosse action, #16 Loyola defeated Siena, but fell to #13 Duke 11-9.

Now everyone has faced an in-state rival. Let's see how they stack up:

The Around the Harbor Lacrosse Standings Through March 8th:
(overall record, record vs. in-state teams), new Inside Lacrosse rankings
Maryland (4-1, 1-0), ranked #5
Johns Hopkins (3-1, 1-0), ranked #8
Navy (4-2, 1-0), ranked #15
Loyola (3-2, 1-0), ranked #18
UMBC (3-2, 0-1), ranked #10
Towson (1-3, 0-2)
Mt. St. Mary's (0-3, 0-1)

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Virginia Crashes Maryland's Party

Even after Maryland lost to Wake Forest, their resume still suggested they would make the tournament as long as they took care of business. But like last year, Virginia used their senior night to spoil Maryland's chances. They won 68-63 in Charlottesville, again putting Maryland in dire straits, now looking at their fourth NIT in five years.

The problems were obvious. The bench barely contributed. The three-point shooting was abysmal. They only went to the line six times while their opponents went 24. They could not take advantage of a team that had double their turnovers. Maryland did not make good decisions on the court in clutch time, which led to bad shooting.

But overall, Maryland had to win this game so their would not be many questions about the team and their NCAA resume, instead they pick up a huge loss to a now 10-17 team and must perform very well in the ACC Tournament, where they have not won a game in the last two years. Now at 18-12 and 7-9 in the conference, with their Michigan State and UNC wins hit hard by losses to Morgan State and Virginia, it will take a huge undertaking to convince the committee to put Maryland in.

This is typical of Maryland. They choose not to prepare enough for the lesser teams, and though they have gotten away with it a number of times, once in a while it bites them. Last year Ohio and American, this year Mongan State and Virginia. Sometimes losses happen, but the great teams rebound and get back into contention. Kansas lost to UMass earlier in the season, a terrible loss, but they have rebounded and are now #9 in the nation. But this is typical of Maryland football and basketball, they do not get ready for games they should win easily. Maryland wins today and they look good. They didn't, and now they look terrible. They had a good shot, and like the shooters in the Virginia game, they missed.

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

The Road to the NCAA Tournament: Maryland

Maryland at 18-11 and 7-8 in the ACC is a bubble team that is currently a bubble team trying to get in to the NCAA tournament and avoid going to the NIT for the fourth time in five years. Although many analysts seem to believe that Maryland will get into the tournament, they need to take care of business before they can be sure.

The Terps have one regular season game left against Virginia and the ACC Tournament looming ahead, so they don't have much time to add to their resume. Let's take a look at Maryland's current resume (rankings as of March 3rd):

Maryland (18-11, 7-8 ACC)
SOS: 19
RPI: 57
Key wins: Michigan State, North Carolina
Wins against bubble teams: Virginia Tech, Miami, Michigan
Losses against bubble teams: Miami, Boston College, Georgetown
Key losses: Morgan State

Some things to think about:
--Virginia is a must-win.
Virginia has had a real down year, going only 9-17, losing 12 of their last 14 games. They literally have nothing more to play for, but they would love nothing more than to spoil's Maryland's party. The last thing Maryland needs to do a lose a terrible game this late in the season. Last year Maryland was faced with the same situation, a must-win in Virginia, and Sean Singletary and company beat the Terps down. The Terps can not have the same thing happen this year.

--A win might be necessary in the first round of the ACC Tournament.
Right now Maryland is looking at an seven or eight seed in the ACC Tournament. This could match them up against Virginia Tech or Miami in the first round, possibly NC State. This would be the perfect contest for Maryland, a bubble vs. bubble contest. If Maryland can win this it would give them a quality win plus put them (assuming a win over Virginia) at 20 wins on the season. Obviously two wins would be much better, but at the very least and realistically they need to win their first round.

--The ACC is a powerful conference.
This could be good or bad for Maryland. On the one hand, so many big time teams means that .500 in the conference looks very good. On the other, six teams are locks for the tournament and the Committee despite a weak mid-major field might be hesitant to take too many ACC squads. The Terps will still have to fight to prove themselves.

Right now, the Terps have their eyes set on Virginia. An uphill battle is still being fought, but the Terps still have a chance.

On a different note, it is reported by CollegeFootballTalk.com and ESPN that Florida State likely will been forced to forfeit most of its sports wins during the 06-07 and 07-08 seasons, including football. From the major sports this would include the 24-16 win over Maryland in football in 2007 and a 96-79 win over the Terps men's basketball team in January '07. But it will also impose infractions on Florida State, including the loss of scholarships.

(Photo credit: AP)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Free Kicks

Well, I called in sick today with what feels like the flu so I am not sure how this post will turn out. However, I didn’t want to miss a week and then hear about it from Falco and Windsor. Anyways, without further or due, let’s line up for the kick…

Sorry, Matt
Matt Stover is clearly upset and disappointed with the Ravens indications that they want to acquire a new kicker to replace the 41-year old veteran. However, as much as we all love Matt, we have to realize that his time has come. His field goal average (81.4) was the worst it has been since 1998, and well below the league average. Additionally, he has become increasingly erratic from outside 40 yards, leading to the acquisition of Steve Hauschka to take over the longer field goals and kickoff duties. I know I have written about this before, but with Stover going public it seems like the perfect time. Matt has meant a great deal to this organization, but at a certain point it becomes about a player’s ability and not nostalgia. NFL players are paid for what they will do for the franchise, not what they have done in the past. I am sure everyone in the organization wishes he could still perform, but he has not shown any indication that he is worth a brand new contract.

Who Will Sign T.O.?
Well apparently Jerry Jones isn’t completely impervious to reason, and has elected to released malcontent wide receiver Terrell Owens. Jerry Jones might be a jumpsuit away from being a younger Al Davis, but there is no question he made the right call- both for the lockerroom and production on the field. It is much easier to run an offense when you don’t have to force the ball to an egotistical wideout, particularly when your quarterback is not the most accurate in the league. However, the list of teams unlikely to sign the receiver is very long. Please rule out the Vikings- head coach Brad Childress wasn’t even on speaking terms with the receiver when he was the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia. I personally don’t think that Tennessee will pull the trigger, either. Can you imagine the ripping that Owens would give that coaching staff after their conservative offense fails to score enough to win? Tennessee already has gotten a hold of Nate Washington, and the draft is so stacked with receivers that I doubt the Titans will feel the need to take that risk.

An owner would have to be out of his mind to sign a 35 year old receiver who will demand that the offense be tailored around him and his ego. Al Davis, step right up.

A-Rod’s Convenient Hip

This might be the best injury… ever. Alex Rodriguez has an excellent excuse to duck away from this steroid issue for another 3 months after discovering a torn labrum and a cyst in his hip. The Yankees don’t want him to get surgery and instead play through the pain, but we know how that plays out- A-Rod scuffles for 2 months and then the pain gets worse or the injury gets worse and he elects to have the surgery anyway. You know Alex wants the surgery. He gets to wait out the media on the steroid issue, and watch the Yankees struggle a bit more than usual in April, and then have Rodriguez return as a savior to the franchise. He will be seen as spurring on the June-July turnaround that the Yankees have had in recent years, and his success will take much of the steroid pressure off of him. Winning solves everything, especially if it seems like you are the reason. Go under the knife, A-Rod, and everything else will take care of itself.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

First Thoughts on Spring Training

It is that time again: the new baseball season is just around the corner and so we must start moving some attention to our beloved Orioles. Yes, they have been somewhat ignored of late and yes, this is long overdue. So, consider this the first foray into what will be a very intriguing spring for this young Orioles roster. This spring is riddled with storylines, most in my opinion centering around the uncertain rotation and the young prospects that give some hope to this long struggling franchise. Without further ado, here are some of my thoughts on Spring Training thus far:

1. Uehara has been far more impressive than I predicted he would. He has yet to allow a run thus far, most recently pitching three shutout innings against a strong Dominican lineup and showing excellent control in the process. Without a doubt he has given cause for the front office to exhale and know that they most likely have at least a serviceable No. 2 starter. Can he handle the extended workload of a starter over a long season? Will hitters catch up to him? These are serious concerns down the line, but so far so good.

2. Bergesen is showing all Orioles fans exactly what Bowie Baysox followers have already seen. Brad Bergesen is coming off of a brilliant season with the Baysox in which he set a franchise record for wins and won the Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Year award for 2008. Bergesen does not project as a top starter, but he is confident and polished and should fit nicely as a back of the rotation starter who can eat innings for the Orioles. While he has turned heads with his play, I would still feel far better about him starting the year in AAA and giving Hayden Penn a chance to make it in the bigs as he his currently out of minor league options. The Orioles will need starters from the minors, and it would be invaluable to have a guy like Bergesen ready to go when called upon. A more detailed Prospect Report on Brad Bergesen can be found here.

3. Wieters has been brilliant, but not-so-fast, O's fans. Matt Wieters has, in every step thus far, surpassed the lofty expectations put upon him during his brief minor league career. While he has continued this progression through Spring Training, there is no reason for him to start the season in the majors given the fact that the Orioles have signed a serviceable catcher in Greg Zaun and Matt Wieters should not be put on the service clock any sooner than necessary. The Orioles are building for the future, not to win now. It is best for Matt to stay at a level in which he can hone his craft, particularly defensively, and work with some of those young pitchers who we hope to be mainstays of a future O's rotation.

4. Close attention needs to be paid to certain pitchers coming off of injury last season. In particular, the health of Troy Patton, Chris Ray, and Matt Albers will be crucial to this club. Thus far the news has been positive for all three; I'm looking for Patton to ideally start in AAA this year and be on the short list with Bergesen for callups, Chris Ray to be in a setup/part-time closer role, and for Matt Albers to make a push for the starting rotation. If all goes well and that comes to fruition, things would be looking significantly better for the Orioles not only in the short term, but the long term as well based on the youth of all three. On a minor league injury note, don't forget about Chorye Spoone-- he has been sidelined thus far with injury, but if he could get back on track he might just have the highest ceiling of any pitcher in this farm system.

Overall you have to be pleased with the Orioles front office thus far. They pulled off highway robbery in taking Felix Pie from the Cubs for Garrett Olson (who the Cubs then traded for, of all people, Aaron Heilmann), re-signed Markakis to a six-year deal, locked up Brian Roberts to a four-year deal, bolstered their bench with Ty Wigginton, and are exposing their young pitchers to the major leagues while keeping the pressure off by ensuring that they will start the year in the minors. Not bad at all for Andy MacPhail and this revamped O's organization.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ray Lewis and Matt Birk Agree to Join the Ravens

According to the Baltimore Sun, Ray Lewis has agreed in principle to a contract which will have him stay with the Ravens, and according to ESPN, center Matt Birk has agreed to a three-year deal. None of the details have filtered out as of yet, but these are two tremendous signings for the Baltimore Ravens.

It's difficult to argue which signing is more significant, but probably the least surprising signing of the two was Ray Lewis deciding to come back to the team. After Lewis' brief foray into free agency, it became abundantly clear that the Ravens were the only team willing to pony up significant money to sign him. This makes perfect sense for both sides, because his intangibles mean far more to this Baltimore franchise than any other he would go to. There is no way he would enjoy the same respect and the same clout with the franchise if he went to any other city, because he would have to respect players who had been there longer. In Baltimore, he is the unquestioned Alpha of the defense; this is how Ray Lewis is most effective and is the only way that he can be an elite player. Lewis only has a few years left, and this is the situation where he can maximize those years. There's a framework in place for him to win the big one, and there's no locker room he can command better than this one. The Ravens need him to transition this new defense, and he needs the Ravens to give him his swan song.

The Matt Birk signing was wholly unexpected (at least from my point of view), but avoids any potential drop off from the loss of Jason Brown. Certainly in the short term Matt Birk is an upgrade over Jason Brown, but it is somewhat surprising that the Ravens would let such a young promising center get away in favor of an older veteran. Regardless, Matt Birk has been one of the top three centers in the league for the past few years, and he brings that pedigree to a still-young Ravens offensive line. His veteran presence will further help Joe Flacco with getting the protection schemes right, and he maintains that tough mentality that this offensive line needs to survive in the AFC North. It doesn't surprise me that Birk would leave Minnesota, based on the fact that in Baltimore there is far more top-to-bottom consistency, from the coach to the quarterback.

It will be very interesting to see where these contracts fit in under the cap, but assuming the contracts are reasonable these seem to be two excellent signings for the Baltimore Ravens.

Wake Too Much For Terps

The stage was set for Maryland to deliver the midweek upset to lock them into the NCAA Tournament and give Dave Neal a great senior night. But Jeff Teague and the Demon Deacons had other plans, and muscled their way past Maryland 65-63. Maryland had a double digit lead in the first half and a seven-point lead in the middle of the second half. But in a game where the frontcourt play was very physical, the Terps just could not handle the pressure, capped by Jeff Teague's 13 second half points, including a towering dunk over Neal.

The problem for the Terps was that they could not employ their advantages tonight. They are one of the best free throw shooting teams in the conference; only twice to the line tonight. They need to shoot threes well; that did not happen tonight. Landon Milbourne and Adrian Bowie have not been themselves, putting more strain on Greivis Vasquez to perform well. When Maryland tried to employ their fast-paced style, the Deacs employed their cross-zone, which Maryland could not adjust to at all. When Maryland's consistent players don't perform, their lack of depth prevents them from adjusting. Despite all of this, they had a chance to win, but they could not deliver.

Neal was the only one who shot well all night, going 5-6 from beyond the arc and ending with 19 points. Vasquez was 7-24, 28 for three-point shots, getting 17. No one else for Maryland got more than six points.

This puts Maryland at 18-11, 7-8 in the conference, setting up yet another must-win game this weekend on the road against Virginia. Last year the Terps needed that victory and the Cavs spoiled the party; Maryland can't afford that again.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

More Than a "Rolle" Player

Samari Rolle has made it very clear- he wants out of Baltimore. I understand his reasoning, too. He was asked to take a pay cut for the second consecutive year (and refused for the second consecutive year), making it seem as though the Ravens don’t think he is worth his price tag. Then (also for the second consecutive year), the front office brought in a player he deemed to be his replacement- though that would be high praise for a player with a stat line as pedestrian as Dominique Foxworth. Finally, and perhaps most devastating was the releasing of Chris McAlister and the sign that came with it that Baltimore isn’t afraid to dump its star corners when it has to. All of this has culminated in Samari Rolle wanting out before he is forced out, or worse yet, he is forced into a supporting rather than a featured role.

However, I would like to invite Samari to take a step back and survey the situation without the lens of his friendship with McAlister or his self consciousness about his age. There is no way that Coach Harbaugh wants to enter the season with Fabian Washington and Foxworth as his top two cornerbacks. No team wants to lose two Pro Bowl corners in the same offseason, particularly with the paucity of quality corners on the market. Ravens management isn’t going to hurry to cut ties with a player who had an impressive year despite often being left alone in single coverage- and as Rolle has said, the Ravens were 10-2 with him in the lineup. As for Rolle being put into the nickel spot or made into a role player, I wouldn’t count on it. It was easy to say (especially by me) that Samari would lose a step this year, but he didn’t, and while he can’t cover the fastest players on the field anymore, his instincts make him a one or a two corner in this league. I think it is safe to say that from a football standpoint, they want Rolle to start.

But why then ask him to take a pay cut? It is simple- Rolle is an aging player with a large salary, and the Ravens are in cap trouble right now. They were hoping to restructure his deal and free up a million or two to help the team resign their other free agents, all of whom spare Ray Lewis appear to have flown the coop. If I were the Ravens I would be trying to cut as much money off of the cap as I could, and I wouldn’t be shy about harping on the fears of a 30-something veteran player who may not be sure how big his next contract will be. It isn’t pretty, but it’s part of the business side of this game.

So, then what do the Ravens do now? With Jim Leonhard (likely) gone, Chris McAlister already released, and a significant weakening at the linebacker position with the departure of Bart Scott, I wouldn’t release Rolle unless it appears that he will be a cancer in the locker room. Without Rolle you are left with a group of cornerbacks filled with the dreaded “P” word- potential, the single most dangerous and devastating word in sports. The Ravens should try to work something out with their disenchanted corner to smooth things over, and give him a starting spot if that will assuage his worries. If nothing will calm him down, you still don’t release him- in this market he still may be worth a 3rd round selection. You never give away a player like Samari Rolle, even if that’s what he wants.

In the meantime, Samari should calm down, assume his leadership position on the team, and step in as the starter. He should count his $4.2 million a year and wonder what a 32-year-old corner like him would make on the open market… less than he would think.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Maryland Lacrosse Roundup

A big week of lacrosse as Maryland and Johns Hopkins tried to defend the state in the Face-Off Classic in M&T Bank Stadium, UMBC tries to remain unbeaten against a ranked foe, and Mt. St. Mary's started their season.
(all rankings provided by Inside Lacrosse Media Poll)

Maryland wins, Hopkins Loses in the Face-Off Classic

Maryland won a fierce battle 11-8 against conference rival Duke while Johns Hopkins got routed by Princeton 14-8 in the Face-Off Classic on Saturday.

In the first game of the Classic, #3 Johns Hopkins tried to repeat last year's performance against #11 Princeton, however the exact opposite happened. Out of the gate the Tigers unleashed a fury on the Blue Jays, leading 9-1 midway through the second quarter. Mike Gvozden was getting shelled in goal but struggled all day, not being able to make key saves. Hopkins did try to fight back but could not get close. Michael Kimmel ended with a hat trick and an assist, but this was a day Hopkins does not want to remember.

#7 Maryland got beaten by #12 Duke in nearly every category, ground balls 39-25, faceoffs 14-9, and shots 41-34, but not goals, where it mattered. After the two teams had 3-0 runs in the first half, Maryland scored two goals in six second on a 6-1 run to put them up 9-4 in the early part of the fourth quarter. Coach Dave Cottle went away from his two goalie system after Brian Phipps had a huge first half and kept him in the whole game; even second goalie Jason Carter agreed with this decision. Phipps ended with 13 saves on the day. Ryan Young had a great day, scoring a hat trick with two assists plus Grant Catalino led the way in points with six, getting two goals and four assists.

Maryland will play in-state rival Towson next weekend while Hopkins will try to regroup against in-state foe UMBC, then will return home against Hofstra during the weekend.

UMBC Stays Undefeated With Win over Colgate

#9 UMBC improved to 3-0 with a win over #19 Colgate thanks to a breakout fourth quarter and clutch defense.

Everything was even at the end of the third quarter, with Colgate keeping pace with the Retrievers. After both sides scored a goal, UMBC went on a decisive 4-0 run with goals by four different people that got them the eventual win. Colgate had their opportunities but Jeremy Blevins stood strong between the pipes, saving 13 shots plus only allowing three goals on seven extra man chances.

Attack Chris Jones and midfielder Alex Hopmann both finished with a hat trick. Midfielder Kyle Wimer ended with five points on two goals and three assists plus scooping seven ground balls.

UMBC has two home games against ranked opponents this coming week, with rival Johns Hopkins and Princeton coming to town.

Navy Comeback Halted by Buzzer Beater

Down 7-3 going into the 4th quarter, #10 Navy fought back valiantly against Bucknell to tie the game with 1:30 to go, but a final shot by Charlie Streep handed Navy the loss 8-7. Navy falls to 2-2 on the season.

Although Navy was doing fine in most aspects on the field during the game, the scoreboard was not one of them. Bucknell had a 5-1 run from the start of the 2nd to the end of the 3rd quarter to put the score at 7-3. Navy had four goals in the 4th and it looked like it would go to overtime until the last shot.

It was a team affair for Navy; no one had more than two goals. Attack Brendan Connors had two goals and two assists, both of those assists on Navy's final two scores. Attack Tim Paul also had two assists plus a goal.

Nayv has two games in the Old Line State this week, a road midweek game against Mt. St. Mary's and a home contest against Lafayette.

Loyola Survives Against Penn State

Despite a fierce comeback attempt from Penn State in the final quarter, #18 Loyola managed to hold on, winning 8-7 on the road. The team improved to 2-1 on the season.

The first half was a shutout for the Greyhounds, outshooting their opponent 20-12, scoring three in the first quarter, going into the locker room up 3-0. After both sides scored twice in the 3rd, Penn State managed five goals to Loyola's three in the final quarter and had 37 second to try to tie it, but they could not.

Attacks Cooper McDonnell and Shane Coppens ended with hat tricks. Jake Hagelin had 10 saves in the cage, though none in the last 15 minutes.

Loyola will spend next week on the road, playing Siena and Duke.

Towson Spilts Games in Denver

Playing in the Pioneer Face-Off Classic, Towson split their contests, winning against Air Force 11-9 but losing to #t-16 Denver 9-4. Towson is now 2-2 on the season.

Towson was in control for most of their match against Air Force, getting an 11-5 lead after 55 minutes of play. Air Force scored four goals in the final five minutes, but all were scored on backup freshman goalie Andrew Wascavage after replacing Bob Wheeler at around the 56 minute mark. Attack Bill McCutcheon had five goals and two assists and midfield Brock Armour had three scores plus an assist.

Towson could not deliver that success to their next game, as Denver's goalie Peter Lowell had 14 saves to hold down the Tigers. After being down 4-0 after the first 29 minutes, Towson had a 3-1 run into the third quarter, but that is the closest they would get. Four different Tigers scored in the contest, and defenseman Matt Vetter caused four turnovers.

Towson will return for their home opener against rival Maryland on Saturday.

Mt. St. Mary's Loses Opener to Virginia

Despite a valiant effort by T.C. DiBartolo in goal, Mt. St. Mary's could not stop the top team in the country, losing to UVA 10-2 in Charlottesville. They fell to 0-1 on the season.

Virginia was dominant all game, outshooting the Mount 60-16 (50-7 through 45 minutes) and not allowing a goal until the final quarter. DiBartolo saved 21 shots in the game and held some of the best shooters in the game scoreless, but it was too much in the end. Cody Lehrer and Keith McKinley each scored a goal early in the 4th quarter.

The Mountaineers will play two home games next week, a matchup with Navy then a Sunday matinee with Bryant.

The Around the Harbor Lacrosse Standings Through March 1st:
(overall record, record vs. in-state teams), new Inside Lacrosse rankings
--Loyola (2-1, 1-0), ranked #16
--UMBC (3-0, 0-0), ranked #8
--Maryland (3-1, 0-0), ranked #6
--Johns Hopkins (1-1, 0-0), ranked #7
--Navy (2-2, 0-0), ranked #14
--Mt. St. Mary's (0-1, 0-0)
--Towson (1-2, 0-1), received votes

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Maryland Secures a Crucial Road Win in Raleigh

It might not have been pretty, but the Terrapins avoided a dangerous trap today by defeating the NC State Wolfpack 71-60 in Raleigh. The Terps were in command early in the first half, largely on the sloppy and uninspired play of the Wolfpack. However, NC State rallied back to take the lead in the second half before Greivis Vazquez seemed to take over the game and clinch the game for the Terps. NC State, regardless of what the final score might show, attacked Maryland straight where it hurt and nearly pulled off the win because of it. NC State focused in on dominating the paint, as evidenced by the 29-22 rebounding edge along with Landon Milbourne fouling out of the game. Luckily for the Terps, NC State turned the ball over regularly and Maryland rarely returned the favor.

So, bigger picture: why did Maryland win this game? Maryland has toughness. I've talked about it on this blog before and I'll keep saying it; this is the toughest Maryland team that I can remember. They are minimizing mistakes and, unlike earlier in the season, understand how to use what size they have. Players like Dave Neal, Sean Mosley, and Landon Milbourne are perfect examples of how scrappy this Terrapin team is on the boards, and it's amazing to see how much they can do against larger opponents down low. Sure, they'll get knocked down, commit fouls and the like, but if there's any loose ball on the floor my money is on the Terp. Gary Williams has a team with a chip on its collective shoulder, and he has used that to his team's advantage.

The Maryland Terrapins are in the right place to get to the NCAA Tournament from here. The Terps now stand at 18-10 overall (7-7 ACC), with two difficult but winnable games left. If the Terps sweep both of their games by defeating Wake Forest at home on Tuesday and winning at Virginia on Saturday, they are almost guaranteed an invite to the Tournament. If the Terps split these two games, expect the Terps to need to make a splash in the ACC Tournament to get over the hump. Either way, Maryland has to like their prospects at this part of the season.

It is amazing to see how far this team has come over the past several weeks. These players were dismissed as being too small and untalented, Gary Williams was criticised as being a has-been coach who can't recruit, and this whole program was branded as an embarassment. Now the Terps are making a run; instead of hearing those pundits make concessions, we don't hear those pundits saying anything. I for one will say that this team might not win a championship, but they're a damn good basketball team.

(Photo Credit: Ethan Hyman/McClatchy-Tribune)