In the beginning of January, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. Why, because the Terps were a paltry 8-6 (0-1 ACC) with back to back home losses to Ohio U. and American U. The question on everyone’s lips at the turn of the New Year was “can Maryland finish with a winning record and limp into the NIT”?
Then something strange happened. The Terps got hot and played their most inspired ball of the season, going 7-2 in January (including a big road win at then #1 UNC) and improving their overall record to 15-8 (3-3 ACC). Heading into February the question became “can the Terps make the NCAA Tournament”?
Maryland continued to play well, adding three consecutive conference wins to their resume to start off the month of February. Then came the clunker on the road against Duke, the first game in two months where the Terps played poorly for most of the game. The way Maryland had been playing (especially the first match-up with Duke in College Park), it seemed more like a blip on the screen then the norm, and few people seemed worried.
The national media “bracketologists” had the Terps as a lock to go to the NCAA Tournament “as long as they continue to play well down the stretch” and were discussing their possible tournament seeding.
Then, the Terps hit the wall, and hit it hard. A very lackluster first half at home against Florida State left fans scratching their heads. A 50+ point second half lead by Greivis Vasquez’s three consecutive three-pointers sparked a comeback victory, but you could sense a worried feeling among the Terps faithful.
Last week, Va. Tech spotted Maryland a 14 point lead in the first half and looked ready to get run out of the gym. The Terps didn’t score for nine minutes, turned the ball over way too many times, and worst of all, faded down the stretch against an average at best Hokies team.
Maryland hit the road on Saturday, badly needing a win at Miami to get back on track and build some team momentum and confidence. It didn’t happen. The Hurricanes, who have won five or their last six against Gary’s squad, took the Terps to the woodshed 78-63, leaving Maryland at a very average 17-11 (7-6 tied for 5th ACC) and once again, squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Why the sudden reversal for the Terps? Well, there are a few reasons:
1) They are tired. The starters average 30+ minutes in conference play.
2) The bench isn’t contributing. Yes, they get some playing time and give the starters a breather. However, when your bench is contributing anywhere from 0-5 points for an entire game, how long can you leave the reserves on the floor?
3) All five starters need to show up. When Maryland’s five starters score in double figures, they tend to win games. When only two of the five starters (typically Vasquez and Osby) come to play, they tend to lose.
4) James Gist. He’s been nearly invisible since his 30 point masterpiece against NC State. Obviously, teams are paying more attention to him, but he needs to adjust his game. Gist needs to step it up ASAP or it’s “NIT time” for the Terps.
5) Eric Hayes. Where’s the heady playmaker and crafty passer we saw last season? I think we all know that he’s miscast playing the 2-guard position, but he’s playing without any confidence. Maryland can’t win playing 4 on 5. Hayes needs to come out of hibernation.
6) Landon Milbourne. He’s actually had a fairly good season, especially considering that he got DNP’s in about 75% of the Terps games last season and had little ACC game experience. He’s had a few moments of greatness, but lacks consistency. He can’t be a stud one game, and then do a disappearing act the next.
7) Cut down on the turnovers. ‘Nuff said.
8) More Jerome Burney, less of every other frontcourt reserve. Burney must have been deep in Gary’s doghouse for folks like Dave Neal, Shane Walker and Braxton Dupree to get playing time over him.
The “good” Terps score in the 80’s, get contributions for all five starters defend well, share the ball and attack.
The “bad” Terps score in the 60’s, have a few starters go AWOL, have more turnovers than assists and play tentatively.
In order to make the NCAA tournament, the “good” Terps need to make a comeback.
Maryland hit’s the road on Thursday for a very important game at an improved Wake Forest team. The annual Terps roller coaster ride at the end of the regular season is here. Buckle up!