For the better part of the last six weeks, I’ve been boasting that the Maryland Terps might be a tough out once they reach NCAA tournament play in mid-March.
I hope I don’t have them pegged wrong.
But I’m starting to wonder.
And Saturday’s heart-rate-jumper over Georgia Tech, while certainly one of the most thrilling finishes in recent Terps history, showed once again that Gary Williams’ team has more than one crack in their turtle-shell-armor.
I hope they can get it all together in March, but it will take a much better collective effort than they’ve showed in 3 of the last 4 games if they want to be more than one-and-done in the Big Dance.
Jordan Williams and Greivis Vasquez are the two no-brainers of the group. Even though Williams might have lost the one-on-one battle with Tech’s Derrick Favors on Saturday at Comcast, there’s no doubt that the Maryland freshman continues to improve with each passing game and won’t face many big man as athletic as Favors throughout the remainder of the regular and post-season. And Vasquez is always the guy to watch, regardless of time and score, as his running-through-the-lane soft-touch hoop with 14 seconds left gave the Terps a late lead before Tech went ahead with 3 seconds to play. Vasquez and Williams are both getting BETTER as the season rolls on — and you can’t ask for any more than that.
After Williams and Vasquez, though, it’s starting to become a coin flip as to what other players will make an impact on any given night.
And that’s not good.
Saturday, Eric Hayes repaid Gary Williams for his Wednesday night stinker at North Carolina State with an outstanding 15-point afternoon, including a huge three-pointer with a minute left and the key pass to Cliff Tucker for the game-winning three pointer.
Hayes, though, has become a little bit too inconsistent at this late stage of the season for my liking. For Maryland to win come tournament time, they need a duplicate effort of Saturday’s sterling performance…every time out.
A month or so ago, Sean Mosley would have been one of the least of my worries, but not anymore. He’s suddenly gone cold offensively, erasing a November and December start to his season in which he appeared well on his way to being a 12-15 point per-game kind of player. And Saturday’s 6-point effort vs. Georgia Tech was the BEST part of his game. Mosley turned in a sloppy overall effort, including a poor inbounds pass with the Terps trailing 65-60 with 5 minutes to play that earned him a seat on the bench next to the coaching staff. Gary Williams then mysteriously went back to Mosley with 40 seconds to play and he promptly misread a double-team under the basket that led to Georgia Tech’s go-ahead hoop just prior to Vasquez’s heroics. Offensively…defensively…Mosley’s just not performing at the high-level we saw from him earlier in the season.
For Maryland to win come post-season time, they need both Hayes and Mosley to step up their play. The Terps can’t win if those two aren’t making legitimate contributions.
And what has become of Landon Milbourne of late? He did finish with 7 rebounds on Saturday – second on the team – but more and more he’s disappearing for extended periods of time throughout the game. A 5-point effort against Tech was softened by the rebounding totals, but Milbourne needs to threaten double-digits in scoring every night out. Match-up problems continue to hurt Milbourne. Any team with two or more players over 6’9″ or so are gaining an advantage on Maryland because Jordan Williams can only handle so much of the dirty work down low. Milbourne’s fine when facing players of his size, but anyone bigger and stronger gets the best of him early and often. More and more, it seems like Landon never has a good game at both ends of the floor, as evidenced by his Saturday effort where he was strong on the rebounding chart but dismal on the scoring chart.
Thankfully – but of some concern to Gary, I assume – the Terps bench continues to contribute in spurts. Adrian Bowie has been an effective contributor over the last two games and there’s an argument that Dino Gregory has been Maryland’s best player off the bench over the last half-dozen contests. He took the late charge at Florida State that helped Maryland protect a late lead and he was productive in both wins this week — vs. Virgina and at NC State. Saturday, in only 16 minutes, he chipped in with 9 points and gave the Terps some life defensively. For my money, he would have been in late in the game instead of Mosley, who just doesn’t seem to have the energy he had before ACC play commenced in January. Tucker’s buzzer beater notwithstanding, he’s now #8 on the team’s depth chart, it would appear.
At 9-3 in the ACC, Maryland would have to completely fall apart now to not gain entry into the NCAA tournament. They’re in, or as close to being in as you can be without seeing your name on the board come Selection Sunday. And that’s a good thing, for sure, because once March Madness begins, all 65 teams go back to 0-0.
But the miracle finish against Georgia Tech might have showed us more bad than good. Either that’s a better Tech team than we’ve given credit for, or Maryland’s a team just breathing on lucky fumes long enough to pull out a crazy win. For my money, Paul Hewitt’s team outplayed Maryland on Saturday, and that’s not a good thing when you’re in mid-February and every game is literally do-or-die for any team at or over .500.
I’m high on Maryland’s post-season chances.
Maybe, though, I’m too high on them.
I’ve spent most of my time recently assuming that the players who are capable of playing well are going to play well. The last four games have indicated otherwise, as the Terps are only getting consistent play from Vasquez and Williams. And you can’t win big games with only two players pulling their weight.
I hope I’m right about Maryland.
I think they can make some noise in March.
But eeking out last-ditch wins at home in February – while thrilling for the fans – shows some weaknesses that perhaps I didn’t calculate while slurping my turtle soup over the last few weeks.