Friday, December 30, 2005

Terp Nation #1 for 2005-2006 season

Terrapin Nation – Opening Shots for the 2005-2006 Season

Just sneaking it in before the New Year, here is the first edition of Terrapin Nation for the 2005-2006 season. Warning, this one might require a print and read, lots of material to cover. I hope to heat up with conference play, just like our Terps, who are, uh, 14-18 in ACC competition the last two years, so maybe I’ll try to do a little better, and hopefully, so will they. The goal here will be to publish a weekly edition so stay tuned.

(we interrupt this column to provide a quick editorial note – this is a regular column written for Terps basketball fans. I email it to friends, friends of friends and others who enjoy Terps commentary. Please let me know if you have friends I should add, everything will always be sent BCC. Also let me know if you want off the list. Happy New Year –GA)

Do we all feel a little better now? I felt a lot of anxiety out there after the GW loss; gripes that Maryland had no point guard, couldn’t handle a press, and basically couldn’t keep up with G-freakin-W. But now, a few weeks and a few wins later, a 9-2 Maryland team is again climbing the polls and seems to have established itself as a quality, top 25 team. No real shame in losing to Gonzaga and a solid GW squad; and with wins over Boston College, Arkansas, and Minnesota, many are calling the Terps the second-best team in the ACC, behind, well, never mind.

But, before we even get into an analysis of this year’s Turtles, allow me to call your attention to two feel-good stories currently unfolding. Let’s call them Maryland West and Maryland North.

Maryland West

This just in, YOUR Portland Trailblazers, winners of three straight games, feature a starting backcourt of (ahem, ahem,) Steve Blake and Juan Dixon. Even the Wizards never started Blake and Dixon together.

Allow me to quote from Thursday morning’s Portland Oregonian, in a story about YOUR Blazers’ 94-91 win over the visiting 76ers.

My oh my, look at the Trail Blazers now.

Playing with a new-found verve since coach Nate McMillan shuffled the starting backcourt, the Blazers on Wednesday night won their season-high third consecutive game, 95-91 over the Philadelphia 76ers in front of 17,384 at the Rose Garden.

That Blazers team that two weeks ago everyone so readily discarded as a youthful work in progress all of a sudden looks like a team of promise that is gaining momentum with each victory.

"We're growing up," said Juan Dixon, whose appointment as starting shooting guard Dec. 18 has spearheaded the team's rejuvenation. "Growing up right before your eyes. In the preseason, we looked pretty young, but we are playing mature, playing hard, solid for 48 minutes, and that's the key."

I mean, how cool is that?

With baby point guard Sebastian Telfair nursing a hand injury and Darius Miles battling knee problems, the door swung open in the last few weeks for Blake and Dixon to run the show in Portland on a nightly basis. For the first six weeks of the season, Blake couldn’t get off the bench (rookie Jarrett Jack got the back-up point guard minutes) and Dixon’s playing time was sporadic. Now, Dixon is getting 30-plus minutes a game, Blake is running the team, and the coach is publicly crediting the duo for a recent stretch of quality basketball. Telfair might not even get his job back right away when he returns. For more on that story, click here (you need to enter some basic data to get access to the site):

If you’re like me, you’ll make Blazers box scores a must-read, and I’m this close to ordering the NBA season package so I can watch all their games.

Maryland North

Maryland North can be found near the corner of Cold Spring Lane and Charles St. in Baltimore at Loyola College. Yes, something is cooking in this north Baltimore neighborhood and it’s not just those big burgers at Alonzo’s.

Guided by Jimmy “Gary Williams Jr.” Patsos on the bench, who is flanked by Terrell “you gonna eat that?” Stokes, and Matt “pretty boy” Kovarik; the Greyhounds are 6-2, thanks mostly to the prolific scoring of former Terp Andre Collins.

You remember Collins right? He is a water bug of a point guard who scored in bunches whenever he could find his way on the court for the Terps, which wasn’t very often. After two-plus season playing behind every other guard on the roster save the walk-ons, Collins followed Patsos up to Loyola, where his arm may fall off from shooting this year.

Let me throw some AC data at you

  • Collins plays 38 minutes per game; he has sat out a total of 18 minutes in 8 games.
  • He takes an average of 21 shots per game, including an average of 11 three-point attempts per game.
  • He’s shooting 43 percent from the field and 34 percent from three-point range.
  • Twice this year already, Collins has scored more than 30 points in a game, he had 39 against Manhattan (on 15 of 25 shooting) and 34 last night against VMI.

I’m not trying to say Gary should have played him more at Maryland or that he should have stayed, mind you. I think this is the perfect situation for the guy. He wasn’t going to get 21 shots a game at Maryland. Dixon didn’t take 21 shots a game at Maryland. Haven’t you always wondered what an end of the bench guy who was a little too small or a little too something to get serious PT at a big-time school could do if given some minutes at a smaller program? Well, Collins is doing it. And he’s lighting it up. And the team is winning. Good for him.

Also, in the last two games, big Hassan Fofana, another Maryland transfer, became eligible for the Greyhounds and he’s scored 12 and 21 points respectively in his first two games.

So, let’s review what’s going on at Loyola:

  • The head coach is Patsos, a former long-time Maryland assistant, who sweats and yells just as much as Gary.
  • Two assistant coaches, Stokes and Kovarik, are former Maryland point guards,
  • The leading scorer on the team, the conference and fifth-best in the country, is a Maryland transfer, Collins.
  • And the team’s new big-man is another former Terp, that wild and crazy African, Hassan Fofana.

What’s not to love?

OK, that’s probably enough on a team that lost by 40 to UVa last week… but the Greyhound are worth keeping an eye on this year.

Let’s Get Back to the Terps -- Why This Season is Really Important – Get Back to Winning

What’s most worrisome about the last two seasons of Maryland hoops, is that after the back-to-back trips to the Final Four and the National Championship team in 2002, Maryland, as a program, regressed.

This is Gary’s recruiting class coming off of the national championship team and their most impressive accomplishment is the 2004 ACC tournament championship, which was more of a fluke than an outgrowth of how this team has actually played for the past 2 seasons. Which is to say that they have been inconsistent, a little tough to watch, lacking in true leadership and, for the most part, a big letdown from the era that produced a bunch of banners and retired numbers and gave us the excitement of watching performances by Dixon, Baxter, Blake, Nicholas, Wilcox, Mouton, and others.

It’s not that the current group doesn’t try hard, but they don’t seem to be great as a team. It’s a new season, however, and with a new season comes new hope, new expectations, and new opportunities. A nice run through the ACC this year will make us forget all about the last two years.

Remember, one of the turning points last year, aside from the Gilchrist meltdown, was the loss of D.J. Strawberry for the season. D.J. isn’t a great basketball player per se, or a great point guard. But he is an extremely intense competitor, and one of those guys that makes a team better just by being on it. Strawberry hates to lose, tries as hard as he possibly can on every play, and seems to be improving his ball-handling and shooting skills, even if he was exposed a bit in the GW game. Pair him with the ever-steady McCray in the backcourt, and you’ve got a solid duo that plays great defense.

If you want to nitpick, the problem with Maryland’s roster is that that every one of the team’s best seven players are 2s, 3s, and 4s, there’s no true center and no true point guard to be found. Will Bowers is a center, but let’s face it, he might lose a foot race with a stapler. Sterling Ledbetter and Parrish Brown are point guards, but aren’t good enough to supplant Strawberry or McCray or Jones in the rotation.

General thoughts the Terps key players so far this season.

  • Caner-Medley was up to his old tricks Wednesday night, looking like an NBA first round draft pick against a bad team. He was AWOL against GW and Gonzaga, both losses, by the way, with 3 points against Gonzaga and 10 against GW on 4 of 12 shooting. On the positive side, it looks like Nik is not forcing his offense as much this season, so hopefully he’ll try to get his points in the flow of the offense. Put it this way, Maryland needs him to play well to have a good season, it’s that simple.

  • Mike Jones is getting more playing time (about 20 mins/game) and has had some nice scoring games so far, but remains a terrible decision-maker in a half court offense.* He can shoot. He can jump. He often rebounds with flourish and he has hit some huge shots for Maryland. But he throws the ball away and makes dumb decisions all the time. Commentators often talk about a player’s “basketball IQ.” Jones has a basketball IQ of retarded. And what’s up with the hairdo? Is he going dreads or full-on Afro this year? He’s now the Ben Wallace of reserve shooting guards with good jumpers and bad decision-making skills. I always root for Jones though, don’t you?

    * Let me tell remind you of something Jones did in the Arkansas game in Maui. On THREE CONSECUTIVE POSSESSIONS Jones received the ball from the point guard to set up the half-court offense. Jones threw the ball away or had it stolen by the other team each time. Let me make sure you’re with me here. Three times down the court. Each time Jones got the ball first after it crossed half court. Each time he threw it away. End of possession. No shots, no other passes, that’s it. Moral of the story? Mike Jones cannot be trusted. He may win a few games for Maryland this year and he will definitely provide some fantastic highlights. But he cannot be trusted. Do not forget this.

  • Travis Garrison is a jump shooter. There, I said it. Stop expecting him to score in the paint. He’s been here for four years; playing with his back to the basket is simply not what he does, unless it’s by accident. That said, he’s been pretty steady so far. Didn’t complain when Gist started over him early in the year, did his job and won back his starting role. He’s a good player, he can rebound and block shots, just don’t expect him to start playing like Lonnie Baxter next week. It’s not going to happen.

  • Ikene Ebekwe changed his shooting form in the offseason from truly hideous to just plain ugly, and it seems to be helping at the free throw line. He is fast, athletic and has a mean streak. I like Ebekwe’s game, it’s kind of funky, isn’t it?

  • McCray is a pleasure to watch. Makes good decisions, hits his shots, great from the free throw line shares the ball, he is Maryland’s best player.

  • If I had to bet money on one guy on the roster to eventually make an NBA team, I’m going with James Gist, but we may have to be a little more patient with this guy than we initially thought. He’s had some nice games but also some stinkers where he disappears or doesn’t get that many minutes. The good news is that he appears to be a good free throw shooter, has a great attitude, and can leap out of the gym. Give him time. Nothing wrong with bringing a guy this talented off the bench.

  • Will Bowers. Um, whatever. I guess he’s not horrible. He should probably go up to Loyola and pair up with Fofana to give the Greyhounds the largest front line in the history of the MAAAAAC and see what happens.

  • Sterling Ledbetter was Maryland’s starting point guard during that fantastic and exciting run to the semifinals of the NIT but seems to have regressed in Gary’s eyes. Parrish Brown has emerged as Gary’s favorite back-up point guard but this battle is going back and forth. To be continued.

The prediction here is that Maryland will finish with a 10-6, or 11-5 record in the ACC and a national ranking in the teens, ending up with a 4 or 5 seed in the tournament. With a couple of good bounces, they might even get a 3 seed and go 12-4 in the league. I think it will be a fun, and far less frustrating season.

Some Final Randomness

(anyone still with me? I told you it would be long)

While watching Delaware State, I found myself wondering why there isn’t a Maryland State. I mean, wouldn’t Towson be cooler if it was Maryland State? Have they ever thought about this? Has UMBC? What’s better, a directional university or a State university? I’m going State every time, aren’t you? Speaking of Towson, does anyone remember that former Florida State and DePaul coach Pat Kennedy is the head coach at Towson? Is this more or less ridiculous than when Lefty went to Georgia State? At least Lefty won at Georgia State. “Pat’s Cats” went 5-24 last year. This year the Tigers are 3-6. But they did beat UMBC, so that’s good.

So, what’s next for the Terps? They have two more glorified scrimmages – home games against weak teams from weak conferences – before the ACC season begins. Saturday VMI comes to the Comcast Center for a ritual slaughter fresh off the Andre Collins beat-down; and then Texas A&M Corpus Christi visits for a juicy Wednesday night match-up.

Speaking of VMI and Texas A&M Corpus Christi, I understand why the top Division I programs like Maryland have to schedule cupcakes to pad the record. In fairness, Gary always has his teams play a few meaty games against solid programs leading up to the ACC – this year particularly – but I always get a laugh out of the randomness of the non conference “sure thing” schedule.

How do you think the calls to set up these games go between ADs? To find out, I recently eavesdropped outside of Maryland AD Debbie Yow’s office while she was taking care of business. Here’s the transcript.

Yow: “Alice, get me the phone number for the AD at one of those Horizon League schools.”

Alice: “Coming right up. You want Wisconsin-Milwaukee?”

Yow: “Hell no, they win sometimes. You got another Wisconsin?”

Alice: “I got Green Bay and Oshkosh. Who you want?

Yow: “Give me Oshkosh.”

Alice: “Here you go. (pause) Is it true they play in overalls?”

Yow: After dialing… “Hi, Debbie Yow here from the University of Maryland, calling to see what your ’08-’09 non-conference schedule looks like for men’s basketball.”

Wisconsin-Oshkosh AD: “Well, so far I have 12 road games booked in November and December. I could pencil you in for December 28th or 29th; we’ll have just played Texas and we have Syracuse lined up for the following weekend. Wait, no, I mean we’ll have just played UCLA on Saturday, Texas is the following week, but we could fly cross-country by Tuesday. Would you like to beat us by 40 to improve your NCAA resume in front of an apathetic crowd with limited regional TV coverage and Glenn Consor on color commentary on a Tuesday or a Wednesday?”

Yow: “Wednesday’s good. How much?”

Wisconsin Osh Kosh AD: “That’ll be $50,000, plus some of that tasty CluckU.”

Yow: “What’s done is done.”


Thoughts on the Terps for the season?

Hit reply and let me know what you think or send an email to

I’ll post top Terps banter on the Terp Nation Report next Friday.

Coming Next Week:

Catching up with Drew Nicholas – The Richard Hamilton of European basketball.

Happy New Year,