Thursday, December 31, 2009

The New Reality

The headline in the Baltimore Sun reads, "Maryland Stunned by William & Mary." Over at The Washington Post, the take is a little less stunned, "William & Mary Knocks off Maryland."

I'm partial to the Post's assessment, seeing as how W&M 83, Maryland 77, was a stunner only to those who haven't been paying close attention to college basketball this season, or for the last six or seven seasons in College Park. First of all, William & Mary is having itself a magical little season this year. They've now won 9 in a row and had already won at Wake by 10; defeated a good VCU team, and gave UConn a run for their money.

Right now, William & Mary has an RPI of, ahem, 5 and Maryland is at 106. That means if the tournament started today, the Tribe would be a two seed and Maryland would be hosting Radford in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational.

Our next "not quite shocking" revelation is that Maryland basketball ain't what it used to be. The Terps have one winning record in ACC play in the last six full seasons. When they've made the tournament in recent years, it's typically thanks to some late-season dramatic flourish, not a steady march through a solid year. Maryland basketball hasn't fallen off a cliff, it's simply not a top program anymore in performance or national reputation.

Want proof? After the loss Wed. night, ESPN's college basketball homepage did not mention the Terps' loss to W&M among its top 10 stories of the day. Point being, it's not news when Maryland loses at home to a team from the Colonial.

Every year for the past 3 in fact, a team from a weaker conference has come into Comcast Center and won, and sometimes it's happened more than once. In 2007-2008, a particularly crappy Maryland team lost to VCU, American University, and Ohio University (the loss to VCU took place at Verizon Center, the other 2 at home in Comcast); in 2008-2009, Maryland lost at home to Morgan State, a school with a program on the rise for sure, but one that has about as much business beating Maryland at home as Lefty Driesell has shopping at a Paul Mitchell salon.

And this year as if on cue before the ACC season, we have the Tribe from William & Mary walking into Maryland's building and owning the Terps from start to finish.

The final margin of 6 points was not indicative of the way in which the Tribe outplayed Maryland so thoroughly and completely. Put it this way, if a visitor from the planet "I don't know anything about college basketball" visited for one game, he would have thought that Maryland was the smaller school from the weaker conference, and W&M was the big, bad Major Conference player.

What Do We Expect? What Standard Should Maryland Basketball Meet?

Certainly it's not realistic for Gary and the Terps to go to the Final Four every year like they did in 2001 and 2002. But I think what fans expect - and what Maryland has failed to do - is put together a program that annually reaches or comes close to reaching the following goals:
Ranked in the top 25 most of the year - you get WAY more publicity and attention when you're ranked, your highlights aren't even on ESPN if you are not ranked or playing a ranked team.
Finish the ACC season in the top 1/3 of the conference, and once every few years, put together a really solid 12-4 or 13-3 campaign. We don't expect 12-4 or 13-3 every year, but once every four would be about right to be really, really good.

Play an exciting brand of basketball, with players who are fun to watch and a few of whom make it to the NBA every couple of years. Maryland's last solid NBA player was Steve Blake, who left the program in 2003. That's about to be 7 years ago. Since then, guys like Nik Caner-Medley, D.J. Strawberry, Chris McCray, etc. have come and gone, and none have stuck in the NBA, because, well, they're not good enough.

Maryland basketball fans want MARYLAND BASKETBALL - a program that gives Duke and UNC a run for their money, not some desperate to get the final at-large spot wannabe giant killer. For a while we WERE the giants. Not anymore.

All is not lost. The ACC season hasn't even started. This team can still make the tournament. But the idea of Maryland making a run in the tournament is about as likely as Gary watching a game calmly while seated with his legs crossed and his finger poised thoughtfully by his bottom lip, quietly making casual observances to his assistant coaches.

How Did We Get Here?

Prior to the start of this season, Maryland was named 9th on a list of the top 10 programs of the decade by a publication called Lindys, which has a website that features an NRA ad and looks like it was designed by a high school web workshop in 1997.

I guess you can't really leave off a team that went to two Final Fours and won a national championship. But here's Maryland's record since winning the national championship:

2002-2003 - 21-10, 11-5, NCAA Sweet 16, finished season ranked 17th - solid season - featured the Drew Nicholas flying down the court 3-pointer to beat UNC-Wilmington at the buzzer in the first round. Blake and Nicholas in the backcourt were a great pair. Maryland was a bucket away from the Elite 8 that year.

2003-2004- 20-12, 7-9, NCAA round of 32, finished season ranked 19th - that's the year of the amazing ACC tournament run led by John Gilchrist. The Terps were pretty mediocre other than that tournament, BUT that was an amazing and memorable tournament that made up for a lot of angst along the way. Lost a good game to Syracuse in the second round.

2004-2005 - 19-13, 7-9, NIT - rough year

2005-2006 - 19-13, 8-8, NIT - see 2004-2005

2006-2007 - 25-9, 10-6, ncaa round of 32, finished season ranked 17th - best Maryland team not featuring anyone from the national championship team. Maryland started the ACC season 3-6 then ripped off 7 straight wins. Lost to Butler in a close game in second round of NCAA tournament.

2007-2008 - 19-15, 8-8, NIT, unranked

2008-2009 - 20-13, 7-9, NCAA round of 32, probably got the very last at-large pick to the tournament, some nice wins on the season, but also some really horrendous losses where the Terps just got pummeled. Great win of Cal in first round, wiped off the floor by Memphis in round 2.

2009-2010 - 8-4 as of New Year's Eve 2009 and looking a lot like a team that doesn't have much mojo.

Overall record since national championship:
151-89 (58-54)

Record in past five full seasons prior to this season (04-05 - 08-09)
102-63 (40-40)

Does it Matter?

The sustained mediocrity of Maryland basketball over the past 7 years has numbed me to some extent. I still watch the games and follow the team, but I don't expect as much, at least not from this current group.

Do you really think this year's team has what it takes to make a run in the tournament? Can they possibly beat more quality teams than they lose to? What evidence is there to suggest that Landon Milbourne, Greivis Vasquez, and Eric Hayes will somehow transform into players that make Maryland anything more than a 8-8 team in the ACC, or worse?

My prediction - 4-12 in the ACC. This is the year the bottom falls out. I hope I'm wrong. I really like Maryland basketball. I don't want Gary's head on a platter. I don't really want a new coach. I just want Maryland basketball to be better.

Selfishly, some of my best sports memories of a lifetime are going to the Final Fours in 2001 and 2002 and living and dying with every bounce and basket those seasons. It was magical. I miss it. I took my five-year-old son to the William & Mary game last night. The crowd had about as much energy as the team. Which is to say, not much.

Here, then, is my rant from the side of me that REALLY CARES:





OK, I feel better now. Happy New Year. Go Terps.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Thank You George Michael

George Michael died today and that made me sad. Before there was Chris Berman or Dan Patrick or Scott Van Pelt or any of the SportsCenter greats, there was George Michael, blazing a trail on Channel 4, WRC-TV in Washington, D.C.

I grew up in Baltimore and didn't get channel 4 as a so-called local station. But in the days before everyone had cable, what you had on your house to get better TV reception was a big old antennae and from our home in Owings Mills, Md., we could pick up the DC nightly newscasts. This was when channel 4 was actually on channel 4 and channel 13 meant you literally turn the dial to 13, etc. Remember VHF and UHF? I do, and I remember 'finding' George Michael on Channel 4 one day. I have no idea when exactly I found him, but I remember being captivated.

After radio gigs as a rock DJ in Philly and New York, George got to DC in 1980, the year I turned 10. So I'm guessing I found George shortly thereafter, as a sports obsessed 10 or 11-year-old who needed as much of a fix as he could find. And boy did he deliver. Before anyone was doing national highlight shows, George revolutionized what to expect from your local sports anchor. I used to make sure our family changed the channel at night to catch him, rotating the dial on our antennae to make sure the channel came in as clear as possible.

And when everyone else was doing 5-7 minutes of local scores, George was rocking The Sports Machine, a 30-minute highlight extravaganza that put everyone else to shame. He had such infectious enthusiasm and star quality that you watched him as much as the highlights. The Sports Machine ran on Sunday nights and it was great. I would hope that George would include the Orioles in his packages so I could see the home team. He would even do some goofy stuff, like pro wrestling highlights when no one else was putting them on the sportscast ... and this was before pro wrestling was "out" as a "fake" sport, so it was semi-controversial.

I want to thank George Michael, for doing what he did. He had a vision to make sports highlights more than just a few minutes. But a long-form experience where you could settle in and see different highlights and players and games from around the country. He also seemed to really love what he was doing, night after night, and had great chemistry with his team, especially newsman Jim Vance.

Ironically, as the number of channels and shows has exploded over the years, one thing that's been taken away is the ability to watch the local news in DC from Baltimore. I remember feeling kinda proud to have been watching George long before the Sports Machine went national. I knew he was great, and then the nation saw him being great too as the show was picked up in syndication.

George Michael was a guy who was really good at what he did. He had vision and energy and charisma and he really knew how to deliver.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Villanova 95, Maryland 86

Is anyone surprised?

Maryland put up a good fight and certainly showed that they can hang with a top 5 team, but in losing 95-86 to Villanova, the Terps once again fell short against a quality program.

So that's oh for 3 this year, 1 for 4 if you count Indiana, a team that isn't very good.

I dutifully watched the game, but did not expect Maryland to win and hence wasn't that upset when they didn't. There were definitely some positive signs. First, Maryland came back from a 16 or 18 point second half deficit and cut it back to 3. Second, Jordan Williams seems to be gaining more and more confidence and appears to be the real deal in terms of a frontcourt player. Third, Sean Mosley is really stepping up as a leader on the team and looks to be in amazing condition. He is starting to emerge as a star and that's just what Maryland needs because....

Grevis is a mess right now. Not sure if it's in his head or he's just streaky or what, but he has been downright bad so far this season. He's shooting 32 percent from the field and 28 percent from 3. Maryland needs GV to play like he can play - at a very high level - or they are just not good enough to beat the Villanovas of the world. Eric Hayes, Landon Milbourne and the rest are all nice, complimentary players. Greivis, when he's on, is something special. A triple-double threat kind of a player who can take games over and carry his team to big wins. But when he's bad, he leads you in the opposite direction, shortening possessions with bad shots and turning the ball over and generally not helping the team win.

Basically my feeling is that as Grevis goes, so go the Terps.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Quick Juan Dixon Update

This is a tad wacky. So after Juan Dixon got cut from the Hawks, his agent found him a job in the Greek professional league with a team called Aris. From what I can tell, Aris is bad, but the key for Juan (and any American trying to make an impact overseas and make some dough) is that he'll get minutes and be expected to score. And once he does those things, he can latch on with a bigger club with more money that plays in the EuroLeague - which pulls the best teams from the country leagues to play against one another.

Anyway, in Juan's first ever professional game outside the US, his team played Panathinaikos -- the defending EuroLeauge champs -- whose starting 2 guard just happens to be .... Drew Nicholas. Sarunas Jasikevicius is also on the team.

And guess what? Both Nicholas and Dixon scored 12 points, though Nicholas' team won, 70-62.
Here's the boxscore.

That had to be a really strange feeling for Juan to face off against Nicholas - and lose - in playing his first pro game outside the NBA. Nicholas has been in Europe since 2003 and has done extremely well for himself. Here's hoping Juan finds similar success. If nothing else, he will (hopefully) finally get regular minutes and do what he does best - score.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Atlanta Hawks Cut Juan Dixon, Ensuring Bad Karma Forever

Sad day for Juan Dixon today and Maryland fans as the Terps' all-time leading scorer was cut from the Hawks roster. Alas, they had a glut of guards and no room for the man who overcame so many odds to become the leader of 2 Final Four and one National Championship team.

Dixon cut by Hawks.

Gary Williams resurrected Maryland basketball, but it was Juan Dixon who took the Terps to the promised land, willing the 2002 team to the national title. For the last eight seasons, Dixon bounced around on NBA teams. When given minutes, he always put up points, but at a skinny 6-3 without explosive power or natural point guard skills, Juan never really found a long-term home in The League.

Regardless, he overcame so many obstacles to earn minutes at the highest level, including a 35-point performance in a playoff game for the Wizards.

I'm guessing Juan's next stop will be overseas, where he can make a handsome living and hopefully become the man again for a European team. He's one of the all-time great inspirational stories in sports period. Good luck Juan.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Hoops season is just around the corner

Maryland basketball media day is next week, along with midnight madness. Should be a really interesting season for the Terps. For the first time in a while, squad seems to have the pieces in place to be a factor in the ACC and not just hold on for dear life and hope to squeek into the NCAAs. Big year for Gary and the boys coming up.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A View from the Upper Deck at Byrd

For those who haven't seen it yet, here's a view of the new club level at Byrd Stadium. Looks very good and big-time. The team... not so much.

Anyone ever sit way up high at Byrd? I brought my 5-year-old son to this game. Upon arriving at our seats and looking at over the horizon he said, "I think I can see the ocean."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What Mediocrity Hath Wrought

I'll never forget the day I went to pick out my season tickets at the brand new Comcast Center. It was the summer following the national championship season - perhaps the best timing for the opening of a new building in the history of such occurrences.

No one could possibly draw up a better game plan.

"Hey, we're building a new, state-of-the-art, on-campus, pro-style basketball facility that will seat 17,950. We need to sell some tickets. Anyone on the marketing team got an idea?"

"Well, how about if we win the national championship the season before we open the building?"

"GREAT idea!"

And that's actually what happened. We all know the 2001-2002 Terps brought home the title in April and the 2002-2003 Terps opened the Comcast Center in November.

So everyone was all geared up to get a great seat in the new building. You had to ante up some cash first, though. People and businesses were paying $25,000, $50,000, even $100,000 to become "building campaign partners" or some such nonsense and get the sweetest tickets in the house. This is true.

I had season tickets for several years prior to the national championship. Two in section A, row 6. They were great seats behind the basket at Cole. Me and my pal Herbst got them from a friend I used to work with who let me take over the tickets when she moved out of town. It was a sweet deal. To keep them, we only had to make a minimum contribution to the Terp club each year - at least $125 and then, of course, buy the tickets.

Our first season with the tickets was Steve Francis first and only year in College Park. Good times. Then came the Terence Morris/Juan Dixon/Lonny Baxter/Steve Blake/Chris Wilcox/Byron Mouton era ... good times my friends, some of the best live crowds I've ever had the joy of joining.

Then Maryland won the national championship. Shortly thereafter came the letters and calls explaining that in order to get seats in the new building, you had to pony up enough of a donation to get yourself ranked among the top Terp Club point holders who would get access to season tickets.

So Herbst and I recruited two more friends, and each of us kicked in $500 for a total donation of $2,000. Then came the fateful day when I got to walk into a trailer adjacent to the almost completed Comcast Center to pick out seats from a giant board that indicated what was left.

My heart sank. Basically I had a choice between the last row in the section next to the corner or about five rows from the top in the corner. I chose the seats in the corner but not quite at the top. Something about a seat in the very last row depressed me more than a seat in the worst section in the house.

I had good seats at Cole. I had an eye level view of the rafters at Comcast.

After holding onto the tickets for a couple seasons, I let them go a couple years ago. Who needed it? I watch on TV. I go to the games when someone offers a ticket. I find it ridiculous to pony up Terp club dues year after years for the right to buy tickets. It's the PSL that never goes away.

Fast forward 7 years. Leading into this season, there is no line of people clamoring to give six figures to Maryland for the privilege of watching the men's basketball team.

My old seats in section 224 are available if you want them. You'll find ads in the Post sports section offering season tickets for anyone willing to part with a relatively modest $599.

They'll even let you make $99/month payments for six months. That was definitely not the case after the national championship. You had to pay up and you had to pay up right then and there.

You could say that this is the byproduct of a weak economy. But it is also the byproduct of a weakened program. Since the national championship, Maryland has had a winning record in ACC play only twice. They haven't been mainstays in the top 25 and haven't produced the kind of teams and players that make you stop what you're doing and pay attention. In short, every since Juan Dixon and company left campus, there has been almost no buzz around Maryland basketball. A little reported or perhaps known fact is that the fat cat donors who ponied up in the tens of thousands for access to seats after the national championship, rarely go to the games. Sure, they'll show up for Duke and UNC, maybe even Georgia Tech and Clemson. But South Carolina State on a Wednesday in December? Forget it. The place has been a morgue for most of the out of conference games for the past five years.

And that's a shame. Because Maryland basketball, at its best, is a lot of fun. Gary is an entertaining coach to watch. His teams play an up-tempo, entertaining style. The team supposedly has some very talented freshmen big men coming into the program who will give the Terps some overdue muscle and skill inside.

But talk is cheap and tickets are available. Operators are standing by.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Random Gripe about the Orioles Post-Game Show

The Orioles are 60-92 and need to win 3 of their remaining 10 games to avoid losing 100 games for the first time since 1988. That year, of course, was the year the Birds lost their first 21, not a great start.

This year, the Orioles were only 8 games under .500 at the break, playing reasonably competitive baseball. But the second half has been an outright disaster from a W-L perspective. The bright spots have been the emergence of young pitchers Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman, and superstar in waiting Matt Wieters. Wieters is hitting like .500 since being moved to the 3-spot in the order.

Anyway, this isn't a post to complain about the Orioles and think about what's coming next year and lament the march toward 99 losses. No, I'm just gonna bitch for a few graphs about what the team and its radio flagship have the nerve to call Orioles All-Access.

See, back when the Orioles were relevant and interesting and people cared, one of the things I enjoyed doing was listening to the post-game show on the radio. There, your could get a sense for the pulse of the fans, what they were thinking about, wondering about, and concerned about. Now I guess that discussion has moved to the message boards and the various Blogs, like Peter Schmuck's excellent and entertaining The Schmuck Stops Here.

But what we don't have is an actual dialogue from the fans after a game that captures the emotion of having just watched or listened to the game.

The format of the Orioles post-game show is that Tom Davis and Dave Johnson, who are both very good, get literally 2-3 minutes per segment to talk about something and then there's 3 minutes of commercials. Repeat, repeat. So as soon as Johnson gets into talking about something - literally after 2 minutes every single segment - the "commercial is coming soon, gotta wrap it up" music comes on. Then Tom Davis comes in and says something like, "more on Orioles All Access after the break. And then the break takes longer than the actual segment. They take no calls, I don't think they bring in any guests. They talk to each other for 2-3 minutes at a time, broken up by 3 minutes of ads. I am not exaggerating at all, this is the format of the show.

I usually listen for a segment or two if I'm in the car, then just change the station because it's so annoying and pointless. Dave Johnson is actually interesting and has something to say. Tom Davis is a very talented host and knows a ton about baseball. But the format is a complete joke.

All Access to what?

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Worldwide Leader in Overdoing It

I like sports a lot. There’s nothing more entertaining to me than the drama of a great game. So I watch a lot of ESPN because I like football and baseball and basketball and golf and can even get into the occasional women’s softball game or soccer match. Hockey not so much, but that's just me.

All that said, as much as I watch ESPN, I kinda hate ESPN. I hate how often they celebrate themselves and remind us how cool they are. I hate how exhaustively and painfully they over-cover certain events and athletes. Brett Favre comes to mind. ESPN thinks sports fans are just sitting around wondering what he is thinking about, constantly. I don't dislike Favre, I just don't care.

As much as I do appreciate ESPN's coverage and like a lot of their personalities and commercials, I just don't like how ESPN overdoes it on a regular basis, to the point of becoming insufferable.

According to ESPN for example, this Saturday's USC at Ohio State game was a HUGE deal, even if the calendar says September and the game itself was kinda boring, save for the final 10 minutes.

ESPN aired the game, which started at 8 and ended at around 11:35, which sounds about right for an overly hyped early season game stocked with as many commercials and sponsorships as possible. But the length of the game is not my problem with ESPN.

My problem is how they treated the viewer after the game. Like I said, the game ended just past 11:30 and after a long game like that, my thought is that it’s time to switch to highlights of the day from other games and events, of which there were a magnitude.

So after the obligatory post-game interviews, where the freshman quarterback thanks God for the win, and the coach thanks God for the quarterback, and we see the teams praying and singing the school fight song, we shift to ESPN headquarters in Bristol where Steve Levy and John Anderson are standing by. Great, I'm thinking, it's time for them to take us through an exciting day of college football right? Maybe we’ll head out to the US Open semifinals where Serena blew a gasket? The baseball playoff races? Tiger went low Saturday, maybe we’ll see him in action?

No, no, no, and no. ESPN will now reinforce that the SportsNation was supposed to be utterly fascinated by the significance of Ohio State – USC. Before the worldwide leader shows us a clip of anything else, we will all re-live the game (that we just watched) in pictures, words, analysis, interviews and press conferences for the next, I kid you not, 20 minutes. You want highlights? You will get nothing other than Ohio State – USC. Yes, I realize I could flip over to ESPNEWS, but as they've told us, "This is SportsCenter." And I want me some SportsCenter.

Here’s what ESPN aired:

11:37-11:41 – The guys from SportsCenter deliver the OSU-USC highlights package, with “big game” treatment in the form of exhaustive recaps of every significant play. Remember, they are showing you the highlights of a game you probably just watched.

Now we can get to other games right? I mean, I think Tiger might have had a hole in one on a par 5, let’s see some of that right? Not yet.

11:41 – 11:44 - Back to Columbus for Chris Fowler and Desmond Howard breaking down the game you just saw and just saw the highlights from. Desmond Howard chimes in with really interesting stuff like, “Pete Carroll is one of the best in college football at making halftime adjustments.”

I am personally ready to see Michigan – Notre Dame highlights, but I would take sumo wrestling as this point, I don't care.

11:44 – 11;46 - They kick it up to the booth where Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit are ready to provide some final thoughts on the game they just analyzed for nearly four hours. How much more can they possibly have to say about this game? Can we all move on? This is getting awkward.

Apparently not.

11:46-11:48 -- Back to Chris and Desmond on their on-field set to talk more about the game we just watched, then watched highlights of, then watched them talk about, then listened to Kirk and Brent talk about, and now it’s back to Chris and Desmond for more.

It's as if ESPN is saying to us, "Look, we spent a lot of money to ship a lot of people to Columbus for this one, so we are going to make you watch them. A lot."

Does ESPN think we were all heretofore incapable of understanding the magnitude of this game? Fowler just said, “A long way to go for USC but what a big step they took tonight.”

It’s September 12th Chris, ya think?

And Desmond following up with, “That wasn’t just a big step, that was a huge step.”

11:48 Fowler and Desmond are winding down and I think we’re all ready to check highlights from other games when Fowler says, “Let’s hear the post-game press conference, LIVE now, where USC freshman QB Matt Barkley is answering questions.”

11:48 – 11:53 - Really ESPN? Really we need to watch the press conference now? Before we get to see Serena cussing out the line judge? You’d think they’d cut to the press conference to hear just one or two sound bites right? Wrong. They kept the cameras there for five minutes. It was three USC guys up there saying things like, “it was 11 guys on every play.” Riveting.

After they finally break from the press conference, we gotta go straight back to SportsCenter right? I mean by this point Serena has ripped off the line judge’s head and shoved a racket down her open neck, right? And we have already, to recap:

Watched the Ohio State – USC game for 3 hours and 45 minutes, then watched the highlights of the game, then watched Chris and Desmond talk about it, then watched Kirk and Brent talk about it, then came back to Chris and Desmond for more, then went to the press conference to hear from the players for five minutes of nothing, and now?

Desmond Howard is reading Ohio State’s upcoming schedule.

The game ended nearly 20 minutes ago. Why is ESPN torturing the Sports Nation?
Honestly, if I grew up in Columbus and had three degrees from USC I wouldn't be interested in this much post game analysis.

11:58 - Finally, at a few minutes before midnight, Chris Fowler stops water boarding ESPN viewers and says, “Let’s go from Columbus back to Bristol now for John and Steve, guys?”

And Steve Levy says, “Alright Chris, I’m sure much more coming up from Columbus in just a little bit.”

In case you were wondering, next week Ohio State plays Toledo.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Before You Abandon the Orioles Altogether...

Football season is 2 weeks away. Here in Baltimore, most sports fans can't wait to turn the page from baseball to football, and most -- truth be told -- never paid much attention to the Orioles anyway.

There was a time in my youth when if the Orioles were playing, you'd pull up next to someone on the road and you could hear the game on their radio too. Now? It is not an uncommon occurrence to go to a bar or a restaurant that has TV sets featuring whatever game is on - and they don't even put on the Orioles game while they are playing. Not many people really care. And that's a shame.

But it is reality and it is what happens when you don't put up a winning season in a dozen years. At the beach this weekend with my family, I was talking to my nephew Jordan about this. Jordan is 11 and a good athlete and he likes all kinds of sports, including the Orioles. But since his birth in May 1998, the Orioles have, in a word, stunk. So how can you blame the kid for not being able to name the starting lineup? You can't.

There is, however and at long last, hope. Hope appeared on the mound today in the form of 6-5 lefthander Brian Matusz (Mat-iss, not Mah-tooz), who threw 7 strong innings and got the 3rd win of his MLB career.

Next year, the starting rotation will likely be Jeremy Guthrie and 4 very good second year players: Matusz, David Hernandez, Brad Bergesen, and Chris Tillman. Tillman looks like the real thing, and even Jason Berken has been very solid lately. So, shockingly, the Orioles finally do have what every organization covets - talented young arms in abundance. It has taken a very long time, but they are here.

Problems abound, of course, and anyone thinking playoffs next year for a team that's about to lose 25 or 30 games more than it will win this year should probably have his head examined.

You could say the same thing about someone who still pays close attention to a team that has been a dozen-year disappointment to a town that once lived and breathed with its every pitch and filled its still wonderful stadium. But if you love baseball like I do and you still care like I do, it's worth taking a peak at what's going on at Oriole Park over the final month of a season. The Ravens will soon take over everyone's interest, but the Orioles deserve a look.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Vacate This, NCAA

So this story came out today about Memphis --

That the NCAA might "vacate" its wins during the 2007-2008 season, when Derrick Rose led the team to the Final Four. Apparently there were all sorts of recruiting shenanigans, including payment to Rose's brother and some questionable SAT scores.

What makes me laugh is the idea that you can "vacate" wins. I guess that's NCAA lingo for telling the university, "those wins will be stricken from the record books, as if they never happened."

Which is an appropriate punishment if you are viewing the Memphis basketball program from 200 years in the future and come upon the wikipedia entry on your in-brain computer and note that the team went 0-43 for the season and wonder "what happened to those guys?"

But for people who lived through the season, like Memphis fans and players and everyone else in the country who follows college hoops, those wins certainly did happen and saying that they are now "vacated" no more takes them away than me stomping my feet and saying the 1979 Pirates really didn't come back from down 3-1 to beat the Orioles in the World Series. I was 9. I was heartbroken. I am now vacating the Pirates World Series Championship!

Doesn't work that way, does it? No matter what the NCAA says now, Memphis went to the Final Four and their fans went along for the ride and you can't vacate that, it happened.

Monday, August 03, 2009

New Ad for the Orioles - Bring in the Road Fans

The Orioles right now are reminding me a little bit of the Bullets of the 80s. Back in the day, les Boulez used to advertise the team based on enticing out of towners to come see their team play (most likely beat) the Bullets at the old Cap Center. "See Michael Jordan. See Patrick Ewing. See Charles Barkley." You get the idea. Somehow the idea of coming to see Jeff Malone nail 19 footers off a screen wasn't quite as enticing, much as I did love Jeff Malone and his ability to nail 19 footers.

Anyway, back to the Bird, who are really for the birds right now. Boston just left town after beating the Orioles 3 straight, while entertaining their own fans in our seats. There's something completely humiliating and infuriating about having your team used as live fodder for the enjoyment of the other team's fans, at your place.

I know that help is supposedly on the way in the form of the young arms and young talent. But for now, Oriole Park is a sanctuary for the contending visiting clubs, where a struggling team (like the Sox were...) can come to Baltimore and get themselves right at our expense, figuratively speaking.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Start of the Tillman era

Tonight is an important night for Orioles baseball, perhaps on par with when Matt Wieters got called up in June. 21-year-old Chris Tillman makes his Orioles debut against a suddenly pesky Royals team. As Peter Schmuch wrote about in the Sun today, Tillman represents yet another piece of the "jury is still out" rebuilding plan engineered by Andy MacPhail. Tillman was one of the players acquired in the Bedard deal, which has to go down as one of the great fleecings in baseball of the last decade. Bedard is a career .500 pitcher who can't stay healthy and the Orioles got an all-star centerfield, a legit closer, and perhaps a solid starter out of the deal, along with a few other pieces.

So as Tillman comes up, we take the time to think about whether this rotation could be a winner for Baltimore in the near future: Bergesen, Hernandez, Tillman, Guthrie (maybe), and one more youngster, like Brian Matusz or Jake Arieta.

By the way, the result tonight means very little. It would be great if Tillman wins, but Berken won his first start and hasn't won since, though he did keep the Orioles in the game last night. The real test is how he's doing after 2 months in the bigs and the real REAL test is how he's doing come this time next year.

For some morbid reason, I still watch. I found myself last night driving home after a late night of work listening the Joe Angel and Fred Manfra describe another squandered lead, this time against a team that is supposed to be worse than the Orioles.

But as one more promising young player comes up, taking the place of a guy who couldn't get it done (Rich Hill), there's one more reason to think, "maybe things are looking up."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

I hope my kids don't hate me for this... On Baseball and Passing it On

Often before my son Ethan goes to bed, we curl up on the couch and watch a little baseball. Ethan, who will be 5 in September, likes baseball, and has begun to understand some of the nuances of the game. He gets, for example that there's 3 outs in an inning, 9 innings in a game, and daily opportunities to stay up past his bedtime watching games with his dad.

Ethan's favorite player is Brian Roberts, likely because he bats first, wears number one and his name is easy to say. Ethan also knows that Adam Jones bats second and wears number 10, and that Nick Markakis is number 21 and Aubrey Huff is 17. He knows that our team is the Orioles, but that grandpa (who lives on Long Island) loves the Mets.

Ethan surprised me the other day when his uncle Kenny asked him, "what number is Luke Scott?" and Ethan (who has a crazy memory) said "30," with the effortless confidence of a man bored by the question.

His 11-year-old cousin then piped in, "I definitely didn't know that. Ethan knows more about the Orioles than me!"

And I felt both satisfied and guilty, for I have passed down a love of the Orioles to my son. Make that my sons actually. I have an almost 2-year-old named Alec, who likes to watch baseball too. Alec will say before bed, "I want to watch Base-i-ball Daddy!" Actually he screams it while jumping up and down, up and down.

I thought about these things today as a I diverted my attention from work at various times in the afternoon to check online for the Orioles-Red Sox score. You see last night, the Orioles pulled off one of the all-time great comebacks, scoring five in the bottom of the 7th and five in the bottom of the 8th to steal a win in a game they were losing 10-1 after 6 and a half innings. Then today, they led 5-1 entering the 9th and inconceivably blew the game. Such pain. Such horror. Such torture. What have I done to my boys?

My sincere, and perhaps even attainable wish, however is that my sons don't have childhood memories of their dad inexplicably caring about a bad, not going anywhere, last place team.

I have two older brothers and each of them has a son who is 11. They were both born in 1998 and neither of them has been alive for a winning Orioles season. So Jake and Jordan and their younger siblings can be forgiven for not caring that much about the Orioles. After all, it has been specifically in their lifetime that the Orioles have not been very good. In fact they've been bad. Embarrassing even.

But I have a feeling -- actually I know for a fact -- that I kinda care about the Orioles more than my older brothers. 12 years into losing baseball, I watch at least some of just about every game. I read the box scores. I pay attention. I take pleasure in watching the emergence of a talented young player like Nolan Reimold or Brian Bergesen. I text during games to my friend Steve. "Are you WATCHING this?"

There's something comforting to me, even following a bad team, about the day-in and day-out nature of baseball, how there's a rhythm to the game and to the season.

I don't feel too guilty about romanticizing the game to my sons and getting them into it. I honestly believe, for the first time in a long time, that the team is on the right path. I have this feeling that my boys will have a different association than their cousins with the Orioles. In 3 or 4 years, when my guys are 5 and 8 and on up, I think the Orioles will be playing winning baseball. And guys like Reimold and Wieters and Jones and Markakis might just be for my kids what Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken and John Lowenstein and Rick Dempsey were for me.

And when their friends jump on the bandwagon they can say, "Where you been? We've been following these guys for years."

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Preakness in Transition

I live about a mile or so from Pimlico race course in Baltimore's Mt. Washington neighborhood. We've been here since 2003 and have gotten used to (and even look forward to) the mayhem that Preakness day brings each year. Since our house is close enough for a reasonable walk to the track - but not so close that it's right next to the track - our street typically fills up with cars by late morning. Often neighbors will rope off areas in front of their homes to save their spot. This year our street didn't fill up at all. It was almost comical to see a few of our neighors with chairs and cones out to protect spots that no one needed or wanted.

No, with the Md Jockey Club changing its policy from BYOB to $3.50 per beer, the college students and their partying compatriots stayed away from the infield en masse. What an odd sight it was to see the overhead TV shots of an empty infield on Preakness day. What an odd feeling it was for Mt. Washington to feel much like any other Saturday in May (aside from the constantly hovering helicopters and blimp overhead, of course).

In past years, the infield transformed into a sea of people, many of them loaded. Preakness officials finally had it with the escalating levels of violence and ridiculous behavior, from the infamous running of the Spot a Pots, to the propensity of infield goers to chuck a full beer can into the air at no one in particular.

For some videos of the ridiculousness, check out this blog post from Baltimore radio host Nasty Nestor (scroll down for his choice videos, it's unreal).

I haven't been back to the infield in at least 15 years, I think. I used to go in college and then a couple times just after college, but even then, at the ripe old age of 23 or 24, I remember thinking, "whoa, this is a little too much." It's not that it wasn't fun to bring a few beers or 60 and hang out with your friends for the day, it's just that this is a toxic combination:

An endless supply of beer and booze, sun, a sea of humanity, plenty of meatheads looking for a fight, and about 10 hours for the entire boozy pot to stew. Yee-ikes.

On really hot Preakness days, you could just feel the air of violence and danger brewing, as obvious as the beet-red faces of the Marlboro-smoking, cut-off jeans-wearing, shirtless wonders who picked Preakness day to showcase the full aura of their dazzling personalities.

I honestly can't believe it took the jockey club this long to pull the plug on the Freak-ness. Out of towners would see what went on in the infield and think, 'what a bunch of dirt bags.' Still, a part of me misses the aftermath (and during-math) of Preakness day in Mt. Washington. A couple years ago a college-aged kid wandered down onto our block and peed not just in front of our house, but on my car. Another time, we saw two guys just wandering down our street and they asked us how to walk to the campus of Johns Hopkins, which is a good 4 or 5 miles away. I told them it wasn't really a walk, and even offered to drive them but they really wanted to hoof it, so I said, "OK, go to Northern Parkway and make a left..." College.

Back when my friends and I would go we were no different. We'd bring a few cases of beer, a bunch of sandwiches and find parking probably not far from where I live now. Then we'd hire one of the shopping cart kids to haul our supplies to the gate. Then we'd walk among the masses into the infield. Oh good heavens the infield, that hairy, sweaty armpit of a sports venue. We'd plop down our stuff and initially you would have a specific area to call your own, outlined with string or by the outline of your chairs. But the over the course of the day the lines would blur and blend from one camp to the next. By 2 or 3 o'clock, it was just one big field party. No rules, no lines, and quite often, no shirts.

Don't get me wrong, it was mostly a fun party, but you were always one bumped shoulder into the wrong guy away from a haymaker.

I guess the ultimate problem with the infield was that the people tended not to just get drunk, but to get COMPLETELY HAMMERED. People save the Preakness for a special kind of "I'm so drunk I can't see straight," experience. I always remember thinking it just went sooo long. We'd get there at 9 or 10 in the morning and by 4 in the afternoon you're like, "I can't believe we're still here. I can't believe we're still drinking." The lines for the spot a pots were really long and once you got in there, good lord. So we typically would try to hide behind a spot a pot and take care of business hunched into a corner. Classy.

By 5 or 6, forget it. Everyone is blind, fights are breaking out all over the place and you just want to make it out alive and with a representative portion of the people you arrived with 10 hours earlier.

One of my favorite Preakness stories was from a year I didn't go. Two of my friends went and just walked in with a 12-pack of beer each, a few chairs and a cooler. They both drank their 12 pack and passed out, then woke up hours later and all their stuff was gone, just 2 drunk guys lying on the grass amid 50,000 close friends.

A few years after that, a close friend came in town for the festivities and we partied all day. We were pretty wasted by the end of the day but coherent enough to join a group for dinner downtown. I'll never forget he fell asleep at the table so I ordered for him. I'm almost positive we were at Bandaloops in Federal Hill. Anyway, when the food came, I nudged him awake. He found his senses, saw the full plate of food in front of him and smiled before putting it away. Then he fell back asleep. That was the Preakness for us and a lot of people for a lot of years.

This year, they took the air out of the free-for-all party balloon. Time will tell if it was a good idea. But as the event got more violent and out of control by the year, I can't help but think it was the right call. The Preakness had to get through this year when no one came to the infield so that the event can transition from what it was, to what it will become.

A part of me will miss the stupefied revelers wandering our streets looking for their cars after it's all over. But it was time for a change. Let's hope the Preakness finds a new identity and that the hordes return. I'd love to go back and take a look around.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Orioles now just 160 games away from perfection

What could go wrong?
Two great wins against the hated Yanks, two quality starts by our 1 and 2 pitchers.

Hey, I just thought of a great slogan for the Orioles starting staff:

Guthrie and Uehara,
I hope it rains tomorra.

Go Birds.

Friday, March 20, 2009

buh bye Cal, Hello Memphis

We've learned two things about Maryland basketball this season:
1.) They are capable of beating anyone.
See UNC, Wake, Michigan State - and solid but incomplete performances at Miami and Florida State, home vs. BC, and home against Duke.

2.) They are capable of losing to (almost) anyone.
see Morgan, Vermont miracle escape, at UVa.

But wow, that was a FANTASTIC win yesterday against California. Maryland played confidently from the tip and Greivis was fantastic and got plenty of help. Interesting decision by Gary to keep Adrian Bowie on the court for nearly the entire game and play Mosley more sparingly (Bowie got 36 minutes, Mosley 15).

Tomorrow against Memphis Maryland will have to play at an exceptionally high level to win (obviously), but it's not impossible. In fact, I don't think it would be shocking at all. Maryland has played a much more rigorous schedule than Memphis, simply because the ACC is way better than Conference USA, which the consistently funny Sports Pickle renamed "Memphis."

I could not name one player on Memphis, so that either makes me a bad college basketball fan or someone who doesn't care much about who plays on Memphis.

Either way, what I do know about them is that they seem to go 27-3 every year and John Caliparri looks like a guy who would sell you a bad policy, OK?

Go Terps.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy for the Terps

It's a short attention span world out there, here are some quick hits on the Terps:
How can you not be happy for this group of players? They really fought hard to get some big wins and earn a bid.
That said, they have not been able to sustain an excellent level of play for any length of time this year, so the idea that they'll be able to turn it on now and make a run in the tournament is not realistic.
How much do you love Dave Neal? He's your favorite Terp right?
I'm tired of all of this being about Gary and redemption. It should be more about the players.
Two 10-6 SEC teams didn't make the tournament and Maryland got in with a 7-9 record in the ACC. Everyone should be thankful that we play in the ACC.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

As it Should Be

Calling Maryland's season "a little eratic" is like calling Hummer sales a little slow and my hairline a little receding.

They have been alternately inspiring and wretched this season, with little in between. Who knows what to expect today, I'm just happy they're still playing and we get to watch, even if it is with one hand covering the other eye.

And here we are. Deep into March, with a date against Duke to go to the tournament. Sure, Maryland might make the field of 65 even without a win today, but it's not a lock.

Put it this way, if Maryland loses today, I don't think anyone can gripe, 'we got robbed.' Why? Well, at 7-8 in the ACC, needing to win one game a UVa, they couldn't get it done. 7-9 in the top heavy ACC ain't all that. Wins against Michigan State, UNC, and Wake look great, but Maryland also lost by 40 at Duke, lost at home to Morgan State, and got thrashed at Clemson. They also blew big second half leads to BC and Miami and needed a miracle three in the final 3 seconds to beat Vermont. OK? This is not a great team. It's a team that's fun to watch and capable of great things, but they are not great.

So anyway, I don't mean to be negative, I'm just saying that anyone who says "look what we did, we belong," isn't looking at the full picture. Then again, the full picture also includes the tournament resumes of a half dozen to 10 other bubble teams whose tournament worthiness is just as dubious or credible as Maryland's.

Bottom line - win today vs. Duke and a it's a stone cold lock. You can't keep out a team that has 4 wins against teams in the top 10 (and mabye you can't do that to a team with 3... maybe). So I'll be watching and hoping. I want it for Maryland because making the ACC finals would be a great acomplishment for this team and winning it would be amazing.

Couple other random notes:
Check out my brother-in-law Matt's blog post about Binghampton University hoops, then and now, great stuff.

I'm really tired of this exchange:
Play-by-play guy: And there's DAVE NEAL with the 3!
Color guy: Unbelievable. You know, this is a guy who wouldn't get picked in the the church league in the top 5. Ha ha ha
Play-by-play guy: ha ha ha that's so funny, ha ha ha. Yeah, he's a big fat white guy who doesn't look like a good basketball player, but it's so weird, he's actually pretty good.
Color guy: Yeah, yeah, what you said, if you would have told me he would average 8 and 4 for Maryland before the season, I would have told you, 'no way man,' he's way too big and fat and slow looking to be good on Maryland.
Play-by-play guy: yeah, yeah, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

You know what? If Dave Neal showed up at your church league or rec league on the JCC, you'd pick him first, because he's 6-6 and can shoot and people would say, 'hey, there's Dave Neal, he starts for Maryland.' OK?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

ACC tournament schedule

See schedule below. Terps play NC State, then would play Wake, then would play winner of Duke vs. BC or UVa, then would play for the title on Sunday. A guy can dream, right?

Thursday, March 12
No. 8 Virginia Tech vs. No. 9 Miami, Noon (Raycom)
No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 12 Georgia Tech, 2:30 p.m. (Raycom)
No. 7 Maryland vs. No. 10 NC State, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
No. 6 Boston College vs. No. 11 Virginia, 9:30 p.m. (Raycom)

Friday, March 13
Game No. 5: No. 1 North Carolina vs. Virginia Tech/Miami winner, Noon (Raycom/ESPN2)
Game No. 6: No. 4 Florida State vs. Clemson/Georgia Tech winner, 2:30 p.m. (Raycom/ESPN2)
Game No. 7: No. 2 Wake Forest vs. Maryland/NC State winner, 7:00 p.m. (Raycom/ESPN2)
Game No. 8: No. 3 Duke vs. Boston College/Virginia winner, 9:30 p.m. (Raycom/ESPN2)

Saturday, March 14
Game No. 9: ACC Semifinals, 1:30 p.m. (Raycom/ESPN)
Game No. 10 - ACC Semifinals, 4:00 p.m. (Raycom/ESPN)

Sunday, March 15
Game No. 11 - Championship Game, 1:00 p.m. (Raycom/ESPN)

I guess we could still win the ACC tournament

I won't add to the stream of misery spewing from Terps followers. As you look back on this season, you see a team capable of great things, but also deeply flawed. They have an engimatic guard in Greivis Vasquez, a potential star playing out of position in Milbourne, some very nice role players and a coach who cares very deeply about the team and wants to win. But they aren't good enough.

7-9 in the ACC is about right. There's always the chance for a miracle in the ACC tournament, a la John Gilchrist in 2004, with the leading role occupied by Vasquez. More than likely, Maryland will return to the NIT and we will have to decide if we want to watch.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Burney's Done and Greivis is a Game-Changer

From the Maryland Sports Information Department:

Sophomore forward Jerome Burney will be out for the remainder of the season due to a broken sesamoid bone in his right foot. Burney appeared in nine games and averaged 0.9 points, 1.9 rebounds and 7.6 minutes per game.

Greivis Vasquez’s triple-double and 35-point effort against North Carolina has been selected as a Pontiac Game Changing Performance. For more details, the following link is available:

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Gabe's Take

Here's my buddy Gabe's take on last night's game. I should note that after filing a running commentary during the first half of the ball game while seated on press row, I moved to a seat in the stands with big bro E and friend B Flaks for most of the second half. Had to cheer.

Here's Gabe's take in an email exchange from today, he always brings it strong:

Wake is big but they don't seem to have shooters. I see them as the #3 seed that goes down in the first or second round to Boise State or Evansville or Butler

Gary has been was a good idea and fortunately it works pretty much the last 12 minutes of the game. Neal was inspirational...missed the touch fouls early which is too bad he missed some minutes, but he was ready for the second half. The three at the end of the half was big, would love to know what he was barking at the Wake bench. (That one definitely came back to haunt him later, when J-Teague dropped the hammer on him, that was NASTY). Place must have been totally bonkers in the second half when he started raining them in. GA, your running blog was great in the first half, wish there was more but I can understand and appreciate that you were just into the game, I would have been. Your boy Dave Neal Sr got lots of air time - I would say at least 45 seconds total, mostly random donks from Bowie and Odenton running up and double high-fiving him. TV guys said when wake made their comeback run that someone needed to step up and help GV, and he did right on cue. Then they came with the trivia question when he got to 14...what is his career high. It was 18 vs Morgan State, not necessarily a good omen but I just KNEW at that point that he would drill a three at the buzzer to get to 19, which is exactly what happened. Hopefully it at least got the cover for some Terps-loving gamblers.

GV was great - dished the whole second half, including 2 or 3 to set up Hayes for wide open looks, he knocks down even one of those and I think we get it done. Gary postgame was classic....someone asked if they would be ready for the UVa game after a tough loss like this, he just stared him down and said "watch the game". I have done a 180, I am loving Gary and this scrappy can do team...GA I disagree on what it will take. There are less worthy mid majors than usual, and whatever happened to the days of 8-8 in the ACC gets you in? I think 8-8 and a first round win (vs someone like Miami or NC State) should be enough.. We have some quality wins, we are playing well down the stretch, and we are a name brand.

Good job on the radio (only heard the pregame)...the format is ridiculous, every time you start to get going on a topic the music comes on...half of Steinberg's interview was fighting with the music to be heard. Honestly, if it wasn't you I would have tuned out right away, nobody wants to hear a commercial every 3 minutes! (And ESPECIALLY when it is the same dumb Geico commerical twice in a row, but you probably don't hear that). I think Dave Neal Sr should have his own 30 minute hoops talk show, I loved his breakdown on how Jr guards the bigs.

We better beat UVa, it will be a tough on, nothing is easy on the road, but I like our chances.

Bummed but Happy for Dave Neal & Family

Tough loss last night. Wake is good. Maryland almost had them but the shots stopped falling for Greivis and Hayes, never fell for Milbourne, and one electric night for Dave Neal wasn't enough. On to UVa Sunday afternoon with a chance to get back to .500 in the ACC. I think Maryland needs three wins to get in, Sunday at UVa, then 2 in the ACC tournament, including one over a ranked team. Short of that, it's not happening.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

There Will be Blogging

We are live from Comcast Center tonight Terps Nation. As noted earlier, I was the fill-in host for the pre-pre-game show and will later host the post post game show. Always fun to swoop into the press center on occassion, some early observations:
Subway is tonight's game sponsor, hence the 6" turkey sub I enjoyed as part of a box dinner, complemented by a side of Utz and a large, crunchy chocolate chip cookie.

Very nice moment before the game honoring Mayrland senior Dave Neal where his whole family came on the court and he received a framed jersey. You can tell this guys' teammates love hm.

We've got a "Dave Neall, clap clap, Dave Neal clap clap chant going people.

Dave Neal signs seen:
"Dirty Dave"
"I crave Dave"
35 on the court, #1 in my heart
We love you Dave

In case you were wondering, I plan to file a series of stram of consciousness obvservations as this game goes on.

So I hosted the pre-game show and was going to bring on my friend Jeremy, who runs the very popular Turtle Soup website, where you can find Maryland fans (forgive me) twittering on about everything in that night's game in real time. Jeremy lives in Chicago. He was very excited about the potential guest slot. But when I got to the arena, I was told by my producer that since Subway is tonight's game sponsor and Jared is here at the Comcast Center, I would be doing a segment or two (of the five, 3 -minute segments I get) with Jared. Oh... Kay. So I call Jeremy and tell him the news, which he found more entertaining than actually going on the air... and then Jared bailed! Decided he was too tired from his meet and greet with Maryland VIPs to go on. Let's add "stood up by Jared" to my on-air resume.

Where are we? OK, let me set the scene for you. there's about 3 minutes left in pre-game and the teams are just shooting around. Gary is about to walk out on the court, the cheerleaders are lined up in the runway and here he comes:

Gary gives the big fist pump AND THE CROWD GOES WILD

This is going to be fun.

We have now reached lineup introductions and I would say the place is 85-90 percent full. Exactly how late do you need to start a college basketball game to get this crowd to show up on time?

The guy next to me is drinking Pepsi out of a can a little too close to my new Macbook for comfort.

Dave Neal just got introduced. I'm kinda bummed I can't cheer right now. I guess I could.

Wake's size is going to be a problem.

Terps wearing gold unis again tonight; haven't played poorly in them yet.

Chippy foul called on Dave Neal 2 minutes into the game, his second. Hello Dino.

We have reached a point where it's "greivis, do whatever you need to do." 10-9 Wake, 16:13 to play in the first half.

Braxton Dupree has now been on the floor for more than five minutes, does Gary owe him money?

Note to Wake: we are not about to be destroyed by Chas McFarland, OK? Not going to happen.

I don't know if Greivis has yet reached the unconcsoiuc Juan Dixon in 2002 status, but he is definitely in "Walt Williams in 1992" territory.

When has Wake basketball not been counterfeit?

Jared from Subway is now doing a Subway promo on the court. Five dollar footlongs. Go away Jared.

Dave Neal is back at 2:02, that was a 15 minute rest. Md keeps turning the ball over , it's 27-22, was 27-16, not a high scoring affair people.

Wake trapping zone giving Md problems but they finally break the drought, 29-24 on a mosley layup from GV.

I keep fighting the impulse to clap.

Huge 3 and even bigger smile from Dave Neal at the half. Have I mentioned I love that guy?

Breaking News - I'm hosting Maryland pre and post-game tonight

Just got a call from Terrapin Sports Radio network; yours truly is pinch hitting for the regular pre- and post Johnny Holliday Terps radio coverage tonight.

So we'll break it down, Md. vs. Wake at 8 p.m. for a half hour before turning things over to Johnny and Chris. Then about half hour after the game ends, I'll be back on to take calls.

So please tune in, call, oh yeah.

(feeling a bit rusty)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Solid W over the Wolfpack, this Might Just Happen

Drink it in. That's the refreshing taste of a satisfying road win in the ACC. Just feels refreshing, doesn't it?

GREAT win at N.C. State Sunday night on the back of a vintage Good Greivis performance. How does 33 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, and one turnover sound? Pretty good? You gotta give it to Grevis, when he is good, he is real good and can carry a team on his back like no one in a Terps uniform since a guy who wore #3, people. You know who I'm talking about. The guy currently riding the pine on the Wizards, which is a travesty for discussion on another day.

But I digress ... At 7-7 in the ACC with two challenging but winnable games left on the docket -- home vs. Wake and at UVa -- Maryland might just do it. And wouldn't that feel good Turtle fans? My thought is they have to win both and go 9-7 in the league, 20-10 overall to nail down a bid. If they go 1-1, I think Maryland has got to win at least one ACC tournament game, and even then they're not a shoe-in. But go 9-7 in the ACC and Maryland can't be ignored.

Here then, are a series of thoughts and observations following Sunday night's 71-60 win:

If there is a Dave Neal fan club, I would like to join it and if there is not, I would like to be president, so long as being president of the Dave Neal fan club does not require any actual commitment of time. I got lots of man love for Dave Neal. I mean this is a guy whose career in College Park could easily have been made up of a series of Mike Grinnon-like mop-up minute appearances.

But here is the beefy, lovable Neal in his senior year, playing big minutes and making big shots on a team that might just sneak into the tournament. Remember that Gary started the year starting Braxton Dupree at the center and probably hoped to use Neal for 10-15 minute a game, if that. But as the season evolved, it's been Neal who has seized the starter's role and given Maryland a consistent and, dare I say it, entertaining boost. What's better, I ask you, than watching DN pull up for a 3-point set shot and knock it down? Or take a pounding in the lane and get up off the deck full of red-faced intensity? Love that guy.

I'm liking the rotation that Gary has finally settled on -- starting Greivis at the point with the ball in his hands as much as possible (not the 2 or 3), Bowie at the two, Mosley at the 3, Milbourne at the 4, and Neal at the 5. Then at the 15-minute mark, Eric Hayes checks in and plays 30-35 minutes the rest of the way at point and 2-guard. Hayes has been very solid the last few weeks. Confident and clutch. The other rotation guys are Cliff Tucker on the wing, Dino Gregory up front, and Braxton Dupree buried on the bench.

We know Maryland can win at UVa next Sunday night, but can they beat Wake Tuesday night? Well, it won't be easy but it's not exactly impossible either. Wake is a solid 22-5, but before winning at UVa Saturday (70-60) they had lost their last four ACC road games, including Ls at Ga. Tech, Miami, N.C. State and Duke. So there you go, they ain't all that on the road.

After its three-part rectal examination of a series into the state of Maryland basketball last month, the Washington Post saw fit Sunday to run yet another enterprise story about Gary's program, this time with a focus on the recruitment of NY hoops hotshot, Lance Stephenson. Apparently Stephenson is being recruited not just by Maryland, but also by Under Armour, to potentially wear their moisture-wicking basketball shoes if he makes it to the NBA and they make basketball shoes.

Now, Under Armour is the official provider of athletic gear for Maryland teams, and founder Kevin Plank is on the university's Board of Trustees, so the Post went a diggin, and as far as I can tell, didn't find anything too scathing. Here's a link to the story, which I didn't read because I didn't feel like reading another 2500 words about the gross underbelly of college basketball, because it makes me not want to watch the games, and I really wanted to watch Maryland-N.C. State on Sunday night.

Before Kevin Plank named Under Armour, Under Armour, do you think he considered: "Polyester. Who knew?"

I really think Maryland will win its next two games and go to the tournament. We're doomed.

Gary Williams and the Talking Points - When is Enough Mediocrity Enough?

On Friday, The Washington Post's Michael Wilbon filed a column that presented the key talking points in support of Gary Williams:

Remind me, one more time, of how many national championships Maryland had won before Williams arrived? Remind me, one more time, how many Final Four trips Maryland had made before Williams arrived? Remind me, please, of who left a comfortable job with a perennial 20-win team at Ohio State to come bail out his alma mater, whose program was about to receive sanctions just short of the death penalty. Maybe their memories are short; mine isn't. Maryland basketball after Len Bias's death was on life-support. It was nothing.

These are bullet points A, B, and C in defense of Gary Williams: he brought the program back from the brink, he took the program to 2 Final Fours, he won a national championship.

And while I agree that these accomplishments have earned Gary the full respect and appreciation of Terps fans forever, I do not agree that they grant him a free pass forever.

Here's my gripe. And it's not a "fire Gary" kind of a gripe, but it's a "c'mon Gary, at least acknowledge that this isn't good enough," gripe.

Here it is: The Terps have not been a nationally relevant, week-in, week-out top 25 college basketball program since the 2002-2003 season. That's six seasons.

The Terps went on a great late-season run in 06-07, when D.J. Strawberry and company ran the table from 3-6 to 10-6 in the ACC to get back in the top 25 and earn a 5 seed in the tournament. But other than that run, and the John Gilchrist-led blitz in 2004 to win the ACC tournament, Maryland fans have watched rather average squads for a long period of time.

Whenever Gary is questioned about his recent record, or his recruiting, he falls back on the talking points: I brought this program back, I went to 2 Final Fours, I won a national championship. He's right, and no one can ever take those accomplishments away.

But that said, isn't it absurd that James Gist went to one NCAA tournament?

Gary always says, "judge me by my record. I stand by my record."

Here are the ACC records since 02-03: 7-9, 7-9, 8-8, 10-6, 8-8, and so far this year, 7-7. During that periond, Maryland has two NCAA tournament appearances and two wins.

The conference record comes out to exactly .500 for past six seasons time period, which isn't horrible, but at least a rung or two below the top tier in the ACC, which is where we want to be.

And here's one more point I never see anyone make: If it were not Gary, don't you think it would have been someone else?

What I mean to say is that had Gary Williams not "saved" Maryland basketball following Bias' death and the sanctions brought on the school in the wake of the Bob Wade era, don't you think Maryland basketball would have recovered eventually? Now, we may never have won a national championship -- and that's a BIG mark in Gary's favor -- but Maryland basketball was not going to stay down forever.

Before Gary Williams arrived in College Parks, fellas who wore the jersey included Buck Williams, Albert King, Len Bias, Len Elmore, Adrian Branch, Mo Howard, Ben Coleman, John Lucas, Brad Davis ... the list goes on. Maryland is, after all, a basketball school.

My point is not that Gary Williams does not deserve our respect and appreciation for everything he's done for Maryland basketball. But I am saying he is not above thoughtful criticism; and those who point to the 3 talking points (saved the program, went to 2 final fours, won a championship) in his defense, are relying on data that's now seven seasons old.

No matter what happens on the court this season, I don't see the university making a change anytime soon, and I personally don't want one.

I like Gary a lot as a coach and motivator and would like to see him get back on top. To be sure, the man has endured an avalanche of criticism this season, much of it justified. And as that has gone on, his troops have responded, playing their best ball of the season when it matters.

I guess the toughest part is drawing some sort of a line: how many 7-9 and 8-8 seasons and embarrassing losses to subpar teams warrant a change at the top? For everyone who loves Maryland basketball, I hope we never have to find out.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Duke - Md thoughts

I went to the game last night and here are some random observations.
This Maryland team is a lot like Greivis Vasquez the person. They can be fun to watch, exciting, exhilirating even. Then they can be frustrating, maddening and, well, not great.
Terps played great ball for 34.5 minutes, wasn't enough. Duke isn't great, but they are very good and much better (at least last night) at finishing a game.
Saw Johnny Rhodes leaving the arena.
Saw Walt Williams also, housing some fries and looking slick as ever.
Very surprised that coach K has relegated Greg Paulus to a back up role after three years as his starting PG. I don't think I've ever seen K do that to a senior before. He must really want to win and think his younger guys are better.
A lot of people are going to bitch about the refs last night. I think it's justified, they sucked. At the same time, complaining about the refs after you lose is just so whiney, so I'm not going to go there.
Maryland has 3 left - at NC State, home against Wake and at UVa. I predict 2-1 during those three and 8-8 for the ACC season; which would leave the Terps on the bubble, likely needing an ACC tourney win or two.
It's been a very interesting season. Gary has tinkered with the rotation throughout, trying to find the right mix. The last couple weeks, aside from the Clemson game, feels like this bunch has pulled together and found their roles.
Too little too late perhaps, but I do enjoy watching them play.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Signs of Life

Good win over Miami.
Had to have it to get the season back on track.
My personal feeling is that reports of Maryland being "untalented" are exaggerated. They have excellent guards and wings.  
I love watching Adrian Bowie operate. Can you remember a guy his size getting more points at the rim? He's 6-2 and gets almost everything by out-quicking his man to the hoop and finishing when he gets there. Just a baller.
Seems to me that Greivis has toned down the histrionics quite a bit since the ridiculous display at home against Georgia Tech. At the same time, he had been in a big slump the last 5 game or so prior to the Miami game, coinciding with Maryland losing 4 of 5.  Hmmm.
Gary went on the air for his coach's show last Thursday and you would have thought nothing was going on with the program out of ordinary. It was an hour of talking about this player or that, getting ready for Miami, etc. Now I don't expect Johnny to grill Gary on the air, but he could have at least acknowledged the absolute shit-storm going on around Maryland basketball the last two weeks with a question like, "Coach, we know there's been a lot of off the court distraction recently, what would you like to say to Maryland fans who are concerned about the state of the program?" But no, we did not get any of that. 
Big game at UNC tomorrow if only for the opportunity to play against another great time and see if Maryland can hang. 
Here's the schedule the rest of the way. Maryland is now 14-7 and 3-4.  8-8 is the minimum required to get in the tourney (pending ACC tourney play, where Maryland makes a run every odd decade); so that means Terps would need to go 5-4. I have no idea what will happen, and neither does anyone else. But just looking at games where, right now, Maryland would simply be favored in the remaining nine, they would probably be @G. Tech (maybe, that one might bea toss-up), Va Tech (maybe, Tech is good, but they have lost a half dozen really close games this year), at NC State, and at UVa. My guess is that they'll be heavy underdogs at UNC, at Clemson, home vs. UNC, home vs. Duke and home vs. Wake.  

Feb. 3 at UNC
Feb. 8 at Ga. Tech
Feb. 14 Va. Tech
Feb. 17 at Clemson
Feb. 21 UNC
Feb. 25 Duke
3/1 at NC State
3/3 Wake
3/7 at UVa

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

BC'in ya Later


I am not sure what to say at this point. Maryland led by 16 and found a way to lose to BC tonight. So the Terps are now 2-4 in the ACC and have blown at least three games that they've led by 16 or more at one point.

All around rough day in College Park, where Jin Soo Kim was also ruled academically ineligible.

We still have 10 ACC games and the ACC tournament left.

I guess I'll keep watching, you?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

That Was Particularly Bad

It was 40-15 at the half, ballooned to 60-20 and ended at 85-44, the most lopsided and pants down embarrassing loss I can ever remember in years, perhaps ever.

The Post's Terrapin Insider reported that it was Gary's worst loss in 31 years as a head coach, the 4th worst loss in Maryland history, and the Terps' lowest point total in 20 years with Gary as head coach.

[Side note: I'm typing this while watching the Wiz-Portland game and Washington has 31 points at the half, so they are on pace to score only slightly more than Maryland did today. Not a wonderful day of offensive basketball for the region.]

As Maryland fans, where do we go from here? Do we chalk this one up to just a horrible afternoon and just let it go?

Or do you think about throwing up your hands and saying, "these guys aren't worth my time." 

I don't think most Maryland fans with any sense of loyalty will dump the team, but this is the kind of game that makes you think about it. It's not just that Maryland got beat, it's that they got pummeled on the home court of their rival on ESPN in a game that not only wasn't close, it wasn't remotely close. 

It leaves one at a loss for words, so I won't waste many here. I am just bummed about it, bummed that I care about Maryland hoops and they are bad enough to get beat that bad. 

Monday, January 19, 2009

Quality Losses

My friend Sherman, an occassional Maryland fan, came over with his family to watch the Ravens game Sunday night. Prior to the game, Sherms asked what Maryland had done the day before. When I informed him that they lost in OT at Florida State, he said, "they're bad, huh?"

And this is where I said, 'no, not really. They just aren't great. They play hard, they have some good players. But they are missing a few pieces'

His response: "They're bad."

And herein lies the challenge for Gary and the Terps, the 08-09 version. They are good enough to hang, but perhaps not talented enough to win. They are bad enough to lose at home to Morgan State, yet good enough to beat Michigan State on a neutral court. Good enough to come back from down 11 in the second half against Florida State, bad enough to blow a 17-point second half lead at Miami.

On and on it goes.

In the FSU game, give credit to the Terps for nearly winning on the road on a day when Greivis and Eric Hayes shot a combined 5 for 24 from the field.

Kudos to Landon Milbourne and Sean Mosley for stepping up the toughness factor for the Terps, as those two, undersized as they are, mixed it up inside and grabbed 9 and 5 boards at Miami. Mosley is a bit of a bricklayer from the outside, but no one on the team is tougher.

I do believe that quality losses help a team's confidence, perhaps not their NCAA tournament resume, but at least in their mind they know they are just as good as anyone on the docket.

What is most frustrating to me, and I assume all Terps fans, is the feeling of being outmanned in these games. Maryland's guards and wing players are as good as anyone, but in the frontcourt, we look a lot like a big backcourt.

A win tonight against UVa would be huge, get us back to 2-2 in the league with a date at Duke Saturday. It's funny how the tide can turn with one game, hopefully it starts tonight.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tough Loss, It Happens

Maryland played great last night for about 30 minutes. Adrian Bowie was fantastic, finishing at the cup better than any player since Drew Nicholas, playing with supreme confidence and showing Maryland that he is an offensive force for sure.

Greivis was also fantastic, I thought he played within himself and under control the whole night, making good decisions with the ball and not forcing his offense, other than when he had to, such as at the end of the night.

Miami pulled that one out for two reasons in my book, one is to their credit and one is something Gary Williams needs to think about:
1.) Miami got red hot from 3. Jack McClinton is a big-time player and he and his teammates made big-time shots. The threes were falling for them and they pulled off the comeback. It happens.
2.) At around the 10 minute mark, Gary had the Terps take their foot off the gas and slow down the offense. They started running clock instead of running to the hoop and their offense stalled and got tight. Everything Maryland did well to build the 15 or 17-point lead stopped happening.

Hopefully the fellas and Gary will learn from this one and get better. They gotta put teams away when they have them on the ropes. Maryland led both Morgan and Miami by double figures in the second half and didn't win the games. Like I said, it happens, but it can't keep happening if the Terps are going to have a successful season.

A win at Florida State Saturday will make this loss easier to live with. A 2-1 start in the ACC would be great, and then they host Virginia next week, so could get to 3-1.

There are plenty of things to feel good about from last night's game at Miami, just not the final score.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thinnest Skin EVER

If I were still hosting the pre pre-game show for University of Maryland basketball, I would have made it a mission this week to find a kid who sits in the student section who actually heard what was said to Greivis to set him off against Georgia Tech. Better yet, I'd try to find the guy himself and put him on the air, try to understand the student side of the story, could make or great radio. Perhaps that's why they did not have me back.

As you may recall, GV told his own student section to, ahem, Shut the F Up, while dribbling down the court during the last few minutes of a tight ACC game. Down the stretch, while making some game clinching free throws, he stared into the stands in the general direction of someone who must have said something to him to make him lose his mind. He put his finger to his lips in the SHHH motion and after the game, he said this of the Maryland fans:

"If they don't believe in us, they can get the hell out. We don't need them anyway."
Here are some reports from the Sun and Post about the incident.

I will now try to guess what was said to mister rabbit ears thin skin:

Maybe run some offense this time.
Stop shooting.
Consider passing.
You're killing us.
Donde esta el bano?

Like Sgt. Hulka told Psycho in Stripes, "Lighten up, Francis." Or Greivis as the case might be.

What a diva.

C'mon GV, you want to play in the pros, start acting like a big time player. Ignore criticism and shut people up with your play, not your mouth and your antics.

To quote Shakespeare for the first and probably last time ever on this particular blog, "me thinks thou dost protest too much." Which is another way of saying, "the truth hurts."

In other news, obviously beating Georgia Tech in a game when they had 30 (30!) turnovers is a lot better than losing to Georgia Tech when they have 30 turnovers, but Maryland made it close. That was about the ugliest win I've seen in a long time, perhaps prompting the student fans to question Greivis' competence.

We all know that he's the best player Maryland has. The Terps go with Greivis, so there you go. When he plays poorly, any team, including Morgan State, can beat Maryland. When he plays well, he inspires his teammates and they can beat just about anyone.

Unfortunately, Greivis is a little hard to like. The guy paused and preened after making a three against Morgan State while the Terps were losing in the second half. I will repeat that. With Maryland losing to Morgan State, Greivis finally made a three after clanging most of his shots, and had the chutzpah to pause and stare into the crowd like, "who's the man?"

Even JJ Redick wasn't this annoying. Problem is, he is a great player. He's made his last 37 free throws, which is awesome. He is capable of throwing the team on his back and taking them back to the NCAA tournament. But if he can't take a little criticism without having a hissy fit and making himself the center of attention, he needs to take a long look in the mirror, not the stands.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Notes and Random Observations

Over the next 8 days, Maryland plays home against Georgia Tech, then on the road at Miami and at Florida State.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when you would have thought: win, win, win, 2 out of 3 at worst. Remember that feeling? That is not the feeling I have now. I'm thinking they get a win in one out of those three games.

When Maryland lost to Morgan, which is a somewhat shocking result, there really wasn't any national press coverage. Whereas when BC lost to Harvard, it was at the top of sportscenter. So ... you decide what that means.

Sports at its best - The Ravens in 2008-09 have been so much fun. Low expectations to start the year, the rookie QB, the rookie coach, the second half push to the playoffs, the wins in "must-win" games. Rarely does a team ever get your hopes up unexpectedly, then deliver. The Ravens have done that and then some. And here we go again, playing a game they are not supposed to win. I'm saying Ravens 20, Titans 3.

If Obama fails to bring us out of the recession, out of Iraq, and out of the general "this sucks" atmosphere, BUT, he is successful in forcing college football to adopt a playoff system, he will have served his country well, poorly, but that would be cool.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Great Win ... For Morgan State

Just when you thought it might be safe to invest emotionally in the Maryland basketball program ... just when we thought the Terps could escape an embarrassing loss at home in the pre-ACC season ... just when things were coming together in a positive way ... pfffttt. The Terps throw up all over themselves, perhaps justifying the absence of thousands of fans who skipped this one to watch Duke-Davidson.

Great win for Morgan. Don't let anyone tell you Maryland was "looking ahead" to the ACC season. You can look ahead when you are a good team. If you watched the game, Morgan had a better frontcourt than Maryland, at least in terms of size and rebounding. I love Dave Neal, but when he is your most consistent force on the blocks, you've got problems. Maryland's got problems. Oh well, here we go again.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Is the Comcast Center Half Empty or Half Full?

Welcome to 2009 Terps Nation readers. And not a moment too soon. How did 2008 treat you guys? Good? I read the other day that the stock market lost 35 trabillion dollars in the last quarter of the year, marking the first time that the FED or the GOV or the whoever counts these things, had to use the word trabillion, which means, in lay terms, "take the biggest number you can imagine and add 6.5 kabillion."

I mean, it wasn't good, was it? 2008 was the year of the MEGA story, the Olympics in China, the Election, the Economy, the Madoff scandal, the collapse of the American Automakers and your 401-k account. Does anyone remember an HR meeting where the 401K administrator guy said, "now remember, after you contribute to this thing for about 10 years, don't be surprised if it blows up completely in the matter of a few weeks at some point. That is normal."

Anyway, back to, um, Maryland basketball.

I went to my second live Terps game of the season Tuesday night, taking in Maryland vs. Elon. Elon, for the uninitiated, plays in the Southern Conference (with Steph Curry's Davidson team), came into the game 4-4, and had a reserve guard with a dramatic flap-top in the mold of Kid from Kid n Play.

Their nickname is the Phoenix and famous alums include MLB umpire Joe West, Miami basketball coach Frank Haith, and NASCAR driver Ward Burton. The Phoenix were coming off a big win against Lipscomb, which is based in the suburbs of Nashville, and singer Pat Boone went there. OK then.

So the Comcast Arena was, let's call if "half full" for the game. The students are out on break, the public is also apparently on break, so I guess it would be a little harsh to bemoan the fact that Maryland basketball isn't exactly a hot ticket right now.

How empty was it? It was sooo empty, that my companion Gregg Sweet Music Viola and I sailed smoothly onto route 1 from 495 at about 20 minutes before game time, easily bypassing an area that backs up to roughly Owings Mills on a big game night. Oh it was a thin crowd people. How thin was it? The halftime entertainment was a team of batton twirlers from a local high school and they provided the most flawless, most exciting performance of the night. Not kidding. Half the crowd gave them a standing O, me included.

The extent to which Maryland hoops will become a hot ticket over the next two months will depend on many factors, some of which we'll get into now. To summarize the season to date, the Terps are 10-2; and 2-2 against teams in the top 25, with wins against Michigan State and Michigan and resounding defeats at the hands of Gonzaga and Georgetown. I'd feel a little more confident about this team's chances in the ACC if the Zags and Hoyas hadn't outright destroyed the Terps in those games, but at least Maryland held its own against the teams from Michigan, who may have been distracted by the "going out of business" sale currently being held by every business in their state.

I mean it's bad in Michigan right now, isn't it? How bad is it? I heard Tomos just bought Ford, that's how bad it is. I mean it's bad.

But Maryland basketball, well, they are, pretty good? A good bad team? A bad good team? They have no good big men, everyone knows that, but they do have great guards and the evolution of the rotation through a dozen games has been downright fascinating to watch.

The current starting five is Adrian Bowie at the point, Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez as wings, with Landon Milbourne at the 4 and big Dave Neal at the 5. Now a lot of people like to make jokes at the expense of Dave Neal because he's a big slow white guy, but I am not going to do that. I love Dave Neal. He can really shoot it, plays very hard, and even though he is nobody's idea of an ACC center, how do you not appreciate a guy who has forced his way into a starting role when everyone thought he was this group's version of Mike Grinnon. No, Dave Neal is no end of the bench, mop up minutes kind of a guy. He is Maryland's best 3-point shooter and largest body on the block with a clue. There are other guys who are big (Viola quote from Tuesday night, "can anyone prove that Dino Gregory and Braxton Milbourne are not the same person?"), but they are all NRFACCP = Not Ready for ACC Play. Seriously Gary, maybe you could sign one more mediocre frontcourt player, the Terps have at least four in Gregory, Dupree, Goins and Jerome Burney.

Gregory is probably the best of the bunch. He can rebound, can't score and is undersized; Dupree just isn't a good basketball player, not sure what else to say about that guy; Burney looks like Joe Smith but doesn't quite play like him, and Maryland signed Goins out of desperation to fill their roster before the start of the season. His second choice was Goucher, OK?

But the guards, the guards are solid as a rock. Greivis is an annoying showboat at times (how much would you hate him if he played for another team?) but he is borderline great, probably an NBA player, and fills up the stats sheet all over the place. Put it this way, Maryland is 2-14 in the ACC without him, of that I'm certain. With him? Not really sure, but I think 8-8 is do-able and might get them in the tournament, but that's a discussion for another day.

Hayes has been Hayes, very solid, not quite as good as you want him to be (I mean let's just say it, right? We want him to be Steve Blake and he's not nearly as good as Blake. Of course, Blake used to frustrate us too, and now he's a starting guard in the NBA, so maybe no one knows anything, which is probably the case).

Where was I? My favorite (and 11-year-old hoop prodigy Connor Werrlein's) favorite player on this Maryland team is Adrian "you can't keep him off the court" Bowie. Straight from the Dave Neal playbook, this guy looked like someone who'd play occassional minutes. He's only about 6-2 and not a pure shooter or ball handler, so why is he the starting PG?

Dude just knows how to play. He's the best finisher in a Maryland uni since Drew Nicholas and can rebound, defend and do all the little things. How could a coach (or a fan for that matter) not love this guy. It is officially time to start appreciating the Adrian Bowie era.

Then there's Milbourne, who is a small forward playing out of position, but he's going to get his points and he is a solid, ACC caliber player. And off the bench it's an interesting mix. Cliff Tucker started the year as a starter and looked like he might emerge as a star, but has since been pushed to the bench by Bowie's play, and pushed in the rotation by freshman Sean Mosley. Mosley is a work in progress, but the kid is strong and, give him some time, will do some great things as a Terp.

I could write 1,000 or just 10 words about the 6-8 South Korean on Maryland's team, Jin Soo Kim. I'll go with 10. He's not quite ready yet, but he's tall and has potential. (that was 11 words, but you get the idea).

OK, that's about all I've got for now. Should be a fun season. Hey look, after the national championship team we all thought we had reached the upper stratosphere in college hoops. That Maryland had finally re-arrived as a year-in, year-out national power. Hasn't happened. We're back to being scrappy underdogs. It may not have followed the script you had in mind, it's intriguing nonetheless. See you at Comcast, there's room.