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.


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