Maryland: First Look

Maryland: First Look
Nov 09, 2006, 01:09 am
Game Recap

Box Score

Is there a coach under more pressure to put in a winning season than Gary Williams at Maryland? The Terrapins havve disappointed in the post-championship era, ran out of eligibility, and the higher level recruits that Williams has landed since simply haven't responded to his methods the way that Blake, Dixon, Baxter & company did.

The program is certainly at a crossroads, as the second of two loaded, underachieving recruiting classes plays out its eligibility in 06-07. Offering hope are several newcomers that many within the Terrapin program believe will help Williams and Maryland get back to being Williams and Maryland.

After the first two rounds of the Coaches vs Cancer Classic, it is clear that the newcomers are going to make a positive impact. Several of the holdovers appear to have put in some work in the offseason, but not all of last year's critical weaknesses were left in the past.

Freshman Impact

Maryland fans have been buzzing about freshman guards Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez for quite some time, and apparently for good reason. Both are pass-oriented lead guards, potentially resolving last year's obvious lack of a true floor general.

Vasquez appears poised to make an immediate impact. He shows excellent poise and court sense for a 6'5 newcomer, capable of handling the ball in the open court, finding teammates off the dribble, hitting open shots, and slashing to the basket when lanes are available. Vasquez shows a lot of versatility in the backcourt and a steady hand that makes everyone around him a little bit better. He has only played 19 minutes in the first two games and hasn't shot the ball particularly well, but it is only going to get tougher for Williams to keep this freshman on the bench.

Hayes, a pure point guard in every sense of the word, has started boh CVCC games. He has some developing to do physically and is clearly still adjusting to the speed of a higher level, but is already quite impressive as a passer. Hayes made a few mistakes tonight, but also dished out eight assists. He doesn't offer a scoring presence, but you can bet that DJ Strawberry and Mike Jones are glad he's running the team.

One returnee who is clearly going to benefit from the presence of the two freshmen is Mike Jones. Jones is your ultimate spot-up threat, and will score points in bunches when given the ball in ideal situations. These opportunities rarely came about last season, and led to a lot of forced, low-percentage shots. Jones went on one of his trademark hot streaks for the bulk of his production on the night, but doesn't look as out of place within the offense. He will always look to score every chance he gets, but there were higher-percenage looks tonight. Expect that to continue, and even though some of that offensive single-mindendness/lack of defensive effort will always be an issue with Jones, look for the senior to go out on a high note.

Both Jones and Strawbery appear to have spent some time in the training room this offseason, with Strawberry coming back somewhat slimmed down and moving a bit more like a point guard. He still lacks the mindset of a floor general, but appears to be more explosive off the dribble and much more comfortable with his role now that the point guard duties have been delegated. Strawberry's improved quicks really show on the defensive end, as he recorded six steals on the night and was constantly disrupting Vermont's perimeter attack.

The More Things Change...

Maryland's guard play appears significantly improved, but the same thing can't be said about the frontcourt. Holdovers James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe don't appear to have improved, getting outworked by Vermont big men that were at a dramatic athletic disadvantage. Both players were laggards in the transition game, both got in foul trouble, and the two combined for just eight rebounds on the night. Mixed in were six turnovers and numerous poor shots. As players with very similar strengths and weaknesses, one might be a more viable individual contributor if paired with a more intuitive big man instead of the other. This way, their offensive limitations could be marginalized and they could focus on changing games with their obviously formidable athletic gifts.

Two players that could work in tandem with Gist or Ibekwe are sophomore David Neal and JC transfer Bambale Osby. Osby is undersized and Neal is limited athletically, but both players were able to find success in blue-collar roles tonight. The aggressive, explosive Osby made a difference physically and converted on a surprisingly effective jump hook, while Neal managed six rebounds in twelve minutes. It is important to remember that both players have yet to prove themselves against ACC-caliber big men, but these are very encouraging early signs.

It is way too early to make any projections on Maryland's NCAA Tournament chances, but with a few faces in key roles and some internal tweaking, Terrapins do have the ability to put the past two seasons of underachievement in the past. If things go to plan in the New York region, Maryland will face their first true test of the season November 17 against a St John's team whose defense-oriented philosophy will push the creative abilities of Hayes and Vasquez to the max.

Recruiting Dominoes About to Fall

It should also be noted that even though the Terrapins are playing once again, the program's most important long-term developments take place off the court this week. Williams has always specialized in finding good role players, but has struggled with this since the championship. Vasquez, Hayes, Neal and Osby appear to be more in this mold, but Williams could still use a star or two to put the puzzle together.

It just so happens that Maryland is heavily involved with a pair of elite recruits that could be narrowing in on November signing period decisions. Jai Lucas, a potential McDonald's All-American point guard, is deciding between Kentucky, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and the Terps. His father went to Maryland, his brother was a Cowboy, and speculation on his eventual decision is running rampant. Well-travelled forward Herb Pope is more highly regarded in recruiting circles, and could follow Lucas to Maryland. He also lists Texas, Memphis, New Mexico State, and Oklahoma.


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