Terps ACC Season Preview: Finale

2/2/2010 10:31:08 PM The final installment of this entirely-too-long series has arrived. The three remaining teams on the schedule are Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, and the Dookies.

I had an entirely different intro written and ready to go before the Clemson game happened, but it really doesn’t seem appropriate anymore. Instead I’ll say that no one other than Gary Williams and the players, and perhaps not even them, know who the Terps are. Are they the team that walloped BC, Longwood, NC State and Miami in consecutive games? Are they the team that collapsed from top to bottom against Clemson when the pressure kicked up a notch?

Then of course there’s the scary possibility that we all know exactly who the Terps are. They can beat teams worse than they are, and lose to better, more athletic teams. There’s a chance that there is actually no gray area, the Terps just don’t have that next level to play against the elite, or the level below elite, and come out on top. We, as fans, refuse to accept this as a possibility because of the Terps’ illustrious history, Hall of Fame coach and star player. We know that the Terps should achieve bigger and better things than they have of late. We just haven’t seen it come to fruition on the court.

I remain cautiously optimistic. This team is so well coached and has such strong leaders that I don’t believe we’ve seen the peak of this team. I think we’re still capable of taking anyone down, and I think the FSU game and UNC games, while not signature wins, will prove that the Terps can win must-wins.

The end of the ACC is definitely the toughest part of the schedule. Which is good. As the guys play more, I think they’ll get better and better and do more of the things I’ve already praised them for. Georgia Tech and Duke are two of the best teams in the conference, and Virginia Tech isn’t a joke anymore. We can definitely beat all three of these teams, and here’s how:

Georgia Tech (Home on Feb. 20)

Breakdown: First of all, I’m psyched that our only game against these guys is at home. We have such a good home court advantage, which can make a world of difference when one of the team’s best players is a freshman. By this time, the ACC race will really have taken shape, and hopefully the Terps will be at or near the top. Comcast is going to be nuts for the remainder of the season, and opponents are going to absolutely hate playing there.

Georgia Tech has a three-headed monster of very talented players: Gani Lawal, Iman Shumpert and Derrick Favors. Lawal is their leader and their best player, but not their most talented. That would be Favors, a 6’10”, 246 lb. beast of a freshman. He’s already had three double-doubles in ACC play, and is kind of a matchup nightmare because of his height and his athleticism. We haven’t faced anyone like him yet this year. Tracy Smith is athletic, but shorter than Jordan Williams. Alabi is tall, but not incredibly athletic. He’s a scary player.

Luckily, he’s not without flaws. He shoots under 60 percent from the line, so fouling him, while not what we want, won’t kill us unless it’s Williams who’s doing it. He has no outside game to speak of, so we won’t need to try to put Dino on him to prevent the deep ball. Williams is also just a freshman, and he’s been fearsome on defense in recent games. Although I think Favors will hurt us, he won’t kill us. Jordan can handle him. He just needs to box out, move his feet, and try to force Favors out of position and into difficult shots.

The Terps may have more trouble controlling Favors’ frontcourt counterpart, Gani Lawal. If they can manage that, they’ll have a great chance to win. In the Yellow Jackets’ five losses, Lawal only averages a little over 10 points. In their wins, he’s averaging 16.5 points. If they stop Lawal, and the Terps will stop the Yellow Jackets. Lawal also averages 9 boards a game, and doesn’t shoot outside. He’s 6’9”, so he’s bigger than everyone not named Jordan Williams on the Terps. Milbourne’s going to be on him to start the game, and he and Dino Gregory will switch off depending if Williams is on the court or not. The Terps’ interior D will either win or lose the game for them.

That’s a good thing, I think. Against NC State, they couldn’t do anything in the middle. Williams was everywhere, Milbourne was helping masterfully, and even though Tracy Smith got 18 and 10, the Terps absolutely dominated the inside. They will need a performance as good, if not better, to beat GT. I think we’ll see it, and Greivis and The Guards (50s doo-wop group name?) can take care of the offense for the most part. With Sean Mosley’s pinpoint accuracy (4th in the ACC in FG percentage. Who would have thought that after last year?), Greivis’ newfound maturity and always-there creating ability, Hayes’ shooting, Bowie’s driving, and Tucker’s energy, we should give the weak GT backcourt headaches.

The Jackets, like many ACC teams (including the next on this list), are not a good outside shooting team. Their big men don’t shoot it, so their team .359 rate from behind the arc isn’t brought down at all by big men who jack it up too much, à la Rasheed Wallace. However, their starting guards, led by Iman Shumpert (who’s vastly overrated and has an “early Vasquez” type assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.24:1. For a point guard, that’s awful. He also shoots 33 percent from deep, and chucks up almost three and a half of those likely bricks per game. Good for the Terps, bad for his teammates and his coach.

One guy the Terps will need to look out for from behind the arc is Brian Oliver. He only averages about 15 minutes a game but leads the team in three pointers made and attempted, and shoots it from deep over 40 percent. He’s a 6’6” freshman, and he’ll probably see a good dose of Mosley and Tucker on defense. Remember C.J. Harris in the Wake game? Well Oliver isn’t as good as Harris, but he could have that type of an impact in Comcast if the Terps aren’t aware of wherever he is at all times.

I think the Terps take this game by around 6. Close, but not too close. Gary will have the boys ready as always, and I think our great defense will shut down their frontcourt and our great backcourt offense will lead the way on that end of the floor. A win in this game would be monumental because it’s a quality win, and in the last 10 games, which tournament officials count as its own category.

Virginia Tech (Away on Feb. 27)

Breakdown: Virginia Tech always seems to be a better-than-mediocre bubble team. They haven’t been bad in recent years, but they’ve never been all that good. They’re 3-3 in the ACC, having split with Miami, beating UVA (in Charlottesville) and BC but losing to UNC and FSU. In short, beating the teams you expect them to beat and losing to the better teams.

The Hokies live and die with their leader, Malcolm Delaney, the ACC’s leading scorer at almost 20 a game, more than 22 against ACC opponents. He’s a 6’3” junior from Baltimore, so you can bet he and Sean Mosley are well acquainted. I think Greivis will guard him a lot, but if you see Mosley on him, watch that matchup because I think it’ll be as entertaining a one-on-one matchup as we’ve seen this year.

Delaney can kill teams in a number of ways. He’s not the greatest shooter from deep (only .339 this year, which is lower than each of his previous seasons), but his numbers have been hurt by a recent cold streak he’s been on, which includes going 0-11 in his last two games and 2-20 in his last four. By the time the Hokies host the Terps, I don’t expect that trend to be ongoing. He can also distribute, and averages 4.2 dimes a game.

Probably the scariest thing about Delaney to me is his performance in the Hokies’ biggest games: 27 points in that overtime win over UVA, 28 in their win over Miami, 27 when they beat Penn State, 31 in knocking off Georgia (which looks like a better win with each passing week), and 32 in a tough loss to Temple. On February 27, you can bet that the Hokies are going to consider Maryland a must-win game, and Delaney will come to play. The Terps had better be ready for him, because he’s going to be a load.

If Mosley’s on Delaney, I have supreme confidence in whatever defense Gary draws up besides the two. Although Greivis has gotten exponentially better defensively this year (and if you haven’t noticed that you need to pay more attention to defense), He hasn’t seen anyone like Delaney, and the Terps need to draw up a game plan to help him. That’ll probably include a lot of Landon Milbourne double-teams when he penetrates, and a lot of Hayes and Mosley switching off picks. Defensive rotation will be key because Delaney knows how to find guys off double teams.

I’ll stop prattling on about Delaney. In reality, there are only two other guys on Tech who can really hurt teams. I realize that I got it totally wrong against Clemson by not even mentioning Jerai Grant, who dropped a double-double on us with a few ferocious blocks, but I honestly think that there are only three dangerous guys on the Virginia Tech roster. One I’ve already talked at length about, the other two are Dorenzo Hudson and Jeff Allen.

Both Hudson and Allen average in double figures (13.5 and 11.2 PPG respectively), neither shoot very well from long range (.316 and .286), but the similarities stop there. Hudson is a 6’5” slasher on the wing, and doesn’t do much but score and play defense. He doesn’t force turnovers but he usually guards the opponents’ best perimeter threat. He averages just over 2 assists a game, so he’s not a distributor, averages fewer than 4 rebounds a game, so he’s not a Sean Mosley-type banger inside either. He’s simply an above-average perimeter player.

Jeff Allen is a different type of player. He’s 6’7” but plays like a bigger guy. He averages 7.6 boards a game, but also 2 steals and a block per game. He’s basically a Landon Milbourne-type guy with a worse jumper but more athleticism. He’s not a particularly good shooter, and shoots under 70 percent from the stripe. He’ll be an easy guy to lock down because he’s not capable of overpowering any of our big men, but he’s a solid complementary piece to Delaney and I expect him to reach his average in points but only grab around four of five boards because of Williams’ ever-improving box-out ability.

As you may have guessed, I predict the Terps to take this game. It won’t be as easy as it was going up to BC and demolishing the Eagles, but it won’t be very difficult either. Going to Blacksburg for a basketball game is a far different endeavor than going there for a football game, both on the field and in the stands. They don’t have the home court advantage of a Duke, a Clemson, or a North Carolina. We’re also just a better team.  I think we win by 9 and break 80 again.

Duke (Away on Feb. 13, Home on March 3)

Breakdown: I would say that this is the one you’ve all been waiting for, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how little I need to break down this matchup. If the Soupers, and all Maryland fans, look ahead to one game on the schedule it’s the matchup with the Dookies. That being said, I’ll try to keep this much more succinct than my previous previews because I’m really preaching to the choir.

You guys all know about Scheyer Face. He’s turned himself from laughing stock of the college basketball community to legitimate All-America candidate. I still don’t know how he’s managed to do this, because I watch him and I can’t help but think that I could totally take him in a game of one-on-one. How he puts up a line of 18.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG and 5.6 APG is astounding to me, because it would appear he is void of any athleticism in his 6’5, 190 lb. spindly frame. Appearances would be deceiving, however, because he’s consistently performing well against top-flight teams. Not incredibly, not exceptionally, but he’s doing well. I think he’ll present problems for us because he’ll probably be shooting three-pointers in high volumes, against which, in case you haven’t heard, we tend to struggle.

One other addition to my incredulity over Scheyer: he’s incredibly efficient. He has a 3.3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, which is stratospheric. He shoots 39 percent from beyond the arc, which isn’t incredible, but he takes so many shots that it’s still a very positive impact on his team when he launches it. Oh, and he shoots over 90 percent from the stripe. Every good thing he does reminds me of every other annoying Duke star over the years (well, really just Redick and Battier)(and I’m no longer annoyed by Battier, because he plays for my Rockets, but even when I was 10 he annoyed me in blue and white).

There are two other monsters who roam the hardwood in Durham: Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler. Smith also averages north of 18 a game, and he’s Duke’s #1 perimeter defender. He’s very good at it too. I’m not sure if he’ll be on Vasquez or not because he’s a little undersized (6’2”) while Scheyer is more of a height matchup with GV. Smith also has been an absolute dead-eye shooter this year, hitting his threes at an absurd .465 clip. This looks like an outlying stat to me, however, as he hasn’t shot better than .386 in either of his previous seasons (last year was .346). I think that’ll come down, but he’s definitely dangerous. Like Scheyer, Smith also hits the gimmes: he’s shooting a clean 80% from the line. In other words, the guards can shoot from anywhere, and they do it a lot and that’s how they get their offense.

The third member of their little three-headed monster is probably the guy with the most talent, but least production: Kyle Singler. Singler, not unlike our own Landon Milbourne, is probably more equipped to play on the wing. However, because of Duke’s own size issues, he’s been forced to move inside, and has performed admirably there. This year his numbers have decreased marginally from last year pretty much across the board, but that could be attributed to Scheyer’s meteoric rise to relevance. He’s improved since ACC play began, however, highlighted by dropping 21 and 15 on Wake Forest in mid-January. He and Milbourne will see a whole lot of each other (fitting, huh), and I’m not nervous about that matchup. In their three games against each other last year (and you’ll remember those two guarded each other then two), Singler only scored 11, 13 and 14; all three below his season average of 16.7. This year he’s averaging 16.2, but Landon’s playing much better and he has Jordan Williams helping him out. I would be mildly surprised but not shocked if Singler fails to reach double digits.

When Maryland’s on offense is where the trouble happens for me. Although logic would dictate that either Smith or Scheyer would guard Vasquez, after the way Tanner Smith handled Vasquez in the Clemson game, I’d expect Coach K to stick 6’8” SF Lance Thomas on GV to really try and give him problems. The sad thing about this plan is that it will probably work. Historically, Greivis struggles mightily when picking on someone his own size, and if Thomas is on him, don’t be surprised if GV throws up a clunker.

Unlike last year, however, our team doesn’t die if Greivis isn’t himself. Mosley and Milbourne are more potent offensive forces, Williams can exploit a soft Duke interior, and Tucker and Bowie can provide some explosiveness off the bench that Duke might not be ready for. They’ll all have to step up big if Thomas is guarding Greivis, which I think will be the case.

I don’t think the Terps have much chance in a couple of weeks in Cameron. Duke plays much better at home, the Terps play much worse on the road, and Duke has more talent than the Terps. They won’t lose by 40 (sorry to even bring that up), but they won’t be very close either.

That March 3rd game, however, will be a different story. I’ll try to paint a picture for you:

It’s Vasquez, Hayes and Milbourne’s senior night, the last game in Comcast of the year. It’s against our most contemptible rival, and we’ll probably need this win to either get in the tournament (hopefully not) or to get better seeding than last year. I have little doubt that this game will be the loudest in Comcast history. The building will shake. I’m excited because I have a press credential, but if Maryland wins, I won’t be able to rush to celebrate afterwards with my peers because I’ll be stuck writing a game story. C’est la vie.

Do I think Maryland will win this game? My heart says yes. In my short experience as a Terp fan, we have yet to beat Duke. Greivis, Hayes and Milbourne haven’t beaten them since they were freshmen. They’re going to get framed jerseys that night, and I guarantee none of them will have ever wanted a win as badly as they will want that win. In fact, even though none of them will ever admit it, I have a hard time believing March 3rd isn’t circled on each and every basketball player’s calendar or iCal or BlackBerry or whatever.

With that in mind, I can’t in good conscience bet against Maryland. I want it too much, and they want it too much to let a loss occur. I really hope I’m right, because I really want to tell everyone that I was there for Greivis Vasquez’s senior night when Maryland beat Duke.
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