Terps ACC Season Preview, Part One

1/5/2010 9:15:17 PM Terps ACC Schedule Preview

This is my attempted at a long-winded, in-depth analysis of every ACC team (Sorry, Longwood) the Terps will play this season, how we match up, games we should win, and so on and so forth.

We’ll go in order of matchups:

Florida State (Home on Jan. 10, Away on Feb. 4)

Breakdown: Maryland will face their toughest test since Villanova. This one looks like a scary matchup, and it’s mainly because of one player – C Solomon Alabi. He’s 7’1”, 251 lbs., and a defensive beast. He’s averaging 2.9 blocks a game so far, and had a 9-point, 12-rebound, 4-block performance in FSU’s ACC opener against Georgia Tech. Oh, and he shoots 81 percent from the line, so fouling him isn’t a viable option either. Ugh. The Terps simply have no one who can match up with this guy. Expect Jordan Williams to draw the assignment for the most part, and he’s just going to have to try to keep the Nigerian sophomore out of the post on offense and defense. If Williams does his job, it will look like he didn’t in the box score. He really just needs to clear this guy out of the lane and open things up for penetration. If he can’t we’ll be relying on our outside shooting even more than we have been, which isn’t good.

Other than Alabi, it would appear that the Terps match up pretty solidly with the Seminoles. Their second-tier players are G Deividas Dulkys and F Chris Singleton. Dulkys is a deadeye shooter, shooting 45.3 percent from deep on the year, but he’s the only dangerous deep threat that could give the Terps headaches. Singleton looks to be pretty evenly matched up with Landon Milbourne, which is lucky because they’ll be guarding each other. Singleton is averaging 10 points and seven boards a game, and a Jerome Burney-esque 49 percent from the free throw line. Dulkys will likely be taken by Mosley if the Terps go man for stretches, so hopefully SM will be able to lock him down somewhat.

The Seminoles’ team strength is defense – They’re holding teams to an impressive 57 points a game, including hold GT to 59 points in a game that went to overtime. They’re ranked in the top-5 nationally in a number of defensive categories. That’s probably a result of Alabi wreaking havoc in the lane. Keys to this game for the Terps will be ball movement to try to negate Alabi, and trying to get an extended rhythm from deep, because that’s where we’re going to need to do most of our damage. If we can do that, we should be able to pull off a minor upset (FSU’s ranked 18th right now) in Comcast Center, but unless we pick it up big time before Feb. 4, I’m hoping for a split at best against the current number two in the ACC.

Wake Forest (Away on Jan. 12)

Breakdown: We only have one game against the Demon Deacons, and it’s a road game only two days after our matchup against the ‘Noles. So that stinks. However, we had success against them last year when they had Jeff Teague and James Johnson. Wake Forest lost to the same Tribe we lost to recently, at home as well. Their only other loss was to still-undefeated Purdue. They do have a couple of quality wins though, at Gonzaga and home over Xavier. They beat NC State in their ACC opener, but they’re a notch or two below Xavier and the Zags.

Just like last year, the man to worry about is future lottery pick Al-Farouq Aminu. He’s improved in almost every statistical category this year, and is averaging 17.4 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks/steals a game. Simply put, this guy can flat-out ball. He will give the Terps headaches all game long if they don’t consistently double him. That means the Gary Williams zone needs to be working in full effect, help defense needs to come quickly, and rotation will be key to stopping them.

Unlike FSU, Wake Forest is pretty deep behind Aminu. Despite their lack of playing time, Tony Woods and Ty Walker are just two years removed from being 5-star recruits, and they’re big. They could see the floor a lot in this game and give the Terps heaps of trouble. As it is, Williams and Dino will be getting all they can handle from 7-foot senior center Chas McFarland, who’s averaging 7.5 boards and over a block a game.

In the backcourt, PG Ishmael Smith makes things happen for WF. He averages 12.9 points, 5.8 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. He’s small (6’ even) and quick, which means he’ll give Vasquez and Hayes trouble. He’s only a Bowie-esque 26 percent shooter from deep. Which is the promising news. Wake Forest doesn’t have deep threats. They can’t rain in threes like Villanova and William and Mary. They will have to beat us inside. They’re capable of that, but we’re better on interior defense than perimeter defense, that’s for sure.

I think this is a winnable game for the Terps. We match up well with Wake - we were smaller last year and had no problems defending the interior against bigger guys on some nights (some nights…not so much). If we could go to Winston-Salem and steal one, it’d look great for our tournament résumé. It’s just a matter of if the team can focus and recover from a Sunday game and road trip Monday.

The Terps are capable of opening the season either 2-0 or 0-2. If they play like we all know they’re able to, we can have a great start to our ACC season. If not, it will be long odds again to reach the big dance.

Boston College (Away on Jan. 16)

Breakdown: This is the first game the Terps should win. Period. BC has five losses, all to some real powerhouses: Northern Iowa, St. Joseph’s, Harvard (who admittedly is pretty good this year, but BC should still beat them every time), Rhode Island and Maine. Five losses, five mid-majors, four and a half embarrassments. To make matters worse, none of them have been away games. They played St. Joe’s and UNI in the Virgin Islands, and the other three at home. Even the Terps can’t say they’ve lost three home games to mid-majors. Just astounding that this is an ACC team. Isn’t Al Skinner supposed to be a good coach, too? Yeesh.

Okay, ranting aside, BC did lose one of the ACC’s best players in Tyrese Rice. Boston is not a hotbed of basketball talent (partly because it’s a historically racist city), and they’ve dealt with some injuries, so it’s not really all that surprising that the Eagles are the worst team in the ACC, but they are, and the Terps should win this one even after a long trip.

Statistically speaking, no player on the Eagles really stands out from the rest. They have three or four very solid players: Joe Trapani, Corey Raji, and Mr. October, Reggie Jackson. None of these players are taller than 6’8”, yet all average 6.9 rebounds or more (Jackson is 6’3”, Raji is 6’6”, and Trapani is 6’8”). I don’t know how this is even physically possible in a game of modern Division 1 college basketball, but I guess someone has to rebound the ball. Trapani is the tallest player on this team to get regular playing time, and he’s their best outside shooter.

Needless to say (but I’m saying it anyway) the Terps match up well with this team. Somehow Skinner has compiled a roster of short guys who can’t shoot very well (their team 3-pt. percentage is a gag-worthy 30.8), can’t force turnovers very well, but rebound better than their height would expect.

Before I go on to how the Terps can beat them, let me shed some light on a stat I came upon in my research for this post. BC has 3.7 steals a game for the whole team. The whole team! Comparatively, Maryland steals 8.8 balls per game. BC is the worst in SPG in the ACC by a full three per game. In case you were wondering, I kind of stumbled upon this fact, and it’s probably the most interesting stat I’ve seen in a while. Just astounding what a small amount of steals that is. This is just a team of reverse Chris Pauls. But I digress.

The Terps just need to play within themselves to win this game. BC has had some good games (they beat Miami), but the Terps match up too well with them to let this happen. I think this will be the biggest margin-of-victory win for the Terps in the ACC. It’ll just be a happy game to watch, which isn’t easy with our boys.

NC State (Home on Jan. 23, Away on Feb. 14)

Breakdown: Sidney Lowe’s squad has won the games they’re supposed to win, and lost the games they’re supposed to lose. Losses to Wake, Arizona, Florida (on a ridiculous buzzer beater) and a shockingly good Northwestern team leave the Wolfpack at 10-4 at this juncture, but don’t expect them to get too many more wins – they’re not very good.

Their best player is Tracy Smith – a 6’8” forward who’s averaging 17.5 points and 9.1 boards a game. He’s a pure big: he doesn’t shoot from outside, doesn’t do a whole lot of distributing, and blocks a little over a shot a game. Sounds like the kind of guy that Dino Gregory loves to guard. I think he’ll get the start in this one and play the bulk of the minutes when Smith is on the floor. Williams will play his share but this matchup screams Dino.

Other than Smith, the two other guys the Terps have to worry about are forward Dennis Horner and 5’11” Puerto Rican Javier Gonzalez (does anyone else like seeing Hispanics succeed in basketball? There aren’t a lot of them, and they’re almost exclusively guards, but I just like the thought of more Hispanics in basketball. Maybe this stems from Greivis, but I liked Carlos Arroyo back before my Maryland days too. Who knows, just a thought). Horner is another big man who doesn’t do much special, but gets solid averages of 13 and 5. He also shoots 47 percent from deep, so he can stroke it. However, he’s only taken 32 threes this year (made 15), but somehow I get the feeling that number will climb rapidly against the Terps.

Gonzalez is worrisome to me. The kid can fly, and he puts up numbers that bring me back to Greivis’ sophomore year when he was deferring to Gist a lot of the time: 11.7 points, 4.8 boards, 5.4 assists and a steal and a half a game. He’s also giving away a Vasquezian 3.8 turnovers a game. He could pose a problem against our notoriously slow backcourt. Expect Gary to throw zone for the most part this game to contain his drives and to stop the big guys down low.

I think the Terps take this game too, which means we could potentially have a 3-0 ACC road trip, which would be dandy. At the very least, we should come back to College Park with a 2-2 ACC record and a juiced Comcast crowd. At best, despite my better judgment, I think the Terps have a legit chance at starting ACC play 4-0. The schedule gets much tougher down the road, but a good start would be a great thing.

Parts 2 and 3 coming soon…winter break is boring enough to bang out 2,000 words every couple of days about the Terps.
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