Terps ACC Season Preview, Part Deux

1/14/2010 7:16:16 AM After a stellar opener to ACC play, I can now take a more optimistic tone with the next installment of my previews. Up next are Miami, Clemson, North Carolina and Virginia. This is a rough stretch of games that we need to do well in to go dancing. Luckily, with the senior leadership and steady hand of G-Dubs, I think we can pull a good number of wins from these teams. Ok, here we go:

Miami (Home on Jan. 26)

Breakdown: At the moment, Miami stands at 15-1. That’s a pretty damn good record. I’d kill for that record. However, just a little closer look and one can easily see why Miami isn’t considered a top-flight team: They’ve beaten almost nobody. They just eked out a one-point win against an also-unranked Wake Forest team in Coral Gables, and they beat a Minnesota team that’s playing decent but unspectacular basketball. Their one loss is to BC, which, as we’ve already covered, isn’t very good.

So while on the surface this looks like a tough game, and while it still might be, after our opener against Miami’s in-state neighbor FSU, I’m confident that the Terps can win our one matchup with Miami. Without more than a glance at Miami’s roster (that will come soon, don’t worry) I can tell you two things going the Terps way.

1) We’re at home, and despite our letdowns against non-conference opponents after finals week at home, Gary and the boys are absolute killers in the ACC in Comcast (though it’s not quite the home court advantage Cole was).
2) The first day of classes for the semester just happens to be the day before this game occurs. That’s right, the first full-force of the student body ACC game of the season. If our first four ACC games wind up 3-1 (which is entirely possible, as is 4-0), the students and the rest of the fans are going to smell blood. The place will be absolutely jumping. Bank on it.

Okay, I know you guys all know about that. What you might not know (neither did I until I did a lot of research. Who knew that Jack McClinton isn’t still playing for them?) is who to be wary of when the Hurricanes come to town, and his name is Dwayne Collins.

Collins is a very solid player, and Miami’s best player. He averages 12.9 points and 8.6 rebounds a game. He’s 6’8” and leads their team in both of those categories – in fact, no other Hurricane (it’s weird calling a single person a hurricane who isn’t named Ditka) is averaging more than 4.2 boards. Even though they’re averaging the same amount of rebounds per game as the Terps, their rebounds are distributed among smaller players grabbing a couple of rebounds here and there, probably against teams like Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson. So I think we’ll win the rebounding matchup, especially with Jordan Williams on Collins. That should be a good matchup to watch down low.

However, because Miami is a small team, they worry me a little. We traditionally have trouble with small teams. Solomon Alabi and Chris Singleton, despite occasionally dominating, we brushed aside. Last year we handled Tyler Hansbrough and Ed Davis fine. William & Mary and Villanova with the three and four guard lineups? Yeah, big trouble. Bigger trouble? As a team they shoot 40 percent from deep. For Maryland at this point we need a conversion rate for this stat – like for every percentage point against everyone else, they get 1.4 for us. That means, based on statistics I just made up, they will shoot 56 percent from deep. 56 percent! The numbers don’t lie, people.

What does this mean for Gary Williams’ rotation? It means more Adrian Bowie, more Sean Mosley, and more Cliff Tucker. It’s not so much that these guys (with the exception of Mosley, who has proven everything there is to prove on defense) have proven to be effective on the perimeter. It’s more that Hayes and Vasquez and Milbourne have proven to be wildly ineffective at guarding the long ball. We’ll still see plenty of the seniors, but expect either a zone-y look that’s stretched to the arc, or for the real deep threats, James Dews, Adrian Thomas and Malcom Grant, to be guarded by either Mosley, Bowie or Tucker when they’re on the floor.

If the Terps can execute proper perimeter defense (I know, big if, but we have to believe Gary can adjust), we should win the rebounding game and win this game. I think the crowd is a huge factor and Maryland wins by double-digits. Don’t be surprised, however, if Miami shoots the lights out and takes this game from us. Also, this is our game. This is a game we have to win if we want to get to the magical 10 ACC-win plateau.

Clemson (Away on Jan. 31, Home on Feb. 24)

Breakdown: Right now, Clemson is a top-25 team. Clemson’s been a top-25 team at this point in the year for like the past five years. I don’t remember a single instance where it lasted much longer than this. They had an impressive non-conference win over Butler (which would have been more impressive last year), and played an otherwise cupcake non-ACC schedule. ACC play came calling, and Duke thrashed them in their opener, then they returned the favor all over BC’s face (further building the case that BC’s occasional spurts of solid basketball are more flukes and aberrations than inconsistency like the Terps). Edit: When I wrote this paragraph, they hadn't beaten the Tar Heels yet. But I still think it's true.

Like many teams in the ACC (UNC, FSU, Wake, GT and Miami) they have a frontcourt star on whom they rely, and most Terps fans remember Trevor Booker from the past few years. He typically brings his A-game against the Terps, and that’s meant that the Tigers win. Of course, they don’t have Terence Oglesby to hit three after three and kill us this year (I still get a gag reflex when I hear that name. That was a painful memory from my freshman year).

Booker is averaging 14.8 points and 8.4 boards a game, but as he gets more minutes in ACC play (he’s averaging less than 30 a game), expect those to be more like 17 and 10. Even when we had Gist and Osby on the inside, we had trouble stopping him. I think it’ll just be a matter of boxing out and trying to keep him out of the paint on offense. Easier said than done, but he can very easily turn five or six Clemson misses into 10 or 12 Clemson points. If that’s the case, we will lose these games. The most important thing will be to stick to him when a shot goes up and not let him get a putback.

Outside of Booker, there isn’t much size at all for the Tigers, who start a 5’9” guard named Andre Young. One thing that everyone on Clemson does, even Booker, is creating turnovers. They lead the ACC in steals, and it’s not very close. Young gets two a game. Vasquez is going to need to be careful because this a group of ball-hawkers, and if he plays too fast and too loose, Clemson will turn it into an easy layup on the other end.

As you can plainly see, there are a lot of ways that Clemson can hurt us. One way they can’t is the three-pointer. They’re averaging .365 as a team, but don’t take very many. They like, nay, they love to run, and when they’re in the half court, they’re going to try to get the ball into Booker. It’s not very complex, but it’s worked for them so far.

For these reasons, I think Maryland has a great chance at splitting these games, and maybe sweeping them. If we can contain Booker, and our interior D has been very solid so far this year, and limit turnovers, the games will be ours, plain and simple. With the way Hayes has been draining them and the team as a whole is taking rhythm jumpers and shots out of the offense, a veteran team will beat a team that relies on the fast break most of the time, especially when the vets play in the Comcast Center.

Virginia (Home on Feb. 10, Away on March 6)

Okay, before I get to the breakdown, I must admit that the Terps play UNC on Feb. 7, three days before their first matchup with the Cavaliers takes place. However, I’m selfish. I want you guys to read all my stuff, mostly from a feedback standpoint, but also a little because of the glory of actually being read (which is still cool for me. I’m young, it’s exciting). I know that most readers will read the UNC piece avidly and see Virginia and probably skip it. So I’m making you guys sit through the Virginia segment before I really sink my teeth into the Tar Heels. Okay, explanation over, here comes the…

Breakdown: I don’t know what it is about Virginia, but we seem to struggle to beat them regardless of the talent on either side. I say regardless of the talent on either side because we’re usually more talented. This year is no different. Virginia has a bona-fide NBA player in Sylven Landesberg. They also have a very good post player in Mike Scott (beware the man with two first names!).

(Okay, before I start the real breakdown (sorry for the delays, I’m verbose), I have to get this off my chest about Sylven Landesberg. Growing up, I knew a kid named Perry Landesberg. Perry was the single dorkiest, geekiest, dweebiest little white kid you’ve ever seen. You wouldn’t think that two seemingly opposite people like the Landesbergs (Perry and Sylven) would share a last name, but they do, and it really makes me think less of Sylven Landesberg, who’s a very gifted player, simply because his last name makes me think of Perry. Okay, unrelated diatribes over.)

Landesberg considered being a one-and-done player last year, but that’s much easier when your team actually does well. However, the sophomore from Queens has upped his game this year, and Virginia…well they’re still mediocre. Save for winning their ACC opener against an also-mediocre NC State squad, Virginia has lost every remotely challenging game they’ve played so far, including getting blown out by USF.

So knowing that, it begs the question: how does Virginia play so poorly when they have a players who is just as talented as anyone short of Ed Davis and Derrick Favors in the ACC and another who’s a 2nd-or-3rd team All-ACC candidate? Well, they have pretty much no one else.

Landesberg averages 17 a game with 5.4 boards and 2.6 assists, and has cut his turnovers in half from last year. It’s safe to say he’s going to have a pretty bad game (by his standards) against Maryland because I don’t see anyone but Mosley attempting to guard him. Landesberg is great, but Mosley is better at defense than Perry, I mean Sylven, is at offense.

Mike Scott also shouldn’t be too much of a problem. He’s 6’8”, 239 lbs., which means Jordan Williams and Dino Gregory should be able to handle him decently. He’ll probably get near his averages of 13.8 points and 8.6 rebounds because we don’t rebound all that well and he’s got a 57.4 percent field goal percentage, which means he’s efficient and gets looks close to the basket.

Past those two guys…I don’t see much production. I mean, on any basketball team with five players on the floor at a time (which I believe is most of them), people will score points, get rebounds, and accumulate other statistics. It’s bound to happen. Sammy Zeglinski is a terrific shooter (.508 from behind the arc), and averages a steal and a half a game, but doesn’t do much else, and everyone else is well below average.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I think Maryland can, and more importantly win, both of these games. I think the one in Comcast Center has the potential to be a laugher. I think going into Charlottesville will be more of a challenge, but this Terps team just matches up perfectly to dominate the Cavaliers. I think. You never know when the Terps play Virginia.

North Carolina (Home on Feb. 7)

Breakdown: There’s been a lot of talk on this site criticizing the media and coaches for continually ranking the Tar Heels so high despite losing Hansbrough, Lawson, Ellington and Green off of last year’s squad and four losses this year. I partially agree. However, there’s a reason everyone’s so hesitant to drop UNC out of the polls – they’re just so damn talented.
It pains me to admit this because I think Roy Williams is pretty classless (not Calipari or Lane Kiffin classless, but pretty damn classless) and I can’t stand the bandwagon fans in places other than North Carolina with Tar Heels apparel. They just really irk me. So trust me, this isn’t coming from a biased front-running media source: they have oodles of talent.

Ed Davis is a force. He averages 15.5 points and 10.3 boards a game, and would score more if there were more shots to go around. His average might creep up close to 20 with a full slate of ACC game under his belt. That doesn’t tell the full story though. He’s averaging an insane 2.9 blocks a game, and is shooting an equally insane 63.1 percent from the floor. He’s 6’10” and long, with hops that can almost match Dwight Howard. In conclusion, the Terps should count themselves lucky that they don’t play against him in Chapel Hill again, because he is gone after this year, and he’ll be a no-doubt, top-3 pick in the draft.

The talent doesn’t end with Davis, though. There’s also Deon Thompson, who averages 15.8 points and 7.1 rebounds a night, Marcus Ginyard, averaging 10.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and four assists a game and Larry Drew II, who dishes out 6.3 assists a game (though I could get five assists running the point for these guys). Not to mention they have a five-star freshman in John Henson coming off the bench and swatting a shot and a half in about 11 minutes a game. Scary, scary stuff.

Probably the scariest, and must be some sort of record, number is this: Their top five scorers all shoot 50 percent or better from the field. That’s just mind-blowing to me. How does that even happen with the non-conference schedule they played? Has that ever happened before? Maybe in the comments section someone can do that research, because these write-ups are long enough as is without all the “that’s never been done befores” and the “best statistic since 1980-whatevers.” Then it would just get ridiculous.

The Tar Heels aren’t unbeatable, however. They were scarier last year, and we beat ‘em. The College of Charleston took them down very recently on their home court. Their other three losses are to top-10 teams, though, and they beat Michigan State (again), so they’re not slouches. They’re not a top-10 team right now, but they do deserve to be ranked. The polls are just that: polls. You ask some people who they think are the 25 best teams in the country, and those people look at the roster Roy Williams has put together, and not many people are going to leave them off the ballot.

How can the Terps beat them, I imagine you’re asking? Well, the Tar Heels aren’t a very balanced team. All their scoring and defense is inside. Luckily for the Terps, none of their scoring and most of their defense is on the inside. Dino’s a solid defender. Williams and Padgett (who in his limited time has looked like a veteran on defense) are solid defenders with the size to match up against North Carolina. Yes, the Tar Heels may be a few inches taller, but they’re thin, and Williams can use his body to push Davis out of the lane. I said can, not will. Williams has been too passive for my tastes so far this year. He’s shown flashes of aggression on both sides of the ball, but it’s not consistent enough to stop a guy like Davis. If Williams wants to be serious about stopping the best big man in the ACC, he needs to stay aggressive his entire time on the floor.

Realistically, I don’t think the Terps will win this game. We beat them last year, and the year before that. They were better those years. Why don’t I think the Terps will beat them this year? I don’t know, it’s just a hunch. We can beat them. They have no one who can guard Greivis. They don’t have many perimeter defenders at all. We don’t score on the inside very much, so we can exploit that. It will be hard-fought game, and the Comcast crowd will stay in it. I just think we’ll lose in the end. I hope the Terps prove me wrong, though, because a win over UNC will immediately make our NCAA tournament hopes greater, even if we finish 9-7 in the ACC.
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