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Mystery Surrounds Backcourt Lineup

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff



December 4, 2007

COLLEGE PARK – It's a debate that has raged ever since Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez joined the Maryland basketball program. Which of the two sophomores is better suited to playing point guard?

The only opinion that matters is that of coach Gary Williams, and he clearly believes Vasquez should be the team's floor general. A lot of fans and media vehemently disagree and cannot understand the coach's reasoning on this topic.

Hayes is a natural point guard who has played the position his entire life. He's a steady ball-handler who understands how to run an offense, and his instinct is to pass first, shoot second.

Vasquez, on the other hand, was a shooting guard throughout high school and has a scorer's mentality. He's an aggressive offensive player who loves to take the ball to the basket and hasn't met a shot he doesn't like.

Based on their individual characteristics and playing style, it would seem an obvious decision to play Hayes at the point and Vasquez on the wing. However, there is more to the equation, and obviously Williams sees things the public does not and has better insight into the situation.

First and foremost, Williams is adamant that Hayes is the better perimeter shooter. Hayes has a more reliable jumper than Vasquez, and that is evidenced by the fact that he shoots a higher percentage from three-point range.

Meanwhile, Vasquez is better at driving, penetrating and generally breaking down the defense, which is something a team needs the point guard to do. In addition, Vasquez has more of a take-charge mentality and is far more vocal on the court than Hayes, whose basic personality is quiet and passive.

There also may be a bit of psychology to why Williams has Vasquez at the point and Hayes on the wing. Perhaps the wily head coach wants Vasquez to focus more on getting his teammates involved, while he wants Hayes to become more of a scorer. If Hayes played the point, he probably would rarely shoot, while if Vasquez played the wing he might rarely pass.

Regardless of the whys and wherefores, the setup still needs a little tweaking. Vasquez is a point guard who leads Maryland in scoring, with an average of 15.9 points, and has taken more shots than anyone on the team. The fiery Venezuelan has played out of control at times and been careless with the ball, as evidenced by his team-high 28 turnovers.

Meanwhile, Hayes is a shooting guard who is still too reluctant to shoot. He has taken 30 fewer shots than Vasquez and is averaging only 11.1 points. Hayes remains far more reliable with the ball and has a better assist-to-turnover ratio than Vasquez.

Hayes seemed to make some progress in his transition to shooting guard by scoring a career-high 18 points against Illinois. He made 4 of 7 three-pointers and showed the sweet shooting stroke that Williams raves about. Perhaps that outing will convince the 6-4, 184-pounder to become more aggressive in looking for his shot.

On a down note, Vasquez shot a woeful 2-for-14 in that victory, by far the Terrapins' biggest so far this season. The 6-6, 190-pounder missed all seven of his three-point attempts and really needs to learn the difference between a good and a bad shot.

Williams thinks the position titles are irrelevant and feels he has two point guards on the floor when Hayes and Vasquez are in the backcourt together. Either one is capable of bringing the ball up the floor against pressure and getting the team into its offense.

DUPREE GETS SHOT TO START

It's premature to say whether it's permanent, but Williams appears to have made the first major lineup change of the season. Freshman Braxton Dupree started at center against Illinois instead of Bambale Osby, and the switch seemed to make sense on a number of levels.

First and foremost, Dupree is more of a traditional center in terms of size at 6-8 and 250 pounds. Osby is listed at the exact same height and weight, but one only needs to look at the two standing together to figure out who is actually the bigger player.

Dupree provides Maryland with a better matchup in the post and has the potential to be more of an offensive threat. Osby, on the other hand, is a great guy to bring off the bench because of the energy and emotion he brings to the court.

Dupree actually made his first career start out of necessity, as illness sidelined Osby against Lehigh. Dupree started and responded with 14 points and five rebounds.

Williams decided to start Dupree again versus Illinois, and the rookie put forth another solid performance, with 10 points and five rebounds. Afterward, Williams downplayed the lineup change by saying that Osby still was feeling the effects of the sickness, and that it didn't matter who started but rather who played the most. Indeed, Osby received 21 minutes against the Illini, while Dupree got 18.

However, there is a sound argument for making the change permanent, as Dupree has a higher upside and just seems better equipped to match up with the other centers in the ACC. The Baltimore native has shown that he can be productive both offensively and on the boards, and he just needs to continue working on his defense.

Osby is darn close to being a liability on offense, because he has limited post moves and is prone to getting his shot blocked by taller opponents. Osby is also somewhat shaky handling the ball and is a poor free throw shooter.

Williams' next move might involve small forward Landon Milbourne, who simply is not producing in any area. Milbourne is averaging a mere 5.8 points, nowhere near the amount one would expect out of that position. Wings need to score in Maryland's flex offense and are given plenty of opportunities to do so.

Milbourne is shooting an abysmal 40 percent from the field and has shown little offensive polish. He is not a consistent jump shooter and has been unable to finish around the basket. Simply put, the athletic 6-6 sophomore has not stepped up, after virtually being handed a starting job.

Freshman Cliff Tucker is averaging just one fewer point than Milbourne while playing half as many minutes. The 6-6 Texan has the physical ability to play small forward and showed far more offensive potential than Milbourne has at any point this season while scoring 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting against Illinois.

FOOTBALL FINISHES YEAR STRONG

You've got to give football coach Ralph Friedgen and the rest of the Maryland coaching staff credit for turning around a season that was heading south in a hurry.

The Terrapins were reeling after suffering an ugly 16-13 loss to North Carolina, and there were concerns that the team would finish the season on a six-game losing streak.

Maryland salvaged its season and regained an enormous amount of confidence by upsetting Boston College 42-35 on Senior Day in College Park. What was notable about that victory was the fact that Friedgen finally let go of the reins and opened up the offense, displaying a play-calling repertoire that had not been seen all season.

The Terrapins fought hard in falling 24-16 at Florida State, but they rebounded with their most complete performance of the entire campaign by routing N.C. State 37-0 in Raleigh. Needless to say, that win was noteworthy for the dominant defensive performance that may very well have saved the job of coordinator Chris Cosh. The Wolfpack was held to 250 total yards, only 10 of which came on the ground.

Clearly, the players – especially the seniors – deserve tremendous praise for refusing to pack it in and fighting so hard to finish on a respectable note. However, Maryland's performances against BC and N.C. State were somewhat disillusioning, since they showed what this team was truly capable of and made many of the six losses that were suffered harder to understand.