December 1, 2003
COLLEGE PARK The Maryland basketball team already is starting to resemble
some of Gary Williams' early squads in College Park, and that's not necessarily
a good thing. This team, like many of those under Williams in the early 1990s,
is long on athleticism but short on offensive skill.
The Terrapins made their first NCAA Tournament appearance under Williams with
the Duane Simpkins, Johnny Rhodes and Exree Hipp contingent. Later, there was
the Terrell Stokes, Laron Profit and Keith Booth unit. Those teams played great
full-court defense but couldn't shoot straight and sometimes had trouble handling
If early indications prove accurate, Maryland's 2003-04 edition could bring
a rerun of those days, which included plenty of exciting moments but too many
In November, Maryland failed to execute sound half-court offense and struggled
to score in a pair of games against mid-major opponents. These youthful Terrapins
barely escaped Comcast Center with victories over George Mason and Hofstra,
early season fodder that would have been blown out by recent Maryland teams.
The Terps appeared clueless on how to penetrate a zone defense in shooting
36-for-76 from the field against George Mason. Then they were bothered by some
of the aggressive tactics employed by Hofstra, finishing 26-for-58 from the
field. Poor passing and careless dribbling were evident in both contests, which
saw Maryland go through extended droughts that kept the underdogs within striking
I think the zone bothered us, made us less aggressive, Williams said after
Maryland's 79-64 win over George Mason. It could be typical of this team. We
might play in spurts.
As in years past, those scoring spurts could be predicated on forcing turnovers.
This team scores much better in transition, which means it will need to use
defense to create offense. Williams had indicated that Maryland would return
to the press-and-run style he employed previously, and that certainly has proven
true so far.
The good news for Maryland fans is that the Terps have the talent to develop
a devastating pressing team. This bunch has an abundance of speed and quickness,
not to mention players with long arms and superb defensive instincts. Sophomore
point guard John Gilchrist, sophomore wing guard Chris McCray, freshman wing
guard D.J. Strawberry and sophomore forward Nik Caner-Medley all have demonstrated
an ability to wreak havoc in the backcourt and create steals. Senior center
Jamar Smith and freshman forward Ekene Ibekwe are shotblockers who can jump-start
Maryland used 13 second-half turnovers to overcome a four-point deficit and
pull away from George Mason. The Terrapins forced 25 turnovers versus Hofstra.
Gilchrist showed an ability to lead an effective break, while the likes of Strawberry,
Smith and Caner-Medley proved to be consistent finishers.
The bad news for Maryland is that its half-court offense left a lot to be
desired in the early going. Any opponent that can slow the Terrapins down and
force them to run sound offense should find some success.
MIA: Post Scorers, Pure Shooters
Of course, the biggest problem early was the lack of a true post
presence. As pointed out many times already, this Maryland team just does not
have anyone who can play successfully with his back to the basket. The Terrapins
struggled to score inside against undersized George Mason and Hofstra, so the
problem likely will be exacerbated when the competition level increases.
Sophomore forward Travis Garrison is 6-8 and bulky but doesn't get off the
floor well and looks extremely uncomfortable operating inside. Caner-Medley
is 6-7 and strong, but he has a low release point on his shot, which is routinely
blocked in traffic. Smith is a bouncy 6-9 athlete without a single consistent
post move. Basically, almost all of Maryland's interior points so far have come
off dunks and putbacks. The inability to throw the ball into the heart of the
defense to a player who is truly a threat to score down low is a major problem.
Opponents couldn't go to a zone all game against recent Maryland teams because
Williams finally had found some reliable passers and outstanding shooters. Juan
Dixon and Drew Nicholas were the most visible zone busters, but players such
as Steve Francis, Terence Morris, Tahj Holden and Steve Blake also could knock
down open three-pointers.
This Maryland team was terrible from the perimeter in November, going three-for-15
from three-point range against George Mason and an equally woeful four-for-13
versus Hofstra. It appears that Caner-Medley is the team's most reliable three-point
shooter, and that's not saying much.
McCray originally was touted as a pure shooter in the mold of Dixon and Nicholas,
but so far he has not lived up to that billing. The 6-4 sophomore has a smooth
release but a rather flat trajectory on his jumper. He was a combined six-for-17,
including one-for-six from three-point range, against the zone defenses of George
Mason and Hofstra.
Freshman Mike Jones hasn't gotten much playing time, but he also has had difficulty
making three-pointers. Gilchrist, Smith and Strawberry just aren't good perimeter
shooters, although the former two fire up plenty of long-range bombs. Garrison
and Ibekwe have decent jumpers that are good only to about 15 feet.
The bottom line is that Maryland fans should prepare for a season of offensive
struggles. Aggressive defense and fastbreak points will be the keys to this
team winning games, especially against better competition.
Of course, that is to be expected with a squad that is comprised almost entirely
of sophomores and freshmen. This is probably the youngest team Williams has
ever fielded at Maryland, and that inexperience inevitably is going to produce
some growing pains.
No program can graduate four of five starters for two years in a row and not
expect a noticeable dropoff. Williams may have to perform his finest coaching
job just to squeeze 18 wins out of this raw contingent and extend Maryland's
streak of 10 straight NCAA Tournament appearances. He's just the coach to do
it, but it won't be easy.
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