January 9, 2007
COLLEGE PARK Coach Gary Williams had an interesting dilemma as Maryland moved into ACC competition. He still needed to determine which of his two freshman guards should start at the point.
Eric Hayes, who epitomizes the term "true point guard," started the initial 11 games of the season and seemed to perform fairly well. However, Williams made a sudden switch following Maryland's loss to Boston College, in the ACC opener for both schools. Greivis Vasquez, who already has shown that he fits the combo guard description, was inserted into the lineup in place of Hayes.
Everyone from fans to beat writers wondered why Williams was so hasty to alter the roles of the two promising youngsters. Hayes had been doing a solid job of running the flex offense, as evidenced by the fact that Maryland had averaged 74 points before managing just 62 against BC. Teammates had praised the Virginia native's instincts, passing skills and leadership.
Meanwhile, Vasquez, with a colorful personality and a real flair for the game, had excelled coming off the bench. His energy, enthusiasm and ability to produce instant offense seemed ideal for the sixth-man role.
Williams has not elaborated on his reasons for the change, and he certainly was not about to say it was permanent. Hayes shed some light on the subject when he said Williams "likes the energy Greivis brings" early in games.
Vasquez started the final five games of the non-conference portion of the schedule. For all anyone knows, that may have amounted to a brief audition against patsies, and things may change again going into full-scale league play.
There are many pros and cons to consider.
Hayes is a lifelong point guard and son of a coach who clearly understands how to direct a team. He's a strong ball-handler, understands spacing, makes good decisions and knows how to put teammates in position to score.
However, Hayes is not real aggressive, whether driving the lane to draw the defense and dish or looking to score himself. The lanky 6-3, 175-pounder is taking fewer than four shots per game and averaging just 4.6 points.
Vasquez is clearly more of an offensive threat, ranking fifth on the team in scoring with an average of 9.3 points. He is not afraid to launch the three-pointer or take the ball to the basket, and he has been effective slashing into the lane for pull-up jumpers or runners.
However, Vasquez is sometimes a bit too aggressive on the offensive end and gets himself into trouble. The 6-5 native of Venezuela has taken quite a few ill-advised shots and made numerous ill-fated drives to the hoop.
Vasquez has launched almost twice as many shots as Hayes and surprisingly is not shooting as well from the perimeter. Consider that Vasquez is 13-for-43 (30 percent) from three-point range, while Hayes is 12-for-26 (46 percent) from beyond the arc.
Hayes and Vasquez are seeing similar minutes and remarkably had identical numbers in the key categories of assists and turnovers in mid-January. (Both had 67 and 42 through 16 games.) That begged the question: Does it really matter which of the two rookies starts the game?
Williams doesn't seem to think so, and he pointed out that Hayes and Vasquez are often in the game together.
"You're allowed to use more than one point guard," Williams said. "I like the idea of having two guys in the game that can both handle the ball and run the offense."
However, most college basketball experts would agree that the point guard by committee approach is not ideal. Teams need to have a definitive floor leader, someone who will take charge in crucial situations.
SHORTER ROTATION COMING SOON?
It will be interesting to see how Williams works the rotation from here, after using his reserves rather liberally against non-conference foes.
Williams is known for shortening his bench once the league schedule begins, usually settling into a solid eight-man rotation. Early indications are that he may go a bit deeper this season, even as the games get more serious.
Nine players saw action in the ACC opener versus Boston College, with third-string point guard Parrish Brown and backup center Will Bowers getting only single-digit minutes. Williams has shown that he trusts Brown and Bowers in some situations, so it stands to reason that their playing time will fluctuate, depending on timing and matchups.
Bowers is a senior who needs to step up and help the Terps this season. At 7-1 and 262 pounds, he is one of the biggest players in the ACC and should be using that size to give Maryland an edge in the frontcourt. Williams spoke glowingly of Bowers in the preseason, saying the team's only true center had gotten into great shape both strength- and stamina-wise.
Surprisingly, Bowers is averaging fewer minutes, points and rebounds than he did last season. Obviously, the emergence of junior college transfer Bambale Osby as a more effective post player has cut into Bowers' playing time.
While Brown and Bowers likely will play some in every game, it remains to be seen whether Williams will use reserve forwards David Neal and Landon Milbourne. Neal, a burly 6-7, 255-pound sophomore, has made significant improvement and shown signs that he could contribute. Milbourne, an athletic, 6-7, 205-pound freshman, has not hurt the club during the few times he's seen meaningful minutes.