Craig Smith had a monster game and really bounced back from his clunker in the Garden. The things that made a difference -- better shot selection, better rebounding and steals. Craig has quick feet and good hands, so he can get around a guy and break up the entry pass. He was doing it well last night. He also jabbed his hands in a few passing lanes. He still had too many turnovers, but his overall game was much better. Craig looked frustrated about fouling out, but I think he’ll just have to adjust to the less physical style in the ACC.
The defense (except for the transition). I’ll get to the transition later, but first the positives. The team was in the 2-3 for long stretches of the game. It helped cover up Oates deficiencies and really made a difference in the rebounding. They were also much more aggressive clogging the passing lanes. That has been a staple of Al’s teams. Last night it resulted in nine steals. A good showing. They are also blocking more shots than I would have expected. No one has filled Williams' presence but nice effort on that front. McClain made a big difference right away on the defensive side of the ball. Dudley did not have a great night and but did a good job helping out Oates with the double teams down low. Smith, as previously mentioned, was great on the boards.
The shot selection was very good. Dudley was off, but everyone else really moved the ball well to find good shots. Finding holes for easy baskets in the Maryland defense -- which is more sound than much of the conference -- is encouraging.
Rice running the point. It is still too early to tell if he just needs to learn the system or is not a natural point guard, but he has been ineffective the last two games running the offense. Why isn’t Hinnant with the ball? You have one of the most experienced point guards in the country, who knows your offense and is very careful with the ball and you are wasting him at the 2 spot! Rice is tiny but it looks like his natural position is the shooting guard. If you want to get him experience, do it in garbage time. These growing pains better pay off at the end of the season.
Free throw shooting. A really bad night. I don’t think it cost us the game in a sense, because Maryland missed 10 from the line too. But these are wasted opportunities. Hopefully things will return to form soon.
Late game management. The team deserves credit for clawing back and forcing the bad pass with 2.2 left. But an all too familiar errant pass came out of the inbound. The team got bounced in the last two tournaments with sloppy late game passes and it needs to end.
Finally -- transition defense. Maryland is hardly the showtime Lakers. There is no excuse for how many easy baskets this teams gives up. They did a better job getting back in this game, but still have a way to go. The real culprits are Hinnant, Dudley and Marshall. Marshall loafed a couple times getting back. Rice ran hard, but was often alone. I know they are tired because of the short bench, but someone has to get it in their heads how this is killing them.
A loss is a loss. Fortunately there is another nice little stretch here to get healthy. I think this team will be much stronger come February and can still be a threat to win the ACC tourney and run deep into the NCAAs.