1. Maryland comes limping into the ACC Tournament, losing four of their last five. What happened? Can the team that collapsed against Clemson and UVA bounce back?
Turtle Waxing: It isn't just one thing. In some games the defense has been suspect (Miami, Virginia) in other games the offense has sputtered at the wrong times (Virginia Tech, Clemson). Sometimes the bench doesn't contribute and other times the starters lay an egg. Turnovers have hurt this team as they have all season. In the end it comes down to James Gist. When he plays well they can beat most teams (24ppg in last 2 wins) but when he is passive and settles for jump shots Maryland is in trouble (9.4ppg in last 4 losses). A flu bug has run through the entire team recently so perhaps that has something to do with it. I think this team can bounce back but they need some players like Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne to step up their games to give Vasquez and Gist some help. Freshmen SG Adrian Bowie and PF Jerome Burney didn't play much in the last meeting against BC but are getting more minutes lately. Bowie is a slashing guard who likes to get out in transition
and drive to the basket. Burney is a defensive specialist and rebounder. Bowie could be a wild card in this game. He has averaged 13.5 points in his last two games.
2. Vasquez was the key for both teams in the first two meetings. His fouling out led to BC beating Maryland in December. In the second meeting BC didn't have an answer as he repeatedly drove to the basket. What teams have slowed him down and what is the best way to neutralize him defensively?
TW: He has scored in double digits in 24 straight games so holding him to a low scoring night won't be easy. His major weakness is his outside shooting and turnovers. Defensively it is better to sag off him when Maryland runs a high screen and let him take a 3-point shot than to allow him to drive into the lane and create havoc. He isn't a great shooter and probably is doing the defense a favor when he shoots more than a few attempts from beyond the arc. In the half court sets it is best to overplay him when he is off the ball to deny him possession. The rest of the backcourt is unlikely to do much damage with the ball in their hands. The help defenders need to challenge Vasquez on the dribble as soon as possible and contest the passing lanes. He may beat the double team sometimes but you'll also get turnovers.
3. During a down season, critics naturally come out. Two big gripes for Skinner haters are the flex and our terrible season. Skinner apologists (like me) point to Maryland as a sign that the flex can win a championship and that even programs that have won a championship can have down cycles. What are the general feelings on Williams now that the National Championship glory has faded a bit?
TW: I think there has always been grumbling about Gary Williams. There are a cadre of Maryland fans who labeled him "just" a Sweet Sixteen coach before the national title. They are still around. The boosters that really matter are still firmly in the Gary Williams camp but a few more NIT seasons could change that rather quickly. It is probably undeniable that Williams took his foot off the gas a little since the national championship. The recruiting has been sub par since then and not up to the level that you would expect for a program with the tradition and resources of Maryland. Williams has never liked the recruiting game but I think he has realized that he needs to put more effort into it.
You need a certain amount of talent to run the flex effectively and it takes younger players at least a full season to run it effectively. With a young roster that can be a real challenge and that is what you are seeing with both BC and Maryland this year. For most of the teams at the bottom of the league it is either an injury issue or talent gap regardless of the style of offense they run. With good players the flex can work. In my opinion Al Skinner is the fourth best coach in the ACC behind three coaches that have all won national championships.
4. What is your predictions for Thursday?
TW: I really don't know what the psyche of this team is at the moment. I have less confidence in a prediction for this game than almost any match up this season. Both teams have struggled lately but since Maryland has a better road/neutral record this year I'll predict a close win by the Terps. You have to think Rice will surpass the 13 points he had in the last game against Maryland so if he can get some help from his bench then BC has a very good chance to pull an "upset" in this game.
For more on Maryland, check out Turtle Waxing.