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Gober Previews Maryland!

In 2005-2006, the Maryland Terrapins (+5.9 ppg, +3.3 rpg, +1.6 apg, 6.3 bpg, 43.9% fg, 33.2% 3-fg, 5.6 3-fg made/g, 72.6% ft, +100 ft attempts, +37 blocks, +1.2 bpg, +0 steals, +0.0 s/g, +0.5 to/g, 1.0 a/t, opponents: 40.7% fg, 34.4% 3-fg, 7.4 3-fg made/g, 0.9 a/t) may realize the potential its lunatic and other fans thought the Terps had going into last season and become a national and ACC top contender. The reasoning behind that optimistic view is that the early departure of 6-3 junior PG John Gilchrist (13.9 ppg, 5.5 apg, 5.1 rpg, 1.5 spg, 42.6% fg, 38.3% 3-fg, 74.2% ft, 2.1 a/t, Honorable Mention All-ACC) to dreams of the NBA could be addition by subtraction.

Maryland is loaded with experience and more than adequate talent, boasting 9 seniors and juniors on the 2005-2006 roster. Further, Maryland beat its hated non-rival Duke twice last season and has beaten Duke three times in succession.

On the other hand, the talented Gilchrist, though a lightning rod for criticism when the Terps played poorly, was a key ingredient for Maryland in its three big wins over Duke and virtually all of Maryland’s other big wins the past two seasons. Also, Gilchrist was clearly the best PG and ball-handler on the team, being one of only two players and the only PG with an exceptional assists-to-turnovers ratio at 2.1 a/t. Even with John Gilchrist at PG providing
scoring, toughness and ball-handling, the Terrapins have been a sub-.500 team in the ACC each of the past two seasons, finishing with a 7-9 ACC regular season record each year.

Much worse, Maryland won only two ACC road games (at Duke and at UVA in 2OT) in 2004-2005, lost 10 of 15 ACC games against teams other than Duke, and was dominated completely by Sharrod Ford and the Clemson Tigers three times. NC State dazzled Maryland with its superior team ball-handling and outside shooting, and Wake and Boston College figure to abuse the Terps with strong rebounding and physical play inside unless the Turtles get much tougher in the frontcourt.

Thus, the question of whether Maryland can fulfill its purported promise will depend upon more than the Terps finding a solid replacement at PG for Gilchrist. Just as certain as the fact that Maryland is not Duke’s rival in the eyes of Duke and Carolina fans is the fact that point guard John Gilchrist was not responsible for guarding center Sharrod Ford and keeping Ford off the boards when he trashed the Terps in their three games (55 points, 28 rebounds).

Moreover, Maryland was outrebounded by Wake Forest, the top rebounding team in the ACC last season, by 15 boards in their only meeting in 2004-2005, and Wake will have an even more physical frontcourt for the Terps to face this coming season.

Not only will Boston College be equally as tough as Wake on the boards if its suspended center, Sean Williams, makes his expected return to campus in January 2006, but Boston College has superior team ball-handling and Wake is at no disadvantage against Maryland in terms of ball-handling, especially with the departure of Gilchrist.

NC State presents an entirely different problem for the Terps in 2005-2006. Consider that even with Gilchrist around to provide Maryland with most of the quality ball-handling the Terps had last season, NC State absolutely dominated Maryland with the Wolfpack’s superior team ball-handling.

The Pack outscored the Terps 167 to132 in two meetings, led in assists 39 to 22, and had fewer turnovers by a margin of 21 to 31. In 2005-2006, the Wolfpack has the potential to be much improved in the frontcourt besides returning a strong group of ball-handlers.

Though Maryland has some players, the Terps cannot dominate ACC teams with their talent. The combination of the Turtles best players, 6-8 senior WF Nik Caner-Medley (16.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.3 s/g, 0.9 a/t, 46% fg, 34.1% 3-fg, 76.7% ft, 3rd Team All-ACC) and 6-5 senior 2G Chris McCray (14.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.9 s/g, 1.4 a/t, 45.7% fg, 31.7% 3-fg, 90.3% ft, 1st Team All-ACC Defensive Team), ranks 4th to 6th among ACC tandems in terms of talent, being on par with player pairs at Miami (Diaz and Hite) and Virginia Tech (Dowdell and Gordon) and behind combinations at Duke (Redick and Williams), BC (Smith and Dudley), and Wake (Williams and Gray).

Gary “I Am Not The Other” Williams has shown that he can at times coach better, and certainly out-sweat, most ACC coaches, but last season’s coaching job involved much more sweating than quality coaching except when the Terps defeated Duke twice.

The Duke wins were two shining moments for the Terps in an otherwise dark and dismal season. In each meeting with the Devils last season, Coach Williams did some of his best coaching. In those games, Williams designed game plans to exploit Duke’s inability to defend against a tall and athletic WF such as Caner-Medley and to draw fouls from Shelden Williams to exploit Duke’s lack of depth inside. Though Maryland may still have an advantage at WF against Duke this coming season, the Blue Devils have shored up their depth problem inside so that the match-up advantages now clearly weigh in Duke’s
favor in 2005-2006.

Realistically, Maryland must improve dramatically in terms of physical play inside, shooting, and team ball-handling in addition to finding a solid replacement at PG to achieve a national ranking.

Though Maryland has some serious weaknesses to address if the Terps are going to compete on the national level, the mass exodus of talent from the ACC to graduation and the NBA following the 2004-2005 season combined with the presence of 9 seniors and juniors on the Terps’ 2005-2006 roster make Maryland a fairly solid choice to finish in the upper half of the ACC standings even without Gilchrist. Had Gilchrist returned, the Terps would have had at least one more tough and talented player, and Maryland would have been a solid bet to challenge for a top-25 national ranking.

The 2G position at Maryland is in good hands with McCray, who is a superior defender. McCray was spectacular at the foul line last season (90.3%), but surprisingly ineffective shooting from outside the 3-point arc (31.7%).

The lack of physical play from the Terps’ inside people in setting picks and getting outside shooters open was one reason for Maryland’s low team shooting percentage of 33.2% on 3-pointers. Since McCray was the only Terp with a solid assists-to-turnovers ratio last season other than Gilchrist, he did not have the benefit of a good passing team to get him the ball when he was open. 6-5 junior 2G DJ Strawberry (7.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.7 spg, 1.0 a/t, 43.6% fg, 26.9% 3-fg, 61% ft) and 6-5 junior 2G Michael Jones (7.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.6 a/t, 41.1% fg, 35.3% 3-fg, 75.6% ft) give the Turtles outstanding depth at 2G. At the end of the season, Jones was beginning to show promise as a solid ACC player and exceptional shooter, and Strawberry has always excelled on defense.

Wishful Terp fans mention Strawberry as a candidate to replace Gilchrist at point guard, though Strawberry has none of the offensive or ball-handling talent and skills necessary to be comparable to Gilchrist as a PG. Further, Strawberry is coming back to the team from a severe knee injury suffered last season that left him restricted from attempting lateral movement until July 2005. A backcourt of McCray at 2G and Strawberry at PG would be especially imposing defensively if Strawberry recovers fully from his injury, but it is doubtful that the sluggish Maryland offense of last season would be improved with that combination of guards.

The true point guards for the Turtles are 6-4 senior Sterling Ledbetter (3.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.0 a/t, 2.0 apg, 42.4% fg, 23.1% 3-fg, 75.8% ft) and 6-1 junior JUCO transfer Parrish Brown. Playing against South Carolina in Maryland’s final game of the season, with Gilchrist injured and not playing, Ledbetter managed 1 assist to go with 6 turnovers as Maryland bowed out of the Post-season NIT.

Apparently, Ledbetter does not match up well against teams from The Palmetto State, since he had 1 assist and 4 turnovers against Clemson as the Turtles bowed out of the ACC Tournament and 5 assists in 3 games against Clemson to go with 9 turnovers.

In sum, in the last 5 games of the season in which Ledbetter replaced Gilchrist, Ledbetter totaled 21 turnovers and 21 assists, with most of the assists coming against the weaker opponents.

To give the Turtles another option at PG, Parrish Brown, a combo guard who averaged 22 ppg, was recruited in the spring. Brown was not ranked
among the better 2005 JUCO prospects, but the opportunity for playing time exists for him at Maryland if he can run the offense and protect the ball, and Brown certainly excelled offensively his final JUCO season.

If Jared Dudley of BC had not become an ACC player on July 1, 2005, the Terps’ Caner-Medley would be the best WF in the ACC in 2005-2006. By comparison, Dudley is far superior as a ball-handler and passer and a better rebounder. Both players are solid rebounders and accurate shooters from the free-throw line. Neither Caner-Medley nor Dudley is especially solid from outside the 3-point arc, though they can make that shot a decent percentage of the time for a WF. 6-7 freshman WF Shane Clark (Prep Stars # 91) will provide an athletic backup for Caner-Medley. Clark is thin and lacking in strength, but he is quick and highly skilled. 6-8 senior PF Travis Garrison (10.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 0.6 a/t, 44.4% fg, 37.5% 3-fg, 81.9% ft) is the returning starter at PF.

Garrison was a prime example of Maryland’s soft and inconsistent effort inside, so he could lose his starting spot or playing time to 6-8 soph PF James Gist (6.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.0 bpg, 0.4 a/t, 49.3% fg, 61.8% ft). Still, Garrison was second only to Gilchrist as the most accurate 3-point shooter the Terps had last season, and Garrison is a far more skilled shooter than Gist from anywhere on the court more than 5 feet from the basket. Neither player is a good ball-handler, but Gist is even worse than Garrison in that regard.

With Garrison and Gist, Maryland should have a solid starter and reserve at PF. 6-6 freshman PF David Neal (Prep Stars # 182) has a chance to contribute early, since he is expected to add toughness to the soft Maryland frontcourt. At the post position, the Terps have 6-9 junior C Ekene Ibekwe (8.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 0.3 a/t, 40.9% fg, 15.8% 3-fg, 55.2% ft) and 7-1 junior C Will Bowers (2.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 0.5 a/t, 40% fg, 62.9% ft). Ibekwe and Bowers are raw and developing, but they showed promise to become decent ACC players last season. Ibekwe provided solid defense except when he faced bulky players, and Bowers provided solid post play except when he faced players with better than average mobility.

With a lineup filled with upperclassmen, many of whom are solid ACC players, Maryland should be able to compete for a spot in the upper division of the talent-depleted ACC in 2005-2006. Behind the starters are players who provide solid depth that should allow the Terps to play aggressive defense that could result in easy baskets. By turning defense into open court offensive opportunities, Maryland could disguise its weakness on offense at PG and in team ball-handling and shooting that encourages teams to force the Terps into a half-court game. One obvious reason that the Terps fared much better against Duke last season than against weaker ACC teams that handled the Turtles rather easily was that the weaker teams forced Maryland to play against zone defenses while Duke allowed Maryland to exploit Duke’s weaknesses in team depth and defensively at WF by playing man-to-man defense.

Coach K may have become complacent about Duke’s preparation for Maryland after building a 28-8 record, now 28-11, against “Not The Other” Williams over the years that they have both been in the ACC, but the numerous other outstanding coaches throughout the ACC have apparently noted that the Terps do not have all of the components necessary to adjust to certain styles of play. Those observers of college basketball who have picked Maryland to start the 2005-2006 season in the top-10 or top-20 nationally must be thinking of the Maryland Terrapins who looked so good for one weekend in March 2004 when they captured Maryland’s first ACC Tournament Championship in 20 years.

That team of Terps was led in the ACC Tournament by a physical senior interior player named Jamar Smith, who provided rebounding, toughness and scoring, and an exceptional young PG named John Gilchrist, who provided clutch scoring and brilliant play overall. Last season, Maryland missed Jamar Smith’s toughness in the frontcourt more than anyone could have imagined and Gilchrist became a pariah to Terp fans deservedly or not.

Coming into next season, only the most deluded Terp fans can seriously believe that losing a superior PG like John Gilchrist will eliminate Maryland’s weaknesses at positions other than PG and cure all of the Turtles’ deficiencies. Perhaps the Terps will find a way to compete for 2nd place in the ACC this coming season with the ACC being down in overall talent as compared to last season, but Maryland could also find itself as the 8th seed in the ACC Tournament for the second year in a row if the Terps cannot find a solid PG replacement for Gilchrist and answers to a few entirely unrelated issues that took the fear out of the Turtles during the 2004-2005 season.