Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More-balanced Maryland should be able to handle Houston

(Note: I realize that things here have been a little Terps-heavy lately, but really, what do you expect? It's almost tournament time. Baseball season is right around the corner (thankfully), but the Wizards have been awful lately and the Redskins haven't made a whole lot of headlines, other than signing Larry Johnson. Seriously though, how bad of a Redskins offseason would it be if their biggest free agent move is signing Johnson and their first-round pick is Jimmy Clausen? Count me among the fans who would rather the Redskins didn't draft Brady Quinn version 2.0. But back to the Terps.)

If you've heard anything at all about Maryland's opponent on Friday, the Houston Cougars, it's probably that they have the nation's leading scorer, Aubrey Coleman. Coleman (6'4, 200 pounds) averages 25.6 points per game on 42.5 percent shooting, though he isn't a particularly great three-point shooter (31.8 percent). He does get to the free throw line a lot -- nine times a game -- and he is a solid shooter from the line (74.5 percent). Coleman also averages 7.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.3 turnovers, and 2.7 steals in nearly 37 minutes per game. As you would expect from the nation's leading scorer, Coleman scored 30 points or more nine times, and in the middle of the season he had a stretch of 11 straight games in which he scored at least 22 points.

But while Coleman is a fantastic talent (and someone you don't want to take a charge from at mid-court), it's not surprising to discover that he takes a lot of shots. He's taken nearly 700 shots and 20.5 field goal attempts per game, which both lead the nation. When Coleman has the ball, he is looking to attack and put up points -- not so much to set up his teammates.

It'll be interesting to see whether Greivis Vasquez guards Coleman or not. I'd like to think Sean Mosley would start the game out defending Coleman, but I'm sure that, at some point, Vasquez and Coleman will face off against each other. The two guards weigh about the same, but Vasquez (6'6) is a little taller and his length may be something that bothers Coleman for a brief period during the game.

Comparing Coleman is Vasquez is a little difficult because there's no arguing that Coleman is a scorer before anything else. Vasquez is more of a playmaker; he averages fewer points (19.5), rebounds (4.6), and steals (1.7), than Coleman, but he dishes out more assists (6.3) and, unfortunately, commits more turnovers (3.4). Vasquez is a little more efficient, though, shooting slightly better from the field (42.9 percent), better from three-point range (37.0 percent), and better from the free throw line (85.1 percent).

As for looking at the rest of Houston's team, they're similar to Maryland in that they use a rotation of eight-to-nine players. And you might have guessed from this post's title that they're a little top-heavy in terms of scoring. After Coleman, Kelvin Lewis averages 15.3 points per game in 36.5 minutes. His overall field goal percentage is pretty low (41.1 percent), but he shoots threes better than Coleman (39.8 percent), which makes him a decent sidekick. After Lewis, things drop off significantly (scoring wise): Maurice McNeil (8.3 points), Adam Brown (7.8), Desmond Wade (5.9), Zamal Nixon (5.8), Kendrick Washington (4.2), Sean Coleman (3.9), and Kirk Van Slyke (3.5).

The Terps usually share the scoring burden and shoot more efficiently from the field than Houston. After Vasquez, Maryland's leading scorers are Landon Milbourne (12.5 points), Eric Hayes (11.1), Sean Mosley (10.5), Jordan Williams (9.2), Cliff Tucker (5.8), Adrian Bowie (4.5), Dino Gregory (4.4), and James Padgett (3.0).

Houston plays an up-tempo game and is looking to shoot three-pointers whenever they're available. Maryland, on the other hand, is more concerned with getting quality shots -- even though that doesn't always happen -- and running Gary Williams's offense (the flex). Scouting reports on Houston basically say they have a wide open offense without many set plays, other than setting some screens. Maryland has had some trouble defending teams like this in the past (think the Memphis game in the NCAA Tournament last year), but no one on Houston is nearly as talented or as athletic as Tyreke Evans.

Maryland should have the advantage inside and on the glass, which isn't something they could say a whole lot this year going into any game. As long as Williams stays out of foul trouble, Maryland will likely feed him the ball early to get him going. And when Maryland gets some scoring in the post, their offense usually opens up and shooters frequently get open looks.

It's not shocking to look at both teams and come to the conclusion that Maryland (No. 4 seed) is better than Houston (No. 13 seed). But the Terps (cliche alert) still have to play their game and focus on trying to lock down Coleman and Lewis, or if they can't do that, then at least locking down the rest of Cougars. If Houston hits a ton of threes or Maryland (i.e., Vasquez) starts putting up shots at the same rate that Houston does, this game could come down to the wire. However, I expect Maryland to play disciplined basketball and represent the ACC well.

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