Saturday, March 13, 2010

Terps fall to GT, show their weaknesses

Despite Maryland's 69-64 loss to Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals, the Terps are still having a fantastic season. Maryland is now 23-8 overall and 13-3 in the ACC, and ESPN's Joe Lunardi thinks they're a five-seed at the moment. That's pretty solid for a team that at the beginning of the season many thought would be on the bubble all the way until Selection Sunday. A nice run in the ACC Tournament would have been great, and it would have given the Terps a chance at a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament, but Georgia Tech didn't let that happen.

But even though this was just one game, Maryland should be concerned heading into the NCAA Tournament -- but more on that in a minute. Let's get back to last night's game first.

What a strange game. Early on, Maryland couldn't seem to do anything right on offense, and Georgia Tech had everything working on both sides of the ball. Georgia Tech held Maryland to just 25 first-half points and completely shut down the Maryland offense. The Terps had a hard time scoring in general, missing both open and contested shots; the Terps didn't even make a three-pointer until the second half.

Meanwhile, Georgia Tech was able to score inside and outside and also owned the boards. Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal were controlling the paint, and Iman Shumpert and bench players Maurice Miller and Brian Oliver seemed to be knocking down jumpers at will.

At halftime, Maryland trailed by 16, 41-25. But then almost immediately after the second half started, Georgia Tech morphed into a different team. They couldn't take care of the ball and struggled to even get the ball past mid-court several times. Sure, Georgia Tech is turnover-prone, but that display of ball-handling and passing was ridiculous. But Maryland wasn't complaining, and they quickly cut into GT's lead.

With about eight or nine minutes to go, Georgia Tech finally stopped messing around and got back to business. They started to get the ball inside again, which also opened up more outside shots for Miller (3-4) and Oliver (3-5). Normally against Miller, that's a good strategy; he's only made 21.9 percent of his threes this season. But Oliver is probably Georgia Tech's best shooting option (38.8 percent three-point shooter), and he made Maryland pay.

Maryland wasted a lot of energy simply getting back into the game, and they just couldn't hit a big shot down the stretch. Eric Hayes missed a few perimeter shots to either give Maryland the lead or just tie the game, and Greivis Vasquez couldn't get some off-balanced shots of his own to fall in crunch time. There's no question that Georgia Tech's length bothered Maryland and forced them into more difficult shots.

Looking at the final game stats, Georgia Tech dominated a few key categories. The Yellow Jackets shot 55.8 percent from the field; Maryland shot only 37.3 percent. Georgia Tech also uncharacteristically made eight of 12 three-pointers, while Maryland made just four of 21. Georgia Tech also outrebounded Maryland by 10 (38-28). Two things kept the game close: Georgia Tech's horrible free throw shooting (13-27) and inability to take care of the ball (25 turnovers and 16 steals for Maryland). If Georgia Tech shoots a little better from the line and doesn't throw the ball away several times, Maryland would never have closed the gap.

As for the Maryland starters, Hayes (14 points on 6-12 shooting) and Landon Milbourne (15 points on 7-14 shooting) led the way on offense. Vasquez scored a game-high 17 points, but it took him 21 shots to do so -- and he made only six of them. Sean Mosley had an awful offensive game, missing all seven of his field goal attempts and finishing the game without any points. Jordan Williams battled foul trouble the entire game but still finished with seven points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes. He even made five of six free throws, which is definitely an improvement for him.

On a night like this, Maryland could really have used a bench player catching fire and knocking down a few threes, but that didn't happen. Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker, and Dino Gregory combined to score 11 points on 5-8 shooting, which is pretty strong. Bowie and Tucker only played 10 and 13 minutes, respectively, though, so they didn't have much of a chance to get into a rhythm and start knocking down shots.

Georgia Tech deserves a lot of credit for taking it right to Maryland and playing inspired basketball for much of the game. I'm sure many people watching the game thought Maryland was going to take the lead for good at some point after coming all the way back, but GT righted the ship and finished the game with the win.

Now, back to what I was talking about earlier: Maryland should be a little worried heading into the tournament. Every team has weaknesses, but Maryland has two that are pretty obvious. Let's take a look:

1) Teams with big, athletic frontcourts present major problems for Maryland. This obviously isn't any kind of secret, but Maryland usually struggles against bigger and longer inside players. Last night, Favors and Lawal each had 11 rebounds and altered several shots in the paint. Besides Williams and Gregory, the Terps don't really have any other options to defend big guys. Case in point: For one long stretch in the second half when Maryland went small, Mosley (6'4) was defending Favors (6'10). Normally, this would have been a huge matchup advantage for Georgia Tech, but Favors, a freshman, doesn't quite understand yet how to make Maryland pay for doing something like that. Now, Maryland only had to do that because of Williams's foul trouble, but a situation like that could certainly occur in the tournament. If Maryland's opponent has experienced big men, and the Terps are in foul trouble again, there could be a huge mismatch inside.

2) Maryland hasn't really been that good at defending the three-point line this season. The Terps are ranked 10th (third-to-last) in the ACC in three-point field goal defense, allowing opponents to shoot 33.3 percent. That isn't terrible, and defense like that would have been helpful in possibly completing the comeback against Georgia Tech last night, but a team like Duke (first in the ACC) holds opponents to just 27 percent from behind the line.

Now, problem No. 1 has a large part to do with problem No. 2. Because Maryland is relatively small in the frontcourt, sometimes they double down on post players, or at least try to give some help to their forwards. And since most of their concern is in trying to stop opponents from getting easy buckets in the paint, sometimes shooters are left wide open. I actually thought Maryland did a pretty good job with this against Georgia Tech -- I mean, who thought Miller was going to turn into a great three-point shooter last night? Leaving Oliver wide open several times, though, wasn't a good idea.

The good thing is that the Terps knows what their problems are. Williams absolutely has to stay out of foul trouble if Maryland is going to advance far in the tournament, and Maryland must defend the three-point line better than they did last night. Vasquez also can't have any more performances like last night's, or Maryland may be in big trouble heading forward.

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