Wednesday, March 31, 2010

O's questions, links, and thoughts as Opening Day approaches

The Orioles begin the season on the road against Tampa Bay on April 6, and I can't wait. There's no guarantee that this Orioles season will be any different from previous disappointing seasons, but there is at least a bit of hope. Then again, it would be hard for the Orioles to do any worse than the Redskins or Wizards, so that's something to look forward to.

First things first: Here's the 25-man roster that the Orioles will start the season with, via Peter Schmuck:

Starting pitchers: Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, David Hernandez
Relievers: Mike Gonzalez, Jim Johnson, Mark Hendrickson, Matt Albers, Cla Meredith, Will Ohman, Jason Berken, Koji Uehara (DL)
Catchers: Matt Wieters, Craig Tatum
Infielders: Brian Roberts, Miguel Tejada, Garrett Atkins, Cesar Izturis, Ty Wigginton, Robert Andino
Outfielders: Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold, Luke Scott, Felix Pie

Not too shabby. You'll probably notice a few things: Craig Tatum made the team over Chad Moeller; David Hernandez beat out Chris Tillman for the fifth spot in the starting rotation; and Jason Berken apparently will be the long man in the bullpen while Uehara is on the disabled list. At least that's what caught my eye at first.

The real surprise (to me) is that Tatum made the team over Moeller. It's not that Moeller is any kind of spectacular back-up catching option, just that most O's fans were led to believe that Moeller would make the team and sort of groom Wieters and give him veteran advice throughout the season. (Peter Schmuck thought the same thing.) In parts of 10 seasons, here are Moeller's numbers: .226/.288/.351, 29 HR. Tatum (27 years old), on the other hand, has only played in 26 career games -- all of them coming in 2009 with the Reds. In those games, he hit .162/.250/.221 with 1 HR. For what it's worth, Tatum, in six minor league seasons, hit a combined .252/.318/.384 with 34 HR, so he's obviously not on the Orioles for his offense. Here is Dave Trembley explaining the decision to keep Tatum over Moeller:

Craig Tatum is regarded as the better defensive player, which is why he beat out Chad Moeller.

"I think that's the only consideration," Trembley said. "You come down to Tatum and his ability to catch and throw. And I think it's pretty obvious."

Trembley doesn't believe that Moeller is needed to mentor Matt Wieters or the young pitchers.

"This is Wieters' team," Trembley said. "This is Wieters' pitching staff. We're expecting a lot from Matt Wieters. Chad Moeller is not there for Wieters any more. We feel confident that Wieters now, boom, it's yours."

Pretty interesting stuff, and it tells you how much that Trembley and the O's front office think of Wieters to make a decision like that. There's obviously no way to know how much Moeller's mentoring and veteran leadership helped Wieters, but that doesn't mean Moeller didn't bring anything to the table. But again, it's nice to see that the Orioles aren't just keeping veterans around just for the sake of doing it. However, since Tatum isn't much of a hitter, he'll need to control the pitching staff and running game while Wieters isn't behind the plate.

Here's what Trembley had to say about keeping Hernandez over Tillman (from the same Roch link):

"What we're doing is the best thing for the team and for his development," Trembley said. "He was put in a situation last year where he came up to the big leagues because of need. We had an awful lot of injuries and we had an awful lot of movement. He is going to be a fantastic major league pitcher for a long time, but there are some things that he needs to get better at, and we'd rather see him do that at Triple-A than in the big leagues."

It's hard to argue with that, and it's nice that the Orioles don't have to simply rush Tillman's development along just because he was on the team last year for a few months. Hernandez showed some improvement and earned the chance to start the team as the No. 5 starter; it doesn't mean that he'll be in that role for the whole season. And it's also a positive that the Orioles have a few options to consider when it comes to competent starting pitchers -- and that's something that should be consistent in the years to come. Also, here's what Rob Neyer thinks (hint: it's a good thing):

[I]t's struck me this spring that, for all the talk about nobody having enough pitching, a lot of teams have a No. 6 starter with real promise. The Yankees, Red Sox, Reds, Orioles, Padres, Rangers, Twins ... there are a lot of good young pitchers out there who aren't quite good enough yet to crack their team's rotation.

As for Berken winning the long-man role by default, well, that's fine. Because there have only been maybe two or three televised games, I haven't had the chance to see him pitch. According to Dan Connolly, in six appearances this spring, Berken has an ERA of 2.84. Last year he was downright terrible -- 6-12, 6.54 ERA, 1.43 HR/9, 1.50 K/BB -- but maybe he'll do a little better in the mop-up role. As for Uehara, will he ever be healthy enough to contribute to this team again? The O's could really use him in the bullpen.

Now, on to another surprising move: Apparently Miguel Tejada will begin the season as the O's cleanup hitter. Dan Connolly:

If Roberts has rebounded from a herniated disk, he'll bat leadoff, with Adam Jones likely second, Nick Markakis third and Miguel Tejada at cleanup. Trembley has juggled several lineups this spring, including using various options in the fourth spot. Tejada has been there the most, and Trembley acknowledged Sunday that he thinks the veteran is his best current option at cleanup.

"He is the most experienced guy," Trembley said about Tejada. "That doesn't mean he will be there all the time, but he is the most experienced guy."

Trembley said he prefers to have a left-hander or switch-hitter behind Tejada, which means switch-hitting catcher Matt Wieters or lefty designated hitter Luke Scott likely would bat fifth. Trembley has used Wieters at fifth and fourth at different times this spring.

Roberts appears to be healthy, so he should have no problem starting the season at second base and in the leadoff spot. And that's great; losing Roberts for any significant chunk of the season would be rather detrimental to the O's offense. And although the Orioles don't really have a prototypical cleanup hitter at the moment, Tejada may not be the best option for that spot. Since Wieters isn't quite ready yet and Nolan Reimold won't be starting the season at 100 percent, Luke Scott seems like the better option to hit fourth. Now, I'll preface this by saying that it's not really a big deal, but let's at least see which one-through-four combination looks better:

Roberts, Jones, Markakis, Tejada; or
Roberts, Markakis, Jones, Scott.

Roberts definitely stays in the leadoff spot, and Nick Markakis and Adam Jones simply flip-flop spots. Now let's compare Tejada's and Scott's career numbers:

Tejada: .289/.341/.469, 285 HR, 6.3 BB%
Scott: .264/.350/.495, 76 HR, 11.1 BB%

Tejada is still a good hitter, and he even hit 46 doubles while batting .313 during a much-improved 2009 season. But Scott hit 11 more home runs last season (25 to 14), drew 36 more walks (55 to 19), and simply seems like the better option to hit fourth right now. Starting the season with Tejada hitting cleanup is one thing, but keeping him there for an extended period of time doesn't seem like a good idea. Unless Tejada starts out the season on fire, hopefully Trembley moves him down the lineup a few places.

Two other notes: Millwood will get the Opening Day start, which was expected, and Felix Pie will start in the left field as well. The start for Pie is a little surprising, only because of how well Reimold played last season. But Trembley's reasoning makes a lot of sense:

"This is not a slight on (Nolan) Reimold, but this is the right thing for Reimold. He's not 100 percent. You think I'm going to go ask him to bust his butt on turf?" Trembley said.

"That kid is as tough as nails. We all saw him play for three months last year, half a player. Never complained, never did nothing."

Even if you're the biggest Reimold fan, it would be hard to disagree with Trembley. The goal is to be healthy for the whole season, so what's the rush in hurrying Reimold along while he's healing? Pie is also the better outfielder and has been steadily improving at the plate.

The roster is slightly different from what I thought it would look like on Opening Day, but it's not too difficult to see why the O's are making certain decisions. I'm excited to see what they can do this season.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Site news

I know it's been a few days since I posted something, but I'm working on a decent-sized Orioles post, which should be up in a day or so.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wizards lose 13th in a row, this time to Indiana

It wasn't just any game that the Wizards lost last night. Sure, the Wizards have been awful lately -- 13 losses in a row awful, which ties the franchise record -- but last night was a different kind of bad. The Wizards lost by 17, 99-82, despite a bench player, in this case James Singleton, posting 19 points and a whopping 21 rebounds. The Wizards also allowed Josh McRoberts, who currently averages 3.6 points and 2.3 rebounds, to score 14 points and grab 12 rebounds. And Troy Murphy collected a Pacer-high 19 rebounds. And although the Pacers shot much better from the field than the Wizards -- 44.6 percent to 36.5 percent -- the Pacers made just six of 28 three-point attempts and still won by a comfortable margin.

But, again, the Wizards have been terrible lately, so it's not surprising that they lost to a rather mediocre team last night.

You also may have heard about this Andray Blatche-Flip Saunders ordeal, which was kind of a big deal Tuesday night and yesterday. Long story short, Saunders tried to discuss a bad defensive play by Blatche in transition against the Charlotte Bobcats, only Blatche was having none of it and apparently ignored Saunders and the rest of the coaches while he sulked on the bench for whatever reason. After that, Saunders removed Blatche from the game in the first quarter, and Blatche never went back into the game. After the game, Saunders had this to say: "In my fifteen years [of coaching], I've never seen anything like it. I'm more disappointed in him that I've ever been with a player in my coaching career."

So you probably know how this whole thing played out last night. Saunders was so upset with Blatche that Blatche started last night's game and played 39 minutes. Wait, what? How is that possible? Even if Saunders deserves some blame for the whole incident, how does Blatche get off basically scot-free despite angering his coach to the point of making him go on a post-game tirade that made all the rounds in sports radio and the blogosphere? Did Ernie Grunfeld have the final say in this? There's just no way that Saunders got over Blatche's actions that quickly. For the record, this is what he said after the Bobcats game:

"I would doubt it," Saunders said when asked if Blatche would play against the Pacers. "Right now I don't know, but I would doubt it."

And then before the game, Saunders acted like the whole thing was behind him, which led to some curious comments:

"He's going to start," Saunders said. "As I told him, when he came out of the game, it was a situation that if he wanted to go back in the game he had to talk to me, accept coaching. We talked about the situation, he didn't want to talk during the game about it, so he didn't play. We talked. It's over with. You move forward."

When someone mentioned to Blatche before the game that he was going to start, Blatche said, "I wonder why."

He said he never worried about not playing. "I wasn't worried at all," Blatche said. "I didn't do nothing wrong, so I didn't have anything to worry about. It was a situation that occurred. It should die down within time. Most important thing right now is to try to get a win."

For Blatche to say with a straight face that he did nothing wrong is downright laughable. He showed up Saunders and his coaching staff by ignoring them for the rest of the Bobcats game, and then yesterday he even went on The Mike Wise Show on 106.7 The Fan to make it seem like he was the victim in this situation. To defend himself is one thing, but Blatche didn't just do that:

"[Saunders] said that in the meeting after the game. Coaches are never wrong. And that's the problem. That's the problem right there. I mean, as a man, everybody makes mistakes. But as a man, you have to learn how to apologize, and therefore he needs to apologize, because he was wrong, because I never said that."

Wow. Of course coaches make mistakes, but you don't say something like that on a radio show for everyone to hear. And it's probably best to not mention that at all, especially less than 24 hours after the whole thing.

So, again, I don't really know why Blatche played last night, though this whole thing will probably go away. Hopefully it doesn't resurface down the road, but with a player like Blatche who seems to always have a dark cloud following him, I wouldn't be all that surprised.

I'd be thrilled if Blatche grew up and realized just how good of a player he can be. The saddest part in this whole mess is that Blatche has been awesome since the departure of Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison. He's one of the few bright spots this team has, and fans want to side with him in most cases. But trying to throw Saunders under the bus is the wrong way to grow as a player. The last thing the Washington sports world needs is another prima donna athlete, especially a 23-year-old one on a team that just lost its 13th straight game.

Here are some other Blatche-related links to check out:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Landesberg leaving Virginia

This isn't news about one of my favorite teams (far from it), but it does impact one of them (Maryland basketball). Apparently Virginia sophomore guard Sylven Landesberg is leaving the University of Virginia to "pursue a professional career":

"I have discussed Sylven's future with the Landesberg family and been informed that he will be leaving the University of Virginia to pursue his professional aspirations," [head coach Tony] Bennett said. "I am thankful for the significant contributions Sylven made to the Virginia basketball program and wish him success in his future endeavors."

Virginia (15-16, 5-11) wasn't a great team last year, but they did improve somewhat under Bennett in his first season as head coach. And Landesberg could have been an important part of that growth process going forward. According to the ACC's website, Landesberg was the fifth-highest scorer in the ACC this season with 17.8 points per game, and he was the highest scoring sophomore ahead of Al-Farouq Aminu (14.8 points).

Since the Terps are losing three seniors -- Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes, and Landon Milbourne -- not having to face Landesberg twice next season helps Maryland out a little bit.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Related links on Michigan St. vs. Maryland

I realize this is a few days late, but wow, what a way to lose. But maybe Mike Wise was right (link below) -- maybe that was the only way the Greivis Vasquez era at Maryland could end. I thought about dissecting the game, but really, I don't think there's a point. Michigan State played better for most of the game. They shot better and held a huge advantage on the boards. Many times, the Spartans were quicker to the ball and there's no question they were physically better than Maryland. In a way, you could say they deserved to win, but there's no such thing in sports. That run by Maryland at the end was amazing -- no one could say differently. Vasquez helped bring the Terps back at the end, but it just wasn't enough.

The Terps didn't make it to the Sweet 16, which is obviously disappointing. But by no means does it mean that this season wasn't a success. Maryland did just as much in the NCAA Tournament as Georgia Tech and Wake Forest (more counting the regular season) despite not having the same level of talent. That might seem like a moral victory, but instead of focusing on a few negatives about this team or their limitations as a whole, I'll focus on that collective effort with time running out that almost put the Terps in the Sweet 16. I'll remember the heroic victory over Duke in front of a raucous home crowd and that huge double overtime win over Virginia Tech that was delayed several hours because of a water main break. I'll remember the performances by Vasquez and the Terps in front of crowds at Florida State (yelling "Deport Vasquez!") and Virginia Tech (chanting "USA! USA!"). I'll also remember that hard-to-stomach home loss to William & Mary (because I was there) and watching Maryland transform into a much better team by the time I went to another game -- an 88-64 blowout win over N.C. State. And obviously it'll be difficult to forget Vasquez and Eric Hayes -- not to mention Landon Milbourne -- for how hard they played and how much they meant to this team.

Here are some links reflecting on the Terps' latest crushing loss and their overall season:
  • "Maryland Terrapins go down with a fight against Michigan State" -- Mike Wise
  • "Michigan State's last-second shot leaves Maryland's heralded senior trio at a loss" -- Steve Yanda
  • "Thoughts on Greivis Vasquez and the Maryland's Seniors' Final Game, 24 Hours Later" -- Testudo Times
  • "A dozen things I'll remember" -- Andy Katz
  • "Maryland's season ends with 85-83 loss to Michigan State" -- Terrapins Insider
  • "Eventually, I will learn not to bet against Tom Izzo in the NCAA Tournament" -- Ballin' is a Habit
  • "Lucious Beats Buzzer, Maryland for Hobbled Michigan State" -- FanHouse
  • "Remembering Greivis Vasquez" -- DC Landing Strip
  • "Gary Williams gets choked up over Greivis" -- D.C. Sports Bog

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Maryland beats Houston, moves on to second round

Fourth-seeded Maryland took down No. 13 Houston 89-77 last night with an impressive showing, particularly by Jordan Williams, who scored 21 points on 9-14 shooting and also grabbed 17 rebounds (nine more than anyone else). Other strong performances:

Greivis Vasquez: 16 points, seven rebounds, six assists (though only 5-13 from the field)
Eric Hayes: 11 points, six assists
Landon Milbourne: 19 points, seven rebounds (though only 6-15 from the field)

The bench -- Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker, and Dino Gregory -- chipped in 18 points in 49 combined minutes. Tucker also grabbed seven rebounds in just 10 minutes, but he did commit two pretty bad turnovers late in the second half. Bowie also did a pretty good job against Aubrey Coleman in the second half and seemed to do a better job staying in front of him -- not an easy task.

With the win, Maryland will face No. 5 Michigan State at 2:30 on Sunday.

I'm not going to do a more in-depth comparison of the teams like I did with Houston-Maryland, but quickly, here are how the two teams stack up in terms of season stats.

Maryland 79.6 38.9 16.4 47.2 37.9 72.6 11.8 1.28
Michigan State 72.5 39.1 16.7 47.1 33.5 68.2 13.9 1.28

Interesting matchup. Maryland is a little more efficient on offense -- better three-point shooting and free throw shooting -- but the field goal percentages are almost identical. Maryland plays a little more up-tempo than Michigan State, who likes to slow things down Big Ten-style. One odd thing is that Maryland plays a little faster but commits fewer turnovers, which may be something to pay attention to. The Terps do seemingly hold an edge -- but just a slight one.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Happy tournament day

May all your upsets take place (unless you have Maryland losing tomorrow) and all your picks be correct. Good luck and enjoy the games.

Oh, and one more thing: Get ready for some Gus Johnson!

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.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Terps to face Houston in first round

After a disappointing exit in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals, Maryland (23-8, 13-3) discovered yesterday that their regular season accomplishments warranted them a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, the Terps have to deal with two unfortunate consequences of receiving that high seed number: 1) they have to travel to Spokane, Washington, and 2) they seem to have been placed in the most difficult bracket, the Midwest regional, which includes the overall top seed, Kansas, and several other strong teams such as Ohio State, Georgetown, Michigan State, and Tennessee.

In the first round, Maryland will face Houston (19-15, 7-9) on Friday night. I haven't had the chance to watch Houston play this season, but they're only in the tournament because they won the Conference USA Tournament with an 81-73 victory over UTEP (who made the tournament as a 12 seed in the West regional).

Here are some overall team numbers to at least get an idea how these two teams stack up against each other:

Houston 78.6 34.0 12.6 1.4/1 42.0 35.6 71.3 1.20
Maryland 79.3 38.6 16.4 1.4/1 47.2 38.4 72.2 1.28

As you can see, Maryland is more efficient on offense and is the better shooting team while also playing in a much more difficult conference. Both teams turn the ball over the same amount, but the Terps, led by the occasionally reckless Greivis Vasquez, dish out more assists.

The Terps also have several more impressive victories than Houston:

Houston's good wins: UTEP (twice), Memphis (twice)
Maryland's good wins: Florida State (twice), Georgia Tech, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Duke

It's not shocking to see that Maryland seems to hold an advantage over Houston in terms of overall team statistics and wins/losses. I'll take a look at individual advantages/weaknesses in a day or so.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Moving on

As you already know by now, Maryland had a tough loss on Friday. They were knocked out of the ACC Tournament by Georgia Tech. It happens.

As Gary Williams and the rest of the team has surely done by now, it's time to move on and think about the NCAA Tournament. Today is Selection Sunday, and Maryland fans should be grateful. The Terps are already a lock for the tournament, which should be thought of as a luxury considering how often the Terps of the last several years were stuck on the bubble.

The Terps have a solid team and a great chance to get to the Sweet 16. Let's hope for some tournament magic and see what happens.

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.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Looking back at Georgia Tech-Maryland I

For a few moments last night it looked like Maryland would be facing UNC in the second round of the ACC Tournament. Instead, Georgia Tech fought back after trailing by 10 at halftime and outscored UNC 38-24 in the second half to earn a 62-58 win and advance to face Maryland for the second time this season.

There's no denying that the UNC-GT game was ugly. UNC shot just 33.3 percent from the field, while Georgia Tech shot just under 43 percent. Neither team shot three-pointers well at all: UNC was 2-16 and Georgia Tech was 5-19. UNC had 16 assists and 10 turnovers, which isn't too bad, I guess, but Georgia Tech had only 11 assists to go with 14 turnovers. Again, neither team played that well, and if it wasn't for ACC Freshman of the Year Derrick Favors -- 18 points (7-8 from the field, nine rebounds, five blocks -- Georgia Tech probably would have lost.

But that game doesn't matter now, as Maryland will face Georgia Tech tonight at 7. In the two teams' first meeting, a 76-74 Maryland win on that Cliff Tucker buzzer-beater, the game was, believe it or not, pretty even. Maryland shot slightly better from the field -- 43.1 percent to 41.2 percent -- but Georgia Tech shot better from three-point range -- 7-15 to Maryland's 8-22 mark. Georgia Tech also outrebounded the Terps by nine -- 44-35 -- which probably can't happen today if the Terps are going to advance to play the winner of Florida State and N.C. State.

Georgia Tech is another team that presents a difficult matchup for forward Landon Milbourne (6'7): Favors is 6'10 and Gani Lawal is 6'9. Milbourne usually struggles against taller and longer defenders because they make it more difficult for him to simply shoot his mid-range jumper over them, which he'd prefer to do. In the first meeting, Milbourne scored just five points on 2-11 shooting. Still, he kept his head in the game, and in 34 minutes he grabbed seven rebounds and blocked two shots -- and didn't turn the ball over. Those certainly aren't great numbers, but it could have been much worse. But I doubt that Milbourne can have that kind of shooting game again if Maryland is to win.

A key factor may be the play of the backcourt tandem of Adrian Bowie and Tucker off the bench. Tucker gives the Terps a spark when he scores a few buckets, and Bowie has played well lately, scoring nine points against Duke (on 4-4 shooting) and eight points against Virginia (on 3-3 shooting). If the Terps starting five isn't as efficient as usual, Maryland's going to need that scoring punch off the bench.

Or Tucker could just hit another game-winner if he has to.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Five O's listed in top 50 AL prospect list

In many cases, MLB prospect rankings are similar to NFL and NBA mock drafts -- they have to be taken with a grain of salt. Obviously they shouldn't be taken as fact; however, people love lists and they're still interesting to look at.

With that being said, Marc Hulet of FanGraphs recently completed his project of ranking the top 10 prospects in every organization as well as going back and looking at draft picks from the last few years (in the first three rounds). According to Hulet, the enormous task took more than five months and 30,000 words, so I'd guess he has a decent idea of what he's talking about, to say the least.

On Friday, FanGraphs is going to post Hulet's top 100 MLB prospects list, but yesterday his top 50 American League prospects list was posted. Here's where O's prospects ranked on his list:

6. Brian Matusz
19. Josh Bell
36. Brandon Erbe
39. Jake Arrieta
42. Zach Britton

Not bad at all. The only real surprise is the high ranking of Erbe, who didn't make Baseball America's top 100 prospects list. But Erbe has a ton of potential and certainly has the talent to keep advancing through the O's farm system.

Anyway, go check out Hulet's complete list, and keep an eye out for his top 100 MLB prospects list on Friday.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Roberts's injury is a big deal

Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail commented on Brian Roberts's injury (a herniated disc) yesterday and expressed some concern that he may not be ready at the beginning of the season. Here are some of MacPhail's comments, via Jeff Zrebiec's article:

"I talked to Richie Bancells, our head athletic trainer, about it again today, and at this time he still thinks Brian is going to be ready for Opening Day, but you have to be concerned now," MacPhail said. "To me, you get 10 days into spring training before you start really paying attention, but the clock is starting to be an issue. ... By now, we have to start thinking about, 'What if he isn't ready?'"

MacPhail said he might start having his scouts look at who is available on the trade market along with exploring internal options.

If it's not enough that Roberts is dealing with back pain, he's also now battling stomach problems after the prescribed oral medication made him ill.

There's no question that Roberts is a big part of the Orioles, and he may be the player the team can most ill afford to lose (I'd say either Matt Wieters or Roberts). That doesn't mean that Roberts is the team's best player, but the Orioles aren't exactly well-equipped to lose a quality second baseman like Roberts for an extended period of time. For example, if Nick Markakis or Adam Jones gets hurt and has to miss a few games, the Orioles have other outfielders, Luke Scott and Felix Pie, who can fill in and play competently enough. Hopefully Roberts is healthy enough to start on opening day, but if he's not, the Orioles will face a significant drop-off in production, especially at the plate.

Let's look at some of the possible replacements at second base and how they stack up against Roberts. (All stats are career numbers.)

Brian Roberts .284 .356 .421 0.76
Robert Andino .213 .264 .292 0.29
Ty Wigginton .271 .328 .452 0.41

Ouch. Wigginton hits for more power than Roberts, but he doesn't get on base enough or draw nearly as many walks. And Andino has simply been overmatched at the plate in his time in the majors.

Justin Turner, 25, is another internal option for the Orioles, but he doesn't have much major league experience -- only 12 games and 18 at bats. It is worth noting, though, that last year in Triple-A Norfolk he hit .300/.362/.388 with a 0.92 BB/K ratio, so that's something.

I remember reading an article, maybe on Roch's MASN blog, about how Dave Trembley will give Andino the first crack at the job if Roberts can't play, but I can't find it now. If that's true, that's a pretty good decision in terms of defense. Andino hasn't really played a ton of games at any position, but he had a 2.5 UZR at shortstop (a more difficult position to play) last year in 62 games and a -0.3 UZR at eight games at second as well. Again, those are small sample sizes, but it's not exactly going out on a limb to say that Andino is a better defensive player than Wigginton -- though, believe it or not, Wigginton actually has a career 1.1 UZR at second base in 128 career games. Anyway, Cesar Izturis and Andino would be a dynamic double play combo, but having both of their bats in the lineup certainly hurts the O's.

It's safe to say that the Orioles won't be able to replace Roberts's bat in the lineup, particularly his ability to get on base at the top of the lineup to set the table for Markakis, Jones, Nolan Reimold, Scott, etc. However, Andino could be a defensive upgrade over Roberts (-9.0 UZR at second last year), for whatever that's worth. Again, hopefully Roberts gets healthy soon.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Terps take down Duke, share conference lead

What a great way for Eric Hayes, Landon Milbourne, and especially Greivis Vasquez to cap off Senior Night at College Park: a 79-72 win over No. 4 Duke.

After jumping out to a big lead early in the first half -- and eventually blowing that lead -- Maryland went toe-to-toe with Duke in the second half, trading blow after blow and basket after basket before finally pulling away in the game's final minute. And it was only fitting that Vasquez was the guy to hit an almost impossible running jumper -- over Jon Scheyer, no less -- with about 40 seconds left to go put the game away.

The Terps shot 50 percent from the field (more on their offense in a minute), but this game was won on the defensive end. Maryland held Duke to 39.4 percent shooting and didn't allow another Duke player other than their big three of Scheyer (19 points on 7-21 shooting), Kyle Singler (14 points on 5-14 shooting), and Nolan Smith (20 points on 7-17 shooting) to reach double digits. In fact, the next highest scorer after those three was Andre Dawkins with six points. The Terps played outstanding team defense and didn't let Duke get into much of a rhythm, other than when Duke had a stretch of five straight made three-pointers late in the first half and early in the second half. Want proof? Duke only had eight assists while committing eight turnovers. The majority of their buckets came on isolation drives, rebound put-backs, and drive-and-kicks for threes. Not many of them came easily; Maryland made them work.

The Terps also fought hard in the rebounding department. They held a rebounding edge after an energetic first half but started to get pushed around a bit early in the second half, particularly by Brian Zoubek (13 rebounds). But, as usual, the Terps battled back and started to box out and finished the game with the same number of rebounds as Duke (34).

On offense, Maryland shot the ball extremely well. Every starter except for Milbourne finished the game in double figures, and Adrian Bowie chipped in a much-needed nine points off the bench, making all four of his shots. The Terps had a bit of a lull when Duke switched to a zone defense, which forced Maryland into less efficient possessions and poorer shot selection. But even though the Terps didn't record a high number of assists (14) and turned the ball over a little too much (11 times), they still moved the ball well and ran the flex to perfection at times, particularly down the stretch to get solid looks in crunch time.

Individually, Jordan Williams probably had the best game for Maryland, scoring 15 points on nine shots and grabbing an important 11 rebounds. He also blocked three shots and threw down a monster dunk over Scheyer. Vasquez finished with 20 points, five assists, and four rebounds, and at least three big buckets down the stretch. Hayes had an efficient 13 points (6-8 from the field), and Mosley added 11.

By the way, the Terps hit 17 of 19 free throws, which is really, really good.

As for what happens after this game, Maryland plays at Virginia on Saturday, while Duke ends the season on Saturday at home against North Carolina. If both teams win, they'll be co-ACC regular-season champions. Today's win was awesome, but for it to mean a little more, the Terps need to focus on Virginia and take care of business.

Could Sproles be coming to D.C.?

(Full Disclosure: As I explained more than a year ago in an NFL playoff picks article, Darren Sproles has been one of my favorite players since his days at Kansas State several years ago. I hoped the Redskins would draft Sproles in the 2005 NFL Draft, but that didn't happen. To see how much of a monster Sproles was in college, check out this video.)

According to PFT, the Redskins are interested in Darren Sproles. That's not exactly shocking news, since Daniel Snyder obviously likes to sign free agents to big contracts. And if Snyder really wants Sproles, he's going to sign him.

Most Redskins fans want Snyder to stop overpaying older players, but does Sproles qualify in this case? Probably not -- he turns 27 in June. And if there's no salary cap in the upcoming season, does it really matter how much Snyder pays anyone? It seems that the most important issue is whether Sproles would improve the Redskins or not. Let's take a look at some numbers.

First, kickoff returns:

D. Sproles 54 1,300 24.1 66 0
R. Cartwright 39 868 22.3 42 0

In this case, Sproles has the better numbers over Rock Cartwright, the Redskins main kick returner in 2009-2010. However, in terms of kickoff return average, Sproles ranked 18th among qualified players.

Next, punt returns:

D. Sproles 26 183 7.0 77 1
A. Randle El 17 102 6.0 43 0

Santana Moss also returned 11 punts for 52 yards, for what it's worth. Out of all qualified players, Sproles ranked 22nd in punt return average.

So what do these numbers mean? Well, they show that Sproles is a better returner than what the Redskins had last season -- and he posted those numbers while also receiving a career-high 93 carries (for 343 yards and three touchdowns) and catching a career-high 45 passes (for 497 yards -- an 11.0 average -- and four touchdowns). That increased workload may explain why Sproles's return numbers were down across the board from the previous season.

Since it seems like Clinton Portis will be back next season, Sproles wouldn't have to carry the full load in the backfield, which he probably wouldn't be able to handle for an entire season anyway because of his diminutive frame. The Redskins would be able to use Sproles on returns and almost exclusively on third downs since no other running back on the team comes close in pass-catching ability. Head coach Mike Shanahan also would surely be able to utilize Sproles's strengths in the running game with his zone blocking schemes.

Does it make more sense to draft a shifty running back (like C.J. Spiller) to handle returns and third down duties? Probably. But adding Sproles would help the Redskins in a few key areas and at least make them a little bit better going forward. It also gives Snyder a chance to spend more money.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Thornton's playing well in Washington

When the Wizards sent Drew Gooden to the Clippers in exchange for Al Thornton, I was pretty happy. Not because I knew a whole lot about Thornton, but because the Wizards received a semi-young (26) player for basically nothing. Not only that, but Thornton is under contract next season for $2.8 million, and he has a team option for 2011-2012 at $3.9 million -- meaning the Wizards acquired a decent, affordable talent.

While no one on the Wizards has been playing as well as Andray Blatche, Thornton has been contributing nicely to the Wizards' somewhat improved play. Of course, Thornton has only been in Washington for six games, but here are his numbers from this season with the Clippers and then with the Wizards:

Team PPG Reb Ast FG% TO Min
Clippers 10.8 3.8 1.2 47.8 1.3 27.4
Wizards 15.8 6.0 1.3 52.8 1.3 32.4

Again, this is just a six-game sample with the Wizards, but since there hasn't exactly been a ton of positive things to examine this season, I'm still going to look at it. The increase in minutes -- about five more minutes per game in Washington -- has helped Thornton shoot more (about three more shot attempts per game), but he's still shooting the ball more efficiently. He's also been more active in grabbing rebounds, and in those six games he has seven blocks. Thornton will never be a guy who puts up a ton of assists -- he really likes to shoot the ball -- but there's no question that he's brought some energy to Washington along with James Singleton. Sometimes going to a new place and getting to play more will do that.

I doubt that Thornton will ever play 37 minutes per game again like he did last season, when he averaged 16.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and shot 44.6 percent from the field. But as long as he keeps shooting the ball well and working hard (not to mention staying inside the three-point line since he's a career 30.8 percent shooter from long range), he can be a nice piece for the Wizards -- probably as a scorer off the bench. At the very least, Thornton seems like a better option than Nick Young.

Contract info via HoopsHype