With Long Break to Examine, Will Gary Williams Flip Terps' Starting Lineup?

It's exam week in College Park, and you know what that means (besides liberal amounts of Red Bull and cramming): a long break from basketball.

Maryland's last game was the 12th, against Boston College. They have ten days off before a game on the 22nd against NJIT, then another week-long break before a game against North Florida. Even then, Maryland's waiting another five days before a game against Colgate. In fact, the Terrapins don't return to high-major play until Jan. 9, when they visit Duke (gulp).

If you want to break it down statistically, that would be three games in the next 27 days. Oi.

However, that long break does bring something nice for Gary Williams and his staff: lots and lots of time to analyze his starting lineup and figure out exactly what changes, if any, need to be made. It's not unusual for the biggest changes to come during or shortly after the exam break. It is, after all, a logical stopping place, as it offers both the most amount of time to analyze the situation and the most time to play with stuff in practice and get the players to buy in.

It seemed as if changes were right around the corner after Maryland's defeat at the hands of Temple, but (perhaps not surprisingly) nothing changed immediately. It's doubtful that things changed too terribly much after the Boston College loss, which saw below-average performances from everyone not named Williams, Gregory, Bowie, and Stoglin.

Few things in all this are certain. One of the certainties here, obviously, is that Jordan Williams will be starting and, as the season goes on, getting more and more minutes. Perhaps the only other certainty is that Dino Gregory will also be starting; he's been up and down, but he was great against BC and is clearly better than James Padgett, usually the first big man off the bench.

It's worth mentioning, before we go any further, that Gary Williams is like a lot of other basketball coaches: he doesn't care about what he considers the false label of "starter" vs. "non-starter." We found that out with Eric Hayes in his junior year, when Adrian Bowie was the "starter" while Hayes was the "finisher." In terms of this team, which routinely falls victim to slow starts, I'm not quite sure the label is necessarily false, but that's another matter entirely. I'm expecting changes, but I wouldn't be shocked if they come in terms of minutes, not lineup.

The biggest thing that needs to change, most would contend, has to do with Terrell Stoglin. Maryland's biggest hole is a lack of offensive firepower on the perimeter, as they too often rely too heavily on Jordan Williams. Stoglin, meanwhile, happens to be the very definition of perimeter offensive firepower. He's inconsistent, a bit of a chucker, a bit of a ballhog, and makes lots of mistakes. But with the rest of the team playing...well, like they're playing, it's almost inevitable that Stoglin will be a starter, even if not in name, before too long.

The question then becomes whom he'll replace out of the starters. It's not a flattering group, to be honest.

Sean Mosley, for the record, likely has his job on lockdown. He's a "Gary guy" who plays good defense and is heady and all that jazz. That should be enough for him to get through the rough stretch he's been having lately. The same applies to Adrian Bowie: he's played better as of late and has, historically, been better off the ball. 

It's not perfect, though: aside from the fact that Bowie was just getting used to playing point guard and has come up short against big-time opposition in the past, it also gives Maryland a pretty big height disadvantage. Can Bowie measure up against some of the ACC's 6-5 shooting guards, like FSU's Devydas Dulkys or VT's Dorenzo Hudson? College basketball is getting shorter again, but not that short. Gary's been good playing small in the past, but the hope was that that period had ended.

I wouldn't be shocked to see either of them getting edged out by Stoglin, but I would be surprised. And that's because Cliff Tucker's still around. There's no more rollercoaster player on the team than Cliff, and I hate to say I told you so...but I called it. Anyway, we all know the story: benched against Illinois, bounced back, invisible against Penn State and Temple, bounces back against a cupcake, and then disappears again in a crucial game when the Terrapins need him.

In fact, saying Tucker "disappeared" is a little too positive. That would assume he didn't miss two utterly crucial free throws in the final two minutes and didn't turn the ball over on what proved to be Maryland's final possession of note, both of which happened. Gary's always had a quick leash on Cliff, and though I've often railed against it, it's getting difficult to defend starting Cliff over Stoglin when he hasn't played well against a decent opponent since early November.

The mantra that "Maryland needs Tucker to be successful" no longer rings as true as it once did. Tucker would be a crucial boost to Maryland's chances and if you gave me the choice of any player to make a big leap in ACC play, I probably take Tucker (maybe Stoglin). But at this point the season, I'm not sure if the Terrapins can afford to keep clinging to that dream if it's going to hurt them the way it has the past few games.

Then again, I'm not a coach. Neither are any of you (unless you are). But I'm venturing a guess that by the next time Maryland takes to the floor in the Comcast Center, we'll be seeing a different starting five than the one that went out there against Boston College.

So, to pass the time today and tomorrow until an announcement regarding Franklin comes down, let's start taking predictions: give me your starting five (remember to be respectful) against NJIT or, if you don't believe changes will come until late, the first game that Gary makes a change and the lineup there. I know there are a lot of differing opinions on this, so I'm curious to see some of the results. I think it's pretty cut and dry myself, but that's just me.

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