Awful, awful sports day yesterday. Karma will have something better in the future, hopefully. But for now, we're learning.
1. For the most part, Maryland is who we thought they were.
In every loss Maryland has suffered, the culprits have been pretty much the same: poor half-court offense, turnovers, guard play, lack of a secondary offensive option, and free throws. Most of the time, you can throw rebounding in there, too.
And shocker: they all showed up yet again today against Villanova. The season is more than half over; unless something unexpected occurs, this team - with the same strengths and fatal flaws that we saw yesterday - will be the team that we see the rest of the year.
The most damning of all the weaknesses was Maryland's halfcourt offense, which was non-existent (literally) over the past ten minutes or so. I like Maryland's guards, but seeing them jack three-pointers early in the shot clock (multiple times) brought a feeling I never want to experience again. Maryland's strength is Jordan Williams, and when the opponent can take that away, or when Maryland ignores him (a little of both happened yesterday), the offense shuts down.
Of course, this also means that we weren't introduced to many more flaws, either, and that the positives from earlier in the year are still around, too. Jordan Williams is fantastic, even against strong, tall, and talented defenders like Mouphtaou Yarou and Antonio Pena. And Maryland's defense is no joke; they really are one of the best in the country.
It may get frustrating seeing these same flaws week after week, but that's likely what you'll be treated to the rest of the season. The sooner you come to grips with it, the more you can focus on Maryland's strengths - like the All-American-caliber center and stifling defense - that should help them run through ACC play. Because, really, it's doubtful that they'll magically develop a consistent perimeter scorer or anything else to fix those imperfections.
2. Cliff Tucker may or may not be what we thought he was. Really, it depends on who you thought was.
If you never gave up the Saga, then you were probably expecting this type of game out Cliff Tucker (not to pat myself on the back, but I did call it in the RBP). Or, if you started to think he was for real - admittedly, I began to - you're probably pretty disappointed by Tucker's performance: 3 points and 1-7 from the field. Even more shocking was his +/- number: -20, the worst on the team, the worst for Tucker in recent memory, and a downright terrible number.
That's overlooking his passing, which was at times phenomenal, but all in all, Tucker disappointed. He had emerged as the sparkplug off the bench over the past few games and the closest thing Maryland had to a perimeter scorer. It seemed as if Gary Williams had finally figured out Tucker's perfect role. Obviously, that's not the case, or at least not all of it.
His job was to score points when no one else on Maryland could - like, say, those seven scoreless minutes the Terrapins endured. And he couldn't do it. Tucker is still probably Maryland's most skilled perimeter player, but he isn't nearly consistent enough yet to be relied upon as the secondary offensive option.
The problem is that no one else is, either. Sean Mosley certainly isn't The Guy, at least not in ACC play - he's averaged 7 ppg over the past four. The freshmen are too inexperienced and too busy being point guards to be the primary perimeter scorers. And Adrian Bowie is playing well off the ball, but he's not a huge presence, hardly one that can take a game over.
One of Maryland's biggest holes is the lack of a perimeter scorer that can create a shot; it's now pretty clear that Cliff Tucker's not going to be that person. Maryland will have to wait until Nick Faust gets on campus next year for a chance at having one. Of course, given Cliff's history, he'll drop 25 on Virginia Tech in a few days and have everyone eating their words.
3. The point guard situation is still unsettled, but Terrell Stoglin is looking better.
Not that that was all that hard for Stoglin to do, of course, after going 2-19 over the past two games. And, for the record, the shooting hardly improved against Villanova; 3-9 is better, but it's still not where you want Stoglin to be.
And for that reason, a lot of people are going to asking for Pe'Shon Howard to get more playing time at the point. I find it tough to argue; he's a great passer and he, not Stoglin, hit the lone three-pointer between the two. Interestingly enough, he was the only Terrapin with a positive +/- (he was +1; Stoglin was -6). Besides, looking at the past three games as a whole, MVPe' has been better. Quieter, but better.
Yet I still find myself liking Stoglin more and more. As bad as his shooting was today, he was fantastic as a distributor and playmaker. Despite receiving constant pressure (and quite a bit of hand-checking) from Nova's guards, he turned the ball over only once. Howard, despite playing ten fewer minutes, had three TOs. Stogs paired the low TO number with eight assists and some generally great passing. As a bonus, the first couple of minutes of the second half showed just how good he could be with the ball in his hands, going Beast Mode for a few minutes during an 8-2 Maryland run out of the break.
I use the word "unsettled" to mean that Gary Williams still doesn't (or at least shouldn't) know which of the two is better for Maryland in the long-term over the next few years. Probably, it's both of them, ala Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes. But for the moment, it looks like Stoglin will continue to be The Guy at point guard. And I have no qualms with that.
4. Maryland missed their last opportunity for a big non-conference win, but things aren't dead yet.
This is one of those games where you'd almost rather Maryland stick it in the entire game but never really take a lead. You'd almost rather it be like the Pitt game, where Maryland's loss was frustrating but understandable. They weren't the better team against Pitt, even if they could've been, and you could see the bright side of playing so well.
Yesterday, the Terrapins were the better team, at least for 30 minutes. It wasn't that they shouldn't have won; it's that they should have won, and then didn't. That's more frustrating in every way, without a doubt. That frustration, though, will overshadow something extremely important: for 30 minutes, they outplayed a top ten team on their own court.
The "moral victory" isn't present here, and I'm not arguing for its presence. But outside of Duke, the ACC doesn't have a single team that can come close to Villanova's talent level. Maryland has proven that they can go toe-to-toe with Duke and (probably) beat them; few teams in the ACC will pose a serious threat, as long as Maryland is focused. The Boston College loss was disappointing, but I see little reason that it has to happen again.
Quite simply, Florida State or Miami or Virginia Tech have neither the experience nor the talent to come back from 12 down in that situation. Or, rather, they don't have the ability to force Maryland to collapse so completely.
I'm not saying the Terrapins are going to run through the conference and go 14-2 or anything like that. They'll drop games they shouldn't, as they always do. Everyone in the ACC does. But 10-6 or even 11-5 seems well within reach at this point. So, too, does a deep run in the ACC tournament. And if they can pair those two with a victory over Duke, the NCAA tournament seems more likely than not.
Bonus Knowledge: Sean Mosley is still Sean Mosley. What was surprising about his six-point performance was how little he played; only 18 minutes. I'm still trying to figure out why Gary decided to sit him down this game as opposed to all others. This may be something to watch ... The same goes for James Padgett's playing time. He was on the bench the entire game. ... Double knowledge about Haukur Palsson, who 1) only played eight minutes, compared to the 15 he had been pulling over the past three games, and 2) proved just how much of a liability he was on the perimeter, while confirming just how good he is inside the arc. ... Apparently those black jerseys are the new road unis. ... I really like Dino Gregory.