You know what sucks? Losing streaks. You know what also sucks? Being sub-.500 in the conference. Maryland, after their loss to Duke last night, knows both.
Good news: so does their next opponent, Virginia Tech. The Hokies have dropped five of their last six and stand at 1-4 in the ACC, a worse mark than Boston College. Hosting VPI is about the best tonic Maryland could've wished for in this trying time, especially with a road trip to Miami and a game against North Carolina right around the corner.
Which isn't to say they'll be an easy win. Tech is one of those ACC teams that just doesn't make any sense. (I feel like Maryland is the only ACC school dedicated to consistency anymore.) Expected to be one of the conference's better units, they had a so-so out-of-conference showing, notching only two semi-impressive wins - both against Oklahoma State, weirdly enough. But that was vastly preferable to their ACC start: they dropped their first four games in the season, two against teams they definitely should've beaten (Wake Forest and Boston College, for God's sake) and two that were more understandable (Florida State and North Carolina). They were never truly embarrassed in any of those games - all were by three or less save for the 14-pointer to UNC, which isn't that bad - but that didn't stop anyone from writing them off.
So then they turn around, go to Virginia, and beat the two-loss, #17 Cavs in their own building. (And no, neither team scored 50. Why do you ask?) Is it too much to ask for an ACC where the bad teams are bad and the good teams are good? Gah.
Anyway, Tech returned to the hardwood action last night, hosting BYU. And, much like their previous four losses, it was a close one that they easily could've one but dropped in the end, only a Brock Zylstra three-pointer away from a win. So ... yeah, I'm not sure.
One thing I do know for sure: no more Malcolm Delaney. Everybody dance now.
Oh, wait, Erick Green is still there. Darn. Almost.
Anyway, yeah, Seth Greenberg lost the engine to all of his previous teams, the Baltimore-bred combo who was admittedly pretty fantastic at this level. (Cue Terrell Stoglin comparisons.) The big question at the beginning of the season, then, was who could replace the guy who basically was Virginia Tech basketball for the past four years.
The answer, of course, was "no one person in particular." But the biggest role? That went to Green, basically Public Enemy #1 after his randomly awesome performances against Maryland last year. I'm sure you remember him, the anonymous sophomore role player who exploded for 24 and 20 points, respectively, in his two games against Maryland last season. Green, now a junior, is now the most important cog on the team, both the lead guard (3.1 assists per game) and the leading scorer at about 16 per game. He couldn't play against Boston College due to injury, which was a huge reason Tech lost that game.
The supporting cast is probably better than anything Delaney ever had in Blacksburg (although his chucker tendencies made that hard to judge), though still far short of most elite teams. (Not Maryland, though!) Dorenzo Hudson never really took that final year leap they needed out of him at the 2 spot, averaging about 12 points a game - which is nice, but still down from his 15 a game in his junior year. And there's still plenty of talent elsewhere, especially in the form of former five-star Dorian Finney-Smith, whom you'll recall Maryland wanted badly; but DFS has played more of a bit part, averaging 6 points and 7 boards in nearly 30 minutes a game.
Seth Greenberg has the team working its hardest on the defensive end, with the 10th-best defensive eFG% in the country, second in the ACC behind Florida State. Even scarier: they're the best team in the country at defending the three, with teams hitting only about 25% from deep against them. That's crazy good, and Maryland will again need to look to get inside. Tech lacks a true enforcer in the middle and should be vulnerable to penetration or post play - at least, a lot more vulnerable than from outside, where literally no one is statistically better. (Nick Faust, your time to shine.)
The good news is that the rest of their defense isn't FSU-like. They don't force many turnovers at all, nor do they rebound particularly well, a function of their lack of size. DFS is a great rebounder, long and athletic, but he lacks strength and gets outmuscled; Victor Davila and Cadarian Raines, the only other two with size, are each averaging less than four boards a game. James Padgett needs to have a big garbage game.
Offensively, they rely a lot on Green, one of the most efficient players in the conference. Hudson is easily the second option, and after that they look to DFS, Davila, Robert Brown (a freshman 2-guard) and Jarrell Eddie, a sophomore three. Green can get his points from basically anywhere; the others are a bit more specialized. Hudson isn't a good shooter and is more of a pure slasher; Finney-Smith has been a bit of a garbage man; Brown takes about four threes a game (making only one) but will get most of his points off the bounce. But Eddie is the one who scares me the most, behind only Green. A long 6-7 sophomore, Eddie is hitting 49% of his threes this season. He's selective with them - only about three a game - but if he gets an open look there's a very good chance it's going down.
They're really not a particularly great offensive team. The goal is to get 1 point per possession; VT hasn't done that in a month (though they came close against UNC). They're passable when the defense is really ticking, but not fantastic. The biggest worry probably comes from the three - this isn't a team with quality interior depth, and guys like Green and Eddie can heat up fast from outside.
As with every team that has such disparate results, it's a fair question to ask what changed from when Tech was losing to Wake/BC and then winning against Virginia. Green's presence had a fair amount to do with the loss to BC, if you're wondering, but the other big answer: defense. Teams like Wake, FSU, BC, and BYU have been right at about a point per possession, which was good enough to beat Tech's more stagnant attack. Their offense was basically as good (or, rather, poor) against Virginia as it was in the other five losses; the difference was the defense clamping down the Cavs uber-efficient offense more than anyone else has done all season. Yes, UVA's offensive efficiency was at its lowest all season in the game against VT. They shot, incredibly, 1-14 from deep. For a team that relies so heavily on slow pace and precise execution, it's impossible to win with that number. They were even able to keep Mike Scott more or less in check. Let that be a lesson to you of what VT can do to even the most efficient of offenses.
Maryland, in response, needs to know that it has to go inside. If they play offensively like they did in the second half against Duke, they won't be in the game. They need their bigs to step up with strong offensive showings, because they're there to be had against VPI, and the guards need to constantly look to get inside and to the rim. The Hokies have the worst defensive FT rate in the ACC - that is, they foul a lot. We've seen how Maryland can struggle from the line, but that might be their best chance at this one, especially if the guys going to the line are more of the Terrell Stoglin, Ashton Pankey, Sean Mosley mold and less of the Nick Faust, James Padgett mold. (And I love those last two, but god do they have ugly FT strokes.)
More coming throughout the week. For now, I actually kinda like Maryland's chances, so long as they don't try to get cutesy on the perimeter.