Back in November, I did a player-by-player rundown for the first preseason game. People seemed to not hate it, so I thought I'd run it back for the ACC opener. This is maybe 25% general thoughts on the last few weeks of play and 75% stuff that occurred to me while at the game today (sidenote: UGH Tech fans).
Oh, and last time the theme was "Fun Facts," but since we just dismantled our first ACC opponent by 23, all facts are fun; that section has been replaced by "Quotable."*
*This section is brought to you by the incredibly prolific idiot who sits behind me and yells stupid crap all game long. Each write-up will feature a deeply curious piece of basketball "advice" shouted in unsettling Western Maryland baritone at the player in question at some point in the last few games. It's going to really, really seem like I made some of these up; if only I had.
To give you an idea, this is a guy who used to just shout "FEED THE BEAST" all game when Jordan Williams was here. He also kept yelling it, all game long, the next year. About Berend Weijs. (Sorry, Berend). Also he heckles our own players and is kind of a racist, so I don't feel too bad about sharing his contributions with the group.
Anyway, in no particular order:
YAY: Was characteristically non-descript, but ran the offense well (which is really how Maryland dominated, despite some impressive individual efforts). Settled down a rattled back backcourt during Tech's brief attempt to cling to life in the 2nd half. Assists often came at very opportune times. Seems quicker than he did two months ago. Pushed it and drew some good fouls. Played pretty decent defense on Erick Green, considering the task.
NAY: 0-5, etc. Had a couple bad turnovers, including an ill-advised pass up the court to Mitchell where he clearly just couldn't see the trailing defender. His man ended up with 28 points, though I chalk that up more to Erick Green being Erick Green (for 37 minutes too, jeez).
QUOTABLE: "CMAWN, PUSH IT!" (Pes'Shon pulls it back facing a 1-on-4 fast break, to loud crowd applause) "Man, guess that leg's still broken, huh?"
Sure, Pe'Shon isn't his former self or anything right now, but I don't understand why there's this semi-consensus that he'll just "never be the same" or whatever. I mean, it's not like he was RGIIIing it out there to begin with; he isn't that far off from what he was. And he quite probably hadn't reached his full athletic potential when he got hurt (few players have as rising sophomores). It still hasn't even been a year since he tore the ACL, and no matter how ahead of schedule he is you can't devote yourself to rehabbing a devastating injury AND prep for/play a full season of basketball. Is it absolutely possible his athleticism will never recover much more beyond where it is now? Of course. But I don't see that as a certainty at all.
YAY: Turned it on down the stretch. Seemed to really get it going right when Tech started to make a run. Engaged in Dez-like stuffing of stats (12-4-4). Knocked down an open three. Had this delightful moment when the team realized he was being guarded by Tech's conspicuously Caucasian spot-up shooter, and immediately called a Dez isolation as time wound down. Results were predictable.
NAY: Very quiet early on, though I think that's just an inevitable result of Maryland's depth. Actually fouled out of this game; the last one was a ticky-tack make-up call, but some of the earlier ones were ill-advised (e.g. flying over a 6-10 guy's back in search of The Unreboundable, etc.).
QUOTABLE: "COME ON REF, LET EM PLAY!" (after Dez Wells clobbers the side of Erick Green where the ball is not, for a good foul to deny the easy bucket).
It seems like Dez is still trying to figure out how and where to assert himself within the context of the team. It's a tough line to walk with so many guys contributing, but I do think Maryland is going to need him to take over at times before the end of ACC play. He's the only backcourt player who's physically capable of imposing his will on the defender almost independent of scheme. Sooner or later, it's just going to be time to use a Dez Wells-shaped battering ram to grind Seth Curry into magical three-point dust.
YAY: Good move for a post score early. Did a decent job bothering drives, but all the bigs struggled with rotating to box out after forcing the initial miss. Good job stepping out against the ball handler in the pick and roll (actually, all the bigs were uncharacteristically exceptional at this today).
NAY: Pretty quiet game for Shaq. Has gotten much better using his body down low, but needs to be quicker and more decisive in setting and recognizing screens.
QUOTABLE: "FEED IT TO SHAQ"*
*Yeah, Shaq was on the bench at the time. Obviously.
YAY: 16-9 doesn't suck, particularly considering Tech did just about everything in their power to stop him and still came up short. Had a couple of great kick-out assists, both resulting in open 3s (including the one that triggered the Jakepocalypse). Tried to force the issue instead of sitting back, which will serve him well in games where the officiating is a bit tighter.
NAY: For a dude from Europe, does not set very good picks and is downright bad at setting off-ball screens. It's a little weird for a Top 5 draft pick to average 24 mpg. Post game conspicuously lacks unstoppable hook shot. Dribbling + Alex + post = sadness.
Act 2, Scene 5; A Maryland basketball game [Enter IDIOT, IDIOT'S FRIEND]
IDIOT: "Len. . . I wonder if he's related to Jeremy. You know, the Chinese? Who plays Point Guard? Russia, China. . . they're near each other.
IDIOT'S FRIEND: "I think he spells it L-I-N."
Sure, Alex still looks tentative at times, and it's tempting to wonder why he isn't putting up those 25-10 Kentucky numbers every night. But a lot of it is because teams are completely altering their offensive and defensive game plans when he's on the court. Guys sprinted to Alex in the post today like he was magnetized, and he got absolutely mauled underneath by handsy Tech defenders. He still had 16 and 9. He's good. There's about a 0.0% chance he will be returning to Maryland next year. But hey, maybe Jan Vesely needs a new roommate!
YAY: Is our starting power forward, apparently! Some great putbacks on the offensive end. Ran the break well today, and has all year. 8 and 5 in 17 minutes isn't bad. Great energy; was noticeable as Maryland jumped out to an early lead. Blew up Erick Green on monster screen.
NAY: 17 minutes for a starting PF isn't that good, though (and Padge and Cleare only had 13 and 15, respectively). Some of that was lineup matching, but some of it was also Chuck getting yanked for bad turnovers. Not generating a ton of post offense on his own yet. Way too eager to put it on the deck for a big man who struggles to handle down low, which is extra bad because we totally already have one of those.
QUOTABLE: "CEEEEEEEEE-MITCH" (Most often heard after Shaquille Cleare makes a basket).
YAY: As it turns out, was the Mayan doomsday event we've all been hearing about. Unleashed Jakepocalypse on Tech, dropping nigh-unbelievable 20-8-3-2 stat line (no TOs). Followed up opening three-pointer by slipping his man for a putback, then followed that up by jumping right past a disappointed-looking Alex Len to throw down an offensive rebound. Played approximately a million times more under-control than he has much of the season. Held Jarell Eddie, Tech's only other legit threat, to comic-relief line of 5 pts on 2 of 12 shooting. Started out 4/5 from deep. Whatever, Jake Layman.
NAY: Cooled down in the second half – threes didn't fall, but they were still (mostly) good looks. Did get a bit over-tentative, looked like he was focused on not slipping back into playing too fast. Was rightly chided by Pe'Shon late in the game for spiking a pass at Alex instead of taking an open three.
QUOTABLE: "He was watchin' his own highlights! Look! He was watchin!"
Jake was in fact caught on the jumbotron today with a few minutes left, watching his own "player of the game" highlights from the bench. It led to his hair being enthusiastically ruffled by Charles Mitchell as the latter laughed uproariously. Based on today's events, you should probably get used to Jake Layman's hair being a thing in your life for the next 3.5 years.
(Nick was injured so this is more a general assessment of his last few weeks of play)
YAY: Is becoming that critical piece for great teams – a glue guy who's also exceptionally skilled and athletic. Has been solid off the ball with back-door cuts. Finds a way to make an impact without scoring/using a lot of possessions. When he gets his feet set, his outside shot really does look much improved.
NAY: "A glue guy who is also skilled and exceptionally athletic" is also another way to say "a great talent who doesn't put up great numbers." Presses on offense too much (flavor of choice: Out-of-controllable hop-drive to the lane). Very often doesn't get his feet set on threes, and reverts to buggy 2011 model.
QUOTABLE: "Man, we ain't seen Faust at all. Musta done somethin'!"
Really, Nick's been a great player for the Terps, but he's still struggling to find his role on a completely transformed roster – something I think traces back to last year. Every Terps broadcaster ever will tell you how Nick's conscription into PG duties made him such a better handler/distributor. That's true, but it also means that he really hasn't had a chance to learn how to play wing in a complete offense. On that front, he's really still. . . well, still kind of a freshman. Given his progression over the course of last year though, it's something I do expect him to get a handle on, sooner rather than later.
YAY: Did Logan Aronhalt things. Hit incredibly clutch three early, coming off the curl with the shot clock expiring. Finished 2/3, all from deep. Was much sharper with entry passes. Recorded first block of the season against humiliated, perplexed Jarell Eddie.
NAY: Not really. Even defended well vs. bigger wings.
QUOTABLE: It's not actually clear to me that he knows who Logan Aronhalt is.
YAY: Ended up with a team-high 21 (on 8-12 shooting) despite a pretty quiet first half. Had two steals in rapid succession late in the 2nd which he took coast to coast (despite getting hammered by a frustrated Hokie space-filler on what probably should have been a flagrant foul). Ice-cold shooter. Is averaging 13 ppg, shooting redonkulous 56% from deep in past four games.
NAY: Made some bad decisions bringing the ball up vs. the press. Not making much of an impact in the half-court as a distributor. Struggled to stay with Erick Green, actually more when Green was off-ball than when he was driving to the lane.
QUOTABLE: "PULL IT BACK!" (On both of Seth's breakaway, clear-path steals).
People sitting near the right basket today got a chance to witness Seth Allen's intestinal fortitude on the hard foul, because you could very clearly see him track the defender and realize he was going to take a shot. He went right up anyway. It was reminiscent of last game's and-1 dunk in traffic, when he got hit with that [Technical Foul – Going Too Hard].
YAY: Uhhh. . .
NAY: Was (I hope?) sick today or something. Played just 13 minutes, did not start. No points, bricked two FTs, had just one board.
QUOTABLE: "FIRST DOWN!" (After an official signals Hokies ball when a rebound bounces out off Padge). Yeah, I don't know, he says this a lot.
Dave Neal (Hon Mention)
Obviously, was the real reason for today's dominating win. Was introduced at halftime. He's apparently coaching at O'Connell these days. All hail to The Mayor.
Parting Thought: This is a team that's ready for the big time. It's truly (and wonderfully) strange to see a Maryland team characterized by the following:
-Height. Everywhere. Tall people just being tall all over the place.
-Great, consistent three-point shooting from up to four guys on the floor.
-Dominant rebounding (though today wasn't great, for understandable Erick Green-related reasons).
-10th guys off the bench who are good.
-Future lottery picks.
To make a serious tournament run this year, Maryland was always going to need development from their freshmen. They're certainly getting it now. Considering that future games vs. Duke/UNC may be tragically fewer and farther between, it's nice to see the squad rounding into impressive form to (hopefully) leave us with one last set of great memories.