First of all, a happy early Thanksgiving to you and yours. Enjoy your turducken, everyone.
Sadly, Maryland basketball isn't taking a break for Thanksgiving weekend. In fact, they're playing right after Turkey Day, returning to the hardwood by hosting Florida Gulf Coast at the Comcast Center on the 25th. (Expect the smallest crowd ever.)
The Eagles, frankly, don't seem particularly intimidating on the surface. They went 10-20 last year, with the wins coming over the likes of Stetson and Jacksonville. The team's best player and leading scorer from last season, 6-6 forward Anthony Banks, graduated, and their starting point guard left in the middle of the year. So it's safe to say fireworks were not expected from FGCU this season.
Surprisingly, though, they've held their own. They've already made trips to SMU, TCU, and Miami, and lost those four games by an average of four points apiece, taking SMU and TCU down to the wire. (TCU, for what it's worth, upset Virginia earlier in the year, and Miami is expected to be an NCAA Tournament team this year.) True, Maryland is better than all of those three on their good days. But on their bad days? Well, still better than SMU, but it has a bit of potential. These guys aren't Radford.
The surprising success has owed much to their success in the backcourt, which includes their four best players. There's 6-2 shooting guard and leading scorer Sherwood Brown, who leads the Eagles in scoring and dropped 19 on Miami; 6-2 sophomore Christophe Varidel, a Swiss catch-and-shoot specialist who hit 6-7 from downtown against SMU; and the freshman duo of 6-1 Brett Comer (Austin Rivers' point guard at Winter Park) and 6-3 Bernard Thompson, who scored 15 in his debut against TCU. Those four make up FGCU's four leading scorers.
That should be a good thing, as it means Maryland won't be at a disadvantage inside, should be able to dominate the boards, and can rely on getting easy and/or garbage points from their big men. But it has the potential to be a scare for the Terrapins, particularly if Varidel gets hot. How many times have we seen a random outside shooter catch fire against Maryland's defense? (Don't answer that, Erick Green, Rian Brown, Adam Smith, and little dude from Northwood.)
Defensive rotation and closing out on shooters will be a priority for the team for sure. Interestingly, they struggled with that at times in Puerto Rico. We'll found out quickly if they've improved.
It'll also be interesting to see how much emphasis is put on involving the big men in the offense. They sort of disappeared in San Juan, but Maryland won't often be able to rely on points in the post. If the offensive struggles rear their heads once again, that could be an easy fix.
Still, these guys aren't world-beaters, and if Maryland comes to play they should handle them fairly easily. The games where they snuck up on big-timers and nearly won smell like trap games, where the Eagles came ready to play and their opposition didn't. TCU, despite the UVA upset, lost to Norfolk St. later in the year, and SMU hasn't beaten a good team all year. Respect them, but don't get too worrisome.
It'd be foolish to write them off, but if Maryland comes ready to play - especially when it comes to perimeter defense - they should be able to win. This is still a game where you're much more concerned about the Terrapins' progress and performances, individual and otherwise, than anything FGCU brings to the table.
(PSA: There may or may not be a GameThread on Friday. Thoughts?)