Archive for March, 2009

For the record: the response and what happened to the Terps
March 22, 2009

Bold musings from a guy who likes to think he knows something about college basketball (see previous post).  I probably though failed to mention, when guaranteeing VCU and North Dakota State victories, that I also backed Lehman Brothers, Jimmy Carter in 1980, and the French in most any war. 

Courtesy: Cleveland.com

Courtesy: Cleveland.com

courtesy: historycentral.com

courtesy: historycentral.com

Sorry about that.

The one I got right was Maryland.  The Terps didn’t lay waste to Cal, but Maryland attacked the Bears perfectly (do not try at home) using quickness on offense and a 3-2 zone.  Jerome Randle played great against Maryland’s man to man, but disappeared against that zone.  It was perfect.

Then came the day off.  More meetings with the media for players and Greivis Vasquez forgot to pack his filter.  Saying that Memphis would have a losing record in the ACC and lamenting Conference USA’s lack of talent probably didn’t make Memphis shoot 3 pointers like Larry Bird in a contest, but that did not shed a good light on the team. 

Come Saturday, Memphis looked like an elite team.  The Tigers had it inside and out, had it any way they wanted against Maryland.  At no point past the 16:00 minute mark of the first half did you think the Terps could beat Memphis.  And by the end of the game, the pro Tigers crowd derisively chanted “ACC – ACC”.  Point taken about mouth running.

But looking beyond the immediate disappointment for Maryland players, coaches, and fans.  At least the conversation continued until March 21st.  They offered great moments this season including wins over Michigan State, North Carolina, and Wake Forest.  Once they learned how to compensate for a starting lineup that seemingly offered nobody taller than Sean Astin, they went to work.  Never did they quit.

Lots of work for future as they have to find some bigger and better players to have a conversation in April too.   That message appears received loud and clear by Gary Williams so in the meantime, consider a trip to the Thin 32 (I just made that up) a nice way to keep you from spreading mulch for at least another Saturday.

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For the Record
March 18, 2009

No event so massively engulfs a sports fan like the Men’s NCAA Tourney. It also brings in the passive fans, and compels people to care that otherwise know nothing about the game (how awesome is it to be in a pool with someone who has Chattanooga to the Elite 8 and Maryland winning it all!!).  It’s power is like that of the Super Bowl but lasts for three weeks, not one day. I hate the tired phrase of March Madness,  but what could ring more true?

So on the eve of the fun, I share a few picks for the field of 64.

My Final Four includes Wake Forest, Memphis, Pittsburgh, andOklahoma with John Calipari’s underrated Tigers winning it all.  This team plays better defense than last year’s National Runner Up and still scores at will.

But the beauty of the bracket, the real satisfaction comes in picking the upset.  You can walk down the street bragging to anyone about having Davidson to the Elite 8, just as some guy did last year, and all you can do is tip the cap.

I love NorthDakota State, the 14 seed in the Midwest, to knock off defending champ Kansas in the first round.  A host of 5th year seniors that red shirted specifically to wait until the team went division one.  They’ve played together forever (in college life) and face the Jayhawks whom lost all their starting five from last year and rely on freshmen all over the place. And don’t forget, Kansas went out in the first round in 2005 and 2006. 

 VCU gets the 11 seed in the East, facing the 6 seed UCLA.   Pity the Bruins.  Eric Maynor led the Rams to a win over Duke two years ago in the 1st round and the reigning CAA Player of the Year is better now.  The Rams also have a nice post presence while the Bruins lack the same skill that led them to the past three Final Fours.

Andwhile it’s a mild upset in the brackets, the fact Maryland even made the tournament is amazing.  The Terps couldn’t even see the bubble machine six weeks ago, then scratched and clawed their way back into relevancy (who knew turtle had claws?).  For the effort they face the 7 Seed Cal in the West Region and will beat the Bears.  Cal shoots the ball great but has no inside game.  None.  That’s from their head coach Mike Montgomery himself.  Maryland has struggled so much at times this season trying to cover up their lack of post presence, andnow they need not worry about it.  Maryland moves on to the 2nd round. 

And to get you in the mood on Tourney Eve:

A real play-in game
March 13, 2009

The NCAA Tournament includes a play-in game this coming Tuesday (although, in completely patronizing fashion they refuse to call it that). But for Maryland, the play-in game comes tonight.

Beat Wake Forest, thus earning a 3rd victory over a top ten team this year (two of them on neutral courts) and Maryland returns to the NCAA Tournament. Incidentally, for the next four weeks I hope to neither write nor utter the phrases “March Madness, punch their tickets, and big dance”. It’s a personal protest to the laziness to which I had succumbed, along with seemingly every other broadcaster in the country. No More!

Back to the Terps and Gary Williams’ bid to defiantly rub all doubters noses into the sewer with his 13th trip to the Big DanceNCAA Tourney.. (Grrrr, habits)… For some reason, the improbable often morphs into the likely this time year. Can’t explain it, but thank God for it. We wouldn’t be having all these conversations about who’s in and who’s out without it. But still, when you take the court you’d always rather be the favorite. It means you have more talent. And that’s the problem with Maryland V. Wake Forest (this one’s for you Kristen).

The Terps must offer a nearly flawless game, must knock down at least eight three pointers, and get to the free throw line 18 times. Anything less against the towering front court of Wake and the all around excellence of Jeff Teague and Maryland readies for a home game against George Mason in the N-I-T.

Dave Neal led the Terps in their last effort against Wake, nearly delivering that perfect game. But even at home, nearly perfect wasn’t good enough. Tonight in Atlanta, it won’t come close.

Perspective in check
March 11, 2009

March Madness occasionally extends to the sports office and not in a good way.  This past Sunday felt like one of those games when the under dog drains crazy threes off the backboard as the shot clock expires.  I was not the under dog. 

Technical difficulties prevented us receiving Orioles highlights,  same for Towon’s game in the CAA semifinals (a spectacular effort from the undermanned Tigers).  And while we had some highlights from the Maryland Women’s incredible overtime victory against Duke for the ACC Championship (their 1st in 20 years), we were unable to obtain any post game interviews.

So by 8:00 that night, I’m trying to get in touch with Maryland Head Coach Brenda Frese.  She’s been a good sport in the past, not displaying the ego that typically accompanies a National Championship Trophy and a seven figure salary.  The avenue available came via text message to her husband Mark Thomas.  He tried to help us find some players to interview, and then said if that didn’t work out, just come over to the house and Brenda will be happy to talk.

Brenda Frese (courtesy: Sports Illustrated)

Brenda Frese (courtesy: Sports Illustrated)

Are you kidding me?  Again, the resume… National Champion, ACC Champion, elite coach.  She has no need to bend over to accommodate the media.  Maybe in 2003 when the Terps were 10-18, but certainly not now.  She also has another job, mother of one year old twin boys.  She’s kind of busy.

But there we were, Sunday night around 9:15 rolling up to Casa de Frese and she opens the door with a big smile..  “Come on in, sorry for the mess.”

We got our interview, and exited quickly hoping to interrupt as little as possible. 

On the ride back to the station I just couldn’t get over the decency of the gesture.  She knew we needed a hand, and despite her certain exhaustion and certain desires to be out of the public view for an evening following a long weekend in Greensboro, NC she didn’t blink.  I can’t think of many, if any, in that position whom would have offered the same.  Hard to picture an invitation from Gary Williams on a Sunday Night for a quick minute at his house.

So thanks Brenda and Mark, and here’s hoping we have many more occasions to bug you late on weekend nights.

College Humor invades College Park
March 4, 2009

Who doesn’t day dream about revenge?   Even the kindest of souls has room for a well executed prank to avenge a well executed prank.  At least I imagine they would, can’t seem to findy any here at work to ask.  But rarely does the prank get past the day dream stage.  Who actually follows through on something that would be good (Ashton Kuchar follows through, but there is little imagination involved).   Well,  we have an answer.    Terp fans who despair in a loss to Wake Forest may at least enjoy this.

College Humor Night at Comcast Center

Wake Boarded
March 4, 2009

Now they must do more.  The Terps had their chance to lock up a bid to the NCAA Tourney last night.  A win over Wake Forest would have been their 3rd over a top ten this season, and guaranteed at least a .500 record in the ACC.  Their placement in the brackets could have been written in pen. 

Instead, Maryland falls just short 65-63. 

No great faults for the loss.  Sure, they shot horribly the last ten minutes of the game, but their defense proved sound and their effort unquestioned.  In fact, the 3-2 zone they employed on Wake left the bigger, more skilled Demon Deacons looking like the Biglerville  (PA) Jayvee team I once coached (loved the kids, but that is not a compliment).

Ultimately, the team with the better players won.  Bless Dave Neal’s heart, the senior gave all he had for what he hopes will be his final game at Comcast Center.  But two plays in the last five minutes of the game demonstrated why Maryland sits on the outside looking in.

1st team all ACC guard Jeff Teague went baseline on the break and threw down one of the top five dunks of the season, right on top of Dave Neal.  An absolute poster of a throw down that sucked the air out of Comcast Center. 

Then with :45 left to play and the Terps trailing by three, Neal drove down the lane, owning the courage to take the crucial shot but not the skill to pull it off.  James Johnson smashed his effort off the backboard, a perfectly clean block that had the Demon Deacons going the other way soon to score with a pair of free throws.  Ughh…

I’m not trying to pick on Neal.  He offered up a career high 19 points as the only Terrapin that could buy a bucket from three point range. He gave Maryland a chance to win last night when the team’s best player was bricking his way to a 7-24 night with four turnovers ( Greivis Vasquez, spectacular or spectacularly bad.  There is no in between).

So that leaves the Terps at 7-8 in the conference with a road date at Virginia remaining.  One would think, since collectively they’ve played pretty well the last month, that Maryland gets the win in Charlottesville.  But a rivalry game with post season implications creates an intangible that you can’t predict.  With a win though Maryland would finish .500 in the best conference.  An overall record of 19-11 heading into the ACC Tournament you’d think might be enough.  Not many mid majors have proven worthy of at-large bids so the big conferences will have their depth in March Madness.  But getting to 20 or 21 wins before selection Sunday ensures ticket is punched.

And now, having looked back over this recap, I am feeling bad for Dave Neal.  So Dave, I’ll share another video, one you remember more fondly.