I know we usually keep our Q&As with out of town writers strictly to football, but with ACC play really heating up and the Canes (12-3, 1-1) set to take on Maryland (12-3, 1-0) tonight in a rather large early conference game I figured I'd try to do it with hoops.
This week, I exchanged emails with Terps beat writer Patrick Stevens of The Washington Times, who shared my thoughts on the game with his readers over on his blog D1SCOURSE. This 3-point shot of questions should get U ready for tonight's big game.
Q: Considering Miami has won five of the six meetings since it joined the ACC, I've got to imagine the Terps are very much looking forward to this meeting Wednesday night. Is this a game Gary Williams and his players circled on their calendars with red ink? Or, is it just another ACC game?
A: It's certainly an important game for Maryland, but it is probably best the Terps don't think too much about their repeated debacles against Miami.
Three things stand out about Wednesday. First, it is Maryland's first true road game of the season. The Terps have played four neutral-court games, but they might be the last team in the country to actually venture into an opponent's home gym (determining that, by the way, is my Tuesday morning project). Three, Maryland is the only team in the league playing Duke and North Carolina twice, and it gets a home-and-home with Miami on top of that. That is a big hole to climb out of on paper, and poaching one of those three opponents on the road would go a long way to making a successful season.
Q: The Terps haven't participated in the NCAA Tournament in two of the last three years. I know they've gotten off to a nice 12-3 start. But why should people believe this Maryland team will get back into the tournament this year? How are the Terps better?
A: It's three of four years in the NIT, as a lot of cranky fans in the Baltimore/D.C. area would no doubt quickly remind anyone who asked.
In terms of resume analysis, Maryland is better because it has a couple nonconference victories (vs. Michigan State, Michigan) that should hold up for the rest of the regular season. As for actual on-court reasons, this team defends better (out of necessity) than the Terps have in the last few years. Though it is prone to spells of shaky play, those woes are more a function of ability than effort.
In many ways, this is a true test of Gary Williams' ability to coach up his kind of players. All the highly regarded recruits who entered the program in the years immediately following the 2002 national title are gone. In their place are a bunch of steady, useful players --- but of them, only Greivis Vasquez qualifies as a standout right now.It's anyone's guess if this actually can be a tournament team. Certainly, the last week offered plenty of reasons doubt it can happen. But if there's a logical argument in support of a team without a true consistent post option making the postseason, it's the presence of a wily coach with a shiny national championship trophy on his resume who still feels he has plenty to prove.
Q: When you look at this matchup, what is the one weakness you think Miami can expose to win this game?
A: Maryland is going to feel like it's stuck in "Groundhog Day" by the time the ACC tournament rolls around. Assuming a team (a) is smart; (b) has some decent size in the post; and (c) doesn't commit 28 turnovers like Georgia Tech did, it is going to try to maul Maryland inside.
The Terps start the 6-foot-7 Dave Neal at the five. The interior rotation also includes the 6-foot-7 Dino Gregory and the 6-foot-8 Braxton Dupree. Both are Baltimore products, and Dupree in particular has looked lost for much of the season. That's a harsh blow for the Terps, because he is the one true big body they have even after dropping 20 pounds in the offseason. (Miami fans might remember sophomore Jerome Burney, who played well off the bench last year in Coral Gables. Burney, a truly unlucky fellow who redshirted his first season because of foot problems, hasn't played since early December with a stress fracture in his right foot).
If I'm Miami, I am trying to figure out how to get it to Dwayne Collins. And Cyrus McGowan. And Brian Asbury and Adrian Thomas. And Collins again. And again. And again. That's not to say Jack McClinton couldn't fill his usual role as perimeter assassin. But Maryland is more vulnerable inside, and even Williams conceded last week the Terps still must figure out how to counteract bigger teams. Wednesday represents a huge test in that regard.