Monday, January 01, 2007

ACC Preview #8: Maryland

Team: Maryland
Record: 13-2 (0-1 ACC)

D.J. Strawberry (75.5% minutes, 1.19 PPWS, 17.3 A/B%, 4.6 Stl%)
James Gist (67.2% minutes, 1.18 PPWS, 8.9 ORB%, 18.0 DRB%, 5.8 Blk%)
Mike Jones (62.8% minutes, 1.24 PPWS)
Ekene Ibekwe (56.7% minutes, 1.07 PPWS, 12.9 ORB%, 17.8 DRB%, 2.8 Stl%, 8.0 Blk%)
Greivis Vasquez (58.7% minutes, 1.23 PPWS, 24.0 A/B%, 11.3 DRB%)

Key Reserves:
Eric Hayes (58.5% minutes, 1.21 PPWS, 25.5 A/B%)
Bambale Osby (35.5% minutes, 1.19 PPWS, 12.4 ORB%, 17.2 DRB%, 3.0 Blk%)
Parrish Brown (30.7% minutes, 0.98 PPWS, 14.4 A/B%, 3.5 Stl%)
Will Bowers (21.8% minutes, 1.00 PPWS, 16.1 DRB%, 3.9 Blk%)

Biggest Win:
72-66 at Illinois during the ACC-Big Televen challenge

Worst Loss:
62-73 at Boston College to open conference play.

Conference Schedule:
Play Twice: North Carolina State, Virginia, Duke, Florida State, Clemson
Play at Home: Miami, Georgia Tech, North Carolina
Play on the Road: Boston College, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

Maryland’s start this year has been a little bit surprising – they’ve posted quality wins against Michigan State, Illinois, and Winthrop, and their loss to Notre Dame will look a lot better as the season goes on. This is largely the same Maryland team that fell apart in the absence of Chris McCray during the second half of last season, so there were a lot of question marks coming in. The keys this season have been the breakout of Mike Jones, the maturation of Gist and Ibekwe in the post, and the arrival of two freshman point guards.

Last year, 6’5” DJ Strawberry was forced into a point guard role that he wasn’t really comfortable with. His assist numbers were alright, but he wasn’t really a playmaker. This year, the senior has been able to move back off the ball, and is flourishing because of it. He scores 25.7% of the team’s points, posting a solid .566 EFG%. He still gets a healthy share of assists (17.3 A/B%), and his A/TO is a solid 1.51. And his defense is still fantastic. He posts a 4.6 Stl%, and can devote more of his energy to the defensive end of the court since he doesn’t have to expend so much as the primary ball handler. Strawberry gets the opponent’s best perimeter player every game, and more often than not is effective at shutting him down.

The duo that has allowed Strawberry to move off the ball is comprised of 6’3” freshman Eric Hayes and 6’5” freshman Greivis Vasquez. Hayes is more in the mold of a pure distributor. He has a 25.5 A/B%, and his 1.60 A/TO is good for a freshman. He’s not much of a scoring threat – taking only 10.4% of the shots and scoring just 9.4% of the points. Still, he has enough of an outside shot (12 of 25 from 3) to keep defenses honest. Vasquez is more of a playmaker/scorer combo. He racks up the assist numbers right along with Hayes (24 A/B%) but also tosses in 17.8% of the scoring. Vasquez has a 1.23 PPWS that’s helped out by his 84.8 FT% and solid 56.8 FT Rate. Vasquez also does a little more on the glass, and creates a few more steals. Hayes began the season as the starter, but Vasquez has replaced him of late, and looks to be the starter during ACC season.

Off the ball, 6’5” senior Mike Jones is having a career year, and the kind of season Maryland has been waiting for him to provide for 3 years. Jones scores 27% of Maryland’s points on a .603 EFG% that is absurdly good for a guard. He’s been lethal from the outside – 46.7% shooting on 92 three point attempts. He’s also had no conscience with regard to attempts – 35 threes in his last 4 games, including two games with 13! attempts. He has had a tendency to disappear against tougher opponents – 2 points against Notre Dame, 7 against Winthrop, and 8 against Michigan State. His performance during ACC play will be crucial to the team’s success – he needs to be a consistent double figure scorer.

Inside, Maryland has been led by the shot blocking duo of 6’8” junior James Gist and 6’9” senior Ekene Ibekwe. Gist has been a more efficient scorer (1.18 PPWS), although Ibekwe does just slightly more scoring (22% to 21.7%). Both have been very good rebounders, with Ibekwe also providing more on the offensive end. And most importantly for Maryland, both are erasers in the post. Gist posts a 5.8 block%, and Ibekwe’s swats 8% all by his lonesome. They’re second and fourth in the conference, and both in the top 100 nationally. Their presence inside has helped Maryland hold opponents under 40% from 2, which is excellent. On the whole, Maryland opponents have just a .400 EFG%, second best in the conference.

In the post, Gist and Ibekwe are backed up by 7’1” senior Will Bowers and 6’8” junior Bambale Osby. Bowers has been serviceable his entire career – never the kind of guy to play major minutes, but someone who can give you a reliable 8-10 a game without too much of a drop-off. This year he pulls down 16.1% of defensive rebounds and tosses in a 3.9 block percentage. His shooting isn’t great, but he doesn’t shoot a lot, so it isn’t a huge problem. Osby, a juco transfer, may be the strongest man in the conference. He’s been a big fan favorite so far, and has contributed well – 21.7% of the scoring, big rebounding numbers on both offense and defense, and a solid block percentage. His minutes have been limited lately – just 28 in his last 3 games – and it will be interesting to see how heavily he’s used during conference play.

The final man off the bench is 6’1” senior Parrish Brown. Brown has taken more than his share of shots (21.3%), but hasn’t shot well (35.5% from 2, 37.0% from 3). He has a respectable 14.4 A/B%, but turns the ball over a little more than you’d want from a backup point guard. His minutes have been limited in some of the bigger games – just 6 against BC and 8 against Michigan St. – and that trend will likely continue during conference play.

Maryland is a very experienced team, although there are still some question marks. Is Mike Jones ready to be an all-ACC caliber player? Can Ibekwe and Gist be reliable scorers inside? Will Hayes and Vasquez be able to handle playing the point in the ACC? Is DJ Strawberry the kind of player who can carry a team? Maryland has a pretty tough conference schedule, although getting to play UNC and Georgia Tech at home only is a big boost. Also, the road trips to Virginia Tech and Wake aren’t that bad. Still, having to play Duke, Clemson, and Florida State twice will be difficult. Maryland has the look of an 8-10 conference win team, which would put them at 21-23 wins, and comfortably in the tournament, ending a two-year drought.

1 comment:

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