Hey, looks like Cal fans no longer have to wait until September to get their revenge on the University of Maryland -- Cal Basketball has just won a Thursday date with the Terrapins in Kansas City for the first round of the NCAA Tournament!
Now, I've been on vacation for the past few days, and won't actually get home until Thursday, but when TwistNHook calls you up and tells you he just has to have a preview of the Maryland basketball team for Monday morning, well, it's pretty obvious what I have do: I tell him to kiss off. However, then Avinash emails me, pleading for mercy, telling me that since joining CGB, Twist has had him chained to his laptop night and day, and could I please help with the workload? With CBKWit feverishly toiling away at his Recruiting Event post, there simply isn't anyone else to handle this, so I graciously acquiesce. You're welcome.
Maryland has been considered an NCAA bubble team for quite some time, limping to just a 7-9 record in a tough ACC. They haven't lost more than 2 games in a row all season, yet until the ACC tournament, they'd only won 2 games in a row once since running off 7 in a row against a significantly easier non-conference slate back in December (Michigan and then a bunch of nobodies). They do have some nice wins this year, including an 88-85 overtime victory over North Carolina and an 80-62 handling of Michigan State in the Old Spice Classic, but a couple of bad losses to Morgan State (can Todd Bozeman give us some pointers?) and Virginia (to close the regular season with a dud), plus some embarassing blowouts to Gonzaga, Georgetown, Clemson and Duke (85-44? Ouch!) certainly left the Terrapins' post-season fate in doubt. Really, it probably took a pair of wins in the ACC tournament to secure their place in the field of 65, the second an impressive 75-64 win over Wake Forest. However, they got here, any team that can beat both North Carolina and Wake Forest should be one to take seriously.
And if we're taking Maryland seriously, that should start (and maybe end) with taking point guard Greivis Vasquez seriously. The Venezuelan is pretty much their team; he leads Maryland in points, rebounds, assists and steals. He plays by far the most minutes, and takes by far the most shots. If the game is on the line, the ball will be in his hands, and if he gets to the line, he's an 88% free throw shooter. He's been held below 10 points just 3 times this year (by Duke, Georgetown, and Florida State), and in the upset win over North Carolina, he recorded the Terrapins' first triple-double in 22 years. Perhaps Randle or Gutierrez will be quick enough to help contain Vasquez before he penetrates the lane, forcing him to pass it on, or hopefully take less-than-ideal shots (he can be a ball-hog at times, and though he takes by far the most threes on the team, he makes less than a third of them), though at 6' 6", Vasquez should be a height mismatch for either of Cal's point guards, and possibly too quick for Christopher or Robertson. The Bears should hold out scant hope of shutting Greivis down, instead merely trying to limit the damage.
Vasquez will be Maryland's first option on offense. Maybe their second and third options, too. - Image via sportsillustrated.cnn.com
Beyond Vasquez, however, Maryland will present little in the way of height. No one on their roster is taller than 6' 10", and much of that height goes unused on the bench; the tallest players who make significant contributions are 6' 7" forwards Landon Milbourne and Dave Neal (the squad's only senior). Without much size inside, the Terrapins give up a lot of offensive boards (when your point guard is your leading rebounder, you're probably in trouble), and while they are in the top 10 in the country in free throw percentage, that skill doesn't help them much, since they are absolutely awful at getting to the free throw line (in terms of the number of free throw attempts as compared to their total field goal attempts, they're in the bottom 15 in the country). Milbourne is Maryland's real inside presence, and a good shooter to boot (85% from the line, and can step out and hit some jump shots, too), but I feel pretty confident about Boykin and Kamp's ability to match up with him.
On the perimeter, Maryland has a number of players who can knock down an open shot, including Neal, 6' 4" guard Eric Hayes, and 6' 2" guard Adrian Bowie. However, as long as the Bears don't leave these guys open, I think they should be fine; none of these guys shoot even 40% from three (the best, Neal, is about as good as Christopher, though with far fewer attempts), and Maryland is overall pretty mediocre from three. In fact, their shooting percentage is overall pretty tepid (46%, 33% from three, both in the bottom half of the NCAA), and the main way they stay in games in by maximizing their opportunities; they don't turn the ball over much (top 30 in the country) and they grab a bunch of offensive boards (fantastic given their lack of size).
Defensively, Maryland likes to mix and match between straight up man defense and a zone. They can both block and steal the ball; if they have a weakness on defense, it's that they don't rebound particularly well, which is not good news for them; give the Bears two or three chances to knock down and open shot, and they almost certainly will. Neither team will physically overpower the other, so I have a feeling that a lot of this game is going to be determined by which team exudes more hustle, especailly on the boards.
In the Asian guy on the bench category, Maryland counters Cal's Max Zhang with one of their own, 6' 8" freshman Jin Soo Kim. Like Max, he's a bit of a fan favorite, and also like Max, he probably won't play outside of garbage time. Interesting fun fact, though.
On paper, I think Cal should win this game. Vasquez is a stellar talent (All-ACC second team), but he does need help, and I think the Bears match up well enough with everyone else to be able to deny Vasquez the help he needs. If there's one thing that worries me, it'll be how much the Bears want this game; they can survive a cold shooting stretch with good defense, but not if they aren't willing to put in the work. Traveling to Missouri and starting an early game didn't work too well back in December, and it could be a worry again, as the Bears have looked the worst this year when they didn't have 5 guys on the floor with their heads in the game, willing to play tough D.
My early homer prediction: Cal 75, Maryland 68, with Jerome Randle thriving in his first taste of the NCAA tournament.