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Terps men bring excitement back to Comcast

November 26, 2006|by DAN KAUFFMAN

Over the past decade, perhaps no one has been more pessimistic about Maryland's men's basketball team than yours truly.

I even went so far as to wonder, a few weeks ago, if another subpar season would make coach Gary Williams' seat a little hotter than he's used to.

Quite frankly, with the exception of their run to the 2003 ACC Tournament championship, the Terps have done little since their national championship in 2002.

Well, guess what?

Given what I've seen of this year's Terps (7-0), not only am I pleasantly surprised, I'm downright giddy.

What Maryland has been missing the last few years is chemistry. In my opinion, that's been for two reasons:

Lackluster point-guard play, most evident last year when small forward D.J. Strawberry had to play out of position.

Players who appeared to care more about their individual game than the team game. That would be you, John Gilchrist and Nik Caner-Medley. This also reared its head on defense. For Maryland's full-court pressure to work, every player on the court has to be on the same page and give maximum effort.

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Speak of the devil ... that pressure defense has been at the forefront of the Terps' resurgence.

Every single player on this year's team (well, everyone except center Will Bowers, who doesn't play much) is quick, and forwards Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist are also long, with their wingspans eating up passing lanes. Breaking the Terps' press, over and over, is a taxing job that has proven to be too much for all of their opponents except Michigan State - and to Maryland's credit, it beat the Spartans in the halfcourt anyway to win the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament.

Freshmen point guards Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes have brought a refreshing demeanor and style to the Terps. They aren't real flashy and they don't make spectacular plays. Instead, they value the ball, don't turn it over, make the simple plays and run the flex offense with the kind of discipline that has been sorely lacking in recent memory. Vasquez and Hayes are combining for 12.8 points and nine assists per game and have amassed an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 3 to 1 - solid numbers that will keep the Terps in every game they play.

Strawberry (16 points, 5.1 rebounds, four assists, 1.6 steals) and Mike Jones (12.6 points, 3.7 rebounds) are each playing admirably on the wings. Strawberry in particular has been impressive. He's aggressive going to the rim, his outside shot has improved and his defense is what it's always been - rock solid.

Inside, both Ibekwe (12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocks) and Gist (11.3 points, 5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks) are playing with more energy, and sustaining that energy for longer periods, than I've ever seen. They're both talented enough to post a double-double on any given day.

And on the bench, the Terps have found depth with Bambale Osby (6.7 points, 3.4 rebounds) and Parrish Brown (5.6 points). I haven't had an opportunity to watch Brown play much, but Osby was impressive against Winthrop, showing an array of polished post moves on the way to a 14-point night.

Maryland finally has all the pieces in place for a return to the upper echelon of college hoops. I, for one, couldn't be more excited.

Dan Kauffman is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7520, or by e-mail at kauffman@herald-mail.com. Visit his blog, "Kauffman's Korner," at www.herald-mail.com/sports/blogs/kauffman.

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