College Basketball Nation: Cliff Tucker

If you saw Maryland coach Gary Williams's face just after his Terrapins pulled out a 75-74 win against College of Charleston on Wednesday night, then you know: this was not Maryland's finest game.

The Terps committed 18 turnovers, showed neither a willingness or ability to make outside shots (2-for-7 from beyond the arc), and shot 27.8 percent from the free throw line. These are all ugly stats, and they're the sort of things that will get you into trouble against solid mid-major foes like Charleston. Maryland fans have spent most of the offseason (and especially the past few weeks, if the Hoopsbag is any indication) claiming their team is underrated, that they should be in the top 25, that they're better than North Carolina; barely getting past College of Charleston doesn't exactly support that theory.

Having said that, last night contained more positive than negative for Maryland, even if Gary's sweaty complexion didn't show it:
  • Jordan Williams might be a beast. The sophomore forward -- who Terps fans are hoping can develop into a frontcourt star this season -- had 26 points, 15 rebounds, two steals and a block.
  • Late resilience: Maryland trailed 68-60 at the 8:36 mark, but held Charleston without a single field goal for nearly nine minutes.
  • Maryland shot the ball efficiently: The Terps were 51.5 percent from the field last night, and no one had a particularly poor shooting game. Williams missed nine of his 21 attempts, but he was frequently under pressure in the post, and even Cliff Tucker, who missed all three of his three-pointers, went 7-for-15 from the field.
  • Pe'Shon Howard might be ready right now. Maryland is relying on youth this season -- Williams especially. But the star of the show last night was Howard, who came off the bench to score 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting, in the process making what is already the biggest shot of his collegiate career. With eight seconds left, Howard got the ball at the top of the key, spun into his defender, got just past the right elbow, stopped, stepped back, and hit a pretty little fadeaway jumper to give his team a one-point lead with three seconds remaining. It was a brilliant shot and a really impressive performance, made all the more so by Howard's youth and Maryland's desperate need for a capable point guard in the post-Greivis era.

Sure, Gary Williams might have preferred a more convincing effort. He'd probably also like it if his team hadn't turned the ball over 44 times in two games. But at the end of the day, the Charleston squeaker had plenty of encouraging signs for Maryland fans, even if Gary couldn't see them right away.

Hoopsbag: Answering our mail

October, 20, 2010
Each Wednesday, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this space. To submit, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the page. You can also email me or send me your entries via Twitter. Let's begin with a couple of video responses about the worst team in the NCAA and how much Kansas needs freshman point guard Josh Selby:

Julie Haeussler from Bartlett, Ill. writes: Thanks for not totally counting Purdue out. In fact, I kind of wish you were a little more pessimistic. I believe the more the media counts Purdue down and out the the more Purdue has to prove and will prove in a big way. After Robbie's injury last February everyone counted Purdue out and we proved we belonged with or without Robbie on the floor. We still have two top players and as you said a little depth. Matt Painter is an excellent coach and you can look for Purdue to be a title contender.

Eamonn Brennan: Hey, no problem! And also, um, sorry? I will say this: It's good to see Purdue fans keeping the faith. If something similar happened to my favorite college hoops team, I would be locked in my room listening to Joy Division and posting miserable, depressing things on my Facebook wall.

As for your other assertions, though, I'm not sure the media's reaction will matter all that much. Purdue will have something to prove this season one way or another. Intangible stuff aside, the Boilers are still an awfully good team with or without Hummel, and given the timing of the injury, they'll have time to figure out their style without the star forward in the lineup. That's the good news. Unfortunately, I have to disagree with your last sentence: Without Hummel, Purdue is unlikely to remain a national title contender. They'll be a top 15 team, and they will make a run at the Big Ten title, but it's hard to imagine them retaining that elite, top-three status they would have had with Hummel in the fray. (And hey, there's some pessimism for you, Julie. I hope my work here is done.)

Ryan from Dayton, Ohio writes: Eamonn, what are your predictions on the Dayton Flyers for this year?

Brennan: The Flyers have an extremely interesting returners/departures dynamic happening this season. They return their most talented players: Chris Wright, who might be the favorite for A-10 player of the year honors this year, eschewed an NBA jump to return for his senior season. Chris Johnson, the team's second leading scorer in 2009-10, took a big step forward last year. And Paul Williams, the team's best defender, is still around. But Dayton also lost five seniors from last year's NIT-title team, and while that sort of core attrition can be hard to quantify, it can also be hard to overcome. (For example: Does Dayton man up and streak to an NIT bid if those five seniors aren't around? Maybe, but maybe not.)

Fortunately, there's a pretty great recruiting class arriving this season. That class includes one player ranked in the ESPNU 100, point guard Juwan Staten, the No. 12-ranked player at his position in 2010. That's a big addition as Staten could start immediately. How he plays, and how coach Brian Gregory incorporates the rest of his young guys around the talented mainstays will be the difference between another NIT season and a top-two finish in the Atlantic-10 and NCAA tourney berth. In other words, I don't know! Like I said, it's a strange dynamic. But if I had to lay a bet, I'd say Dayton makes the tournament. There's still an awful lot of talent there.

Jeff from Venice, Calif. writes: Maryland has three returning seniors and two returning starters. Why are they getting no love from the pollsters?It seems to be all about recruiting stars, not actual performance. The Terps tied for the ACC championship with Duke. Shouldn't they start in the top 20?

Brennan: I'd say I'm more bullish on the Terrapins than many. Jordan Williams is becoming a legit big man, Sean Mosley is an efficient scorer and a very good perimeter defender, James Padgett could take a big sophomore leap, and the three seniors you mention (Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker, and Dino Gregory) are all solid contributors with a variety of individual skills on offer. The Terrapins aren't without talent, and in a down ACC, they could make some noise.

But top 20? To start the year? Come on. Any team that loses three seniors is going to take a preseason rankings dive. That goes double when those seniors are Greivous Vasquez (the ACC player of the year), Landon Milbourne, and Eric Hayes (one of the more underrated and efficient scorers in the country last season). The Terps have some reasons for optimism, and Williams is a solid centerpiece to build around, but the 2010-11 Terps are going to have to earn their way out of the ACC's muddled lower half. Top 20? Simmer.

Micah P. from Charlotte, N.C. writes: Now that the Tarheels have kicked Will Graves off the team they have gotten even younger! Do you think that Roy and the boys have still have a shot at winning the ACC this year over Duke?

Brennan: Another question, another bit of overzealous wishful (I assume it's wishful, anyway) thinking in the ACC. Sure, if there's any team that can hang with Duke in the conference this year, it's North Carolina; the Tar Heels are extremely talented. But that "if" is exactly as big as the gap between Duke and the rest of the conference, even with all that talent at UNC.

Scott from Eugene writes: With Tre'von Willis looking like he is only going to miss one regular season game, and some intriguing new pieces like Karam Mashour and Quintrell Thomas, is UNLV a legitimate top 25 team?

Brennan: I think so. The main thing holding most from placing UNLV in that group this offseason was Tre'Von Willis's domestic abuse-related drama. Since those issues in June, Willis has entered a no-contest plea to a misdemeanor charge and has been ever-so-gingerly suspended for three games -- two of which will apparently be exhibitions -- by UNLV coach Lon Kruger. Willis could be suspended for longer than three games if he doesn't meet Kruger's expectations, but it's hard to imagine the head coach keeping his star player out for too long. (I would find myself somewhat queasy about all this were I a UNLV fan; suspending a player for two exhibition games seems less like a punishment than a knowing wink in the direction of propriety.)

Of course, there's also Willis' minor offseason knee surgery to contend with, which forced him to the sidelines for a practice last Friday. But yes: UNLV returns all five starters from a team that made the NCAA tournament last year, and given what we now know about Willis' senior season with the team, that alone is enough for me to consider them among the top 25 fray.

Mark from Boulder, Colo. writes: What are Michigan State's chances of going to the Final Four again? They are returning a number of key players, but have an panoply of injuries (Lucas, Lucious, Bryd, etc.).

Brennan: First off, Mark, extra credit for working "panoply" into a Hoopsbag question. Gold star.

Second, yes, Michigan State will have to deal with their share of injuries, but I'm not all that concerned. Tom Izzo is famous for rounding his teams into tournament shape just in time for February and March, and there might not be a better tournament coach in the country. That's to say nothing of the fact that this is one of the most talented MSU teams Izzo has ever had. Even with those injuries -- all of which should be good and healed sooner rather than later -- would you bet against a loaded Spartans team in March? I wouldn't.

Hank Morris from New York writes: How is Steve Lavin doing it so well and so quickly? What's the magic? Everyone in New York is excited and amazed. Also, do you think a team of mostly freshmen can challenge in the Beast next year?

Brennan: How's Lavin doing it? I think it's a mix of charm, charisma, enthusiasm -- the tools that made Lavin one of the more likable television presences in college hoops for nearly a decade -- with a good understanding of how to use those tools in a crowded media market. Lavin has been out there, and the chatter about St. John's is at a higher level than it's been in years. He's also leveraging the program's two most important recruiting assets: location (New York City) and location (Madison Square Garden). It's still very early, but the fact that Lavin has already landed a class that has fans this excited bodes well for his future in the city.

Before St. John's fans get too far ahead of themselves though, the program is still probably a couple years away from contending in the Beast, as you call it. Those freshmen will be good, but these things don't happen overnight.

Dennis from Owensboro, Ky. writes: Rick Pitino met with Wake Forest transfer Tony Woods this past weekend. Does this do more damage to U of L's program than help it? Thanks.

Brennan: First off, as Andy Katz reported yesterday, Pitino is merely considering Woods's desire to transfer to Louisville. Nothing is final yet, and Pitino seems to be doing a fair amount of diligence before he makes any major commitments.

That said, I think it hurts. I'm not sure how you could think otherwise. Here's what we know: Woods, a promising but unproven forward at Wake Forest, was accused by police of kicking and pushing down his girlfriend in front of their 8-month-old child. His girlfriend fractured her spine in the process. Woods pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault on a female and was given a suspended 60-day sentence and 100 hours of community service. Woods's lawyer says he's a good kid who learned his lesson and wants a chance to move on.

All well and good. Maybe Woods deserves a second chance; maybe he doesn't. The vagaries of his case are very troubling, but whether or not he deserves a second chance is, for Louisville, entirely beside the point. I tend to agree with Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Rick Bozich, who wrote a forceful column on the topic Monday: Pitino's is a program in need of a serious image revamp, and if he agrees to take on a player who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault after breaking his girlfriend's back, that image takes another major hit. Yes, winning matters too. With John Calipari down the road, the pressure is on. But if I'm a Louisville fan, I don't care how talented Woods is. I just want my coach to stay away.

Maybe it's different for other programs. Maybe the rehabilitation process could be seen as genuine elsewhere. And maybe -- because we really don't know, and it'd be silly to condemn a person forever based on one bad mistake -- Woods is a good kid who made a bad mistake and will one day make good on his second chance. All of that is entirely possible. But at Louisville? Bad idea blue jeans.

Final: Georgia Tech 69, Maryland 64

March, 12, 2010
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Well, that wasn't dull. Quick thoughts from Georgia Tech 69 Maryland 64.

  • Georgia Tech led by 19 in the first half and 16 at halftime. Yet it had to hang on for dear life to hold off the Terrapins. Maryland never took the lead in the second half or got the game tied, but it sure came close. The game was basically nip-and-tuck for the final 12 minutes.
  • We almost had a replay of the thrilling finish between these two in College Park last month. In that one, Cliff Tucker made a game-winning three at the buzzer for a Maryland victory. This time, Greivis Vasquez went up for a tying three in the final 10 seconds, but had the ball poked away by Iman Shumpert. Vasquez then committed an intentional foul keeping Shumpert from taking the loose ball in for a layup, and the game was won.
  • We now have a No. 12 seed (Miami) and No. 7 seed (the Yellow Jackets) in the semifinals. If 11th-seeded North Carolina State wins the nightcap, this tournament will have officially barged into the silly zone.
  • The Jackets had plenty of doubts on the way to winning this game after nearly blowing the big lead, but have erased all doubts about being in the Big Dance.
  • Tech made 8 of 12 3s ... but only 13 of 27 free throws.
The Villanova-Maryland matchup in D.C. tonight lost a little of its luster after the Terps were taken out by Cincinnati and Wisconsin. But as the season progresses, those are going down as losses to good teams, so it could be foolish to count out Maryland against the Wildcats. The Terps started the season in the Top 25 with good reason.

Meanwhile, Villanova hasn't played a legit road game this season and is still without the services of senior guard Reggie Redding (suspension) and Mouphtaou Yarou (illness). The Wildcats remain a fairly young team, with role players taking over as leaders and freshmen playing valuable minutes.

Antonio Pena, a career understudy, has been playing lights out, averaging 13.4 points and 10.3 rebounds, but Landon Milbourne, Jordan Williams and the athletic Cliff Tucker could give the Wildcats some trouble in the frontcourt.

How well Villanova defends will make all the difference. Jay Wright was pleased with the Cats' effort in their last game but that was against Drexel. No offense to the Dragons, but that isn't the same as slowing down a Maryland team that has scored or hovered near 80 points in five of its first seven games.