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Blogger Spotlight: Testudo Times talks Maryland and the ACC

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Nobody’s want a piece of Maryland this season. The Terps are just 11-6, but feature the nation’s most efficient defense and one of the nation’s top players in forward Jordan Williams.

Maybe that’s why their close losses – to the likes of Top 25 mainstays Pitt, Illinois, Temple, BC, Duke and Villanova – make it seem like Maryland’s ready to run off a host of ACC wins. Tonight against Virginia Tech would be a good place to start. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

So I chatted with Ben Broman, the man behind the Maryland blog Testudo Times, in this week’s Blogg Spotlight for his thoughts on the Terps, the ACC and blogging.

Q: Anyone just tuning into the college hoops season would look at Maryland’s 11-6 and shrug indifference. That must be infuriating given the Terps’ losses and that superb defense, right?

A: I don’t know if I’d say “infuriating.” It’s a little frustrating and disappointing, definitely. Maryland’s not nearly as bad as the record indicates. In fact, if they could hit free throws – a relatively small alteration – it’s not a stretch to say they’d be 14-2 or so right now, with a bunch of impressive wins. So yeah, it’s kind of annoying to think that there are people out there assuming this is a down year for Maryland.

Except for the fact that, well, it kind of is. The defense is great, don’t get me wrong, and the losses are far from damning – in fact, playing top 10 teams toe-to-toe in hostile environments is pretty impressive. But the flaws that caused those games to be lost have popped up again and again. They aren’t one-time occasions. It’s pretty easy to see what’s wrong with this team: they have no consistent perimeter scorer, experienced guard, or anyone capable of hitting free throws, and it’ll more than likely stay that way unless the NCAA unexpectedly introduces free agency. (Too late to call dibs on Jelan Kendrick?)

As long as those problems are around, no one really knows if Maryland is worth more than a shrug of indifference, and most Terrapin fans will agree. After all, it’s not like they only have close road losses to top 25 teams; the Terrapins lost to BC at home earlier in the year and probably should’ve beaten Temple in a virtual home game, too. They’ll probably prove that they’re worth more than a shrug of indifference by the end of the season, hopefully by running through ACC play with relative ease. But until that happens, I’m not upset by casual fans’ ignorance. Who knows? They might actually be unintentionally right.

Q: Same must apply to Jordan Williams. Guy’s been nothing short of a beast (18.1 points 12 rebounds a game) and playing a ton of minutes, but it’s all Jared Sullinger, JaJuan Johnson, Terrence Jones, etc, etc.

A: Maybe it’s just selective perception, but I’ve actually heard a solid amount of Jordan Williams talk by knowledgeable fans. If we’re talking solely casual fans, then yeah, he’s probably being overlooked. But that’s what happens when you can’t win big games on a national stage. I don’t think you can expect any great player to get a lot of talk if they’re on a bad team. Again, if Maryland could hit free throws – or, for that matter, if Jordan Williams could hit free throws – he’s probably seen as a first team All-American candidate.

It may also hurt that he’s not really exciting to watch. It might come as surprise to people that don’t watch him regularly that he’s kind of…awkward. He’s very strong, surprisingly agile and quick, and extremely savvy, but he doesn’t always look the part of a dominant college big man. That might be an impediment.

Either way, almost everyone that truly cares about the game considers him among the top 5 post players in the nation and perhaps the best player in the ACC. For now, that’s enough for me. Hopefully he’ll stick around one more year to reap the benefits of the hype machine that would almost surely surround him in 2011-12.

Q: Compare the difference to last year’s squad to this season’s. Ignore the records. Which would you prefer?

A: Last year’s, and it’s not particularly close. Jordan Williams has the potential to be an all-time great at Maryland, but he isn’t yet. Greivis Vasquez had not only reached that level by his senior year, he was extremely entertaining to watch. More importantly, last year’s team doesn’t have this year’s team’s fatal flaws: the lack of experience, the absence of a consistent perimeter scorer, and free throw shooting. After all, they were one Korie Lucious three-pointer away from being in the Sweet Sixteen (and potentially much farther) last season.

But if we’re playing preferences, let’s just put the sophomore version of Jordan Williams on last year’s team and call it a Final Four.

Q: Gary Williams recently said home-court advantage at Cameron Indoor Stadium was worth about eight points. What’s the Comcast Center worth? (This one will have a follow up)

A: Probably about four, but it depends on how full it is. It definitely gets overlooked by the people that are obsessed with Cameron, but it lacks the tradition and reputation that makes Cameron intimidating. Comcast is probably the second- or third-best homecourt advantage in the conference.

The thing about it is that while it’s an advantage, it’s not as big of one as Cole Field House was. Comcast is cavernous; those intimate places like Cameron, Cole, or even Cassel at VT seem like they’re so much louder when the fans really get riled up.

Q: Agreed completely on Cole Fieldhouse. The trend of replacing classic venues with bright and shiny new spots is never going to end, which is fine, I guess. Schools have to find ways to make money. But when Oregon replaces Mac Court – a dump, but a fabulous edge for the Ducks – with a $226 million arena, it seems like some of the soul is gone. Is Comcast ever going to feel the same as Cole did?

A: It’s all relative, so it’ll probably feel similarly eventually. But the combination of extreme intimacy and storied history isn’t easy to replicate, and it’s certainly not present in Comcast as it stands right now. It has some unique advantages, like the wall of students, the hypno-signs during free throws, and a cheesy nickname (the Comcastle!), but it’s still huge (in a bad way) and without much tradition.

As other sacred grounds are devalued, Comcast will rise up the ranks and will start to feel like “one of those special places” again. Speaking in absolute terms, though, Comcast will never reach Cole one-on-one.

Q: Here’s an easy question, but difficult to answer – Why are so many ACC teams so damn bad this year?

A: Most conferences have a team or two going through a rough patch, on a downswing, if you will. K-State and Oklahoma in the Big 12, Michigan and Indiana in the Big Ten, etc. It’s a temporary problem that should be fixed in a year or two. The problem with the ACC is that that’s half the conference.

Malcolm Delaney essentially is VT. Wake Forest wasn’t left with a full cupboard and is imploding under Bzdelik, who isn’t exactly John Wooden. UNC is still a year away from being back and was overhyped. N.C. State is still suffering under Sidney Lowe. And Maryland continues to blow chances to look impressive out of conference.

I wish there was some really cool, smart answer as to why this is, but there isn’t. Or if there is, I don’t know it. A lot of usually strong teams are bad this year, and that’s about all you can draw from it. The ACC will be back eventually, but probably not anytime soon.

Q: And the thing, is, we all know the ACC will be back given its rich hoops history. Where would you place the Terps in that history? Above N.C. State, below Duke?

A: It’s kind of hard to quantify where Maryland deserves to be, mostly because of their varied history. They’ve had a few stretches of national prominence under Lefty and Gary Williams, but they’ve also been nationally irrelevant for a long stretch, too. Heck, they didn’t even have a Final Four appearance until the past decade. I know there’s a lot of timing that goes into that (thanks, Duke, UNC, and UCLA) but it’s still strange to see a team with two Final Four appearances be the third-most storied team in the game’s most storied conference.

I think saying they’re in the second tier, right below Duke and UNC and fighting for space with N.C. State and Wake Forest, is pretty spot-on. And if I’m picking programs between N.C. State, Wake Forest, and Maryland, I’ll take Maryland. In that sense, yeah, they’re probably No. 3 in the conference in terms of history, right above N.C. State and right below Duke.

Q: And what about that 2002 Maryland team, which, in my opinion, always gets overlooked as one of the top teams of the past 15 years. Where do they rank in ACC lore?

A: That one’s pretty tough. If we’re talking strictly the past 15 years, just off the top of my head, I don’t know, around top 5ish? Number two or three or so? The fact that they didn’t win the ACC tournament hurts, but that 15-1 record in conference and 32-4 record overall is pretty amazing. And they did win a natty, after all.

I’ve never really been surprised that they’ve been overlooked, either. For one, ACC also happens to stand for All-Carolina Conference, so expecting any team out of Tobacco Road to get consistent props is probably expecting too much. And Indiana, the opponent in the national title game, was pretty weak that season. They got hot at the right time, but they were far from a power that year. It’s not like that should devalue what Maryland did – they beat UConn and a really good Kansas team on the way to the title game – but that final game wasn’t an all-time great. That hurts, too.

 Q: For those who don’t know who “Testudo” is, explain your blog’s name and how it ended up on SB Nation.

 A: Testudo is Maryland’s mascot. It’s Latin for “shell”, which makes sense. As for why I picked it: I’m exceedingly unwitty.

As for how we got on SBN, sometimes I still wonder. I had been doing some blogging odd-jobs over the past couple years before deciding to go full-time for Maryland in early 2008, which was my first true sporting love. I’ve been a Terrapin fan essentially since birth and there was a hole in the blogosphere where Maryland blogs were supposed to be, so I decided to fill it. I started blogging on a WordPress site for a few months before reaching out to Peter Bean and the guys at SBN. Looking back on it, I’m kind of surprised they agreed to let me aboard given my relatively unproven blogging chops and the extremely high-quality content elsewhere on the network. All worked out in the end, though, and the ride has been a blast.

Q: Best and worst part of running the blog? For those of us who rely on it for Maryland news, how much longer do you envision do it?

A: The worst part is either the time devotion or the occasional disgruntled reader/commenter. Like many other bloggers, the site isn’t my full-time job, so the time constraints can be rough. And there’s always that weird feeling when someone less than happy with whatever I wrote, be it a random fan or a former player, decides to let me know about it in less than pleasant terms. Maryland’s unwillingness to offer press credentials is annoying, too.

But it’s always worth it for the best part: while being as minimally cheesy as possible, it’s the odd occasion when someone gives an honest, heartfelt compliment and tells me how much they enjoy TT. I never expected that when I started, and I still kind of get goosebumps when it happens. The sense of community at the site is truly amazing, too. There are some regulars on TT that graduated in the 50s and 60s, talking Terps sporst with current students. That’s a pretty proud thing for me.

I don’t think there’s anything coming in the near future, as far as changes in the site go. I don’t plan far enough ahead to give a definitive asnwer on how long I’ll keep doing it, but I don’t see any reason coming in the near future to stop. I really like where the site is right now and don’t want to change too much. As long as I can keep doing what I’m doing now (and I don’t know why I wouldn’t be able to do so), I’ll keep blogging.

You can find Ben’s work at Testudo Times.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

UT-Arlington dominates, upsets No. 12 St. Mary’s

Texas-Arlington's Kevin Hervey, left, reacts to a 73-68 NCAA college basketball game win as Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate looks on  in Columbus, Ohio, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
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UT-Arlington made a statement on Thursday night, completely dominating No. 12 Saint Mary’s in a 65-51 upset win in a true road game in Moraga.

Back in October, I ranked both the Gaels and the Mavericks in the top-5 of my Mid-Major Power Rankings. Saint Mary’s was the obvious top choice, one of the nation’s most efficient offenses that returned Emmett Naar and Jock Landale. UT-Arlington, ranked fifth, served as a dangerous opponent. The Mavs had defeated Ohio State and Memphis in 2015, but their season was derailed once Kevin Hervey, a player with serious pro potential, tore his ACL.

With five starters back, including Hervey, who is just now getting back to 100 percent, UT-Arlington looks every bit the part of a March Cinderella.

The Mavericks jumped out to an early lead and forced the Gaels to play out of character. Saint Mary’s had only committed a season-high 14 turnovers before the midway point of the second half. The Gaels, who entered shooting 40 percent from three as a team, was held to 8-of-27 (30 percent) from beyond the arc.

UT-Arlington did an incredible job of closing out on shooters. And it didn’t matter the matchup, at times we saw Hervey, a 6-foot-9 junior, come out and run a guard off the 3-point line. While those statistics mentioned above show up in the box score, the amount of deflections don’t. The Mavericks used its length and athleticism to get their hands everywhere on the defensive end of the floor, making it difficult to find good looks.

In the first half, UT-Arlington controlled the glass. Saint Mary’s found more success in that department after halftime, as Kevin Clark’s offensive putback capped an 11-2 run, which cut the deficit to 52-41. However, the Mavs were able to counter each time the Gaels threatened, never letting the lead get to single digits.

Aside from the struggles the typically-efficient Saint Mary’s offense had, the Gaels struggled to keep UT-Arlington guards Erick Neal and Kaelon Wilson out of the lane, whether it be on a high ball screen or a handoff. Saint Mary’s never seemed to have a help-side defender there to protect the rim. Neal had 13 points and eight assists (five turnovers), while Wilson had 10 points off the bench. Hervey had a game-high 15 points and seven rebounds.

UT-Arlington is winners of eight straight after losing three straight. One of those wins includes a double-digit win over Texas in Austin. The Mavericks are the clear-cut favorite to win the Sun Belt. Come Selection Sunday, I’d say plenty of at-large teams would not like to be paired up with Scott Cross’ team.

Iowa cruises past No. 25 Iowa State

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20:  Head coach Fran McCaffery of the Iowa Hawkeyes reacts in the first half against the Villanova Wildcats during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center on March 20, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Iowa picked up a major win on Thursday night, defeating in-state rival No. 25 Iowa State, 78-64, in a contest the Hawkeyes thoroughly dominated.

Let’s put it this way: the Hawkeyes have played four top-100 teams, according to kenpom. In those games, all losses by the way, their defense has surrendered 91 points to Seton Hall, 74 points to a Virginia team that plays at the slowest tempo in the country, 100 points to Memphis and 92 points to Notre Dame.

On Saturday, on the same floor Iowa demolished the Cyclones, its defense allowed 98 points in a loss to Nebraska Omaha.

This is exactly the sort of win Fran McCaffery and Co. needed to right the ship as we inch closer and closer to conference play.

When the Cyclones went to their bench in the first half, Nick Baer sparked a 10-0 run which helped set the tone for the remainder of the half. Iowa State went without a field goal for more than six minutes during that span.

Iowa kept Iowa State from getting out and running, holding the Cyclones to zero fast break points through the first 20 minutes and limiting them to only 36 percent from the floor as a team. Iowa, on the other hand, shot 47 percent, including 59 percent in the first half, which led to a 15-point halftime lead.

Peter Jok torched Iowa State to the tune of 23 points (4-of-7 from distance).

Monte Morris was held in check with 10 points, while Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas shot a combined 4-of-13 from three (they each hit a three with less than three minutes to play and the outcome all but decided).

Iowa State’s offense is becoming a bigger concern. Just like against Gonzaga, the Cyclones dug a first-half hole they could shoot out their way of. And like last week’s overtime loss to Cincinnati, they struggled from beyond the arc.

Iowa landed a marquee win it needed, while its rival headed home with questions to answer after losing three of four.

 

Alabama wing sidelined due to weight loss

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 29: Head coach Avery Johnson of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at HP Field House on November 29, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Alabama junior wing Nick King will not be with the team for Sunday evening’s matchup against No. 24 Oregon in Eugene.

According to Rainer Sabin of the AL.com, Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said King undergoing a series of tests after losing more than 10 pounds in less than a week and a half.

Johnson told reporters that he is “very concerned” and estimates that as of now King will be sidelined for “a week or two.”

King, who played his first two seasons at Memphis, has appeared in all seven games for the Crimson Tide, averaging 3.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per game.

Damonte Dodd out with MCL sprain

COLLEGE PARK, MD - FEBRUARY 13: Melo Trimble #2 and Damonte Dodd #35 of the Maryland Terrapins react to a call as Alex Illikainen #25 of the Wisconsin Badgers looks on in the second half at Xfinity Center on February 13, 2016 in College Park, Maryland. Wisconsin won 70-57.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Maryland could be without the services of starting center Damonte Dodd for the remainder of the non-conference slate, the team announced on Wednesday.

Dodd suffered a MCL sprain in his left knee during practice earlier this week. The injury caused him to miss Wednesday’s 76-56 win over Howard. He will not be available for matchups with St. Peter’s and Jacksonville State. The Terrapins then close out the non-conference slate at Charlotte on Dec. 20 before opening up Big Ten play a week later.

Dodd has started in six of seven games he’s appeared in this season. He’s averaging 5.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. Michael Cekovsky started in place of Dodd on Wednesday night. Ivan Bender, who returned to the lineup against Howard after missing the previous contest, should also see an increase in minutes with Dodd sidelined.

Federico Mussini goes coast-to-coast, beats buzzer with and-1

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 03:  Chris Mullin the head coach of the St. John's Red Storm gives instructions to Federico Mussini #4 during the game against the  Xavier Musketeersat Cintas Center on February 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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St. John’s capped the first half with a 6-0 run.

Sophomore guard Federico Mussini went coast-to-coast to beat the buzzer, and draw the foul, as the Johnnies went into the break up 42-33 on city rival Fordham.

The 6-foot-4 guard had gone cold during a five-game stretch, but since Thanksgiving he’s scored in double figures in four consecutive games, including on Thursday night.