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.

Frank Kaminsky trolls Arizona after high school teammate Sean O’Mara gets winning basket for Xavier

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No. 11 seed Xavier’s upset win over No. 2 seed Arizona left a lot of people stunned late Thursday night. Naturally, people took to Twitter to share their opinions of the Musketeers advancing to the Elite Eight to face No. 1 seed Gonzaga.

Some of those with comments on Arizona’s loss included members of Wisconsin’s back-to-back Final Four teams in 2014 and 2015. You might recall that the Badgers eliminated the Wildcats in both years in the Elite Eight to make the trips to the Final Four–so there is some history here between the two schools.

The Twitter comments started with former Wisconsin guard Ben Brust questioning Arizona head coach Sean Miller for going away from his big men. Brust’s “should have kept touching the big Serb” comment would indicate that getting touches for Arizona center Dusan Ristic was important–although others were pointing out freshman Lauri Markkanen’s minimal involvement in the Arizona offense during the last 10 minutes.

That’s when former Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky entered the discussion and promptly shut things down.

Wisconsin’s personal history with Arizona hit closer for Kaminsky than a normal game when Xavier junior big man Sean O’Mara scored the game-winning bucket for the Musketeers with just under a minute left.

There’s a major connection here. O’Mara hails from Benet Academy in the Western Suburbs of Chicago, the same high school program that produced Kaminsky.

So Kaminsky made sure to mention that after the loss.

When Kaminsky was a senior and Benet started its season 29-0 and was nationally ranked in the USA Today High School rankings, O’Mara was the freshman big man that Kaminsky was beating up in practice every day.

While Kaminsky has turned into a productive member of the Charlotte Hornets rotation this season, O’Mara is having himself a solid 2017 NCAA Tournament run as he’s averaging 12.3 points a game after putting up 6.1 per game during the regular season.

We definitely know who Kaminsky will be rooting for when it comes to the West Region.

Saturday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Saturday, March 25

6:09 p.m., TBS, San Jose
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 11 Xavier (Brian Anderson, Chris Webber, Lewis Johnson)

8:49 p.m., TBS, Kansas City
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 3 Oregon (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Dana Jacobson)

Sweet 16 Preview: Friday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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Thursday brought us a thrilling night of college basketball. Oregon won a thriller. Gonzaga did, too. Kansas put on a show, toying with the Big Ten champs. 

And that was just the appetizer for what’s on tap Friday night.

For an in-depth look at each region, check these out:

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-7.5) vs. No. 4 BUTLER, 7:09 p.m. (CBS): As weird as it sounds for a team that finished second in the Big East, that swept Villanova and that has a combined three wins over Arizona and Xavier, Butler is basically back to being a mid-major in the South Region. That’s what happens when you get stuck in a region with three of the biggest brands in the sport.

And don’t think, for a second, that Butler is going to be overmatched here. They’ve proven, time and again this season, that they are good enough to play with the best of the best even if their roster, on paper, doesn’t look that way.

But here’s the thing about North Carolina: If they play their best basketball game, they should be able to run through the Bulldogs. That’s a big ‘if’, however, especially if Joel Berry II plays the way that he has played in the first two games of the tournament. North Carolina goes as Berry goes, and he’s 3-for-21 from the floor in those two games.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (-7.5)

No. 3 BAYLOR (-3.5) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 7:29 p.m., (TBS): Baylor’s front line is massive. Johnathan Motley is an all-american in the middle, Jo Lual-Acuil was one of the nation’s most improved players this season there’s an argument to be made that Terry Maston has been the most important player for the Bears in this tournament. That’s where Baylor’s strength lies, and they play to it. The Bears want to play slow and they want to pound the ball into the paint.

Where Baylor struggles, however, is with their guard play. Manu Lecomte and Jake Lindsey are not exactly Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, and if we’ve learned anything about South Carolina this season, it’s that their defense can be a nightmare for opponents to try and run offense against. They don’t pressure in the full court, but their half court defense is just as tough and as physical and as frustrating as West Virginia’s. I think the first one to 60 wins this game, and I think South Carolina gets it done.

PREDICTION: South Carolina (+3.5)

No. 2 KENTUCKY (even) vs. No. 3 UCLA, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): Does it get any better than this?

Do you really need me to tell you that a matchup between two of the four best teams in college basketball, two teams that can legitimately win a national title, playing in the Sweet 16 is must-see TV?

You shouldn’t.

You probably know all the storylines by now, too, so I’m going to say this: I think this game comes down to how UCLA decides to matchup with Kentucky’s guards. My best guess at what happens is that Aaron Holiday chases Malik Monk around all those screens while Lonzo Ball draws De’Aaron Fox, mostly to save his legs but in part because he has the length to challenge a jump shot while playing far enough off to keep his from getting into the lane.

PREDICTION: I think Kentucky wins, but I love the over (165.5)

No. 4 FLORIDA (-1.5) vs. No. 8 WISCONSIN, 9:59 p.m. (TBS): Florida is one of the best defensive teams in the country. They have length and athletes everywhere on the floor, and head coach Mike White knows it. They pressure, they overplay passing lanes and they make life miserable for opposing playmakers. Wisconsin, like Baylor, is a team that plays through their bigs, but unlike Baylor, a post-up for Nigel Hayes or Ethan Happ is like their point guard getting an isolation. Both guys are just such great passers out of the post that Greg Gard doesn’t have to worry as much about the lack of playmakers in his back court.

I think that is a huge advantage for Wisconsin in what could otherwise be thought of as a bad matchup.

But more than anything, I trust Wisconsin’s vets more in NCAA tournament games than just about anyone else. This is going to be the 17th NCAA tournament game for Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, the most of anyone in the tournament. They’ve both played in two Final Fours and two more Sweet 16s. Hayes and Koenig are the two career leaders in NCAA tournament scoring, and Koenig may be the single-most clutch shooter left in the tournament. I’ll bet on that.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin (+1.5)

No. 11 Xavier advances to the Elite 8 with upset win over No. 2 Arizona

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Trevon Bluiett scored 25 points, Malcolm Bernard scored all 15 of his points in the second half and No. 11 seed Xavier, despite being down eight points with less than four minutes left in the game, rallied to beat No. 2 seed Arizona, 73-71, to advance to the Elite 8.

Arizona is going to regret that loss. As good as Allonzo Trier was in building that eight-point lead — he finished with 19 points, including a run where he scored 15 straight points — he went into full hero-ball mode in the final minutes, a stretch where Arizona’s point guard issues came into plain view. I’m sure that there are going to be Arizona fans that are upset with Sean Miller about the way that the final four minutes played out, but remember: this Arizona team lost Ray Smith, Terrence Ferguson and were without Allonzo Trier for the first 19 games of the season, and Miller still led them to a share of the Pac-12 regular season title and the Pac-12 tournament title.

He’s an incredible coach.

Arizona is lucky to have him.

He’ll breakthrough eventually.

But the story of this game isn’t Arizona or Sean Miller, it’s Chris Mack. It’s Xavier.

The Musketeers have now won three games in the NCAA tournament. As of March 9th, the Musketeers had won three games in the previous five weeks — all three of which came against DePaul — and were heading into a game against Butler in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament with, quite literally, their NCAA tournament bid on the line. They were very much on the bubble, evidence being the No. 11 seed they earned after adding a top 15 win to their résumé.

The Musketeers have been without Edmond Sumner (torn ACL) since the end of January and without Myles Davis (left the team) since the beginning of January. They were two of the three most important players on the Xavier roster heading into the season, and as of today, head coach Chris Mack is fielding a name whose only point guard is a four-star freshman named Quentin Goodin.

They shouldn’t be here.

They shouldn’t be one game away from the Final Four, but this is what Mack does. He’s been a head coach for eight seasons, all of which have come at Xavier. This was his fourth Sweet 16, and the only time he actually entered the tournameht seeded higher than a No. 6 was last year, when the Musketeers were beaten in the second round by a Bronson Koenig buzzer-beater.

One thing that I’ve never really understood about coaching searches is why Mack’s name never gets mentioned with the likes of Dayton’s Archie Miller and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall. Those are the two coaches outside the Power 5 leagues that get mentioned with every single quality opening. “Take a shot at Marshall and Miller, see if they’ll say yes, then move on.” Mack always ends up next on those lists, and I’ve never really understood why.

Part of it is probably because he’s already at a program that is in a high-major league. Part of it is because he’s a Xavier guy — he played there, spent eight seasons there during two stints as an assistant and is an Ohio native. Part of it is because Xavier is already a really good job.

But it does seem like Mack gets overlooked in all of these searches.

Take Indiana, for example.

Steve Alford is the first name everyone mentions with that job. Then it’s Miller and Marshall. If I’m Indiana’s AD, however, Mack is the guy that I go after, and not just because he’s proven that he can go into Indiana and recruit.

He’s just a flat-out terrific coach.

And if this run on top of his other three runs to the second weekend didn’t prove it to you, then the play that resulted in the eventual game-winning points should. It was simple, really, but it certainly was not something you see done in the college ranks all that often. With 50 seconds left and the game tied, Mack had his guys roll the ball up the floor and then used Bluiett, who is scorching the nets in this tournament, as a decoy, running him off of a screen to set up a duck-in for Sean O’Mara:

Not only was the play that Mack drew up beautiful, it took all of six seconds, which meant that Xavier had the lead and was guaranteed to have a shot to get the ball back to win the game regardless of what Arizona did at the other end of the floor.

That is great coaching.

And it’s past time for us to recognize that Mack belongs in the conversation among the best in the business.

No. 1 Kansas dominates No. 4 Purdue in style

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Kansas, the top-seeded team in Midwest region, didn’t just beat No. 4 Purdue, it did so in style. Fast break after fast break, 3-pointer after 3-pointer, dunk after dunk, the Jayhawks ran the Boilermakers off the floor, advancing to the Elite Eight with a 98-66 win on Thursday night in Kansas City.

It followed a familiar script as KU’s 90-70 win over No. 9 seed Michigan State in the second round. Only this time, the climax occurred sooner. Kansas was up 61-54 when Caleb Swaingan checked back into the game, playing alongside fellow Monstar Isaac Haas. Instead of Purdue’s size — the big advantage it had over Kansas — taking control, the only thing that grew was the deficit for the Boilermakers. Kansas went on an 11-0 run beginning at the 14:30 mark. By the time Haas was subbed out, the Jayhawks led 69-56. It never got closer.

Lagerald Vick threw down a 360 dunk … and the Jayhawks hadn’t even begun to pour it on yet. Now, that’s a team that’s playing with confidence.

Kansas shot 66 percent from the field in the second half and connected on 7-of-15 made 3-pointers on the evening. Purdue’s last lead was 35-33 with 4:54 remaining in the second half. That means the Jayhawks outscored the Boilermakers 65-31 for the remainder of the game.

For all that was made of Kansas matchup issues with Purdue, the Boilermakers never solved the matchup problems the Jayhawks presented. While Laden Lucas and the rest of the defense found ways to frustrate Caleb Swanigan (18 points, seven rebounds and five turnovers) and somehow, outrebounded the Boilermakers, Purdue never found a solution for penetration or 3-point shooting from KU’s stable of guards.

“Those guys, especially Caleb on the glass it’s hard to keep ’em off,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said. “If you look at Landen’s stats he only got four rebounds, but the story is Caleb only got seven. And if you had told this before the game that would be the give and take I would have sold out for that because he does a really good job of making sure neither one of them got it for the most part.”

Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham each had 26 points. Mason added seven rebounds and seven assists. Josh Jackson had a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds. Vick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk each recorded double figures too. Lucas’ play has improved as the season’s progressed. They aren’t just putting teams away in this tournament, they’re doing it in style. And it couldn’t be happening at the right time.

They know how win close games, but through three NCAA Tournament games so far, the Jayhawks aren’t willing to take any chances. They’ve elected to not just put teams away, they’ve decided to do so in style.

Kansas advances to play No. 3 seed Oregon on Saturday in the Elite Eight.