Tighten up those basketball shoelaces. Buckle down on defense and focus on movement and screens on offense. For the Terrapins, it's time to get serious.
Not that Gary Williams has it any other way.
Maryland travels to Duke on Jan. 9 and the Terps haven't won there since 2007. Off to a 9-4 start this season, Maryland's RPI resume is missing a big SportsCenter-lead kind of win, and the Terrapins are already 0-1 in the ACC after a Dec. 12 home loss to Boston College.
"I have concerns like every coach this time of year," said Williams, who hasn't been pleased with his team's consistency this season.
First up, another non-conference tuneup Jan. 3 against Colgate in Comcast Center, then the Terps take to the road, at Duke on Jan. 9 and Wake Forest on Jan. 12. An enticing matchup at Villanova on Jan. 15 also looms large as a potential headline-grabber.
The Terrapins actually won their last game against Duke, 79-72, in Comcast last March, but before that game they lost six in a row to the Blue Devils, their longest losing streak to their rivals since the late '90s. The last two trips to Cameron Indoor Stadium have been particularly unpleasant, two losses by an average of 31 points.
With an eye already toward postseason, Maryland can't afford another showing like those.
--Junior swingman Sean Mosley broke out of a recent slump to score 15 points against North Florida in an 85-62 victory Dec. 29. Mosley was 6 of 10 from the field and added a season-high six assists.
Mosley, a hard-nosed hustler noted for his defense, had scored in double figures just once in his last five games. He had 11 in the previous win over NJIT.
"These last two games have been better," Mosley said. "It all comes from practice. I work hard in practice, getting extra shots up and taking my shots in practice where I take my shots in games."
--Maryland's .641 free throw shooting is the second worst percentage in the conference (ahead of only UNC's .637). Particularly troubling is sophomore center Jordan Williams' .505 shooting. Williams, who has shot 60 more free throws than any other Terp, was just 1 of 10 at the line in the win over North Florida.
BY THE NUMBERS: .574 -- On the plus side, Jordan Williams leads the ACC in field goal percentage and in rebounding (11.8 rpg).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're still in the process of seeing what combinations work best for us. It's a challenge to get the right people on the court at the right time, but I like challenges, and it will be interesting to see what works best for us." -- Coach Gary Williams.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Colgate, Jan. 4
KEY MATCHUPS: The Terps wrap up a five-game homestand and are looking for a big win to continue building momentum into conference play. Coach Williams wasn't pleased with the most recent effort against North Florida, and he's still looking for the team's best on-the-court combinations.
--at Duke, Jan. 9
KEY MATCHUPS: Maryland hasn't matched up well with Duke recently and a big part of the reason is versatile Kyle Singler, a 6-8 big man with perimeter skills. The Terps (and most teams) don't have anyone with Singler's singular abilities. Dino Gregory is most likely to get the call to cover Kyle but he's better closer to the basket. Cliff Tucker, 6-6, recently bounced from the starting lineup, could get a chance to prove his worth in this tough assignment. Don't be surprised to see the Terps play some zone, too.
FUTURES MARKET: Freshman Pe'Shon Howard, a burly, athletic combo guard, started at point the last two games through Jan. 2, relegating senior Cliff Tucker to the bench and moving senior Adrian Bowie to shooting guard at the beginning of games. Howard, Bowie and freshman Terrell Stoglin, who is averaging 10.9 ppg, have been point guard by committee so far. Gary Williams is trying to play to each of their strengths. Howard is a solid defender and an imposing 6-3 athlete, explosive in the open court. Bowie has looked more comfortable at shooting guard but is a steady leader that takes over running the offense at times, and also plays well defensively. Stoglin has been instant offense, coming in and speeding the game with his end-to-end dashes, and making things happen. All three will continue to rotate in the backcourt with Tucker and swingman Mosley.
--Sophomore C Jordan Williams recorded his seventh straight double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds against North Florida. Williams is the first Terp to record this many double-doubles in a row since Joe Smith in 1995.
--Freshman F Ashton Pankey, who sat out all of last season at St. Anthony (Bronx, N.Y.) High School with a lower leg stress fracture, is undergoing surgery this week and will miss the rest of this season. He had played just three minutes in the season opener, unable to shake the injury. He had impressed in the preseason with his rebounding.
--Senior G Cliff Tucker has shot the ball better despite coming off the bench the last two games (through Jan. 2) for the first time this season. He was 8-for-14 from the field, averaging 12.5 points over that span. Tucker had hit just 11-of-36 in his last five starts.