College Park, Md. - Comcast Center
5:30 p.m., FSN (Tim Brando and Mike Gminski)
"Right now, I could play for Gary Williams and I could enjoy it very easily. But I don't know if I would like to be a player playing for him this week. He's one of the guys I truly, truly enjoy and I feel like I have a great relationship with. But we'll get their best shot. I think they feel like they've got their back to the wall, like they've bottomed out - any one of those clichés you want to use. We'll catch a great, great shot from them and it will be a big challenge for us. I think this will be the most difficult road game for us this year." -- Roy Williams
"Maryland lost a tough one the other night. They're going to be ready. It's going to be a tough one. It will be a big-time crowd at their place. We're going to have to play hard." -- Marvin Williams
First Matchup vs. UNC: This was supposed to be a tough game for the Tar Heels -- and it looked that way early on as Maryland led 29-24 -- but Carolina went on a 23-3 run to close the half and turned it into a rout. Roy Williams' high-octane Heels ran the Terps into the ground, thanks in part to 41 bench points, for a 109-75 final.
Season To Date: When was the last time an ACC team swept Duke, but was swept by Clemson? Without checking the archives, just consider it a rhetorical question to sum up Maryland's season. After winning the ACC Tournament last year, hopes were high for the Terps to build on that momentum. Instead they've been a mystifyingly inconsistent group. The two thrilling wins over the Blue Devils proved that Maryland can play with -- and beat -- a Top 10 team. But those two bad losses to Clemson and being thoroughly outplayed twice by NC State takes a good deal of shine off of the Duke wins. In fact, the upsets of Duke are the only two good RPI wins the Terps have all season and thusly they can no longer be considered an NCAA Tournament lock at this point. Losses to Carolina and then at Virginia Tech could potentially burst their bubble.
Chemistry Problems: So why has there been such inconsistency? Standout D.J. Strawberry is out for the year with an injury and reserve center Hassan Fofana transferred, but those aren't the real answers. The actual reason appears to be hidden behind a cloud of team chemistry and other off-the-court issues. John Gilchrist, a potentially spectacular point guard who is dishing out 5.6 assists and leading the team in three-point shooting (40.2%), spoke to the team's problems after the second Clemson loss. "We're fighting things we can't even see," Gilchrist told the Washington Post earlier this week. "You can look at someone [teammates] and be like, 'What's wrong?' You can just tell. Everybody has things that should be wiped away when you step on the basketball floor, but it's kind of getting carried over this year." Without specifics, it's hard to determine exactly what's going on, but it's head coach Gary Williams' task to find a solution and it's Gilchrist's job to lead the team on the court.
Offensive Keys: For the Terps to be successful on the offensive end, they need strong outings from Nik Caner-Medley and Chris McCray, who have been terrific on some nights and completely absent on others. If Gilchrist and Co. can help get them good shots, Maryland can hang with any high-scoring team, including North Carolina. In the game in Chapel Hill, the two combined for 6-for-25 from the field and 0-for-10 on three-pointers. Needless to say, for a team that relies on those two so heavily for offense, that's not going to get it done.
Developing the Bench: Even with Strawberry out and Fofana gone, Gary Williams has been effective at utilizing his bench. Four reserves are making significant contributions and even senior Mike Grinnon has seen minutes (and he's likely to start briefly on Sunday because it will be senior night). Freshman James Gist will be a standout in the years to come, but for now has helped haul in key rebounds and made some big blocks. Will Bowers isn't exactly quick at 7-1, 253 pounds, though his presence has played a big role in a number of contests. And former high school All-American Mike Jones has yet to find his once-deadly three-pointer, however he's improved other aspects of his offensive game and his scoring average is climbing fast -- to the point where Gary Williams last week called him "instant offense."
Projected Starters: 11 John Gilchrist (6-3, 201, G, Jr.) – 17.0 ppg, 5.6 apg 13 Chris McCray (6-5, 190, G, Jr.) – 14.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg 22 Nik Caner-Medley (6-8, 240, F, Jr.) - 17.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg 4 Travis Garrison (6-8, 243, F, Jr.) – 10.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg 25 Ekene Ibekwe (6-9, 220, F, So.) - 8.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg Key Reserves: 15 James Gist (6-8, 215, F, Fr.) – 5.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg 23 Mike Jones (6-5, 209, G, So.) – 6.0 ppg 12 Sterling Ledbetter (6-4, 195, G, Jr.) – 2.8 ppg 31 Will Bowers (7-1, 253, C, So.) – 2.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg
Gilchrist ... McCray
Caner-Medley ... Ibekwe
Garrison ... Williams