Maryland has started the year 3-0 but has yet to face a "big name" team. On top of that, the Terps have been less than impressive against their mid-major competition. They defeated North Florida handily and scraped to get by Hampton and Northeastern, who they defeated in overtime. It's tough to get a read on Maryland based on their competition, as Northeastern has lost very close games to the Terps and Illinois while Hampton easily beat a pretty good Tulsa squad. So what should the Bruins expect and can they handle the higher tempo that Maryland is sure to try and force on them?
The key to the game is going to be guard play. Russell Westbrook has gotten demonstrably better with each successive game, cutting his turnovers down from 6 to 3 to 1. Now he will be facing his toughest competition and, because of the injuries to Collison and Roll, will be on the floor for virtually the entire game. Maryland will start sophomore Greivis Vasquez (6'5" 195 lbs.) at the point. Vasquez was a revelation as a freshman but has had a bit of a mediocre start to the 2007-2008 campaign. He is second on the team in scoring at 16 PPG but he is only shooting 42% form the floor and an abysmal 26% from long range. More importantly, however, he hasn't been getting the ball in the right places on the offensive side of the floor. He is averaging 6.7 APG but also a whopping 5 TPG. Frankly, he's pressing and it doesn't help that the Terps have yet to develop a true inside go-to-guy. His shot selection has mirrored his poor entry passing, thus the poor shooting percentage. Because of his size, Vasquez is a good rebounder for a point guard, averaging 6 RPG, but he isn't particularly quick. He uses his size and length to power his individual defense, but in Westbrook he will face a player for the first time that has both the size and quickness.
The ‘2' guard will be sophomore Eric Hayes (6'3" 175 lbs.), a similar player to Vasquez. Hayes will look to get into the lane when possible but is also smart enough to know when to take the mid-range jumper. Typically, Hayes waits on the perimeter while Vasquez institutes the offense and he will either shoot the ‘3' on the kick-out or will drive his man when the ball reverses. He will present a difficult assignment for Josh Shipp. The thing that Hayes doesn't do enough of, according to Coach Gary Williams, is play aggressively on the offensive end. Hayes is definitely more of a complimentary player. He is averaging 11 PPG and is shooting 45% from the floor as well as 46% from behind the arc. He's perfect from the charity stripe (10-10), but he became a non-factor at the end of the Northeastern game and doesn't seek the ball in any appreciable way during crunch time. Still, Shipp will be defending the best player he's yet seen this year outside of practice.
Vasquez and Hayes have taken almost ¾ of the Terps' 3-point attempts this season, and the ‘3' is a significant part of the Terp offense. The problem for the Terps is that the two guards have only made 1/3 of their attempts.
The Terps really don't have a go-to option inside…yet. That seems to be changing with the return of senior James Gist (6'8" 223 lbs.). Gist missed the first game of the season but has been averaging 21.5 PPG in the two games since his return. He's shooting 57% from the floor and has even made two of his five 3-point attempts this season. In the two games he's played he's leading the Terps with 8.5 RPG, including 2.5 per game on the offensive end. He's a very good athlete who is going to challenge whoever defends him. Based on the lineup that Coach Ben Howland has used in the first three games, expect to see Alfred Aboya start on Gist. Aboya has the quickness and athleticism to stay with Gist but more importantly Aboya plays quite a bit tougher than Gist likes. Maryland fans, and to a lesser extent Coach Williams, have lamented the fact that Gist has a tendency to float in games, especially when he is facing a defender who will be physical with him. Don't let the PPG fool you; Gist was the primary beneficiary of playing teams that have no real inside presence. Both Aboya and Lorenzo Mata-Real should be able to counter what Gist brings to the offensive table.
The only true post player that Maryland has is senior Bambale Osby (6'8" 250 lbs.), a true wide body who likes to bang down low. Osby isn't the best athlete but he knows how to use his size. He is averaging 12.3 PPG but he is averaging only 33% from the floor. He is by far the one Terp who has gotten to the line (39 attempts), but is only making 59% of those free throws. Osby's real contribution is on the defensive end where he averages 8.3 RPG as well as 3 BPG. But, again, that has to be taken with a grain of salt as Osby has played against small front lines. Mata-Real and Kevin Love are far and away the best front line he has seen or will see until the Terps play North Carolina.
The final starter is sophomore forward Landon Milbourne (6'7" 205 lbs.). Milbourne is a nice complimentary player who averages 6.5 PPG and 5.5 RPG. He's not an outside threat, having attempted only 2 ‘3's this season and missing both. Even if he plays as poorly as he did against Portland State, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute should have an edge against Milbourne, and if Luc plays to his strengths, then this should be a match-up that the Bruins dominate. Luc is far too strong and quick for Milbourne and his experience should make this even more of a mis-match.
Maryland is a young team and as a result the two primary bench players are freshmen: Cliff Tucker (6'6" 185 lbs.), a player who is reminiscent of Chace Stanback, and Adrian Bowie (6'2" 185 lbs.), who will provide rest for Vasquez and Hayes. Both average 5.7 PPG but that is a bloated number because of the North Florida game. Coach Williams will throw another frosh, Shane Walker (6'10" 215 lbs.), for a few minutes because he provides some size for the Terps.
The Bruins should still win the battle of the benches as UCLA should have three players, four if you count Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, who are all at least as effective as what Maryland will bring off the bench.
Many think that Maryland will try and play a more up-tempo game so as to get the Bruins, in particular Westbrook, tired. A closer look, however, shows that this type of game plan doesn't fit Maryland's roster either. The Terps don't get many minutes off the bench. During Maryland's best years, including their national title season, Williams had teams that played good defense and played a very physical game. This team is built to play that grind-it-out style. At least they are built to do that more than run, especially against a team like UCLA. Williams likes to play zone about as much as Howland does but expect to see some zone just to throw off the Bruins.
The game really does come down to guard play, more specifically Westbrook's play. The Bruins can't afford to have Westbrook get into any real foul trouble. If Westbrook is on the bench for any significant amount of time then the Bruins will be in trouble. However, if Westbrook plays as he has the past two games then the Bruins should have a solid advantage in the backcourt. What will probably happen is somewhere in the middle. Maryland really is an average team and should struggle to finish in the top half of the ACC. Don't sell Williams' coaching ability short, though, and he will probably have the Terps playing much better ball after the New Year. But this is still November. Couple that with the fact that Vasquez doesn't show any signs of coming out of his mediocre play and this should be a relatively easy Bruin victory.