These two-day turnarounds in the NCAA Tournament aren't just tough on college basketball coaches. They're tough on college basketball bloggers, too. To get our readers quickly up to speed, we've exchanged questions and answers with Testudo Times, SB Nation's Maryland Terrapin blog.
My replies to the Times' inquiries can be found over on their site. Below, I'm in bold.
As a Midwest basketball fan, it seems to me like Maryland has flown under the national radar. Normally, the second best team in the ACC is seeded higher than #4. And, as a stats-based blogger, the Terrapins' #10 ranking in the KenPom numbers (#4 on offense) scares me. Give us a brief recap of your team's season. Has the team's performance been a surprise or did Maryland fans know the potential was there for a finish near the top of the ACC standings?
Maryland's success, to a lot of people, has been a surprise. Very few expected Maryland to be able to do this well; I think they were picked something like 7th in the ACC preseason poll. A lot of fans knew that if Maryland was going to have a top 3 ACC finish, this was the year to do it, but I don't think too many expected it to actually happen. As for why Maryland's been under the radar, a very weak OOC schedule probably did them in. Maryland's best out of conference win was against Fairfield, and they lost on their home court to William & Mary. The lack of real quality wins kept Maryland from gaining too much exposure, and when they started tearing through the ACC, people assumed the conference was down anyway. As a team, they really started to come together when Greivis Vasquez heated up and Jordan Williams became acclimated to college ball, and that didn't happen until the ACC season began. That probably keeps them from being talked about too much.
The Maryland player most college basketball fans know about is Grevis Vasquez. As good as Vasquez has been throughout his career (putting up 17 points and 6 assists against Michigan State in Maryland's nonconference win over MSU last season), it looks like he's become even more explosive this season, with three 30-point performances and four games with more than 10 assists to his name. Does Vasquez have any weaknesses left in his game at this point? At 6'6", does he tend to take advantage of shorter defenders or can a smaller, quicker defender (i.e., Kalin Lucas) keep him off-balance some?
Vasquez is certainly more explosive than last year, but he's also straight up better, because he makes fewer bonehead plays and doesn't force shots as much. Turnovers and bad shots used to be major weaknesses, but he's toning them down. Offensively, he's an extremely complete player, and it takes a top-flight defender to slow him down. He can hit the outside shot, drive the lane, finish at the rim, and dish the rock at an elite level. Where he's a liability is on the defensive end, because he simply doesn't have the quickness, strength, or mentality to be an elite defender. As for stopping him with a quicker player, it has seen moderate success. If that quicker defender is using a lot of pressure and getting in his face, Vasquez tends to get frustrated. But if he's playing off just a little, it probably won't work. Vasquez isn't particularly quick, but he's extremely long, and that makes up for his lack of speed. He'll still be able to get in the lane either way, and shorter defenders have trouble contesting his shot or getting in his line of sight to force bad passes.
Gary Williams appears to have a nicely-balanced and versatile supporting cast for Vasquez, with a starting lineup that features five guys between 6'4" and 6'9". Who's been the top supporting contributor down the stretch in ACC play?
Maryland does have a very balanced team; outside of Vasquez, anyone can drop 15 on any given night. The responsibility of doing that has rotated between a few guys; it'll be Landon Milbourne and his seemingly infallible mid-range jumper one day, then the calm Eric Hayes, then Sean Mosley. Almost everyone on this team with the exception of the walk-ons, Steve Goins, and Dino Gregory is capable of having a big secondary game. Milbourne, who is a little undersized and has been fading but has a killer mid-range jumper, and Hayes, who is Maryland's best deep shooter, are the biggest threats, but Jordan Williams, Sean Mosley, Adrian Bowie, and Cliff Tucker are all just as capable of having a big day.
Defensively, rebounding appears to be the major issue for the Terrapins, with freshman Jordan Williams being the only major-minute player with a defensive rebounding percentage about 12% (I told you we love the stats). How concerned are you about MSU's well-publicized prowess on the offensive glass?
In a word, very. When Maryland loses, it's usually because they gave up an absurd amount of offensive rebounds and second chances. That's what did them in against Georgia Tech, and it certainly made a difference in the Clemson and Duke losses. For some reason I'll never understand, Gary Williams doesn't teach rebounding or boxing out, and says that rebounding is all about effort. When Maryland gives that effort, they can usually keep the battle of the boards close enough. When they don't, it gets ugly. I wouldn't be surprised if that's where the game's decided.
One more defensive question: I've seen a couple articles indicating that Gary Williams utilized some zone defense early in the season. How much zone has Maryland played of late and, if they have played zone, what variety of zone is it? Or has Williams gone back to his more traditional preference for man-to-man defense?
It's mostly man-to-man at this point, though if another team gets very hot he might give a 2-3 or a 1-3-1 an occasional look. Gary has used it occasionally, especially earlier in the year, and had mixed results. The last game they really used it in was against Wake Forest, which was an overtime loss. Since then, it's basically been abandoned. When Maryland's used it, it hasn't worked particularly well. I expect him to stick to man-to-man. [Editor's note: Rats.]
Bottom-line, gut-level prediction: How does Sunday's game end?
It's tough to predict. Maryland has had trouble starting lately, and that scares me. But Maryland is better offensively and seems steadier than Michigan State right now. It'll all come down to how much Maryland can keep MSU off the boards. If Jordan Williams can have a big day on the glass, I like Maryland by 5. If Michigan State dominates the boards like they can, this will be a close game, and a very frustrating one for Maryland fans - in that case, I'd say MSU by 4. Either way, it'll be an exciting game.