Sunday’s 27-7 loss to Tampa Bay had a Groundhog Day feel about it.  You know, where if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow we get six more weeks of winter?  Well, Sunday at Fed Ex Field the Burgundy and Gold saw a team that was a shadow of a contender tell us there will definitely be six more weeks of another winter.  This was an underwhelming defeat along the lines of Kansas City last year or against Kansas City in 2009–losses that set in motion the ends of the Shanahan and Zorn regimes.  One can’t imagine Jay Gruden becoming a one-and-done in Ashburn, but it’s happened before.

 

RG3VER– the face of the franchise completed 23 of 32 passes and threw for the team’s only touchdown.  As we can’t cook the books any further, Griffin averaged under 9 yards per completion and was intercepted twice in the first quarter– the first set up the Buccaneers first points (a 32 yard field goal) while the second was returned for Tampa Bay’s first touchdown of the day.  RG3 was sacked six times…and coach Jay Gruden said Monday that Griffin was taking the wrong drops in the wrong situations.  It didn’t help that #10 compared himself to elite quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers while complaining he didn’t have great material around him.

 

Alfred the Almost– Mr. Morris was this close to reaching the century mark for the first time this season…gaining 96 yards on 20 carries in the loss.  The actually went to #46 on third and short!  Morris and Roy Helu Jr. provided RG3 with solid short options as they combined for 8 receptions–but when your QB checks down that much, there’s a problem.  Just like when it seemed Mr. Belding was a little too invested in Zack, Slater and the gang…I mean even Casey Kasem was doing double takes at the Max.

 

DeSean goes off…only not during the game– Jackson caught 4 passes for 35 yards but saved his burning speed for Monday morning, instagramming “You can’t do epic s#$t with basic people”.  Perhaps this was in response to RG3′S comments the day before?  It’s a shame Jackson was forced into signing the free agent deal with the Redskins, because I’m sure as a member of a team just 128 miles away he had no idea that this franchise wasn’t well-stocked with talent.  Especially since his Philadelphia Eagles played this team twice a year.  Glad you waited until after your visit to FOX’s pregame show to drop this deuce, DeSean.

 

Third and Aggravating– the Burgundy and Gold moved the chains on 4 of 13 attempts…with RG3 competing 6 of 8 passes while scrambling twice and getting sacked three times (one incompletion was wiped out by a TB penalty).  Problem was, four of those six completions were of the check-down variety.  Two of the three sacks gave Kai Forbath longer attempts (47 instead of 38, 50 instead of 44)–both of which he missed–while the third pushed the team completely out of field goal range.  Yardage breakdown:  2 for 4 on third and short, 2 for 4 on third and medium (4 to 6 yards needed) and 0 for 5 on third and long.  And I mean LOONNGG:  a third and goal from the 20 highlighted the first half, and the last four third down situations faced were by 13, 13, 24 and 10 yards.

 

Defensive Breakdown– coach Jay Gruden says the D played well for 50 plays Sunday…unfortunately the eight plays or so were back-breaking.  Second half touchdown passes allowed of 36 and 56 yards.  The secondary was already a patchwork– and Ryan Clark looks like he’s on his last legs at safety.  Poor communication and/or execution result in once again huge windows of opportunity for the opposition.  They did notch a pair of sacks and hold the Buccaneers to 3 of 10 third down conversions…but tallied just one takeaway as their interception total (3) remains tied for last in the league.  They didn’t play badly, but on a day when the defense needed to bail out an ineffective offense, the Skins came up short.

 

Flying Flags–  Nine penalties for 67 yards.  Not as bad as Tampa Bay’s tally (11-101)…but still damaging when you have issues on both sides of the ball.  Four of the seven offensive infractions were false starts while Tom Compton was flagged for both an illegal block above the waist and illegal formation in the third quarter.  Most costly flag?  Logan Paulsen’s false start pushed them back to their own 2 a few plays before RG3 threw his pick six…while Compton’s illegal formation helped move a 1st and goal from the 6 into an eventual 47 yard field goal attempt they’d miss.  But Perry Riley’s facemask in the fourth quarter allowed Tampa Bay to run off 3 and a half minutes of clock…effectively slamming the window of limited opportunity shut on the Skins.

 

Cobra Kai– every Billy Zabka character has his fatal flaw:  Johnny Lawrence couldn’t handle Ali’s rejection, Greg Tolan picked a fight with a cross-dresser  and Chas Osborne suffered a cramp on the high diving board.  He always gets his comeuppance, by crane kick or other means.  Sunday Mr. Forbath missed 47- and 50-yard field goals…his first misses since week three.  He’s far from the problem.

 

Dissecting the Division– Philadelphia despite its loss to Green Bay retains the NFC East lead thanks to a better division record than Dallas…the two teams play twice in the final six weeks of the season.  The Eagles own the NFC’s #3 seed while the Cowboys take the #6 spot (Green Bay has a better conference record).  The NY Giants despite being a grease-fire at 3-7 are in third place because of their 45-14 win over the Skins in September…meaning the Burgundy and Gold have a slight edge in the race for last place.  Last in the conference remains a possibility– they’re one game better than 16th place Tampa Bay but the Buccaneers own the tiebreaker.  Fantastic…

 

Division of Depression– Tampa Bay is actually in the thick of the NFC South race:  the NFL’s Sun Belt Conference boasts a composite record of 13-27-1 with all four teams boasting losing marks.  Atlanta leads at 4-6 because the Falcons are a perfect 4-0 against division rivals.  Yes, this means they’re 0-6 against everybody else.  The NFC West is percentage points better than the AFC North (25-15 to 25-15-1)–although the AFC North has four teams with winning records.  The NFC East?  Tied for fourth with the AFC West at 20-20.

 

The character of Fredo Corleone is highly underrated in the Godfather Saga.  Aptly played by the late John Cazale, Fredo is far from a force in the first film while his betrayal of Michael is the centerpiece of II.  In a pivotal scene late in the film, Fredo complains that he isn’t given the necessary “respect”– not long after asking “what’s Spanish for Pina Colada?”.  Closing month begins with one-loss teams complaining they aren’t getting the necessary respect…only to show why it wasn’t given in the first place.   Arizona State undervalued at #7?  The Sun Devils fall at Oregon State.  Nebraska not getting enough love at #11?  The Cornhuskers get crushed by Melvin Gordon’s record 408 yards rushing and Wisconsin.   Duke was only ranked 21st despite an 8-1 start?  The Blue Devils respond with a home loss to Virginia Tech.  The herd thins a bit…while other one-loss teams hope they’re not going fishing without Anthony.

 

Is Math a Major at Notre Dame?  Evidently not.  The Fighting Irish while leading Northwestern 34-29 scored a fourth quarter touchdown.  Instead of taking the 12 point lead the Irish attempted to stretch the lead to 13 by going for two…which they failed to do.  College Football Karma can be an unforgiving beast, as the Wildcats proved that 29 + 8 + 3 = 40 by scoring a late TD, going for two and then kicking a last-second field goal.  By the way, Northwestern won the game in overtime.

 

Maryland missed a chance to move into second place of the Big Ten East by losing 37-15 to Michigan State.  Unfortunately the “Blackout at Byrd” coincided with the loss of offensive power against the Spartans.  Terrapin Triumphs– the defense held out as long as they could, limiting Michigan State to 6 of 18 on third down and forcing 4 first half field goal attempts (3 after MSU reached the red zone), Cole Farrand leading the way with 18 tackles…Juwann Winfree and Daniel Adams stepped in for the injured Stefon Diggs by combining for 6 catches, 119 yards and both Maryland touchdowns.  Terrapin Troubles– the running game netted just six yards (even accounting for sacks they would have gained 22 yards on 14 tries)…with the runningbacks gaining 11 yards on 11 carries.  CJ Brown threw 3 interceptions (although one was a late first half hail-mary), the first leading to a Spartan field goal and the last being a pick six.  The fans at Byrd Stadium despite trailing by only 16 points at the end of the third quarter departed the stadium en masse–way to come up small in your first Big Ten prime time game.  Next:  Saturday at Michigan.

 

Virginia Tech instead of pulling a Fredo gave us Godfather III’s line “just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in”:  who wasn’t ready to call it a season with the Hokies having lost three straight going into the Coastal Division leader’s den?  I didn’t see a 17-16 win at #21 Duke.  I guess the pollsters were right to keep the Blue Devils out of the top 20 despite an 8-1 start.  Hokie Highlights– JC Coleman powered the suddenly awakening running game with 95 yards rushing… Dadi Nicholas led the pass rush with 2 of the team’s 4 sacks (he also had 5 hurries) as the defense held Anthony Boone to under 50% completions and intercepted the Blue Devils QB twice:  the first came at the VT 2 yard line and jumpstarted the Hokies first TD drive, second one returned by Derek DiNardo 51 yards to set up a field goal.  Hokie Humblings– 2 for 15 on third down?  Six sacks allowed? Minus nine yards on five punt returns?  Oh my– when do they play Virginia?  Next:  Wake Forest is worse–and the Hokies head to Winston-Salem Saturday.

 

Navy put itself in great position to return to the postseason…blasting Georgia Southern 52-19.  Now all they need is a split of their final two regular season games– South Alabama and Army– to secure a spot on the bowl calendar.  Midshipmen Medals–  Keenan Reynolds ran for 277 yards and 6 touchdowns– did Georgia Southern not know that the quarterback keeper was one of the options?  The defense tallied three takeaways– twice giving the offense the ball on the GS side of the field in the fourth quarter.  NO PENALTIES– where is the gold star for that?  Midshipmen Miscues– the offense converted just 3 of 7 third downs…while the defense gave up 375 yards rushing on 8 yards per carry.  Next:  Friday November 28th at South Alabama.

 

November is what defines a college football season.  Yes, Show Me Month is scintillating and Moving Month is can save or scorch a campaign…but Closing Month is when teams make that final push towards a bowl, a conference championship or a national title.  For Virginia Tech, Virginia and Navy, it’s a question of if they’ll be able to scramble up enough wins to reach the postseason.  For Maryland, it’s which destination coach Randy Edsall’s team earns.

 

Alma Mater Update– NO more football talk as the team is 3-7 entering their second bye week.  Didn’t the Orange look just dandy against Kennesaw State?

 

Maryland vs #12 Michigan State– father against son…sort of.  Quarterback CJ Brown’s father Clark played QB for the Spartans in the early 80′s.  CJ denies any “friendly wagers” between the two (mowing lawns, doing laundry and the like)…and Brown will have his hands full with a Spartan pass rush that leads the Big 10 in sacks.  The Terp defense that’s coughed up 50 points twice in conference play tries to derail an MSU offense led by quarterback Connor Cook– who leads the league in passing yards and is second in passing efficiency.  Prepare to do dishes for a while, CJ. Terps tumble, 31-24.

 

Virginia Tech at #21 Duke–  The Blue Devils being ranked shouldn’t be as much of a surprise (they are the defending Coastal Division champs after all) but the fact that even though they’re 8-1, this team is only 21st.  Evidently wins over Elon, Troy and Syracuse don’t carry the juice they used to.  Coach Tommy Tuberville has concocted a high-octane offense with Anthony Boone at the controls–but it’s the Blue Devils defense that has made the difference this fall (ranking 11th in Division I in fewest points allowed).  The Hokies after a September upset of Ohio State have seen their season revert to what the last three have been– frustrating defeats with many questions and few answers.  Hokies come up short, 24-14.

 

Navy vs Georgia Southern– this isn’t your everyday Sun Belt Conference team the Midshipmen are facing.  GSU is 7-2 with a pair of one-possession losses at Georgia Southern and NC State.  They beat Florida at the Swamp last year. The Eagles boast a running back who averages over 9 yards a carry.  Navy needs two wins over its last three games to qualify for postseason play;  it likely won’t happen this week.  Midshipmen fall, 33-21.

 

Howard loses to Central Connecticut State, Georgetown falls at Fordham, Morgan State over South Carolina State, William & Mary tames TowsonRichmond beats James Madison,

 

Last Week:  6-1.  Closing Month commences…as I earn my coffee.

Overall: 74-28.

Talking about the beltway basketball landscape is always a tricky thing…one recognizes the history of Maryland and Georgetown as well as the resources and following each school has at their disposal.  So when a George Mason makes the Final Four, or George Washington goes 26-2, or American leads Wisconsin in the first half–it’s a big thing.  The question is how do you walk the tightrope of appreciating the “other guys” achievements without making them feel like the Scottys and Sulus of the area college hoop scene?  Sadly–Howard has been the guy wearing the red shirt lately.

 

George Washington comes off a 24-9 season where coach Mike Lonergan guided the Colonials to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.  They’ll miss the thunder of Isaiah Armwood and lightning of Maurice Creek…but have a pair of players they can lean on in guard Kethan Savage and swingman Patricio Garino.  Both missed time last season with injuries…and are expected to bear the brunt of the perimeter scoring.  Danish center Kevin Larsen (the 6-foot-10 junior was second on the team with 7 rebounds a game last winter) provides presence in the post.  An early test at #9 Virginia highlights the non-conference schedule…and the Atlantic 10 expects to be its usual cauldron again this winter.  The season starts November 14th against Grambling State.

 

George Mason hopes its second winter in the Atlantic 10 was kinder than the first– the Patriots dropped their first 8 conference games in painful fashion:  three were two-possession games, and three more were one-possession affairs or went into overtime.  The 11-20 finish was the first losing record in Fairfax since Jim Larranaga’s first season of 1997-98.  Topping that off, coach Paul Hewitt loses his only double-digit scorers from last year.  There’s a vacuum to be filled…and it’s easy to see Patrick Holloway developing into a perimeter threat ala Byron Allen while Patrick Holloway or Eric Copes grow into larger roles down low.  Will Georgia Tech transfer Julian Royal prove he deserved more minutes in the ACC or that he should’ve gone to the CAA?  The Patriots’ toughest non-conference test remains a December 31st trip to #19 Oklahoma.  What sort of team will we see March 7th in the season finale at VCU?  The road to redemption begins November 14th against Cornell.

 

VCU is here to stay–there’s no question about that.  Shaka Smart has the team in the preseason top 20 again…after the Rams made the NCAA Tournament again last March.  He has quality contributors coming back with four of his top six scorers returning.  Treveon Graham proves to be a matchup nightmare as he’s quicker than most bigs and stronger than most perimeter players in the A-10.  The pressure defense will give the Rams plenty of easy buckets as well.  The recent success on the national stage gives this program swagger that is worth at least 2 or 3 conference games alone.  The main question is– does VCU qualify as a “regional team”?  We give Virginia and Virginia Tech plenty of play on WTOP…and they’re more than a short drive away.  The season tips off in Annapolis at the Quicken Loans Veterans Classic November 14th against Tennessee.

 

American after making the NCAA Tournament in coach Mike Brennan’s first season at the helm now brings back just about everybody to a team that was wildly efficient en route to the big dance:  7th in field goal percentage and 37th in assists per game while ranking 7th in fewest points allowed.  Brennan returns eight of his top nine scorers to Bender Arena…but how much will they miss 6-foot-10 center Tony Wroblicky and his 7 rebounds per game?  Junior Zach Elcano and freshman Gabe Brown both loom large…but the best big man might be 6-foot-8 senior Kyle Kager.  The non-conference slate includes the traditional nearly a month a way from Bender from mid-November to mid-December…followed by the rough and tumble Patriot League.  While they were able to sneak upon everybody else last year, this fall AU is the preseason favorite.  The season begins against Temple November 14th.

 

Navy also resides in the Patriot League– and the Midshipmen begin with a bang:  November meetings with Michigan State, Notre Dame and Providence will definitely help their RPI.  Leading scorer Tilman Dunbar’s back– as are Worth Smith and Brandon Venturini.  Even with the experience, the Midshipmen are picked to finish last in the Patriot League.  The season tips off in Annapolis at the Quicken Loans Veterans Classic November 14th against #18 Michigan State.

 

Howard plays the role of Don Quixote again– as coach Kevin Nickleberry enters his fifth season he’s facing not just a 31-94 record in DC but the history of a Bison program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2001-02 and has lost at least 20 games every year since.  James Daniel returns after leading the MEAC in scoring (21ppg) as a freshman…and with senior Prince Okoroh back as well, this could be the year that Howard contends to finish over .500 at long last.  The first windmill to be chased is November 14th at Miami.

Last winter offered the best of times in Charlottesville and the worst of times in Blacksburg…two college towns that celebrate each other’s pain and shortcomings.  Two towns that look down on the other instead of banding together against Tobacco Road.  Two schools that should be playing their final regular season game against one another–especially now that Maryland has left the league.  Cavaliers-Louisville March 7th at the KFC Yum Center get your blood boiling?  Me neither.

 

Virginia tries to build off a dream season.  The Cavaliers increased its ACC and overall wins each season under coach Tony Bennett-but I don’t think anybody thought there was a 30-win, 18-ACC victory campaign in the Cavaliers last year.  It became a weekly bit–”Virginia is off to its best conference start since…1995…1983…1981″ as the season progressed…wrapping up with the school’s first outright regular season crown since 1981 and the program’s first ACC tournament title since 1976.  Even with their Regional Semifinal loss to Michigan State, last winter was one they’ll be looking back at for years.

 

UVa starts the season ranked 9th nationally…and returns seven of their top nine scorers from last year.  While they’ll miss the Akil Mitchell’s rebounding (a team high 7.0 boards per game) and Joe Harris’ outside shooting (paced the team with 72 threes–hitting 40% from outside the arc)…they’ll miss their leadership as well.  Junior guard Malcolm Brogdon looks to build off a successful first season in orange and blue…will 6-foot-11 junior Mike Tobey fill the vacuum left by Mitchell?  Can sophomore London Perrantes be the floor general necessary for an offense that focuses more on quality than quantity?  He’s sitting out the regular season opener (along with junior forward Evan Nolte) due to violating team rules over the summer.

 

Much was made last winter that Virginia faced Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse just once during the regular season… but you can only control your non-league schedule.  An ambitious and representative non-conference slate begins at James Madison November 14th…and includes dates with 2014 NCAA Tournament teams VCU and George Washington.  There’s even a December duel with #25 Harvard.  While UVa plays the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Orange just once this winter–they do face preseason #8 Louisville twice.  Who’s ready for rivalry week with the Cardinals?

 

 

Virginia Tech tries to climb out of the wreckage that was the two-year tenure of James Johnson: 22 wins and 41 losses with a 6-30 mark in the ACC.  A very difficult situation that began with the surprise spring firing of Seth Greenberg that had the school scrambling for a coach during the worst possible time of year to be searching for a coach.  Was Johnson the right guy to guide the Hokies?  Ideally, no–but he was the best choice of a less than ideal candidate pool.  It’s tough to pull the plug on a coach this early– Johnson’s just the fifth ACC mens basketball coach to last less than three years–and the first in 40 years:  Press Maravich left NC State to take the LSU job, Jack Murdock was an interim coach at Wake Forest, Frank Fellows was moved out of Maryland to make room for Lefty Driesell, and Duke’s Neil McGeachy was unable to survive a 10-16 season that included blowing an 8 point lead in the final 17 seconds at North Carolina.

 

The buzz this fall in Blacksburg?  Curly can coach.  First year Hokies coach Buzz Williams comes to Virginia Tech after posting a 139-69 record over six years at Marquette–his final season the only year in which he didn’t guide the Golden Eagles to the NCAA Tournament.  Marquette reached the Sweet Sixteen three straight years– bouncing 3rd seed Syracuse in 2011 and top seed Miami two years later.  He takes over a program that beat Miami twice last year– before losing by four to the Hurricanes in the ACC Tournament (former UVa assistant and current Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga had to find that a tiny bit amusing).  To say the Hokies were offensively challenged would be a major understatement:  out of 351 Division I schools, they ranked 331st in 302nd in assists, 326th in shooting and 331st in scoring.  Just to show that it wasn’t all offensive offense, the Hokies ranked 351st and dead last in steals.

 

Who’s back?  Adam Smith is the team’s returning leading scorer (11ppg) –but injuries kept him out of 17 games last winter…effectively ending his sophomore season January 19th.  The 6-foot-1 guard gets help from sophomore Devin Wilson at the point (5 assists per game as a freshman) and Joey Van Zegeren inside (the 6-foot-10 junior from the Netherlands was second on the team in rebounding and field goal percentage last year).

 

Not surprisingly, the Hokies are picked to finish last in the ACC this season.  As befits a program that’s trying to find itself, the schedule doesn’t offer a lot of heavy lifting–December offers a pair of road tests at Penn State and West Virginia., with plenty of home games against the likes of  VMI, Alabama A&M and Presbyterian (even though this is basketball they kind of serve as the football version of Longwood).  Williams doesn’t get the kindest conference schedule as a welcome from the ACC–they’ll face Virginia and Syracuse twice while also getting home and homes with Miami and Florida State.  The Hokies welcome Maryland-Eastern Shore November 14th to Cassell Coliseum.

 

 

If there’s one thing you need to understand about Georgetown, it’s coach John Thompson III’s use of “Little Billy” to illustrate a point.  “Little Billy” doesn’t actually exist–but serves as a euphemism when JT3 talks big picture.  In the decade since he took over the program, “Little Billy” has appeared in more press conferences than any other player--I’m hoping they eventually retire his number. 

 

The Hoyas look to erase a winter of discontent that saw plenty of highs (an upset win over Michigan State) with more than a few lows (losing to last-place DePaul in the first round of the Big East Tournament) before ending in the NIT.  It was a season of attrition, as injuries and academic issues eventually forced coach Thompson use duct tape and rubber bands to hold together a workable rotation.  If Little Billy actually existed he could have played major minutes.

 

Georgetown will miss the ballhandling, presence and pure moxie of Markel Starks– who led both versions of the Big East in swagger for much of his career.  But in his absence Thompson believes there are multiple players who can initiate the offense…from freshman Tre Campbell to senior D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera.  Quite a bit will be expected from both this winter as Campbell leads a highly touted freshman class and Smith-Rivera is the Big East Preseason Player of the Year.

 

First–the freshmen:  Tre Campbell is just one piece in a five player ensemble that is already impressing the coaching staff and upperclassmen.  Thompson feels Campbell will provide a presence on both ends of the floor with his speed and creativity…and he’ll be joined by a bigger Trey in the form of 6-foot-9 forward Trey Mourning (son of Alonzo).  Paul White also provides size inside and “an old soul” according to his coach. Isaac Copeland  and L.J. Peak will also battle for minutes…as Thompson feels this group of newcomers are all quick learners.

 

Secondly, the seniors:  Smith-Rivera led the team in scoring (hitting over a third of the team’s threes) and was second in rebounding last season.  He’ll continue to be the focal point of the offense but the coach admits the senior needs to make strides defensively.  Then again, JT3 says that one of the major shortcomings last winter by the entire team was the team’s defensive execution.  Smith-Rivera does have help up front in 6-foot-9 forward Mikael Hopkins-who provided grit inside last year–along with in theory a Josh Smith who stays academically sound as well as active on the boards.  Even before Smith was sidelined by his schoolwork his rebounding left quite a bit to be desired–the 6-foot-10 tree trunk corralled just 3.4 rebounds over 20 minutes a game.   How did Josh spend his summer?  Working in Salon Shoes at a Seattle-area Nordstrom.  Just like defense does not end until you get the rebound, selling a pair of shoes doe s not end until you provide accessory options.

 

The Hoyas were picked to finish second in the Big East behind a Villanova team that begins the year ranked 12th in the nation… and in tuning up for league play they face a pair of top ten teams in the form of #5 Kansas and 7th ranked Florida.  The key stretch appears to be from February 7th to March 3rd…a stretch that involves 4 of 6 away from DC and includes a home and home with St. John’s (picked to finish third) plus road games at Villanova, Seton Hall and Butler.

 

With improved defense and rebounding, Little Billy hopes to cut down the nets at MSG.

“I love my team.  I got eleven guys on scholarship that are all really good players and want to be here.  So, we expect to have a great year.”

Regardless of what coach Mark Turgeon said on media day multiple times, the 2014-15 Maryland mens basketball team will operate in the shadow last spring’s mass exodus:  Seth Allen, Charles Mitchell, Roddy Peters, Shaquille Cleare and Nick Faust left a major vacuum on a roster for a program that hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2010.  But what was he supposed to say?  “This program will be irreparably damaged for some time”?  “Is ESPN8 the Ocho hiring?”  Add in the fact that Evan Smotrycz begins the season with a broken foot, fans will definitely need a scorecard to tell the players apart.

“I love my team…”

The theory of addition by subtraction on a basketball team is that the players who remain benefit by not having locker room cancers around–and when that many players bolt when given the opportunity, it’s probably best that they’re no longer around.  Those who have stayed have either been brought into the situation by the coach or have already bought into his program.  Returning leading scorer Dez Wells looks to put it together for his senior season…and it wasn’t as though Jake Layman and Smotrycz weren’t effective in spots last year;  Layman led the team in minutes played and the Michigan transfer was second on the team in 3-pointers and rebounds.

“I got eleven guys on scholarship…”

Coach Turgeon expects the team to play better defense than last year’s hot mess that coughed up 91 to a subpar Oregon State in November.  For some reason last year the whole team never matched the sum of the players’ parts–and lineups you thought would lock things down left floodgates wide open.  Turgeon intimates that the bunch he has here might not be as talented as previous group, but has a better collective basketball IQ.

“All are really good players…”

Perhaps to balance the five departures, five freshmen come to College Park this fall–none more highly anticipated than point guard Melo Trimble.  The Upper Marlboro product notched 19 points and 5 assists in an exhibition against San Francisco State– and has the tools to become a solid if not impact Division I player.  Will there be growing pains this year?  Of course–I can only imagine the first time Trimble runs into trouble in East Lansing December 30th.  It might not be pretty.  But he has a nice balance in the backcourt with graduate transfer Richaud Pack (17ppg last year at North Carolina A&T)–whose true contribution might not be points or minutes but a steady hand to mentor a young roster.  At the other end of the spectrum is 7-foot-1 Slovakian center Michal Cekovsky…more than just an Alex Len 2.0.  “Ceko” comes to Maryland two years older than Len and already has a better grasp of English (Turgeon said all Alex could say originally was “chicken and gatorade”).  The 18-minute exhibition snapshot (0-1 FG, 2 rebounds and 2 turnovers) was a start…will it be something special?  I’m just glad I have the alliteration of “Slovakian center” available.

“Who want to be here…”

The motion offense comes to Maryland–even though coach Turgeon says it won’t be a true motion.  As if the savvy fans at XFinity Center don’t have enough to get used to…the flex offense takes a backseat to one that might be better suited to the personnel on campus.  Does Damonte Dodd make the leap from the freshman who watched to the sophomore who contributes?  Will Jon Graham take advantage of increased minutes or serve as a holding pattern until Jared Nickens proves he can contribute over the long haul?  Shooting guard Dion Wiley’s another intriguing piece to the puzzle…one that will be fun to watch piece itself together over the next few months.

“So, we expect to have a great year.”

Prepare yourself for the culture shock of not being able to say “we got hosed!” at Duke and North Carolina…as well as no annual day trip to Charlottesville.  The Terps leave a top-heavy ACC (3 teams ranked in the top ten but just 4 in the top 25) for a Big Ten that has one elite (Wisconsin’s ranked 3rd) squad but boasts plenty of depth:  four schools from #18 to 24th…and two more just missing the cut.  Will there be an adjustment to the “Big Ten style of basketball”?  Certainly…but it’s not as drastic as one might think.  Yes– the league might be more physical than the Atlantic Coast Conference, but it’s not like they’re wearing shoulderpads and helmets–I think.  Former coach Gary Williams often remarked that Maryland was basically the “Siberia of the ACC”…now they’ve become the “South Beach of the Big Ten”.  Somehow, even with the new league and vastly changed roster the Terps received three votes in the Associated Press Preseason Poll.  The season begins Friday, November 14th against Wagner.

 

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