Virginia-Maryland Basketball: A Clash In The Capitol

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IJanuary 19, 2009

I thought I had seen it all on the Bleacher Report until I read this by Josh Loewenstein.

Gary Williams, Mr. Maryland Basketball, on the verge of being fired?

I know it seems improbable to many outside of the Maryland area but I must say, it certainly is not far-fetched.

Ever since Maryland took home the NCAA championship they have not even sniffed the upper echelon of the ACC, let alone college basketball.

Every time it seems things are on track something goes wrong. 

An inexplicable loss here, an inconsistent player there, and Gary "the Volcano" Williams is left with a good team that cannot seem to get out of its own way at times.

Take last year.

Despite an awful start to the season, the Terrapins were making a case for an NCAA tournament bid. They came into Charlottesville for a must-win game against a Virginia team they were clearly better than.

They played a solid first half to lead by one at the break before getting completely blitzed out of the building in the second half, getting outscored 55-39 as the Cavaliers shot 62 percent after halftime.

Bye, bye tourney, hello NIT.

As for the Cavaliers, they are still trying to fill the void vacated by sensational guard Sean Singletary, who scored his 2000th career point that night, as they head into College Park amid all the Inauguration Hoopla.

It is easy to overlook this contest, as the Cavaliers are 1-2 in conference and trying to avoid the cellar.

Maryland looked like an NCAA tournament team early in the year before a shocking loss to Morgan State sapped most of their momentum.

Will the Terrapins, needy for a win, be able to top their ACC nemesis?

Here are a few keys to the game.

1. Who can control the paint?

Virginia has a severe lack of depth in their frontcourt, but Maryland is one of the few teams in the ACC that may struggle to capitalize. 

The Terrapins are built around their guards and the emerging Landon Milbourne but Maryland lacks a true bruiser that can control the paint.

The Terps' Milbourne and the Cavs' Mike Scott will key players to watch in this contest.  When Scott is active and working hard on the boards, Virginia is a completely different team.

Scott may be a bit undersized for the four spot but his skill set could cause problems for the Terrapins down low.

Scott is also fast enough to keep up with Maryland if they try to pick up the pace, as is his counterpart, Assane Sene. 

The freshman center will be the tallest player on the court and has been developing nicely. 

His defense was important against North Carolina and Virginia Tech, but this game will test him in a completely different way.

Sene must make sure to avoid cheap fouls on attacking guards like Greivis Vasquez and has to make sure to finish plays by boxing out and securing the rebound.

For Maryland, Milbourne has a history of picking up his game against the Cavaliers, averaging 12.5 points in their last two meetings.  Expect Coach Williams to use him to get the Virginia frontcourt in foul trouble as well as create open looks for his shooters.

With Virginia's inconsistency on defense, it may be a recipe for success.

2. Will the Sylven Learning Center Be Open on Inauguration Day?

Sylven Landesberg is certainly change Virginia fans can believe in. 

The freshman has played great this year and showed a toughness both physically and mentally to draw contact and make opponents pay.

Every opponent...

Except North Carolina.

The Tar Heels, with their superior athleticism and speed knew better than to let the five-time Rookie of the Week beat them.  They put everyone in front of him and forced Landesberg to shoot jumpers. 

As good as Landesberg is off the dribble, his jump shot is definitely not ready for ACC play.

UNC has provided a blueprint to all the ACC teams on how to shut down the fourth leading scorer in the conference.

The question is, does Maryland have the talent to execute the game plan?

Landesberg is coming off a career-low two point performance where he shot 1-9 from the field.

Will he sulk like some freshmen may in that situation, or come out and put on a show?

My bet is on the latter.

If Maryland goes small as they most likely will, Landesberg can attack the basket and shoot over his defender.

The beginning of the game will be critical for Landesberg as he may need to build a little confidence early on.  If Maryland keeps him down early, it may translate into a sub-par performance. 

However, if they get lazy on him, Landesberg has proven with his play against Georgia Tech that he can take over a game much like Singletary did last year.

3. Which Vasquez will show up?

As with any team that plays inconsistently, it usually comes down to the point guard.

It is his role to run the offense and help create momentum for his team.  When he is off, the rest of the team suffers.

Nowhere is that more apparent than with Maryland's Greivis Vasquez.

Vasquez is a very talented guard that has a great passion for the game and an improved sense of awareness both offensively and defensively.

However, Vasquez has probably aged his coach more so than any guard in recent memory.

Good Vasquez makes Maryland an NCAA tournament team capable of pulling off a few wins to a Sweet 16.

Bad Vasquez means Maryland is in the NIT and probably out by the second or third round.

In their last game, an overtime loss to Florida State, Vasquez shot two of 13 from the field.  He also had as many turnovers as he has assists.

Vasquez has improved his assist-to-turnover ratio this year, but his shooting is still inconsistent.  Despite being their leading scorer, his field goal percentage is down nearly three percent from last year. 

Still, Vasquez is tremendous at the line, meaning that he will put away close games and make good decisions at the end of games.

Vasquez will be facing off against a similar energy player in Sammy Zeglinski.  Both men like to run and can be out of control at times, but Vasquez clearly has the experience edge. 

That experience may prove to be a deciding factor.


Poor Virginia, three out of its first four ACC games on the road with the home game bringing a North Carolina team out for blood after an 0-2 start in conference play.

The Cavaliers were able to pull out a victory at the Comcast Center in 2007 but road wins in the ACC are hard to come by.

Virginia has not fared well in College Park, but I think Cavalier fans actually have the audacity to hope.

Maryland is reeling and they need this game, with their NCAA dreams slowly dying.

But they do not overwhelm Virginia in any particular category.  The Cavaliers are improving, and with the emergence of unsung players like Mustapha Farrakhan and Jamil Tucker have some depth as well.

This game will come down to the Cavaliers offense.  If they make shots, they will win and that means their scorers have to show up and play.

I think Landesberg has something to prove and I think Mamadi Diane, a Dematha product, will come out of hibernation in time to put a damper on all the buzz surrounding the D.C. Area tomorrow.

Yes We Can Virginia!

Virginia 67 Maryland 61