Everyone who knows me and has had a conversation of longer than five seconds with me about Maryland basketball (so yeah, everyone who knows me) is aware I am ever so slightly, eh, critical, when it comes to my evaluations of one Mr. Greivis Vasquez.
Yes. I am a Vasquez Hater. Kind of. Let me explain.
My concerns do not lie with his talent (which is considerable), his heart (which is plentiful), or even his constant mugging (which I could do without, but isn't a deal breaker).
No, my quibble is with his inability to do what is known as close the deal; to get the team he leads over that magical hump. He can lead them to the hump. But the getting over part...well, it just doesn't happen.
That's why he's the Alex Rodriguez of the ACC. As every sports fan knows, A-Rod just got us all off his back on this, but until recently he was hip-hop shorthand for "fills the stat sheet when the team is up big in a day game in Arlington, but strikes out looking five times in a Sunday night game with the wild card lead on the line."
For both, it's not a lack of heart. It's the opposite—they want it too much.
Until the Yankees protected him with Mark Texiera, A-Rod would grind the bat to sawdust in the box. As for Vasquez, his signature move in big games is the Brickjob Three, or The Dribbles It Off Your Foot In Traffic. They both seem to get just a tad overwhelmed and overwound.
Let's drill down to Vasquez now. It's not that he doesn't play well in any game of consequence. Take the momentum-changing UNC game on Feb. 21, in which Vasquez's borderline-mythological 35-11-10 lifted them back to Bubble Land. Or the Wake Forest game in March, when Greivis' 22 points and nine assists essentially led to a tournament berth.
But it can be argued that those kinds of wins are different. Smeagol Vasquez is subsumed by Gollum Vasquez in the face of a little thing called expectations. It happens when the Terps are, for even a fleeting moment, placed in control of their own destiny, and the national buzz just baaarely reaches audible levels.
Under the Vasquez administration, which began with his junior campaign in 08-09, the Terps have not done well in those circumstances. Sure, they've made the tourney, and that's great. But they missed once and barely crept in the second time.
You're not making any history with that kind of slog in the mud.
So am I just ranting here, or do I have some evidence? Oh, there's evidence baby.
Last February, Maryland had just one more game to win against MEAC bottom feeder Morgan State before they could sweep into ACC play on an eight-game winning streak. Coach Williams spent much of the pregame wondering what it would take for his team to get some respect.
Bada bing: expectations. Pressure. Vasquez got 19 points, but it took him 21 shots to get there, including 1-for-9 from three.
Later that season, the Terps won four of six to bring their record to 18-10, meaning if they could win their next two at home against a great Wake Forest team and lowly Virginia on the road they'd be locked and loaded for the tourney.
So of course, they lost both games.
Against Wake, Vasquez got 16 points on 29 percent shooting (including 2-for-8 from three), five boards, seven assists, and four turnovers. Of course, that made things even more pressure-packed for Virginia—the one they were "supposed to" win.
The Vasquez line from Charlottesville: 21 points, 8-for-20 shooting (1-for-6 from three), five rebounds, six assists, and two turnovers. Enough to get you to the hump...just not over it.
Of course, after the Virginia game, the momentum was dead and everyone walked away. Cue the miraculous Vasquez-fueled run to the tournament, which included an improbable upset of Cal, followed by a momentary re-establishing of expectations, after which Vasquez told Memphis they couldn't hang in the ACC and his team got waxed by 19.
That brings us back to modern times. As I noted earlier, this Clemson game had some barometric implications for the season. If Maryland could pull this off, they could be ranked. They would be solidly ensconced at the top of the ACC rankings. They were, deservedly, starting to get some attention.
With Clemson's second-best player wearing a golf shirt and cargo shorts to the game, the expectations increased. The final Vasquez line in that Maryland loss: 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting, three rebounds, two assists, four fouls, and nine turnovers.
Before I close here, just a few soothing words to the legions of Vasquez lovers who may now be ready to feed me to Debbie Yow: Greivis Vasquez is a great player for Maryland. He is the leader of this team. He will play at the next level. His combination of gifts is hard to find.
Here's hoping Vasquez proves me wrong and finds a way to put on his Superman cape for the many big games on the Terps' horizon (starting tomorrow at Florida State). No one will be happier to eat some crow than me. So don't hate the hater...we're all in the same gang.
I'm in the reasonable-people-can-disagree-camp. It's a nice camp. You should come over. We have marshmallows.
In the meantime, though, I really do believe there is a ceiling on how far this team can go with Vasquez as its floor leader. They're like A-Rod's Texas Rangers of the ACC. Or Seattle Mariners. Or, until last year, New York Yankees. And it's going to take a lot more than faux hawks and shimmying to get me over to the bandwagon.