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Maryland's 65-62 win over Valpo was their first NCAA Tournament win in five years. The Terps get West Virginia on Sunday for the right to go to the Sweet 16. Some quick thoughts on today.
1. MD is now 12 and 1 in games decided by six points or less this year but today's win didn't have to be that close. Valpo was average. They made a ton of contested shots...good for them. Maryland had chances to open up sizeable leads but self-destructed in those moments. Dez Wells had a bad turnover with under a minute left in the first half with the Terps up 7 and with a chance to go up 9 or 10. Instead of heading into halftime with a healthy lead, Alec Peters made a three on the other end and the Terps lead was 4 at the break. There were a few quick shots and an offensive charge by Dez against the zone in the 2nd half. Sometimes he gets too quick when patience is needed. He and Layman struggled against the zone for the majority of the game. Trimble, Nickens, and yes, Smotrycz were much better in their zone offense.
2. MD's best chance to open up a sizeable lead was snuffed out by a bad call and a bad reaction. Up 39-31 early in the 2nd half, Damonte Dodd had a clean block but was called for a foul. He got teed up as well for taunting meaning that instead of the Terps having the ball up 8, Valpo hit 3 free throws to cut it to 5.
3. Wells, per usual, was there when they needed him. He didn't have his best game by a long shot but with the game hanging in the balance, his offensive rebound/putback for a 3-point play was the decisive play of the game.
4. Where was Jake Layman? Another tough outing for him. Jake's only shot attempt for the entire game was a late three-pointer that missed but was put back by Wells for the key 3-point play of the game. Layman has 10 total points on just 4 shot attempts in his last two games. He fouled out of this game and was a total non-factor offensively.
5. The Terps would be in the NIT without Melo Trimble. He was worth 6 wins this year minimum. It was him more than anyone else that led a key 16-3 run in the first half turning a 21-15 deficit into a 31-24 lead. He played 39 of the 40 minutes. I'm surprised he ever comes out. His stat line included 14 pts and 10 rebounds but was a bit misleading. He was better than that.
6. Evan Smotrycz has produced more good recently than bad. He's painful to watch when he puts the ball on the floor but he's getting more and more confident and is more help than hindrance these days. He had 8 pts, 5 rebounds, an assist, 2 steals, and he took two charges in the first half. He's good in the middle of their zone offense. Despite going 0-4 from behind the arc, I don't have any issue with him taking those. I actually think he should shoot more of them. He passed on an open look late in the game on the possession where Layman fouled out. As he did in the Indiana game last week, he hit pressure free throws late in the game. I know many Terp fans think he shouldn't play as much as he does, I disagree right now. They've needed him recently.
7. Mark Turgeon. I've watched just about every game he's coached since coming to Maryland. There are two things he does very well. First, after timeouts or ball stoppages, the Terps almost always execute a very good play to get a very good shot. Case in point today, after Valpo hit free throws to cut the lead to 56-52, he called for Dez to get the ball on a low-post duck-in move with the pass coming from the high post. Perfect execution got him the ball; he got doubled, then hit Dodd with a perfect pass for a dunk. Secondly, Turgeon is really good at managing the final few minutes of a close game. Although I thought they might foul on Valpo's last possession up 3, the Varun Ram substitution was ballsy. Ram has been inserted for defensive purposes several times this year. He hadn't played at all but Turge put him in there on the biggest possession of the game and his defense was superb....but...
8. ....Did Varun Ram foul? Maybe. I can say this for sure....whether he did or didn't, he was lucky he wasn't called for it. Usually when you slap "down" on the ball, refs will call the foul especially when the offensive player is in a shooting motion as Keith Carter appeared to be.
When Georgetown got dunked out of the gym by a ridiculously under-seeded Florida Gulf Coast in 2013, JT3 said he didn't have an answer for another season-ending defeat in the first weekend of the tournament. It was the 5th consecutive "too early" loss for the Hoyas in March. All five of those "too early" losses were to double-digit seeds and three of the losses weren't close.
JT3 didn't have an answer for those losses because in the moment, there wasn't an easy one. Many pundits pointed to their so-called "Princeton" offense which they really don't run that much or their pace of play that tends to keep lesser teams close. All of that is way overrated. Here's something closer to the answer. Bad luck.
The Hoyas haven't been out of the first weekend of the tournament in their last five opportunities because they were matched up against under-seeded teams who were playing great at the time. You can roll your eyes all you want and true, their 2010 loss to Ohio wouldn't necessarily fit into that narrative but how 'bout the others.
In 2008, they lost to a very good Davidson team led by Steph Curry. Davidson got to the Elite 8 after beating Georgetown in the round of 32 and they were one shot away from the Final 4.
In 2011, they got beat by VCU who went on to the Final 4.
In 2012, it was an N.C. State team on a roll. The Wolfpack may have been an 11-seed but they were the 4th-place team in the ACC. Losing to them was far from embarrassing.
Then there was the 2013 loss to Florida Gulf Coast. Make no mistake, Florida Gulf Coast was the better team that night in Philadelphia. They were the more athletic team and they played with incredible energy and swagger. Georgetown's 78-68 loss should've been worse. Great free throw shooting is usually paramount in a 15-seed upsetting a 2-seed but Gulf Coast missed 14 for the game. A true 15-seed doesn't dunk the 2-seed out of the gym. Bottom line, the Hoyas drew a 15-seed that looked like a 4-seed and Gulf Coast proved it by advancing all the way to the Sweet 16.
The only loss that lacks a reasonable explanation was the blowout loss to Ohio in '10. That Ohio team finished below .500 in their league but got hot and won their conference tournament. Still, of the five "too early" losses, that's the lone head-scratcher.
I think the Hoyas' underperfoming run in the tournament can be chalked up primarily to the proverbial "bad matchup". Is tonight's matchup against Eastern Washington another one? Gary Williams spoke with Gonzaga coach Mark Few a few days ago and Few told him to watch out for a team close to his geographically. He told Gary that Eastern Washington "is legit good." Uh oh.
All of the reasons for getting bounced early no matter how legitimate creates an added pressure for the Hoyas tonight. Regardless of why, they've fallen short of expectations and it's created a burden. A burden that won't be lifted until winning in mid-March starts.
NCAA Selection Sunday is three days away and shortly after the 2015 bracket is unveiled, the TV barking about seeding injustices, sleepers, and 12-seeds over 5-seeds begins. I'd bet big dough that Maryland will be the target for all the short-selling bracket pundits.
Despite its 26-5 regular season mark and a season-ending 7-game win streak, the Terps will be the team marked by the so-called experts as "potential early-exit". They'll be the 2 or 3-seed that everyone screams is overrated and won't win more than a game or two.
There are reasonable reasons for this expected sentiment. For starters, the Big 10 wasn't that strong this year compared to other leagues. Add to that, seven of Maryland's last nine wins were by 6 points or less with five of those seven wins coming against Penn State (twice), Nebraska (twice), and Rutgers. In all five of those close games against teams ranked outside of the RPI top 100, the Terps either trailed or were tied with less than 10 minutes to go in the game.
Heck, they are getting dissed in their own league. The Terps finished 2nd in the Big 10 but there are four teams in the league with better Vegas odds of winning this weekend's conference tournament in Chicago.
Those that live in the advanced statistics world will tell you that Maryland ranks low in things like Adjusted Offensive and Defensive Efficiency. KenPom.com, an advanced statistics zealot, has Maryland ranked as the 32nd best team in the country. Translation, KenPom has the Terps winning no more than one game in the NCAA Tournament.
Bottom line, I'd be very surprised to see Maryland as anything but a chic pick to get bounced early.
However, if you choose to discount Maryland then do so at your own peril. While it is true that Maryland plays close games, it's also true that they win them....all of them. They played in 10 games decided by 6 points or less and they won all ten.
And while it's true that the Terps don't blowout teams with overwhelming size and/or athleticism, they beat them with the most important of all March Madness qualities....excellent guard play. The combo of Melo Trimble and Dez Wells is as good as any in the country right now. You may not have been able to say that a month ago but Wells is finally healthy and he's playing the best basketball of his career.
The Terps are capable of playing a close game against anybody. I won't be surprised at all if their first-round 3 vs. 14 game is tied up at 48-48 with 3 minutes left in the game. But I would be surprised if they lost it. They have two killer closers in Trimble and Wells and a coach in Mark Turgeon who is very good at managing the final minutes of a game. Shorting the Terps will be popular but may not be wise.
It has been nearly a quarter century since the Redskins played in a Super Bowl so the feeling of playing on the biggest day in all of sports is foreign to most. There was a day when playing in one of these wasn't so unusual. They played in five Super Bowls over a 19-year stretch with four of those trips coming during a brilliant golden-era 9-year span.
Despite the 23-year drought, there are still only five franchises in the league with more Super Bowl appearances than the Redskins. None of their five Super Bowl appearances ranks among the all-time great Super Bowl games but all five of them include memorable if not iconic Super Bowl plays and/or moments.
Here's the list.
Super Bowl 7/The Garo Yepremian/Mike Bass play. Up 14-zip with just over two minutes left in the game and en route to completing the NFL's only perfect season during the Super Bowl era, Miami kicker Garo Yepremian had his 42-yd field goal attempt blocked and comedy followed. Yepremian picked up the ball and made a frantic attempt to pass the ball to Larry Csonka. The ball slipped out of his hands and it went straight up in the air. Yepremian then attempted to bat the ball out of bounds but instead batted it back up into the air. It went right into the arms of Skins' cornerback Mike Bass who returned the fumble 49 yards for a touchdown to make the score 14–7 with 2:07 left in the game. The Redskins got the ball back with 1:14 to go but couldn't do anything with it and lost 14-7.
Super Bowl 17/70-Chip. Down 17-13 with just over ten minutes left in the game and facing 4th and 1, Joe Gibbs dialed up his trademark short-yardage play. "70-chip" sent Clint Didier in motion one way, and then brought him back the other way. When he reversed his motion, Miami DB Don McNeal slipped....not that it would've mattered much anyway. Riggo was a beast in that postseason and he put an exclamation point on his epic run by shedding McNeil and outrunning Lyle Blackwood to the end zone. Simply put, it's easily the most memorable play in franchise history while also on the list of the most iconic in Super Bowl history.
Super Bowl 18/Rocket Screen. The Raiders were the better team that day in January of '84 but what if Joe Gibbs has just told Joe Theismann to take a knee at the end of the first half? From their own 12-yd line with just 12-seconds left in the half, Gibbs called "Rocket Screen". Theismann has told us in recent years that he tried to talk Joe out of it on the sideline but Gibbs turned to Theismann and said emphatically, "run it". The defense was prepared for the play as Theismann had successfully completed an identical screen pass to Joe Washington for a 67-yard gain in their 37–35 victory over the Raiders earlier in the season.
In fact, Raider linebackers coach Charlie Sumner had sent Jack Squirek onto the field as a last-second substitution specifically to cover Washington. "I was mad," said linebacker Matt Millen who had to run off the field to avoid a penalty. "I'd called a blitz, and I was cranked up for it, but he told Jack to play the screen and sent him in." When Squirek saw Theismann look in the opposite direction to sell a throw to one side of the field, Squirek knew that Joe Washington was leaking out into the flat because the play was coming back to his side. The 12-yd interception return gave the Raiders a commanding 21-3 halftime lead.
Super Bowl 22/35-Point 2nd Quarter. Down 10-zip to the Broncos in Super Bowl 22, Doug Williams led a record-setting 35-point 2nd-quarter. On the Skins' first play of the quarter, Williams went deep 80-yds to Rickey Sanders. Next Skins' drive, Williams hit Gary Clark on a 27-yd touchdown pass for the lead. Their next drive went all of two plays. Williams to Clark for 16 yards followed by Timmy Smith's 56-yd touchdown run....21-10. The next drive ended in a 50-yd touchdown pass to Sanders making Sanders the first player in Super Bowl history to record 2 touchdown receptions in a single quarter. Finally, one more Williams touchdown pass to Clint Didier to complete the record-setting Super Bowl output for a quarter.
In the second quarter alone, Williams completed 9 of 11 passes for 228 yards and 4 touchdowns; Smith rushed 5 times for 122 yards and a touchdown; and Sanders caught 4 passes for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Super Bowl 26/Thurman Thomas's Helmet. After the Redskins were forced to punt on the opening drive of the game, Buffalo's offense took the field for the first time. But where was their Pro Bowl running back Thurman Thomas? He had misplaced his helmet and missed Buffalo's first two plays. It's consistently mentioned as one of the all-time Super Bowl blunders.
WHAT'S THE FRIDAY FOOTBALL SMELL TEST?
WHAT'S THE FRIDAY FOOTBALL SMELL TEST?
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