COLLEGE PARK — - Maryland's men's basketball season began Nov. 13, but the Terps still have four nonconference games and nearly three weeks remaining before beginning league play. That's too much waiting time for coach Gary Williams.
Just thinking about the delay makes Williams cringe. "I'd like to play in early January," he said Monday. "I guess there's [football] bowl games this time of year."
But as long as he has the time - even if it's more than he'd like - Williams and his players can use it to work on areas in which the Terps (6-3) can improve. Here are some of those areas, amounting to a holiday wish list as the team prepared for tonight's game against Winston-Salem State (2-6) of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
•Improve the defense, particularly against the 3-point shot.
Williams emphasized that he considers the Terps a solid defensive team. The numbers back him up. Through nine games, Maryland opponents are shooting 37.8 percent. The Terps rank 28th in the country in field-goal percentage defense.
"If you play really aggressive defense, it helps your offense," Williams said. "If you're aggressive on one end, you'll probably be on the other." Maryland has been much less impressive against 3-pointers.
The Terps have allowed teams to shoot 36 percent from beyond the arc, ranking them 240th of 334 teams. Villanova attempted a school-record 39 3s against the Terps, making 16 in beating Maryland, 95-86, on Dec. 6. Eastern Kentucky made 11 3s against the Terps one game later.
"We've definitely been concentrating on getting out and covering guys," senior guard Eric Hayes said. "It's really a key for us. In the Villanova game, we weren't really getting out on the guys, so that was a big learning experience."
•Rebound more aggressively to prepare for large front-court players like North Carolina's.
Last season, Maryland's rebound margin was minus-1.7. The Terps were the only Atlantic Coast Conference school out-rebounded by its opponents. This season, Maryland is at minus-0.6.
"Everybody has got to get involved" in rebounding, Hayes said. "We can't just count on our big men. It's a group effort when you have a team like Carolina that's huge."
Maryland hosts defending national champion North Carolina on Feb. 7. Led by Ed Davis (9.0 rebounds per game) and Deon Thompson (8.0), the Tar Heels possess one of the nation's most formidable front lines.
Maryland forward Dino Gregory (Mount St. Joseph), who returned from a suspension and played his first game Dec. 12, should help. Gregory immediately stepped into the starting lineup upon his return.
Gregory, a junior, improved on the boards as last season progressed. He averaged six rebounds during the three games of the ACC tournament in March.
•Continue to get to the foul line at least 20 times, particularly against good teams.
Led by Greivis Vasquez (88.1 percent), Landon Milbourne (88.0 percent) and Hayes (88.2 percent), Maryland is a good free-throw-shooting team. They neutralize the foul-shooting advantage they possess over most teams if they can't draw fouls.
Getting to the line 20 times or more is usually an indicator that Maryland is penetrating into the lane and not forcing perimeter shots.
The Terps have consistently gone to the line more than 20 times this season. Not surprisingly, a notable exception came in a defeat.
The Terps attempted 17 free throws in a 78-69 loss to Wisconsin, making just 10.
"That's really a way we can score easily, and we've been pretty good from the line," Hayes said.
NOTES: Williams said the Terps are relatively healthy, with the exception of forward-center Steve Goins (knee), who has barely played. ...Winston-Salem has struggled against major opposition this season, losing by 51 to Oregon and 42 to UNC-Charlotte.