How well can Maryland do in the NCAA tournament?

March 16, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

You have your NCAA tournament brackets in front of you and a pencil in your stubby little fingers, and now you want to know about Maryland.

You want to know how far the Terps can go in the Big Dance.

To which I would reply: Why are you asking me?

Look, I'm the one who told you the Terps had a great shot to win the ACC tournament because they were hot going in, had senior leadership, the moon was in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligned with Mars, etc.

And look what that got you.

The Terps were one-and-done in Greensboro and you were left thinking: That fat guy at The Baltimore Sun is killing me.

OK, let me try to make it up to you today with a semi-reasoned look at what Maryland has to do to win in Spokane this weekend and advance to the Sweet 16 in St. Louis.

(Speaking of Spokane, could they have made the Terps and their fans travel any farther? Why not just go ahead and hold the first-round games in Alaska next time?)

This much is clear, though: The Midwest Regional is stacked. Kansas, Michigan State, Maryland, Georgetown, Ohio State - no dogs in that bunch.

If the No. 4 seed Terps hope to get past No. 13 seed Houston on Friday, and then past the winner of Michigan State-New Mexico State on Sunday, they're going to have to play well.

And judging by what we've seen this team do lately, here are the five keys to Maryland's making a long run in this tournament:

•Get off to a fast start. We touched on this in Monday's column. The Terps can't come out flat the way they did in the first half against Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament, when they looked lost and trailed by 19 at one point.

They need to shotgun a few Red Bulls or have the team bus stop at Starbucks for a round of espressos - whatever it takes to be wired and ready to go from the tip-off.

If it takes jumping into a full-court press from the get-go or aggressively extending their perimeter defense to get them going, fine, do that, too.

•Resurrect the transition game. This team is at its best when it's forcing turnovers and scoring in transition.

Greivis Vasquez is at his best in transition, too. And as we all know, as Vasquez goes, so go the Terps.

They don't dominate other teams with their height. But when they get into the passing lanes and manage a few steals, good things seem to happen with their fast break.

•Vasquez has to be Vasquez again. And by that I mean the senior guard has to be the Vasquez of old, the one who dishes the ball effectively, swoops fearlessly to the hole and squares up confidently for his shot, not the one who was 6-for-21 from the field against Tech and jacked those crazy shots.

Let's have a show of hands here. Did anyone like that last shot he took against Tech, the one for the win?

That might have been the worst shot in the history of organized basketball.

Sure, it's great that he's willing to take that shot and live with the consequences. And, yes, the ball slipped out of his hands. But it was a horrible shot to begin with.

I don't care how much time is left on the clock or how the play is drawn up. You have to get a better shot than that.

•Landon Milbourne has to show up. The senior forward is too good an athlete to disappear for vast stretches at a time, as he's prone to do.

Against Tech, he came up big with 15 points, six rebounds and five steals. He has to do that again against Houston and whomever the Terps play after that.

Sure, Milbourne's a laid-back guy, to the point of being shy. In media interviews, he talks softly and rarely looks you in the eyes. Who cares? That's Landon.

But when he's passive on the court, he hurts the Terps. And when they're forced into their half-court offense, he needs to create his own shots and get something going for this team, so that it's not always relying on Vasquez.

Speaking of which ...

•Someone besides Vasquez has to be willing to take the big shot. Sure, most of the time the play is drawn up for Vasquez, because of his height, ability to penetrate, decent jumper, etc.

That doesn't mean the play can always be executed as drawn up. Cliff Tucker hit that buzzer-beater that beat Tech a few weeks ago at Comcast Center on a play that broke down when Vasquez was covered. Someone else has to step up on those occasions, too.

In the Big Dance, lots of games go down to the wire. Too many good teams, too many great players for a lot of blow-outs.

Hit a big shot here and they remember you forever.

Well, until the next game, anyway.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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