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Note: Updates to my 30 before 30 will be coming soon.  For now, please enjoy my latest sports piece about the Maryland Terrapins basketball team and my man love for them!

 

For most people, November means Thanksgiving is close and the start of the holiday season is right around the corner.  For my family it means a month full of birthdays, 5 of them to be exact.  But for me, November brings with it the official start of the college basketball season and a new crop of talent to my beloved Maryland Terrapins.

The last four years have been a wild ride in College Park, thanks to the presence of Greivis Vasquez, one of the most entertaining players to ever suit up for the Terps.  Love him or hate him, Vasquez was a special player at Maryland and was the leader of several overachieving squads during his tenure.  After the 2002 National Championship and the departure of players like Juan Dixon, Steve Blake and Lonny Baxter, the Terps went on the decline.  Their run of 11 straight trips to the NCAA tournament ended in 2005 and the absence of a marquis player did not go without notice. 

With the arrival of Vasquez, as well as fellow guard Eric Hayes, in 2006, Terrapin basketball got the much-needed shot of adrenaline it had been missing.  Vasquez and Hayes led the Maryland backcourt for all four years of their college careers before graduating last year.  While their leadership and energy will be missed, their absence opens the door for a new group of talented young players to emerge for the Terps this year.

Enough of the history lesson; the 2010-2011 season is officially underway and the excitement is palpable, at least for me it is.  Those who know me well will probably tell you that I get a little too intense when it comes to the Terps.  I concede that my passion for the game and the team may run a little high, but what sports fan doesn’t feel that way about a team or a sport?  So what if I crouch in front of the TV during each game yelling out play calls and making hand gestures that only my “teammates” would understand.  Yes, a wall in my basement is painted in Terrapin red with a rather large picture of Testudo, the Terps mascot, prominently displayed in the middle…you got a problem with that?  And yes, it’s true that I was visibly upset when my daughter was given the choice between a red ball and a “Duke-blue” ball and she chose the blue one.  I know she was only about 10 months old at the time, but come on, she should know better!  The point is, I love the Terps.  When they win, I give myself a pat on the back since my coaching from the other side of the TV pushed them to the victory.  When they lose, I take it pretty hard and try to determine what we need to do better next time.  This brings us to last night’s game.

After a quick 3-0 start to the season against some fairly mediocre competition, the Terps traveled to Madison Square Garden last night to play their first nationally ranked competitor of the year.  Pittsburgh came into the game ranked #4 in the country in many polls so an easy win was not expected.  The Terps have a good mix of youth and experience on the team this year with seniors like Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker leading the way for freshman like Pe’Shon Howard and Terrell Stoglin.  This year’s group of freshman show real promise and are going to be expected to contribute right out of the gate.  But the experience of Bowie, Tucker and junior Sean Mosley will be needed to guide the young guns in the right direction.  Last night, the Terps hung with Pitt for the whole game and while I don’t usually subscribe to the idea of moral victories, this certainly would be considered one.  But the fact is, it could have easily been an actual victory!

46.7%! 14-30! Those are the statistics for the Terps last night from the free throw line.  Maryland did not make its first free throw last night until the 14:05 mark in the 2nd half.  The 2nd half! I can accept a lot of things from my basketball team.  I understand turnovers may be a problem when you are incorporating freshman into the fast paced college game.  I realize not everyone can have a great shooting night every night.  I can even understand mental errors in the heat of the moment in a close game in an environment like Madison Square Garden!  But what I cannot stand is an entire team shooting so poorly from the stripe.

Why does this bother me so much you ask?  Well, it’s simple really.  A free throw is the only shot on the floor that you can practice exactly the way you would do it in a game.  Now I know there are other factors that go into shooting a free throw.  The intensity of the game, the crowd, the opposing team, the list goes on.  But the mechanics of a free throw can be exactly the same as they are when you practice it.  I mean you can shoot jump shots in a gym all day long but when you’re in the middle of the game, you can’t just walk over to a spot on the court that you feel most comfortable at and take the shot.  Defenses move you around, they force you off balance.  It’s virtually impossible to replicate those kinds of shots in practice.  But you can replicate a free throw!  Correct me if I’m wrong here but they don’t move the line throughout the game do they?  I didn’t think so.

I titled this post “there’s a reason they are called free” because if you are watching a game with me, there’s a good chance you will hear me yell it at least a half-dozen times.  It’s my biggest pet peeve, next to people who don’t use their turn signal and dogs dressed in sweaters!  The college basketball season has only just begun and the promise of a successful campaign and another trip to the NCAA tournament is definitely within reason.  But if the Terps plan to compete in the gauntlet that is the Atlantic Coast Conference and challenge teams like Duke and North Carolina for the ACC title, they are going to have to improve this area of their game.  Guys, I’m just the coach, I can’t shoot them for you!

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