Facing Low Expectations, Maryland Terrapins Men's Basketball Aims High in ACC

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 27, 2008

ATLANTA, Oct. 26 -- Maryland basketball players Greivis Vasquez and Dave Neal have heard the critics and read the preseason predictions, including one that said the Terrapins would finish last in the ACC this season. They arrived at ACC media day Sunday prepared to tell anyone who would listen why they'll exceed expectations.

Problem was, few were listening Sunday. Most reporters lingered around well-known players from North Carolina, the media's unanimous pick to win the league title, and Duke, the overwhelming choice to finish second. At one point, Vasquez looked around the hotel ballroom at reporters and asked: "They are supposed to come over here, too, right?"

In terms of perception, this is the new reality for the Terrapins, who have failed to reach the NCAA tournament in three of the past four years. They were predicted to finish seventh this season in the league's preseason media poll released Sunday. In the eyes of some, the school's national title in 2002 looks like a distant memory.

"Some people think it is ancient history," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "It is not as ancient history as Duke's last title" in 2001.

Williams was his usual self Sunday, humorous, gregarious and a tad defiant in the face of critics. His 20th season at his alma mater promises to be one of his most challenging, but he said he is excited at the possibilities with a guard-oriented team.

The loss of front-court players James Gist and Bambale Osby means that two players -- Braxton Dupree and Jerome Burney -- will compete for playing time in the interior after averaging a combined 4.3 points per game last season.

Williams plans to counter the lack of an interior presence by sometimes playing four guards at a time, something he has not done since his head coaching days at American University.

"We just have to prove people wrong," Vasquez said. "We have to play with what we have got."

Williams said point guard Eric Hayes has been more aggressive so far in practice. Adrian Bowie, who is also competing for time at the point, refined his shooting motion so he can become a threat from the outside. Junior Landon Milbourne, who started 29 games last season, has become a more consistent outside shooter, but at times likely will need to play power forward. Williams is also particularly excited about freshman Sean Mosley, who is expected to see extensive playing time throughout the season.

Maryland's nonconference schedule includes a challenging three-game Old Spice Classic tournament in Orlando, beginning on Nov. 27 against Michigan State. But the Terrapins do not play a true road game until they visit Miami on Jan. 14. By that point, Williams will have a better idea what type of team he has and whether those preseason predictions were off the mark.

"They are pretty quick to write you off sometimes," Williams said. "The way you counter that is to win some games."

ACC Note s: North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough was voted the preseason player of the year and headed an all-conference team that included teammate Ty Lawson, Boston College's Tyrese Rice, Duke's Gerald Henderson and Miami's Jack McClinton. The preseason rookie of the year nod went to Wake Forest's Al-Farouq Aminu.

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