Maryland needs movement vs. Florida State

Maryland will use extra ball movement to counter shot-blocking specialist Solomon Alabi, above.
Maryland will use extra ball movement to counter shot-blocking specialist Solomon Alabi, above. (Steve Cannon/associated Press)
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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 10, 2010

The task left to Maryland's scout team during practices over the past week was physiologically unattainable. Sure, Terrapins such as junior forward Dino Gregory and freshman forward James Padgett can line up at the spots on the court where No. 18 Florida State's big men will operate Sunday during Maryland's ACC opener, but there's one element they simply cannot reproduce.

"It's different out there because you can know exactly what they're going to do defensively or offensively, but you can't duplicate the length in practice," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "There's no way to do that."

Consequently, the Terrapins (9-4) will enter Sunday's affair against the Seminoles -- whose starting front court consists of three players that range from 6 feet 8 to 7-1 -- with a game plan predicated on movement at both ends of the court. Lots and lots of movement.

Given that Florida State (13-2, 1-0) is holding opponents to 33.7 percent shooting, lowest in the nation, and leads the ACC in blocked shots (7.1 per game), Maryland will look to create as much ball movement as possible on offense in order to keep the Seminoles' long-armed big men from being able to remain stationary in the post -- and simply wait for a shot to swat.

Senior guard Eric Hayes said one point of emphasis during the past week of practice has been to keep an eye out for open teammates when driving into the post. The Seminoles, Hayes said, tend to converge on opposing ballhandlers when they penetrate the lane, which often leaves open looks out on the perimeter or even on the other side of the lane.

"We have to do a good job with the ball," Williams said. "In other words, we might not be able to take that first kind of open shot. Make another pass where you get open for sure."

Senior forward Landon Milbourne said many of Maryland's offensive objectives, such as being inside-out oriented, will remain unchanged despite Florida State's size advantage. While Seminoles center Solomon Alabi (7-1, 251 pounds) averages 2.9 blocks per game and Florida State offers two more forwards -- starter Chris Singleton (6-9, 227 pounds) and reserve Xavier Gibson (6-11, 240 pounds) -- who average at least one block per game, the Terrapins believe they have a solution: create turnovers and go.

Maryland owns the best turnover margin (plus-4.7) among conference teams; likewise, Florida State (minus-0.7) owns the worst. If the Terrapins can hound Seminoles point guard Derwin Kitchen into making bad decisions with the ball, abundant scoring opportunities could arise in transition, and that would help alleviate the issue of having to evade Florida State's shot-blockers in the post.

"You know, last game we scored a lot of points off defense, and this game we'll try to do the same thing," Milbourne said. "So if we can stop those guys and get them to take tough shots and rebound and battle with them on the boards, then I think we'll be okay."

Indeed, Maryland forced 16 turnovers and tallied 28 fast-break points against UNC Greensboro on Jan. 3, though Florida State figures to be a significantly stiffer challenge. Regardless, forcing turnovers and tallying fast-break buckets appear to be promising objectives against the Seminoles.

Milbourne said that in practice the scout team had effectively re-created Florida State's offensive tendencies, which include a healthy dose of high-low sets. The aim, he said, is for the Terrapins to keep the Seminoles' post players from setting up and receiving entry passes near the free throw line. As Milbourne acknowledged, that's a job for more than just one defender.

"We've been doing a lot of help defense and not really double-teaming, but more just helping each other out without losing our man so we don't give up open shots on the perimeter," Milbourne said. "It's just a lot of movement, and it's going to take a lot of energy."

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