In the first 2 1/2 weeks of the season, the Maryland and George Washington men's basketball teams have gone in different directions. The Terrapins have blended three freshmen into their rotation and, if anything, have exceeded expectations by going 5-1, with the loss coming against Kentucky by three points. George Washington, meanwhile, has struggled to replace departed seniors Shawnta Rogers and Yegor Mescheriakov, going 2-3 with the most recent loss occurring Tuesday at Ohio University and Coach Tom Penders calling this season "a rebuilding year."
The Terrapins and Colonials will cross paths today and Sunday in the BB&T Classic at MCI Center. In today's first-round doubleheader, GW will play Seton Hall (3-0) at 1 p.m., with 24th-ranked Maryland then meeting No. 16 Illinois (2-1). The third-place and championship games will be played Sunday night, beginning at 6:30.
For the Terrapins, today's game represents a chance to take another step forward following an impressive victory over Iowa on Tuesday night in Baltimore. With only one returning starter--preseason all-American forward Terence Morris--few knew what to expect from Maryland. But sophomores Danny Miller and Lonny Baxter, redshirt sophomore Juan Dixon and freshman point guard Steve Blake have made fairly seamless transitions into the starting lineup.
Of particular significance has been the play of Baxter, who is averaging 14.5 points and 9.7 rebounds. Though often playing against taller opponents, the 6-foot-8 center has been Maryland's best rebounder and has found ways to score inside, often using a reverse layup to keep his shot from being blocked. He is the only Maryland player to score in double figures in every game and is shooting 56.5 percent from the field.
"I'm just coming out and trying to play hard and doing everything Coach [Gary Williams] tells me to do," said Baxter, a native of Silver Spring who attended one year of prep school at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., before going to Maryland. "I'm just playing well. I can't explain it."
Baxter's presence inside has created room for Maryland's perimeter players, particularly Dixon and freshman Drew Nicholas. Miller's play has improved with every game, as he becomes more assertive. And Morris, though unspectacular, quietly is becoming an effective leader. He has become more vocal and demonstrative and he believes his teammates have noticed.
All of this has Williams pleased with his team's play.
"We don't back off and we take adversity pretty well," he said. "We've been down 17 [points] and 16 and have come back and won one [against Tulane] and tied the other one up [against Kentucky]. And we've had teams take runs at us, Notre Dame and Iowa somewhat and we've been able to handle that. So we've shown some character so far and hopefully that builds more character as the year goes on."
In the past two seasons, Maryland has registered confidence-building victories in the BB&T Classic's first round, beating then-No. 5 Stanford last season and then-No. 2 Kansas two seasons ago. The Terrapins can make a similar move, though not as big, today by getting their first victory of the season against a ranked opponent.
While Maryland has improved with every game, George Washington has yet to find its rhythm. The Colonials have been inconsistent at both ends of the court.
Freshman guard SirValiant Brown from Lee High School in Springfield is averaging a team-leading 26.8 points per game, but is shooting 33.3 percent. He is taking 22.8 shots per game and has 18 turnovers to six assists.
As a team, GW is shooting 40.4 percent and has nearly twice as many turnovers as assists. Defensively, the Colonials are allowing opponents to shoot 50.5 percent. And their inside players, Francisco de Miranda, Pat Ngongba, Antxon Iturbe and Albert Roma, have struggled offensively.
"I've resigned myself to the fact this is a rebuilding year," Penders said. "I'm going to have to be very, very patient. It's on-the-job training for some of these guys."
BB&T Classic Notes: Maryland and GW will be joined by Michigan and St. John's in next season's event, event organizer Bob Zurfluh confirmed. . . . About 3,000 tickets remain for today's games. . . . Proceeds from the games and a banquet last night benefit the Children's Charities Foundation. In its first four years, the Classic has raised more than $2.1 million in grants for at-risk children in the Washington area, Zurfluh said.