Terps Basketball: Big Ten Tournament & Diamond Stone
Coming off of a disappointing effort on Senior Day against No. 15 Michigan, Maryland enters this week’s Big Ten tournament likely knowing that unless they make a deep run in New York City they’ll be headed to the NIT. While Maryland’s official NCAA RPI of 66 would normally have the Terps on the fringe of the NCAA tournament conversation, with the shift to the use of quadrants this year their chances are incredibly slim.
In Quadrant 1 games Maryland went 0-10, and the team’s lone Quadrant 2 victory (1-2 record) came at home against a Butler squad that will be headed to the NCAA tournament. Maryland’s definitely had some close misses in their games against Quadrant 1 opponents, most notably home losses to Purdue and Michigan State, on a neutral court against St. Bonaventure and at Syracuse, but “close” only matters in horseshoes and hand grenades as the saying goes.
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That all being said, the Big Ten tournament gives Maryland one last chance at redemption beginning with Thursday’s matchup with ninth-seed Wisconsin. After losing five straight as part of a stretch in which it lost eight of nine games, the Badgers closed out the regular season by going 4-2 in their last six games. While three of the wins came against Illinois, Minnesota and Northwestern, the Badgers also managed to knock off Purdue on February 15. And in Sunday’s 68-63 loss to No. 2 Michigan State, Wisconsin hung tough throughout with freshman Brad Davison going off for a career-high 30 points.
Wisconsin’s situation is even more dire than Maryland’s at this point in the season; unless they win four straight at MSG Wisconsin knows that it’s NCAA tournament streak will come to an end. But Greg Gard’s team has continued to play hard, and despite the long odds this is a group that could potentially cause some problems in what will be a foreign environment of sorts for the entire conference.
(Playing the conference tournament a week earlier than usual in a locale that’s outside of the “traditional” conference footprint will take some adjusting to.)
Who will Maryland need to keep an eye on Thursday afternoon? First and foremost versatile junior forward Ethan Happ will lead the way on the scouting report. Happ, a second team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches, is averaging 17.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game while shooting 52.7 percent from the field. By no means is Happ a great shooter, as he does the majority of his damage from 15 feet and in scoring-wise, but his ability as a passer and the roll man in ball screen situations affords Wisconsin the ability to use him away from the basket. In the lone meeting between the two teams, a 68-63 Maryland win on February 4, Happ performed well as he accounted for 18 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.
The difference between then and now has to be the aforementioned Davison, who along with Bruno Fernando earned a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman Team. Davison did score 12 points and dish out two assists in that loss to Maryland, but outside of a loss to Michigan in which he scored ten points on 3-for-10 shooting while accounting for just one assist the freshman’s managed to have a greater impact on the Badgers’ play in the games since. Sunday’s 30-point outing against Michigan State represented another step forward for Davison, and over Wisconsin’s last six games he averaged 15.7 points, 3.0 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game, shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from three.
For the season Davison, who’s played with an injured left shoulder for much of the year, is averaging 12.1 points, 2.5 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game and shooting 41.1 percent from the field and 36.9 percent from three. Given the number of playmakers Wisconsin lost from last season’s Sweet 16 squad, the process of finding options who could step into the holes left by Bronson Koenig, Zach Showalter and Nigel Hayes has proven to be difficult. Davison’s been the one who’s stepped into the void, with sophomore guard Brevin Pritzl and junior forward Khalil Iverson serving as supplementary scoring options to he and Happ (losing D’Mitrik Trice to injury certainly didn’t help matters).
Aleem Ford and Nate Reuvers, who combined to score 25 points in the first meeting between the Badgers and Terps, will also warrant attention with the former going 4-for-5 from three in scoring his 12 points. Neither team does a great job of forcing turnovers, but Wisconsin’s been superior to Maryland when it comes to taking care of the basketball. And given the Terps’ overall struggles defensively in conference play, especially when it comes to defending the three as conference opponents have shot 40.0 percent, this is a matchup that will likely go down to the wire. That being said, Wisconsin’s been in the bottom half of the Big Ten in many major offensive statistical categories with Maryland being the superior offensive team.
The winner gets Michigan State Friday afternoon, with both Maryland and Wisconsin having played the Spartans tough on their respective home courts this season.
The Diamond Stone Situation
On Friday Yahoo Sports released some information it was able to gather in connection with the ongoing FBI probe into corruption and fraud within basketball, with the ASM Sports Group led by NBA agent Andy Miller being the focus. Among the names that surfaced in the report was that of former Maryland big man Diamond Stone, who according to Yahoo Sports received a loan worth $14,303 while in school.
For his part Mark Turgeon released a statement in which he denied having any kind of relationship with Miller or any conversation with Miller regarding any members of the Maryland basketball program. But the question in the aftermath of this report is a simple one to ask but a tough one to answer: what’s next?
Of course there have been examples of teams being anywhere from proactive to paranoid when it comes to handling players whose names have surfaced as a result of the FBI investigation (see DeAnthony Melton at USC and Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley at Auburn). Melton was ruled out for the entire season before he ultimately withdrew from school, with the initial reason for the school sitting him down being that a family friend received a $5,000 bribe in exchange for their directing Melton to use defendants Christian Dawkins and Munish Sood as his representation (Dawkins) and financial advisor (Sood).
While some have looked at this case and decided to use it to place blame on the players themselves, more often than not it’s been an adult connected to the player who’s done the dirty work (with or without the player’s knowledge). So in regards to the Stone situation, while he’s listed in the report the specifics beyond the dollar amount are still unknown at this point in time. And in my opinion it will likely remain that way for a while, with the FBI still working through the case and the first trials of the ten men indicted not set to begin until the fall.
Could this all be avoided if the antiquated system of amateurism was either updated to match the times or done away with completely? Possibly, but this feels like a situation in which the NCAA and its members will look to defend the system that’s made them so much money until the wheels truly fall off the cart. Reports and information will likely continue to trickle out, and it may be years before this all ends. As for the programs and players allegedly involved, they can do as much as possible to make sure everything’s in good order from a rules standpoint but it will be a while before we all know the true effect of this case on college basketball and amateur athletics as a whole.