Sunday, December 06, 2009

#3 Wildcats @ Maryland in 15th Annual BB&T Classic - Preview - Sunday, December 6, 7:30 PM

To the Wildcat faithful-

Yesterday, I took a detailed look, at the short history of the Villanova / Maryland series.  Although it consists of only three games, all three play a large role in Villanova basketball history...

Also, apparently there will be a fifth game of the history, in 2010-11.  According to the Maryland blog Turtle Waxing's Twitter page, Maryland coach Gary Williams indicated on his radio show that the Terrapins will be coming up 95 to take on the Wildcats next season (presumably at the Wachovia Center.)

(Above - Testudo, the formal name of the Maryland Terrapin.)

Today, I'll analyze Sunday night's contest at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC.  This game is a de facto home game for the Terrapins, as it is played near the College Park campus, in suburban Maryland - much in the same way that the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia serves a de facto home court for the Wildcats.

The 15th Annual BB&T Classic

The Wildcats and Terrapins will be battling in the second half of the doubleheader.  The first game, scheduled to tip-off at 5:00 PM Sunday, will match George Washington, located in DC, against Navy, located in Annapolis, Maryland.  Villanova is the only non-DC sphere of influence school involved.

The BB&T Classic was launched as a charity event in 1995, largely through the efforts of the prominent sports journalist John Feinstein, a Duke graduate based in the DC area.  Its original title was the Franklin National Bank Classic.  It has varied in format over the years - sometimes a tournament, other times a doubleheader or tripleheader- but the basics have remained the same.  Both Maryland and George Washington have participated in all 15 BB&T Classics, since its inception.  I speculate that Feinstein, an admirer of the Big Five in Philadelphia, used it as the model for the Classic.

The Viewpoint on the Maryland Terrapins

Maryland coach Gary Williams is from the Philadelphia area.  He grew up in Collingswood, NJ, and attended Big Five games at the Palestra.  He originally hoped to play for Penn, but ultimately ended up playing at Maryland.  A long coaching odyssey ensued, in which he would coach at Boston College and Ohio State before returning to his alma mater.  When he came back to take over the reins, he inherited a program in shambles, as the result of NCAA probation, due to extreme corruption and violations committed by his two predecessors.  In a remarkable resuscitation, he took the Terrapins to their first Final Four in 2001, and their first national title in 2002.

It didn't come easily, though.  Williams arrived in 1990, amidst the wreckage of probation, and his first four seasons, in no small part due to life in the rugged ACC - were very difficult.  The program turned the corner in 1994, when the Terrapins reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in six seasons, as a #10 seed - and made it to the Sweet 16, to boot.

The 1994 Sweet 16 was the first of 11 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances for the Terrapins.  Prior to the 2001 season, Williams had gotten to the Sweet 16 four times in six appearances, but Maryland had received many high seeds, and had yet to get past that round.

In 2001, they reached the Final Four, where they faced archrival Duke.  The Terrapins were not able to hold an enormous first-half lead, and fell to the Blue Devils, the eventual winner.  But they made up for it the following season, when they brought the national championship back to College Park.

The Terrapins returned to the tournament in 2003 and 2004, making it 11 appearances in a row.  In that span were seven Sweet 16s, two Final Fours and a national title.

Maryland's stature as a national titan, however, has eroded over the last five years.  In both 2005 and 2006, Maryland went 19-13 and headed to the NIT.  In 2007, the Terrapins finished the season in the Top 25, garnering a #4 seed in the NCAA tournament, but were eliminated in the second round.  In 2008, Maryland went 8-8 in the ACC, but did not receive an NCAA bid.  And last season, Maryland was very much a bubble team, finishing with a 7-9 record in the ACC, 20-13 overall.  (The previous year, an 8-8 conference mark had only brought a NIT bid).

The Terrapins did secure an at-large bid, last season, sliding in as a #10 seed.  In my personal opinion, when I went through the bracketology, I thought that Maryland deserved the bid, but the Terrapins were certainly sweating out Selection Sunday, with a RPI of 55.  The Terrapins upset #7 California in the first round, but they were eliminated in the second #2 Memphis.

Of course, Maryland remains a very difficult opponent with a very talented coach, and the Terrapins will be a challenge for Villanova.

Maryland, nationally ranked earlier this season, brings a 5-2 record overall into the game.  The Terrapins breezed past three opponents in College Park, walloping Charleston Southern, Fairfield, and New Hampshire by wide margins.  Maryland - then ranked #21 - participated in the EA Sports Maui Invitational, topping host Chaminade in the opener.  The Terrapins subsequently fell to Cincinnati and Wisconsin in the later rounds.  Their last game was a victory @ Indiana, their fifth victory of the year.

I would not put too much stock in four of the victories, as the intriguing Maryland blog Turtle Soup wrote in its basketball preview:
Easy Wins aka Cupcakes aka Teams that if we lose to will cause me to put a hole through my flatscreen TV

(Note: I realize that we have lost to cupcakes in each of the last two years so my flatscreen is not feeling safe right now)

The author included the aforementioned Charleston Southern, Fairfield, New Hampshire, and Chaminade, in the group.  For further reading on Maryland, I'd recommend the full preview, which provides a great overview of the overall expectations and analysis for the Terrapins this season.  

In the preseason ACC poll, the Terrapins were projected to finish fifth in the 12-team conference, which seems to dovetail well with their record and ranking.  The big gun is Greivis Vasquez, a senior guard, who was named pre-season All-Conference, and who came in second in voting for the Preseason ACC Player of the Year. 

Ironically, three of Villanova's most recent players were recruited out of Maryland's backyard - two members of the Class of 2009- Dante Cunningham, now with the Portland Trail Blazers, and his good friend Dwayne Anderson, were both from Silver Spring, Maryland.   Also, current standout Scottie Reynolds is from Herndon, Virginia, on the other side of the Potomac.

Other Previews 

VUHoops has a great collection of links from other sportswriters on Villanova / Maryland...

I Bleed Blue and White has preGame Villanova / Maryland...

And for a fresh, outsider's look on Villanova, I'd recommend this preview from the Washington Post...

I'll have a full recap after the game. 

Also, a hearty congratulations to the Villanova football team, who throttled New Hampshire, 46-7, yesterday, in blizzard-like conditions at Villanova Stadium, to advance to the next round of the national playoffs....

Go Wildcats!


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