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The 'Bag (cont.)

Posted: Thursday December 27, 2007 3:25PM; Updated: Friday December 28, 2007 12:48PM
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Moving onto the 'Bag ...

Grant Wahl will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
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Is Gary Williams on the hot seat? Why has Maryland underperformed the past few years? How do the next few years look for the Terps from a talent perspective?
Iceman, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Well, consecutive home losses to Boston College, Ohio and American (Ohio and American!?!) have certainly put Terps fans into a foul mood, and the five-year grace period following Williams's 2002 national title has ended. But I would still be surprised if Williams's job was in real trouble this season unless his team just quits on him during the ACC schedule (which I highly doubt will happen). Next season? That's another story.

The Terps' problems this season are pretty clear: they can't shoot and they don't take care of the ball. According to kenpom.com, Maryland's effective field-goal percentage (37.9) ranks 233rd in the nation, and its turnover percentage (23.9) is even worse, ranking 264th. (General) Greivis Vasquez is a fun player who may have a pro future, but he's also maddeningly inconsistent and turns the ball over too much. The Terps also don't have a Lonny Baxter-quality big man (James Gist isn't the guy). At least Maryland still plays decent defense, but things will have to improve in a hurry or the ACC season could get ugly.

Williams has also been a victim of his own success, losing three quality assistants to head-coaching jobs since the 2002 national title run: Dave Dickerson (Tulane), Jimmy Patsos (Loyola) and Mike Lonergan (Vermont). During that stretch the Terps' NCAA tournament performances have also slipped:

2002: National Champion

2003: NCAA Regional Semis

2004: NCAA Second Round

2005: No NCAA bid

2006: No NCAA bid

2007: NCAA Second Round

Is help on the way in College Park? I'm not so sure. Williams has never been known as a workaholic recruiter, and while that hardly hurt him in the earlier part of this decade (the '02 champs didn't have a single high-school All-America), the renowned player-development program that produced Baxter, Juan Dixon and Chris Wilcox has taken a slide. The Terps will lose Gist and Bambale Osby next season and bring in just one freshman who's among the top 150 recruits in the country per Rivals.com (Sean Mosley, a 6-3 guard from Baltimore's St. Frances High). Also coming in will be Bobby Maze, a 6-2 guard and juco transfer who started his career at Oklahoma, and Gus Gilchrist, a 6-10 center who originally signed with Virginia Tech.

It'll be up to them to make the Comcast Center a place that opponents fear again. Right now that's not the case.

Arizona has been starting senior walk-on Bret Brielmaier fairly frequently this year. Have there been other Top 25 caliber teams in the past that have relied on a walk-on in such a crucial way?
Mike, Tucson, Ariz.

Readers: help me out here. Send in your examples. I know that Georgetown's Jonathan Wallace, Butler's Drew Streicher and Tennessee's JaJuan Smith started out as walk-ons, but any other instances of walk-ons starting for recent Top 25 teams would be welcomed.

You mentioned in your [pre-Pittsburgh game] Duke piece that the Blue Devils lack a really good post player. It's not like they haven't tried to get one. Recently they recruited -- and failed to land-- Washington's Jon Brockman, Kentucky's Patrick Patterson and [Georgetown signee] Greg Monroe. Is it just a string of bad luck, or is there a pattern here? Does having three assistants who were all former guards hurt the Devils in trying to get a big man?
Etan Frankel, Los Angeles

I have to admit, I've always thought it was strange that Steve Wojciechowski, a former pint-sized point guard, is the assistant coach who works with Duke's big men, but that didn't keep the Blue Devils from producing Shelden Williams (a very good college center if not an NBA star). The fact of the matter is that the big concern regarding Duke all season has been its lack of an effective big man, and we saw exactly why when Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair manhandled the Blue Devils down low last week (15 points and 20 boards).

Kyle Singler can do a ton of things on the basketball court, but asking him to defend Blair was too much. The fact that Mike Krzyzewski gave minimal time to Brian Zoubek (6 minutes) and Lance Thomas (14) shows how little confidence K has in his current big guys. I don't want to make too much out of one loss to a very good Pitt team, but perhaps we made too much of Duke's one impressive win against a Marquette team that (like Duke) is extremely perimeter-oriented.

How long before will it be before Mick Cronin gets Cincinnati back on track and relevant nationally again?
Ben Arinsmier, Baltimore

It might sound crazy for a team that has lost five straight, but give Cronin another year or two and Cincy will be a player in the Big East. It won't happen this season, not least because Cronin's quick-fix guys Mike Williams (ruptured Achilles) and Hernol Hall (ruled ineligible) haven't played a minute for the Bearcats.

But Deonta Vaughn is a good young player who has helped Cincy look better than expected in losses to Xavier, Memphis and N.C. State, and highly-rated recruits Yancy Gates and Cashmere Wright will increase the talent level for Cronin next year. Remember, Cronin got Murray State into the NCAA tournament in two out of his three years there, and he learned well under Rick Pitino and Bob Huggins.

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