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December 28, 2007

Maryland not living up to old standards

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He'll answer your questions every week in his College Hoops Mailbag.
Dec. 21: Moving forward.
Dec. 14: Don't panic yet.
Dec. 7: Texas better without Durant?

Maryland fans are growing frustrated ... and rightfully so.

Since watching their school win a national title in 2002, the program has faded out of the national spotlight.

This season, the Terps are grabbing headlines for the wrong reasons. The team is off to a 6-6 start and suffered an embarrassing loss to American last week. What is wrong in College Park?

We answer that question, along with others about Xavier's struggles, the coaching ability of Arkansas' John Pelphrey and Nebraska's chances of landing an NCAA Tournament bid in this week's mailbag.

Terrapin troubles

The supposed mantra of Maryland's Gary Williams is to recruit four-year players who want to play for his program. He produced a national-championship team without a single McDonald's All-American. But since then, he has produced one Sweet 16 finish, two early outs in the Big Dance and two NIT appearances. His current team, while young, may be the least talented in a decade. Are Maryland's woes because of recruiting, talent, coaching, all or none of the above?

Dennis from Washington, D.C.

Maryland's lack of success since its national title run is rather puzzling. But I don't think lack of talent is the problem.

You certainly can win without elite prospects. But to win without that kind of talent, you almost always need a lot of experience.

Look at what Washington State did last season. The Cougars didn't have a single top-100 prospect, but were loaded with veterans. The George Mason team that made the shocking run to the Final Four in 2006 had three seniors in the starting lineup.

When the Terps won it all, they started three seniors (including national player of the year Juan Dixon) and Steve Blake, then a junior point guard had who had started every game since his freshman year.

The Terps had three senior starters last season, when they won 25 games and landed a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Now, the Terps are a young team, starting one senior, three sophomores and a freshman. Two other freshmen are part of the rotation. All that inexperience has led to erratic play and costly errors. Sophomore point guard Greivis Vasquez, who is supposed to be one of the team's leaders, lost his cool against Boston College, received a technical foul and subsequently fouled out with 10:30 to go. The Terps ended up losing 81-78.

Gary Williams is a good coach. Once he has an experienced team, he will start winning again.

Time to worry?

Xavier was picked as a Sweet 16 team by some preseason publications. But recently the team has looked disjointed and unfocused. What do you think?

Fred from Louisville, Ky.

The Musketeers definitely haven't been as good as many thought, me included.

One of the main reasons for their failure to live up to the hype has been the disappointing play of senior guards Drew Lavender and Stanley Burrell, who were expected to be the strength of the team. Both have had bright moments, but they've been inconsistent for the most part.

Still, I fully expect the Musketeers to improve and be a threat to make another run in the NCAA Tournament. When they play well, they can beat a lot of good teams; they beat Indiana by 15 points earlier this season.

Lavender is too good of a player to stay down for long. Sean Miller is one of the top young coaches in college basketball. Plus, this team still has a lot of weapons, maybe even more than last season. Six players are averaging double-figures in scoring.

Pelphrey proving himself

How good of a coach is Arkansas' John Pelphrey? Is he living off the talent of Stan Heath's former players, or do you really think this guy can coach?

Jordan Wright from Fayetteville, Ark.

Pelphrey is an above-average coach. You have to be to win at a place like South Alabama, which he led to the 2006 NCAA Tournament.

Plus, not many guys have gotten a chance to play under Rick Pitino and coach under Billy Donovan, two of the best coaches and recruiters in college basketball.

Pelphrey undoubtedly has benefited from Heath's players. Pelphrey has taken over a program coming off consecutive NCAA Tournament trips and stocked with some of the best talent in the SEC. But he's more than qualified for the position and I have little doubt, that given time, he will make Arkansas a perennial top-25 program again.

Huskers have hope

With Nebraska already having some quality wins and with the direction the Huskers are headed, do you think they a chance for an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament?

Byron Mitchell from Kansas City

I'd lean toward an NIT bid rather than an NCAA bid right now.

Upsetting Oregon in Omaha, Neb., was the kind of non-conference win that will grab the attention of the selection committee; it counts as a neutral-court win, which will boost the Huskers' RPI.

But Oregon did lose to Oakland, so it's tough to gauge just how much that win really will be worth in March.

More important, the Huskers still will have to finish above .500 in the Big 12 possibly getting to 10-6 in league play to get into the field of 65. Remember that Kansas State went 10-6 last season, but still wound up in the NIT.

With Texas and Texas A&M playing better than anyone expected and Kansas looking dominant once again, finishing 10-6 is going to be difficult.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.



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