Everybody who has ever watched college basketball with any regularity probably has their own definitions of what a “basketball IQ” is. My guess is that the differences in definitions are fairly subtle but they all have one thing in common:
You know it when you see it.
Along those same lines, when a team is lacking in that area it sticks out like a sore thumb.
With that in mind, the results of today’s 80-69 victory by the Virginia Cavaliers over the Maryland Terrapins should probably not come as a big surprise to anyone who watched the game. That Virginia was the better team today is simply undeniable. Not only did they win, they led pretty much from wire to wire. That they were the smarter team with a higher basketball IQ was, simply put, the reason why they won.
The Terps have had to deal with some maturity issues for much of the season, especially over a difficult 30-day stretch that began with the start of the ACC schedule in early January. Much of that stems from the fact that four players in Coach Mark Turgeon’s rotation are freshmen and two others are first year Terrapins. And – truth be told – some of it stems from players not learning on the fly from mistakes continually made.
Virginia, on the other hand, does not appear to have those same issues. They start a senior point guard in Jontel Evans and one of the league’s most cerebral players – Joe Harris – on the wing. They have a limited bench due to injury and illness and seem to have prospered because of it. Their players play a style that is both highly structured and opportunistic. Limited athletically, they run their offense just as it was drawn on a blackboard and, this afternoon at least, shot lights out from the perimeter. It is truly a case where the whole is far greater than the sum of the individual parts.
Because of that structure, the last thing the Terps wanted to do in this game was to get behind early and have to play from behind all game long…but that’s exactly what happened. Virginia jumped out to a 20-11 lead before a mini-run by the Terps brought the game closer. Eventually Maryland would tie the game at 28 with 3:20 left in the half and seemed to have all the momentum on their side.
As quickly as that 17-8 run came, it vanished. Over the last 3:20 the Terps could muster only one made free throw. Virginia countered with seven points – five from former Terp signee Justin Anderson – and score was 35-29, Virginia at the break. In that first half, the Cavaliers exploited the normally stout Terp defense to shoot 12-23 from the field while the Terps sputtered to shoot 11-31.
In their road win at Virginia Tech on Thursday night, Turgeon had blasted his team at halftime for pouting during the first half. No doubt he tried to push every button at half today in the hopes that his team would emerge from the locker room just as they had in Blacksburg: focused and on fire.
Instead, it was the visitors who came out and distanced themselves. A 9-3 Virginia run over the first five minutes of the half put the lead at 44-32 and all the Terps could do the rest of the half was press and scramble and hope that Virginia would cool down from the field.
It never happened.
If it’s at all possible, Virginia actually got hotter in the second half. They hit 6 of 8 attempts from behind the three-point arc and would end up shooting over 54% from the field (26-48) for the game.
Perhaps even more astonishing, a relatively small Cavalier team became the first team all season to out-rebound the Terps. The final tally was 31-27 but it felt much worse for a good portion of the game.
So what can the coaches do to address these IQ issues? I’m not sure what it stems from, but it manifests itself in things like turnovers, missed free throws and poor decision-making on both ends of the court. It can be awfully tempting to attribute some of those issues to the youth and inexperience of the team, but, look around the world of Division 1 basketball, youth and inexperience are the rule, not the exception. To use those as excuses shouldn’t be acceptable in mid-February. Perhaps the only way to actually address it is to stick with the plan you have for the season and hope that lessons are eventually learned and cohesion develops between all of the players in your rotation.
So, regardless of what has happened, one thing is certain about what will happen. Next Saturday the Duke Blue Devils will come to Comcast Center with the season on the line for the Terps. More than likely Duke will enter the game as the nation’s top-ranked team. That might be a double edged sword right now for Maryland. It certainly offers them an opportunity to beef up their resume against a long-time nemesis, but it will also be a game where all the pressure is squarely on the shoulders of the home team.