Maryland coach Gary Williams won 13 games in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season and shared the regular-season championship with eventual national champion Duke. He coached the ACC's player of the year in Greivis Vasquez and missed advancing to the Sweet 16 only because Michigan State's Korie Lucious drilled a buzzer beater to send his team home after the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Maryland could achieve great things again this season, but the Terrapins are experiencing early growing pains after losing Vasquez, an NBA first-round draft pick, and two other starters to graduation.
Maryland committed 29 turnovers in its opener against Seattle and needed a last-second shot to win its second game against the College of Charleston. The Terrapins own a 3-0 record entering their semifinal game in New York City at 7 tonight against No. 5 Pitt in the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer, but Williams is still feeling his way with his team.
Game: No. 5 Pitt (3-0) vs. Maryland (3-0), 7 p.m. today, Madison Square Garden, New York.
TV, radio, Internet: Radio, Internet: ESPN2, KDKA-FM (93.7), www.pittsburghpanthers.com.
Pitt: Coming off 95-49 victory against North Florida. ... Playing in the Coaches vs. Cancer event for the second time. ... Defeated Alabama, 71-62, Nov. 14, 2003, in Jamie Dixon's first game as head coach. ... Has 24-11 record at Madison Square Garden since 2000-01 season. ... 1-5 all time against Maryland. ... Led by junior G Ashton Gibbs (19.3 ppg) and senior G Brad Wanamaker (19.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg).
"We lost Greivis Vasquez and two other players who are now playing professionally overseas in [Landon] Milbourne and [Eric] Hayes," he said. "You get to play a certain way with guys. We've been trying to replace them. We tried to use the first three games as a way to get ready for New York this week. The Charleston game was a tough game for us. We were fortunate to win."
Maryland's best player is sophomore center Jordan Williams, who made the ACC all-rookie team as a freshman. Williams was only the third player in school history to score 250 points and grab 250 rebounds in his freshman season. The others were Joe Smith and Buck Williams.
Jordan Williams has recorded three double-doubles in the first three games, including a 26-point, 15-rebound performance against the College of Charleston.
"Jordan has really improved," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "Our strength will be that we have a number of guys who can guard him. He's got the ability to put the ball in the basket. He has great hands, a soft touch, a big body. I think he's a really good player. We have to rely on team defense."
The player who will have the first shot at guarding Williams is 6-foot-10 senior Gary McGhee, someone Dixon has said has the potential to be the Big East defensive player of the year. Dante Taylor and J.J. Richardson also will get the opportunity to defend Williams.
"He's a really good player," McGhee said. "He's a great low-post scorer. He'll be one of the best low-post scorers in the nation."
Williams is surrounded by some veteran players and some newcomers who are getting acclimated to major-college basketball. Senior small forward Cliff Tucker has scored in double figures in each of the first three games and juniors Sean Mosley (8.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg) and Adrian Bowie (9.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg) have been key players.
But when Gary Williams had to call on someone to take the last shot against the College of Charleston, he did not call on one of his veterans. He called the number of freshman guard Pe-Shon Howard, who sank a shot with three seconds remaining to give the Terrapins a 75-74 victory. Another freshman guard, Terrell Stoglin, is the team's third-leading scorer, averaging 10.3 points per game.
"We have a good group of young players," Williams said. "They'll make mistakes, but they'll play."
The freshmen have had their fair share of turnovers, but everyone has contributed to that problem. Six players have seven turnovers or more in the first three games. After committing 29 in the opener, the Terrapins committed 18 and 14 the past two games.
Pitt, by contrast, is averaging fewer than 12 turnovers per game, and no one on the team has more than six.
"We've all taken turns," Williams said. "Some of it is we're rushing things. They try to do things that they did in high school and they can't do that now. There has been some sloppiness on our part. We'll have a three-on-one fastbreak and we're not scoring. We're trying to get to where we don't give the ball away in scoring situations."
One of the keys to the game will be Pitt's ability to handle Maryland's full-court press. The Terrapins are athletic, deep and like to play up-tempo. Pitt has played fast as well through three games, but this could be a game where the Panthers play their usual half-court game to frustrate the Terrapins.
"We want to grind it out," McGhee said.
The winner of the Pitt-Maryland game will play the winner of the matchup between No. 13 Illinois and Texas. The championship game will be played at 7 p.m. Friday.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230.