Tuesday, November 21, 2006

University of Maryland Basketball Rolling

Coming off of consecutive 19-win seasons that led to NIT trips, the Terps men's basketball team came into this season needing to shed their underachieving image to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

Six games into the season, the Terps are undefeated and looking strong. The Terps' 71-60 (it was never that close) win over Winthrop last night was another step toward a return to prominence for the program that won a national championship just five seasons ago.

The run has brought the Terps to rankings of 25 in the AP Poll and 24 in the Coaches.

Ikene Ibekwe, always one to throw down the ferocious dunk but also a horrible liability shooting in any sort of manner that required the ball to travel more than six inches between hand and basket, has worked to improve his shooting and was the catalyst in wins over St. John's and Winthrop.

Freshman Eric Hayes can't help but be compared to Steve Blake, which is a refreshing thought after a year without a natural point guard.

The Terps wins haven't come against cupcake opponents, either.

Maryland beat Vermont by 18 points in the second game of the season. Five days later the Catamounts walked all over No. 14-at-the-time Boston College, beating them by 14.

The Terps destroyed St. John's by 32 in the fourth game of the season and the next day the Johnnies took then-No. 18 Texas down to the wire, losing by a point.

In game five, the Terps handed Michigan State its only loss of the season thus far.

And then there was last night against Winthrop, one of those scary mid-major opponents that top-tier conference coaches hate to face in the regular season -- You beat them and it's "yeah you were supposed to beat them"; but if you lose everyone says, "See how good those mid-major teams are!?"

Winthrop, no stranger to big opponents, had already crushed fellow giant-killing mid-major Iona, upset Mississippi State and played a down-to-the-final-minutes contest against No. 2 North Carolina, but Maryland would have none of it.

Ibekwe made his presence felt with back-to-back rim-rattling dunks in the early minutes and by halftime the Terps led by 16.

The Terps led by as much as 26 in the second half and Ibekwe finished with 18 points and six rebounds.

One thing that seems to be true for the Terps thus far is that when they get on a roll they're hard to stop.

Gary Williams' team takes on High Point on Friday at 1:30 at the Comcast Center, then travels to Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill. to take on the Fighting Illini in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

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