- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2006

Gary Williams tinkered with Maryland’s starting lineup in its final game before a 10-day break for final exams.

Whether his changes are even semi-permanent remains uncertain as the Terrapins return from their layoff today at Comcast Center against American.

Williams declined to reveal his starting five yesterday for the Terps’ first game since freshman guard Greivis Vasquez and junior forward Bambale Osby slid into the lineup in place of freshman guard Eric Hayes and senior forward Ekene Ibekwe.

“The top eight or nine guys haven’t changed,” Williams said. “That’s the key to me, having that ability to play nine or 10. The starting is important to the players more so than the coaches. Most players would rather start, but the idea that they know they’re going to get minutes whether they start or not is important, too.”

Only so much can be read into how much the lineup shift affected the Terps (10-2) in a 51-point rout of Missouri-Kansas City. Vasquez had eight assists and didn’t take a shot in his first start at point guard in place of Hayes, who played 20 minutes.

Osby and Ibekwe played similar minutes, though neither was a significant scoring factor against a team content to play zone defense the entire game. It was Osby’s second start after filling in when Ibekwe missed last month’s game at Illinois with an ankle sprain.

That was the only other time Williams deviated from his opening night lineup of Hayes, Ibekwe, junior forward James Gist, senior guard Mike Jones and senior guard D.J. Strawberry. Yet with Maryland seemingly a little deeper than a year ago — eight players average at least 10 minutes and another (senior center Will Bowers) plays 8.3 minutes a night — it has created more potential combinations.

“Coach has messed with the lineup a couple times to see who’s better at starting,” Jones said. “Personally, I think the starting thing is more so for the players. With the different lineups we have, we have several guys that can start that can give us different tempos of the game and how we want to start the game.”

Still, changing a starter is not a decision Williams takes lightly. Swapping a player’s role ultimately affects a rotation and a coach’s substitution pattern, which in turn can both create and limit options later in the game.

The Terps’ first substitutions against Missouri-Kansas City came with 12:44 remaining as Hayes, Ibekwe and senior guard Parrish Brown replaced Jones, Osby and Strawberry. Jones and Bowers entered for Vasquez and Gist at the under-12 minute timeout, and the Terps stretched their lead to 20 by the next time Williams sent a player to the scorer’s table.

“Sometimes you have to because you’re just looking for different things, especially early in the year. You want to see what it’s like and go from there,” Williams said. “What you try to do is get some guys playing to the best of their ability. Some guys play well coming off the bench; maybe they play better. Some guys start and do a good job with that.”

Still, just about any player would acknowledge they would rather start. There is prestige associated with starting, as well as confirmation of a basic idea: The players on the floor for the opening tip are usually the players a coach believes give a team the best chance for early success and, ultimately, a victory.

“The five that’s out there is the best five to start a game,” Ibekwe said. “It’s all in Coach’s hands, so he makes the decision. I think that’ll be the best five because Coach definitely knows what he’s doing and he knows what’s best for the team.”

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