- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 17, 2007

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Maryland opened NCAA tournament play against a small team from a usually unheralded league Thursday afternoon.

When the Terrapins return to HSBC Arena this afternoon, they’ll see another small team from a usually unheralded league.

So what exactly has changed in 48 hours as the fourth-seeded Terps (25-8) prepare for fifth-seeded Butler (28-6) with a berth in the Midwest Region semifinals at stake? Try speed, or rather a lot less of it.

“It’s a lot of the same matchups, but it’s a lot slower pace,” forward James Gist said. “I think that’s better for us play a lot slower, because we can calm down and not get as many people tired as we did [Thursday]. At the same time, we have to take advantage of that and not let them get rebounds like Davidson was getting.”

It is Butler’s play inside — or lack thereof — that created a potentially favorable matchup for Maryland.

The Terps devoured Davidson’s small frontcourt, with reserve forward Bambale Osby one of three big men to reach double figures for Maryland.

The Bulldogs, who have not utilized a player taller than 6-foot-7 this season, make no pretense of being a physically imposing interior team. However, opponents hold only a slight rebounding edge on Butler (31.1-30.0), which makes up for the deficiency with a motion offense that utilized forwards Brandon Crone and Pete Campbell on the perimeter.

“It’s only an advantage if we use it, if we pound them on the glass and we pound it inside and get some easy buckets,” Maryland center Will Bowers said. “You can look at it the other way. They have a short advantage. They’re shorter and they play on the perimeter and they don’t put anyone in the paint. Teams aren’t used to covering teams like that.”

Nor are the Terps accustomed to covering A.J. Graves, Butler’s seemingly indefatigable guard. Graves averages 17 points a game, and is a 91 percent free throw shooter for his career.

From his slight build (generously listed at 6-foot-1, 160 pounds) to his superb court vision, Graves reminds Maryland coach Gary Williams of a guard who almost single-handedly knocked the Terps out of the 1996 NCAA tournament when he played at Santa Clara.

“Graves has a little [Steve] Nash in him,” Williams said. “You can tell that’s his guy, the way he dribbles and steps back and does all the things Nash does. They’ve been good enough to beat really good teams. They figured out a way to get around their size. They rebound OK. When you shoot 3s, that makes up for a lot of things sometimes.”

Graves creates many of his scoring chances by bouncing off screens, rarely straying too far from the 3-point line to ensure a quality shot. But 6-foot-5 Maryland guard D.J. Strawberry (and at times point guard Greivis Vasquez) will hound him today, giving Maryland another place where its size could be critical.

Size, though, could be nullified if the Terps slip back into the poor play that led them into an eight-point deficit against Davidson. Maryland committed 22 turnovers in the first round, a product of undisciplined play and impatience until early in the second half.

“We run the fast break and that’s why I want to stay aggressive,” Vasquez said. “If we get fast breaks, they’re going stop that because we’re faster than they are. We just have to run. But when we don’t have the look, we have to run our offense, being aggressive but also being patient.”

The payoff of smart play today is an extension for the season. The Terps haven’t been to the regional semifinals since 2003 after reaching the second weekend seven times in an 11-year span.

Maryland’s veterans spoke from the start of the season of pushing the Terps back to a lofty spot in college basketball. While annual Final Four berths or national championships are unrealistic expectation just about anywhere, a second NCAA tournament victory would return Maryland to a place it grew accustomed to for more than a decade.

“I don’t think anybody in this room besides the coaches have been to a Sweet 16,” Strawberry said. “We haven’t. A couple of us have been to a second round game [in 2004]. It would mean everything to us, getting Maryland back to the Sweet 16. We want to make a deep run in the tournament [but] making the Sweet 16 would be great.”

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