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June 11, 2008

Maryland experiencing rough offseason

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He'll answer your questions every week in his College Hoops Mailbag.
June 4: Dancing again?
May 28: Hopeful Heels
May 21: What about Rice?

No program may have been dealt bigger blows in recent weeks than Maryland.

First, guard Tyree Evans pulled out of his commitment to Maryland when the school began reviewing his criminal record. Evans was one of the top junior college prospects in the nation and was expected to start immediately. Then, former four-star recruit Augustus Gilchrist received his release from the Terps when ACC schools voted at their annual meeting not to make him eligible after the 2008 fall semester. Gilchrist, a 6-11 power forward who originally signed with Virginia Tech, had enrolled at Maryland in the spring and was expecting to sit out a year.

Some fans seem more concerned with losing Gilchrist since the Terps already have lost starting big men James Gist and Bambale Osby. Without Evans and Gilchrist, what kind of season can the Terps expect?

We answer that question in this week's mailbag, along with others about whether Kansas' Mario Chalmers will stay in the draft, Syracuse's "snub" this past season, how a couple of recent dismissals will affect Tennessee and what we can expect from Duke in 2008-09.

Terp trouble

With the 2008 recruiting class almost complete and no front-line guys coming in for Maryland, how bad will the Terps be next year? We have no proven big men.

Michael from Myrtle Beach, S.C.

I wouldn't write off next season just yet.

Yes, the Terps are going to be hurting on the inside. Gist and Osby are gone and they don't have anyone who can replace either big man. But the Terps will have the best backcourt in the ACC. Point guard Greivis Vasquez is the league's top playmaker. Eric Hayes probably is the best passer in the league. This will be their third year starting together and that should translate into good chemistry and better decision-making.

You also can expect sharp improvement from reserve guards Cliff Tucker and Adrian Bowie, who each averaged double-digit minutes as freshmen this past season.

Unproven sophomore big men Braxton Dupree and Jerome Burney need to improve. But they don't need to be go-to scorers or dominant in any area. If they can be solid rebounders and steady contributors, the Terps have enough firepower and experience on the perimeter to contend for an NCAA bid.

Rock chalk return?

Do you think Mario Chalmers will return for another season with Kansas?

Avery Parker from Olathe, Kan.

It looks as if Chalmers has played his final college game. After a recent workout with the Denver Nuggets, the The Rocky Mountain News wrote that Chalmers "indicated he had no intention" of staying in school.

I think that could be a mistake because Chalmers may not be selected until the second round. He is projected as a borderline first-rounder.

If Chalmers returns for his senior season, he'd have a good chance of being taken significantly higher, maybe even in the lottery. Next year's draft looks much weaker and Chalmers will get all the opportunities he wants to showcase his skills. Kansas is assured of losing its four other starters and would need Chalmers to be a go-to scorer.

But it sounds as if Chalmers has his heart set on leaving, and it's tough to say it's that bad a move. His stock is higher than it's ever been before thanks to some great play in the NCAA Tournament.

Syracuse 'snub'

Why is Syracuse's failure to secure an NCAA bid considered to be a snub? There were several teams not close to getting a bid (and deservedly so) and yet would have fared just as well as Syracuse had they played the Orange's schedule. Outside of beating Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova, Syracuse did little to impress. California beat USC as well as Washington State and Washington on the road, and yet Cal rightfully did not get a bid. Of the seven Big East teams that had a better conference record than Syracuse, Georgetown was the only team the Orange played twice, leaving enough contests with below-average teams for Syracuse to salvage a 9-9 conference record. Perhaps it looks like a snub because each season, Syracuse begins with a top-20 ranking and then when its tremendous talent underachieves, the team, having started so high in people's minds, is able to wallow in bubble land even though its performance warrants a further drop.

Greg from Larkspur, Calif.

Syracuse wasn't viewed as one of the biggest snubs when it came to the field of 65. There was much more made about Arizona State and Ohio State not getting invitations. The Sun Devils were 9-9 in an extraordinarily strong Pac-10 and beat Arizona twice. The Buckeyes went 10-6 in the Big Ten.

Even Orange coach Jim Boeheim didn't put up much of a fuss, unlike in 2007 when the Orange were 10-6 in the Big East and didn't get in.

The reason Syracuse gets so much attention is because, unlike most of the other so-called "snubs," they usually are expected to have little trouble getting a bid. The Orange are only five years removed from a national title and continue to reel in elite talent. Last season's roster included three five-star recruits.

Is change good?

It seems like every season the chemistry of the Tennessee team gets stranger and stranger. Dismissals are not good. Transfers I love. But are we ever going to see an all-Bruce Pearl squad?

Doug from Knoxville, Tenn.

Actually, yes. Next season, Pearl will have his first team at Tennessee made up solely of players he recruited even if they didn't sign with the Vols originally.

That doesn't necessarily mean UT will have better chemistry. In fact, the departure of a player that previous coach Buzz Peterson signed probably was the biggest blow when it comes to chemistry during Pearl's three years in Knoxville. Former forward Dane Bradshaw was extremely unselfish and a great passer. He also was well-respected and well-liked by his teammates.

I wouldn't worry about the offseason dismissals of Ramar Smith and Duke Crews affecting the Vols' chemistry next season. Those moves probably will help. Smith was a horrible decision-maker with the ball, often shooting when he should be making a pass.

Remember when former center Major Wingate was kicked off the team before the start of the 2006-07 season? The Vols went on to win 24 games and nearly knocked off eventual national runner-up Ohio State in the Sweet 16. I could envision a similar scenario unfolding in 2008-09.

Discussing Duke

What do you think about Duke for next season? Are the Blue Devils going to be much better? Why can't they get a good big man? Is there something about them that big men don't like?

Richard from the Philippines

I'd be shocked if Duke was "much better" than this past season. Winning 28 games and reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament again is going to be a difficult task.

The Blue Devils still have big problems on the inside, where they lack size and depth. They also are losing their best player. Guard DeMarcus Nelson was the team's leading scorer last season at 14.5 points per game, but it's his ability to rebound he and Kyle Singler tied for the team lead with 5.8 per game that may be missed most.

There are myriad reasons Duke has struggled in recruiting when it comes to the frontcourt. For starters, the Blue Devils have been a little unlucky. They've lost out on a handful of recruiting races for big men, including Oklahoma's Blake Griffin and Washington's Jon Brockman. If either chose Duke, that would have fixed a lot of problems the past couple of seasons.

Mike Krzyzewski and his staff also need to cast a wider net when it comes to recruiting post players. They don't offer many scholarships. That wasn't a problem in the past when they snagged most of the players they targeted. Now, when a couple of big-name recruits turn elsewhere, it creates a void.

Coach K's staff has been loaded with former guards, including Chris Collins, Steve Wojciechowski and, until recently, Johnny Dawkins. Former Duke small forward Nate James was hired to fill the void left by Dawkins' departure to Stanford. Hiring a former big man - or someone with a history of working with good big men - would help.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.

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