Musings, Nits, and Praises: February 2007

Musings, Nits, and Praises

A farrago of all things deemed blog-worthy by a music-loving, poetry-writing, humor-seeking English teacher

Eating Crowing and It Tastes So Delectable!

After my beloved Terps fell to 3-6 in the ACC, I had all but resigned myself to Maryland stumbling their way to a third straight NIT (see my "Everything New Is Old Again" post). Five straight wins later, including today's 89-87 upset of North Carolina, and the freshman PG's, Vasquez and Hayes, have Terp fans giddy about the years ahead, the seniors are playing the best ball of their careers, Gary Williams has more than silenced the vitriolic windbag fans who wanted him fired, and the team, for all intents and purposes, has locked up an NCAA bid. With two games left in the regular season--at Duke on Wednesday and at home against NC State on Saturday--my pre-season prognostication of a 9-7 finish in the ACC is well within their grasp. Heck, 10-6 isn't out of the question.

Now, I'm trying not to get ahead of myself. I don't think the Terps are going to make a run at their second national title or anything, but a Sweet 16 trip certainly seems reasonable. Regardless of when the Terps' season ends, they've made this season remarkably enjoyable, and that's all a fan can ask.

The Faith of Faith: Part II (Finally)

I said a while back that I'd conclude the thoughts I began in my "The Faith of Faith" post. Well, at last, I'm finally taking the time to do just that. For anyone who didn't read the "Faith of Faith" post, I asserted that we cannot prove the validity of our faith in an empirical, scientific sense, nor can we prove the validity of our faith through personal testimonies. The best apologetics can do is to make a solid argument that it's reasonable to believe in the validity of Christianity and to debunk misconceptions/distortions of our faith. (I'm a big fan of C.S. Lewis and contemporary Christian writers like N.T. Wright and John Polkinghorne.) No matter how air tight we believe our apologetics to be, though, we make a leap of faith, a leap beyond empirical knowledge, in professing our faith in Christ.

For some non-believers, the necessary leap of faith immediately nullifies any claim of truth because they believe scientific knowledge is the end-all and be-all of truth. I suspect, though, that many of the staunchest materialists' rejections of Christianity do not rest solely on their insistence upon empirical proof but are combined with their experience with Christians who are close-minded, judgmental, and hypocritical. In short, if a lack of empirical evidence doesn't solidify their atheism, then Christians themselves seal the deal.

This brings me to the question I posed at the end of my first FoF post: If we can't prove our faith, then how are we to reach the world? I believe the church in America has spent far too much time avering the idea of having a "personal relationship with Jesus" and far too little examining what it is to be an imitator of Christ. The call of Christ is not a call to let Jesus be our buddy. It is not a call to a pursuit of our ambitions and material whims, with the assumption that God wishes the fulfillment of such things for His people. It is not a call to condemn the non-believer. It is not merely obstaining from sin. It is not a call to provide philosophical or scientific proofs of His existence. It is not a call to feeling good all the time. It is not a call to attend corporate worship three times a week, observing traditional practices and elevating them to divine commandments. It is not legislating morality.

What is it then to imitate Christ? It's nothing less than emptying ourselves in love. In John 13:34, Christ says, "A new command I give you: As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." If we pray "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," then we need to recognize our role in furthering God's kingdom. Christ showed compassion to the hurting, welcomed the rejected and outcast, extended mercy and grace to the sinner. He emptied himself, and we are called to do the same--Philippians 2:5+

Father, fill us with your Spirit. Transform our hearts and minds into a likeness of Christ. May the fruits of our actions be sweet nourishment for the suffering, the searching, and the lonely, not something bitter or rancid they spit out. May we love with abandon.

Everything New Is Old Again: The '06-'07 Maryland Terrapins

After two years of missing the NCAA Tournament, the Terps seemed poised to get back to the Big Dance this year, avoiding post-season punishment in the NIT (National Irrelevant Tournament). By the end of November, the Terps had hammered Winthrop (a solid mid-major team), won the Coaches v. Cancer Tournament, and ended Illinois' 51-game non-conference home winning streak. And for me, a life-long Terp fan, a return to winning ways couldn't come quickly enough. In 2004, I missed the Terps' magical run to the ACC Tournament title. I was in Scotland at the time, and the only sports I could watch were soccer, rugby, or cricket--not exactly my idea of March Madness. (I got back to the States just in time to watch the waning moments of the Terps' loss to Syracuse in the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament.) So Maryland's wallowing in the mire of mediocrity seemed even longer to me. But now with the Terps boasting a 3-6 mark in ACC play and a third-straight NIT bid bearing down inexorably on them, everything new is old again with Maryland hoops.

I think I could handle the Terps' losing if they just got blown out every game. If your team has no chance to win, then losing is easier to swallow. The problem is they show just enough of promise to give fans false hope. When my dad and I commiserate after a loss, we're left muttering things like "Man, they stunk, but if they just could've. . ." or "If they just
hadn't . . ." It's like breaking up with a girl multiple times and trying to convince yourself that if you just tweaked a few things the relationship would work. But it's easier to eventually throw in the towel on bad relationship than on a bad team.

You don't have to have a great deal of basketball acumen to recognize why Maryland has stunk in ACC play. They rebound poorly, they miss key FT's, they miss easy chances to score, and they have inexplicable defensive lapses. If they were better at any of those facets of the game, they might very well be 6-3 in the ACC instead of 3-6. Take last night's 69-65 loss to Virginia for example. Maryland was down ten at halftime after missing a few layups and a dunk, missing foul shots (I believe they made 1 in the first half), and rebounding about as well as my elementary teams used to. After getting down 15 at one point in the second half, the Terps made a charge and cut the lead to two at one point and had the ball with a chance to tie at the end of the game. Sure, if Vasquez had made his 3 when the game was 63-60 or if Hayes had made a 3 to tie the game at the end, then maybe the Terps would've won. But poor foul shooting and non-existent rebouding are what really cost them the game. They finished 8-15 from the foul line and got outrebounded 45-32! There were several times in the 2nd half when UVA had four shots on a possession! To rub more salt in the wound, UVA's big men aren't even very good! Rebounding or the lack thereof has been a constant in Maryland's ACC losses--outrebounded 40-32 against Boston College, 50-39 against Miami, 46-33 at Virginia, 45-37 against Virginia Tech, 28-18 against Florida State, and 45-32 last night against Virginia. You'd be hard-pressed to find a team who rebounds worse than Maryland. Gary Williams has spoken of their rebounding woes on several occasions and I know they work on rebounding in practice. I'd like to think the players recognize the problem and are trying to get better. But maybe they lack the necessary effort in games, or maybe they just stink. Either way, since they've rebounded poorly all season, I don't see them getting any better at this point.

As is always the case when a team struggles, the fans immediately point to the coach. Even during last season the Maryland message boards were littered with vitriolic windbags calling for Gary Williams to be fired. I wouldn't be all that surprised if they were burning effigies in his yard after this season. Certainly, he is partly culpable for the team's failures over the past three seasons (including this one). I don't think it's because he suddenly forgot how to coach, though. After all, the guy has more wins than any other coach in the university's history. He's the same guy that took the job at Maryland knowing he would face three years of crippling NCAA sanctions (thanks Bob Wade and thanks NCAA!). He's the same guy that lifted the team from its nadir to two ACC regular season titles ('94/'95 and '01/'02), an ACC Tournament Championship ('04), ten straight NCAA Tournament appearances ('94-'04), seven Sweet 16's, two Final Fours ('01 and '02), and a National Championship ('02). I just don't buy the "the game has passed him by" cry of some discontented fans, nor do I buy the "Gary can't reach the players, can't motivate them" spiel. It's nothing new that this group of players (really, the upperclassmen) have a propensity to play sluggishly, get behind, then wake up and try to make a comeback--see last night's game. Frankly, I think the notion that good coaches are good motivators is overplayed. If you're a Division I basketball player, in the ACC no less, you shouldn't need your coach to fire you up with some rousing pep talk. I believe Williams is to blame, though, as far as recruiting goes. Granted, unless you're the Duke or UNC's of the world, you're not going to have McDonald's All-Americans at every position, nor can you always know how a player will pan out in college, but you can certainly identify your team's needs and recruit accordingly. Oddly enough, the '02 and '03 freshman classes were some of the most highly touted of Gary's tenure. In some cases Williams has suffered from bad luck (John Gilchrist leaving after butting heads with Gary and acting like a head case which left the team without a PG last year; Chris McCray failing out of school last year). In other instances guys have simply failed to live up to their billing coming out of high school. Travis Garrison might have been the worst McDonald's AA of all-time, and Mike Jones has been brilliant one game and worthy of being the towel boy the next. There aren't any quick fixes in college basketball. though; you can't make mid-season trades or sign free agents. Last year the team lacked a true PG, a go-to guy, and a steady, wide-bodied rebounder. This year Williams was able to address one of those areas--the Terps have two solid freshmen PG's--and next year they have a couple of guys coming in who may fit the bill for the necessary big man. As for the go-to guy, that's still up in the air. The point is that it takes a few years to overcome one or two classes that wind up as busts. It takes patience, which is something most fans don't possess. Maybe if Williams got canned another coach could step in and improve the team. Maybe not. I think it would take one or two more dud seasons before he'd get the boot, though, given his past success and the fact that he signed an extension earlier this year. I don't think I'm being overly optimistic to think that the coach who took the program from near extinction to an eventual national title can take a mediocre team and make it a good one again.

As for the rest of this year, well, I've resigned myself to disappointment. Nonetheless, I will listen to or watch every game the Terps play between now and the end of the season. I think a little bit of masochism is necessary to be the fan of any team over a long period of time.

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