Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.
Is the Atlantic Coast Conference being vindictive with Maryland regarding its basketball schedule for its final season?
Don Markus: After seeing that the Terps have to go play at Duke and North Carolina, without a return game from either the Blue Devils or Tar Heels, my reaction was it was a, uh, going-away gift for leaving for the Big Ten in 2014. One of the reasons I wrote about the end of the Duke-Maryland rivalry back in February was that I expected this to happen.
In reality, the ACC actually gave Maryland a relatively easy home schedule: aside from “travel partners” Virginia and Pittsburgh, the Terps will play ACC newcomers Notre Dame and Syracuse, along with Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. Aside from the Irish and the Orange, there might not be a sellout in the bunch unless Mark Turgeon’s team takes it up a notch.
The road schedule is also not as daunting as it could have been, considering there is no trip to the Carrier Dome, which automatically takes over as the toughest homecourt in the ACC. (For those who believe it’s still Cameron Indoor Stadium, playing in front of 30,000 in a dome is more daunting than playing in front of 9,000 plus, no matter how close they are to the court.)
Aside from three trips to Tobacco Road (N.C. State, too) as well as Virginia and Pittsburgh, the Terps go to Florida State (which was half-empty when Maryland played there last season), Virginia Tech (which was less than half-empty) and Boston College (which was less than half than half-empty). The last time I checked, Clemson only sells out Littlejohn Coliseum for Duke and Carolina.
So in reality, the ACC might be taking a shot at Maryland’s already shaky athletic coffers (the reason for the move to the Big Ten in the first place) by not having guaranteed sellouts for the Blue Devils and North Carolina, but the schedule looks like it could help the Terps reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years.
And that might be the best going-away present of all.
The Maryland basketball program is involved with George Mason transfer Vertrail Vaughns. What would the fifth-year grad student potentially bring to the table?
Matt Bracken: Over the past week the Terps have been linked with three transfers: Memphis point guard Antonio Barton, a Lake Clifton alum who will graduate this summer and can play immediately; Eli Carter, a shooting guard from Rutgers who led the Scarlet Knights in scoring as a sophomore; and Vertrail Vaughns, a shooting guard from George Mason who took a medical redshirt his freshman year and is eligible to play right away.
As soon as Barton and Carter hit the market, high-major schools across the country scrambled to get involved. Maryland, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Tennessee and Syracuse are among the schools interested in Barton, while Carter is looking at the Terps, Florida, Pittsburgh, Creighton, Memphis and Buffalo.
Vaughns’ recruitment, however, will be quite a bit different. The 6-foot-2, 184-pound 2-guard posted on his Facebook page that he would visit North Texas and Maryland. According to Jeff Goodman, Texas Tech and Georgia Tech have also expressed some interest.
A quick glance at Vaughns’ career stats with the Patriots is somewhat underwhelming. The Mesquite, Texas native averaged 5.8 points, appearing in 107 games and starting 33. In Maryland’s 69-62 win over George Mason last December, Vaughns took a dreaded DNP – coach’s decision.
So what can we make of Maryland’s interest in Vaughns? For answers, I caught up this week with Ryan Kish, a 2006 George Mason grad who runs the popular GMUHoops.com blog. Kish said Vaughns – who was recruited as a point guard but is “definitely a 2” – had his best year as a redshirt freshman in 2010-11.
“Freshman year, he turned the ball over constantly. But he turned into a really good shooter, especially from 3-point range,” Kish said. “He was a perfect spot-up shooter.”
That season, Vaughns averaged just 4.5 points but shot 49 percent from 3-point range, helping the Patriots to a 27-6 record and the second round of the NCAA tournament. After the season, Jim Larranaga took the Miami job, and former Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt took over the Patriots. Vaughns’ role changed significantly.
“He started every single game [as a sophomore], and you could tell he wasn’t the same player,” Kish said. “Teams focused on him – he can’t really create his own shot. He can shoot 3-pointers [and he’s] also a pretty good defender. But he’s not a point guard.”
Vaughns scored 8.8 points per game during the 2011-12 season, but shot 35.6 percent from 3-point range, starting all 33 games. When Hewitt got more of his players to Fairfax last season, Vaughns returned to a bench role, putting up 5.0 points per game and shooting 33.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Even though Vaughns was passed by freshmen in Mason’s lineup last year, he remained a team captain and “one of the leaders in the locker room.” Kish said he was initially “surprised” that Maryland was interested in Vaughns, but now thinks he could fill a Logan Aronhalt-type role for the Terps.
“[If a team] just needs him to be a sniper, he could do well at that,” Kish said. “He’s a veteran [and] he’s a very smart player.”
Vaughns will have to decide whether he wants to play a starring role for a mid-major team like North Texas – which is just an hour away from his hometown – or be a supporting player for a high-major team like Maryland that hopes to compete for an NCAA tournament berth.
With four scholarships available, there doesn’t appear to be much of a downside for the Terps in adding someone like Vaughns – a good locker room guy who’s played in the tournament and would have a defined role off the bench.
Given that Tavon Austin was a Top 10 pick in this year’s NFL draft, is that a reasonable goal for Stefon Diggs?
Don Markus & Matt Bracken: Considering the freshman year Diggs had for the Terps, he has already shown that he has first-round potential. His numbers in his first year in College Park (54 catches for 848 yards and six touchdowns) were remarkably better than what Austin put up in Morgantown (15 catches for 151 yards and one touchdown), when admittedly he was trying to convert from being a running back at Dunbar to a slot receiver. Diggs also showed that he was just as dangerous as Austin returning kicks, with 26 returns for 716 yards and two touchdowns for Diggs as a freshman compared to 17 returns for 426 yards and one touchdown for Austin in 2009.
Here’s where the questions start to come in. Will the offense Diggs plays in for the next two or three years be as explosive as what Austin was in with the Mountaineers? Will having a quarterback like Geno Smith – despite the fact that he turned out not to be a first-round draft pick - give Austin opportunities Diggs might not have with C.J. Brown or whoever else plays the position the next two or three years?
And here might be the biggest question of all: will Austin’s performance with the St. Louis Rams set the bar for how to draft slot receivers in the NFL? Diggs is bigger and stronger than Austin, and he might be just as fast, if that’s possible. If Austin can do in St. Louis what he did with the Mountaineers, and before that with the Poets, NFL general managers might be taking slot receivers before quarterbacks, as happened this year.
It’s also going to be interesting to see how going from the ACC to the Big Ten as a junior impacts Diggs. NFL scouts are certainly skeptical about the talent coming out of the Big Ten, considering that no players were drafted in the first round this year. Austin, meanwhile, enjoyed competing in a watered-down Big East for three years followed by a senior campaign torching teams in the defense-challenged Big 12.
This year, Maryland's earliest draft pick will probably be either tight end Matt Furstenburg or defensive lineman A.J. Francis, both of whom are considered potential late-round selections. If Diggs builds on his unbelievable freshman year over the next few seasons, Terps fans won't have to wait nearly as long to see a Maryland guy selected in the 2015 or 2016 draft.