The Big Men (Part 1)
Today, I'm going to take a look at Maryland's two starting post players -- senior Dave Neal and junior Landon Milbourne. The former was expected to, at best, come off the bench and be a serviceable reserve for 10-15 minutes a game this season. The latter was thrown into a position that does not suit his natural size or abilities. Each has adapted and thus, changed the course of the expectations placed on them for the remainder of the season. I'll look at Milbourne this morning and then move on to Neal this afternoon.
After a painstakingly slow start, Milbourne has turned into the Terps second-best scoring threat on offense and a capable, if not imposing, interior presence on defense. The catalyst for the transformation likely has several roots. He's had more time to become more familiar -- and thus, more comfortable -- at the power forward position, which has enabled him to become more effective. But what, exactly, is different now than, say, a month ago?
For starters, Milbourne is scoring more and fouling less. But the reason for that has less to do with better shot selection or increased discipline than with the simplicity that comes with experience. The more you do something, the less you have to think about doing it. In Milbourne's case, that's a good thing. He can crash the boards on instinct, rather than pausing to think, "Gee, I should probably crash the boards now." Obviously, that is an overly-simplistic example, but you get the picture. As he has honed his skills in the post and been drilled on his responsibilities at his new position, his actions have been executed more subtly.
Monday night against American, Milbourne tied for the team-high with 14 points. He did so quietly. Even during the games in which Milbourne has scored in the 20s, he has seldom done so by taking over the game in an obvious manner. It's as if his points magically appear on the stat sheet at the end of games. That's not to discredit the work Milbourne does on a nightly basis for the Terps. Rather, it is to point out the quiet efficiency with which Milbourne has begun to operate now that he is free to rely on what he knows, instead of worrying about what he thinks he should know.
In the first half Monday night, Milbourne scored four points on 2 of 6 shooting and grabbed one rebound. In the second half, he tallied 10 points and four rebounds. It was an apt microcosm of Milbourne's season to date: it took him a while to get going, but once he did, his contributions did not go without notice.
On the season, Milbourne is averaging 12.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, while shooting 50.0 percent from the field. While the Terps will need Milbourne's scoring and rebounding numbers to continue to rise, they are content with the development they've seen from him so far.
"Landon’s one of those people that’s very quiet; it’s hard to read sometimes how emotional he is," Gary Williams said. "He keeps it inside pretty well. But you don’t have to say a lot to Landon this year very often. He really knows when he can pick it up a little bit, and he’s showing some really good leadership. He’s doing a good job to show what it takes to get ready to play, and I think Landon’s one of those people that, I just ask him if he’s okay, to see if he’s tired, to see if he needs to come out, but I don’t have to get on Landon to play hard. He plays hard."
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