There is no other day that I miss being in College Park more than tonight. If you went to Maryland to watch some great college basketball games, there’s always one day you circle on your calendar. The Duke game is not a day, it’s a week. A week where all of your classes seem just a little longer, where anything blue just seems to irk you, and you wait a few hours in line outside Comcast waiting for the best seats you can get.
I bookended my college experience with a freshman year sweep of Duke, and a senior year win in Comcast for the ACC title. That last game was the best live sporting event I’ve ever been to, and I don’t think there will ever be another game that will match the manic atmosphere inside of Comcast that night. This is college basketball at its best, in one of the best home arenas in all of the sports. This is Maryland and Duke, and this is my preview.
What makes Duke not Terrible:
Contrary to the title of this section, I’m not a Duke hater. I think Coach K is the best coach to ever set foot on a college basketball court (the only two others in his category are Knight and Wooden. He has more wins than Knight, and Wooden had something of a talent monopoly at UCLA). As long as Mike Krzyzewski is at Duke, that team will never miss the tournament, and they will never be poorly coached. I thought Gary was one of a handful of people in the country capable of matching wits with Coach K for 40 minutes. Until I see how Mark Turgeon handles Duke’s adjustments throughout the game, I have to give a major coaching advantage to Duke.
The sun rises in the east, Derek Jeter sleeps with models, and Duke shoots a lot of threes. All of these are universal truths that will continue for at least the next 20 years (sorry 2012 conspiracy theorists). What’s most surprising is that with the cavalcade of shooters Duke has had in the past 10 years (JJ Redick, Jon Scheyer, and Greg Paulus all come to mind) not one Duke team has shot better than 40% from three as a team. With all of that said, this year Duke is currently on pace to eclipse that mark (40.9%, 7th in NCAA). Andre Dawkins, Austin Rivers, and Ryan Kelly are all shooting higher than 40% from deep, and that means that Duke is capable of mini-runs that can quickly eliminate a deficit or conjure a lead out of nowhere.
Speaking of Rivers, he’s the most dynamic Blue Devil since Jay Williams, and after some early hitches, it unfortunately looks like he’s settling in as a dominating force at the 2-guard position (19.5 pts, 56% 3 pt last 2 games). He tends to be a black hole of sorts (3+ assists in 1 game this year), but considering how talented of a playmaker he is, it’s ultimately forgivable. It will be interesting to see if Maryland does have a single player that can stay in front of him.
Why Maryland can win this game (and I think they will)
This is a very different Blue Devil team than the Terps are used to seeing. For the first time in a long time (not counting last year, because Kyrie Irving was out for 90% of it) the best player on the team by a mile is a freshman. The senior leadership that has characterized Coach K teams for the past 5 or 10 years is not there right now, and where that usually manifests itself is in difficult road environments. On the road in Atlanta, Georgia Tech was within one possession until the final minute of the game. In Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson cut a 9 point lead to 4 in a matter of minute late in the second half. Getting to the point, Duke has had trouble against bottom tier ACC teams on the road, Maryland is not in that bottom tier, which makes me think this game will be closer.
Duke’s 3 point shooting, while admittedly impressive, hasn’t traveled well. Rivers was 0/5 from 3 in Duke’s 2 ACC road games, and Seth Curry has been frigid from the land of plenty as of late (25% from 3pt in last 6 games).
This is a weak defensive team, especially at the guard positions. Of any team that Terrell Stoglin has faced this year, this is the one that he should be licking his chops over the most. Duke allows 69.2 points per game (227th NCAA), and ranks dead last in the ACC in opponents’ field goal percentage (44.1%). There will be a lot more open shots against this team than there were against Florida State or Temple, it’s just going to be a matter of making them.
This will be the first ACC game (besides Wake Forest) where Maryland should be favored to win the battle on the boards. Duke has one elite rebounder, Mason Plumlee (9.3 RPG), and two average ones in his older brother Miles (6.4 RPG) and Ryan Kelly (5.3 RPG). Other than those three, no other player averages more than 2 boards per game. A healthy Len (who fits more here against Duke’s half court heavy offense) along with Padgett and Pankey should be enough to give Maryland the edge on the glass and limit second shot opportunities for the Blue Devils.
How the Terps Pull This Off:
I’m not a Dick Vitale fan, but when I was watching highlights from the 2004 ACC Championship yesterday, Vitale made a comment about Duke that I thought was spot on. He said the #1 rule against them is “thou shalt not help”, as in help defense can actually hurt when you’re playing Duke. Against Coach K’s drive and kick three heavy offense, this couldn’t be more true. If Austin Rivers gets by going to hoop, make sure the defense doesn’t collapse to try and stop the penetration, because he will kick out to an open shooter. 2 points is always better than 3, and Maryland needs to live by Vitale’s mantra.
Weather the storm from 3. At some point during this game (probably several points) Duke is going to hit back to back threes, or their offense will start clicking on a nice run. DO NOT panic. Maryland needs to remain calm when Duke inevitably starts hitting some big shots, and make sure they’re still getting good looks on offense instead of rushing back down the court for some sort of ill-advised quick retribution.
Contrarily, when Duke does miss shots and the Terps get the rebound, it’s time to run. This is not a very athletic team especially if both of the Plumlees and Kelly are on the floor at the same time. Temple beat this team by grabbing rebounds, and absolutely demolishing the Blue Devils transition defense with quick outlet passes and easy baskets. The blueprint is definitely there for Maryland to follow.
The Terps will need to score to win this game, and not just Stoglin but at least two other people. My money is on Sean Mosley, who seems to excel when he’s not athletically overmatched at the three, and James Padgett who should have a nice night on the boards along with a few fine moments in the post.
Maryland needs to win this game to even remain in the peripheral conversation for the NCAA tournament. I don’t think they have anywhere near the number of advantages against Carolina that they do against Duke. This is the last chance on the schedule for them to really get a premiere schedule-defining win, and I think they do. I think the guards on Duke will be intimidated by the atmosphere at the Comcast Center, and the only players that could really ruin the night would be seasoned Comcast veterans Mason Plumlee and Andre Dawkins. The game is close at halftime, Maryland comes out with an early 2nd half run reminiscent of the Gary Williams era, and Duke is never able to put together a sustained run of their own long enough to get back into the lead.
Maryland 74 Duke 71