Who: Maryland Terrapins at Duke Blue Devils
What: A chance at a season defining win
Where: CBS and some old garbage shed in Durham
When: 1:00 pm
The first memory I have of Maryland playing at Duke is a great one. My Terps fandom began in 2006 as a freshman in College Park. The team was an upperclassman heavy one (Jones, Strawberry, Ibekwe) with a few impact freshmen (Vasquez, Hayes, Milbourne).
Maryland lead nearly the whole way the first time I saw them play in Cameron, decisively beat Duke, and all was right with the world.
Well, Coach K must have taken that loss to heart, because he’s righted the ship and then some since. Duke has won each of the last 5 meetings at Cameron by an average of nearly 20 points. This team may not be worthy of the ranking bestowed upon them (they’re not in my top 5 right now), they’re still very good.
But every year, this is the big one, and deservedly so. Duke is the king of the ACC, as evidenced by the fact that they’ve won the conference tournament 5 of the past 8 years. With a road win at Cameron, Maryland would go from having to play their way onto the bubble to having to somehow play their way off it. Streaks have to break eventually, will one break today?
Duke: What’s in a number?
With Ryan Kelly, Duke was an elite college basketball team. Maybe not the best in the country (on a neutral floor, there’s at least five teams I would take over them), but a legitimate top 10 force and by far the best team in the ACC. But as ugly as he is, Kelly brought a lot to the table for Duke. On offense, he’s a very awkward matchup: a 6’11” scorer who was way past the Okaro White level of “can’t leave him alone at the arc” and was more “can’t give him any space” (he was shooting 52.1% from three prior to his injury). On defense, he was the Blue Devils second leading rebounder and a sneakily great shot blocker (1.7 bpg). His familiarity with the defense also meant fewer mental mistakes on that end.
Without Kelly, Duke has gone 1-2 in their last three games. And they’ve looked extremely vulnerable in the process. The guards have been forced to make up for Kelly’s offensive production, and they’ve all struggled at points to do so. Rasheed Sulaimon was 0/10 from the field at NC State. Seth Curry matched those numbers at Miami. Bowie’s own Quinn Cook is 3/16 from deep in the last three games. With all three there are varying levels of concern.
The most logical thing to do with Seth Curry is to chalk Wednesday up to a nightmare game, because more than anyone, he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Going into the Miami game, he’d been red hot in ACC play, including an otherworldly 57.1% clip from downtown in Duke’s first four conference games. But it bears watching on Saturday whether Curry’s ongoing shin injury is beginning to take a toll on his shooting.
He rarely practices with the team because of it, and although his shooting percentages are up this season, he’s regressed in almost every other meaningful category. Earlier this season, Curry was an all-around offensive threat, combining his deadeye deep shooting with an ability to get to the line (in a 3-game stretch vs. Minnesota, VCU, and Louisville he was 21/23). Recently, he’s seemed content to abstain from contact (in 4 of his last 6 games he’s taken one free throw or fewer) and stick to the three point arc. Needless to say, he’s a much bigger threat on Saturday if he’s playing like early season Seth Curry and penetrating the lane. If he’s just a shooter, he’ll more than likely still be dangerous, but much easier to guard.
The other two guards are much less predictable. Rasheed Sulaimon is a 6’4” freshman who is adept at a number of things: he’s athletic enough to be a slasher, shoots well enough to warrant tight defense on the perimeter (37.7% from three this season), and is a capable passer (13 assists in a two game stretch vs Temple and Delaware). He’s the most athletic player in the starting lineup, so expect to see Dez Wells hanging on his hip. Sulaimon’s seemed to handle the burden of losing Kelly a little better than point guard Quinn Cook.
The reason for that is because Cook isn’t a scorer, he’s a passer. At least that’s what he does best (two double digit assist games this season). After showcasing a much-improved outside stroke early in the season, he’s been all over the map in January. There was his 27-point outburst against a very overmatched Clemson team, but he’s now had two awful shooting games this month (1/12 vs Miami and 0/11 vs Wake Forest). His outside shot has seemingly regressed back towards where it was last season (23% from three in January), and that would seem to indicate he’s had trouble juggling his responsibility as a point guard and as a scorer.
The man in the middle is former player of the year candidate Mason Plumlee. I say former because although he’s still been good in ACC play, he’s been outplayed twice (by Kenny Kadji and C.J. Leslie), and his dominant games keep getting further and further in the rear view mirror. Similar to Cook’s outside shooting, Plumlee’s free throw shooting started out the season looking incredible, and has since come back to earth and then some. He’s still an outstanding rebounder (10+ in each of his last 5 games), and a very good athlete. But he’ll have his hands full with Alex Len, who’s coming off an impressive performance against BC.
Kelly’s absence should be filled by a combination of Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson, and possibly guard Tyler Thornton if Duke wants to go REALLY small. Neither Jefferson nor Hairston are major threats (they’re averaging 4.2 and 1.9 points respectively). Picture them in something of a Lance Thomas role: there to pick up the trash. Thornton is the best on ball defender on the team, and essentially Coach K’s baking soda uses to throw on any unexpected fires. If Allen, Wells, or Faust get hot, expect to see Thornton brought on to try and cool them down.
Three things to watch for:
Len vs. Plumlee Round 1: FIGHT!
I’ve been waiting all year for this matchup. Last year Plumlee took the Terps to the cleaners with two double doubles, and that doesn’t begin to express how much he dominated the paint. In the time since then, Len has put on about 30 pounds of muscle, redoubled his offensive arsenal, and has matured into one of the best defensive big men in the country. You could black out the rest of the screen except for Len – Plumlee, and you’d probably still be able tell what team won the game. That’s how important this matchup is. Len’s coming off his 2nd best game of the season against an overmatched BC team, and if he looks anything like he did on Wednesday, I’d give him a slight edge over the talented but overexposed (45 shots his last three games) Plumlee.
Keep your composure:
The obvious thing here is turnovers. So far for the Terps, 2 ACC road games, 36 turnovers. Duke doesn’t turn it over much (only 11.2 per game), so if Maryland starts the game off by unloading 5 or 6 shotgun shells into their foot, they could be looking at a very long afternoon. If they’re able to take care of the turnover problem, that’s only half the battle. This team still needs to take good shots. That includes the quality of the shots and the players taking them. Pe’Shon Howard taking a three is never a good shot, and at this point I’m comfortable saying the same thing about Nick Faust. Anybody not named Allen, Layman or Aronhalt should be content to play with both feet firmly inside the arc. Len needs to be aggressive and show to the ball in the post. Faust and Wells need to walk the tight rope of attacking the basket and getting other people involved on offense.
Honestly, this falls on Turgeon too. STOP MAKING 5 PERSON SUBSTITUTIONS. I understand the rationale of trying to discipline the players, but the first line of this team is going to have a tough enough time hanging with Duke. The second line – if subbed in full – won’t stand a chance. Mix and match while still keeping a legitimate scoring presence in the game.
Second chance points:
Some teams get their easy points by driving. Some get them by posting up. Early in the season, Maryland got them by being relentless on the boards, and either converting directly or drawing fouls. I understand the level of competition is significantly higher in the ACC, but the effort just doesn’t appear to be at the same level it was in 2012.
And the free throw numbers corroborate that. In the last three games, Maryland has had their three lowest free throw totals of the season. Duke – especially without Kelly – is a one-man band on the boards. This is a game where Mitchell and Cleare can swing the rebounding battle heavily towards Maryland if they just showcase solid technique. When a shot goes up, look at where Cleare and Mitchell are positioned, and most importantly whether they actually box out. If they’re doing both of those things, Duke’s small, inexperienced (outside of Plumlee) frontcourt should be overwhelmed.
One of these games, Maryland will put to bed the thought that they can’t play on the road. They’re getting close, Seth Allen made a pass or two last game that he wouldn’t have even been looking for two weeks ago. Jake Layman looks to have finally grabbed a stranglehold on a starting spot. I think Maryland’s going to cover the spread, but Duke is desperate, and Coach K patches holes better than any construction worker in the country. In conclusion, I think this is the first non-ugly road game Maryland’s going to play this season. This time, they’re just going to get outplayed.
Duke – 72 Maryland – 64