Who: Maryland Terrapins vs. Duke Blue Devils
What: The last Duke game at the Comcast Center for the foreseeable future
When: 6:00 PM ET
Where: A Comcast Center that should be louder than it’s been all year and ESPN
Line: Duke (-4)
This is it everybody. This game tonight is Maryland’s last real chance to make their case as an NCAA Tournament team. Four weeks ago when the Terps played what equated to a solid 3 quarters in Cameron, I turned the TV off feeling optimistic. After all, if Rysheed Sulaimon hadn’t stacked three pointers head high on top of Maryland, that game could’ve been legitimately interesting. That, combined with the first quality win of the season (the slop fest that was the NC State game) helped to lift a few road blocks off this team’s path to March.
But since that day, let’s just say construction has started again. The least of Maryland’s problems is that the Wolfpack have fallen from conference leaders to circling the drain by losing 5 of their last 8 (they just eked out a win over Clemson…woof).
The major issue is that – outside of the Wake Forest game – this team passes the eye test about as well as Helen Keller in sunglasses. The best game they’ve played outside of dusting the Deacons was in a gut busting loss to FSU. Offensively, it’s truly a mess. At this point, the bad shots probably outnumber the good ones over the course of a game. The game plan doesn’t even include a way to get the lottery pick big man easy touches. Nick Faust is taking more outside shots than Dez Wells.
The frontline has still been strong on the defensive end, but teams have been content to pick apart the Terp defense from deep. Reggie Bullock, Rasheed Sulaimon, Michael Snaer, and Joe Harris all took their turns torching the Maryland perimeter D. But all of that can be forgiven if just for this one night, the Terps play to their potential and hand Duke their third loss of the season.
The Devils (Part Deux):
Unsurprisingly, Duke’s rebuilding effort after getting hit by a Category 5 in Coral Gables was quick and efficient. In fact, the Blue Devils have actually coasted in their few tests since Miami (beating FSU by 19 in Tallahassee, and exacting some brutal revenge by hanging 98 on the reeling Wolfpack). Their near slipups have come against the cellar dwellers (surviving a scare in Chestnut Hill of all places, and winning after being tied at half vs Wake).
I hate to say it, but I admire their resilience. In the immediate aftermath, losing Kelly appeared to be a devastating blow. He brought a very unique (and difficult to guard) skill set to the table (obviously exceptional shooting, less obviously great shot blocking ability). Losing him was like getting a leg chopped off. Unfortunately, Duke learned how to play on crutches.
Speaking of playing on crutches, either Seth Curry’s a medical marvel or his leg injury is about as real as Manti Teo’s girlfriend. His gimpy shin is almost as well documented, and yet his numbers make him a cinch for the All-ACC team. After his nightmare game in Miami (0/10 from the field), he warmed up against the Terps (5/14, 13 points), and then got right back to being one of the premiere guards in the country. In his last 5 games, he’s averaging 19.4 points, and while his shooting percentages have been good not great (44.6% from the floor, 38.8% from three), he’s picked up a big part of Kelly’s scoring load.
In the “I jinxed it” department, the Mason Plumlee POY train was apparently just making a stop while I ran my mouth like an idiot. In his past five games, Plumlee has been dominating (21.4 PPG, 8.8 RPG), including some sweet revenge over CJ Leslie (30 points, 9 rebounds). Alex Len did a good job on Plumlee for the majority of the first contest, and if he can do so again it would go a long way towards Maryland winning.
Shockingly, the last Duke player I’ll mention will not be Rasheed “The Maryland Assassin” Sulaimon. Although the defense should be wary of him so he doesn’t, you know, make 6 three pointers, it appears that game was an aberration. Sulaimon’s only averaging 9.6 points in his five games since. The real threat comes from the point guard spot where Quinn Cook has blossomed into a star.
Cook’s averaging 15.6 PPG in his last 5 and has been downright deadly from three (a coin flip proposition at 50%). Cook could be the key in this game: he’s coming back home (he’s from Bowie), and although he’s usually a steady hand, his last two games (9 combined turnovers) have shown he’s far from unflappable. If that turnover prone Cook shows up at the Comcast Center, Maryland’s chances for an upset will take a noticeable uptick.
Three things to watch for:
Who’s taking the outside shots?:
This is a big one. Maryland actually has a few solid outside shooters on their roster, but unfortunately, they’re not always the ones taking the shots. For example, I think we can 100% say that Nick Faust taking a three is a wasted possession (28.6% on the season, 14.3% in the 4 games since last facing Duke). Seth Allen has hit a prolonged slump in ACC play as well (34.9% on the year, 30.8% in conference). The guys that should be shooting? The first two are obvious: Jake Layman (45% since the last Duke game) and Logan Aronhalt (47.1%). But what I would really like to see is Dez Wells getting the green light to hoist it from deep. He’s obviously very effective at getting his shot around the basket, but his three shooting numbers (43.5% in ACC play, 60% in his last 4 games) indicate that he should be taking more threes. So to sum up: Wells, Aronhalt, Layman good. Faust, Allen bad.
Getting out on Duke’s shooters:
With all of the shooters that Duke has, it’s more than likely that at least one of them (and hopefully only one) will be feeling it from downtown tonight. Coach K does a great job of getting his outside shooters open with a bevy of off ball screens. The Maryland defense will need to be both aggressive enough to run the shooters off the arc and disciplined enough to not help on dribble penetration. Despite the presence of Plumlee, Maryland holds a significant advantage inside with depth and size. If they can force Duke to try and work inside instead of bombing away from deep, it will help to keep the game within reach.
Get Len touches:
It’s really frustrating to hear announcers fawning over Alex Len in the opening minutes, and then only say his name 5 or 6 times the rest of the contest. Obviously part of this falls on Len for not being great at getting post position, but there needs to be a focus on getting the ball to him in different ways. Dribble penetration, pick and rolls, anything to get him 10 or more shots in this game. Not only will the shots be more high percentage, but there’s the added bonus of possibly getting Mason Plumlee (Duke’s only real inside threat, and only person capable of guarding Len) in foul trouble.
I’ll say this, I think Maryland will be leading at halftime. The Comcast Center crowd always jumps up a few decibels for the Duke game, and the desperate nature of this game should have it even louder. It’s just a matter of whether Maryland can actually hold on to a second half lead instead of having it slip through their fingers for once. I think they do. Dez Wells goes for 20+, Alex Len neutralizes Plumlee, and Duke has a subpar day from the outside on the way to the Terps biggest win of the season.
Maryland – 76 Duke – 72