Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Maryland-Duke: A Plan for the Terps to Take Control of the ACC

These days, there are only two things that even begin to rival the hatred that Maryland students have for Duke University.  One of them is the ridiculous amount of snow left over from recent storms that absolutely refuses to melt.  The other? Mid-term exams.

As you might have guessed by now, the Blue Devils (25-4, 12-2 ACC) are Public Enemy No. 1 this week, and will surely be the center of attention on Wednesday night as they take on the Terrapins (21-7, 11-3 ACC) in College Park with the ACC title and their Top 5 national ranking hanging in the balance.  The Terps lost 77-56 in their first meeting with Coach K's kids in Durham on February 13, but they rebounded from that loss surprisingly well.

The Terps proceeded to win five in a row after the loss, including victories over conference heel-nippers Georgia Tech (on a buzzer beater, no less) and Clemson at home, and Virginia Tech in Blacksburg (in double overtime).  Since the loss at Duke, Maryland has shot 48% from the field and nearly 45% from behind the arc; they have also rallied from deficits of 10 (on the road at NC State) and 15 (against Clemson) to close out two 9-point wins, which speaks to their resilience, perseverance and ability to make adjustments at halftime.
In order to win, they will have to out-shoot the Blue Devils and get them foul trouble in order to put pressure on Duke's shallow bench.

In Duke's last two losses (all four have come on the road, by the way), their opponents (NC State and Georgetown) have shot a laser-like 58% and 71% respectively from the floor, though neither opponent won the rebound battle.  The Blue Devil starters compiled 32 fouls over those two games, an average of 16 per game or just more than 3 per player.  Drawing contact may not keep Duke's best three players off the floor (Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer each average over 17 points and 35 minutes per game), but it will make them play more carefully on defense, which can allow Maryland to be more physical and aggressive on offense.

The knocks on the Terrapins are that they don't have the size to hang with the Blue Devils on the inside, and they can't keep the Big Three from doing significant damage.  It's true that 7-footer Brian Zoubek mauled the Terps inside (16 points, 17 rebounds) in the last meeting. It's also true that Scheyer, Singler and Smith combined for nearly 60% of Duke's points on February 13.

The fact is, if Maryland is lights-out from the floor, none of that will matter.  NC State lost the rebound battle by 15 (no player had more than five) and they won the game by 14.  Georgetown let the Triplets rack up 54 points (70% of Duke's scoring) and won by 12.

This game can be had.  For the Terrapins, it's hit or miss.  If they can take this game and beat Virginia on Saturday, the Terps will be rooting hard for North Carolina to pull the upset against their familiar Tobacco Road foes.  A Tar Heels win would have Maryland take home the regular season crown.

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