We've seen this script before: JJ Redick scores a bunch of points, Sheldon Williams dominates the lane and Maryland makes enough mistakes for Duke to capitalize upon for a win. I'm not sure what it was but this game lacked that juice that these contests usually have. Perhaps Duke is settling back into the pattern of knowing they are better than Maryland and that they'll win even before the tip. You never really felt that Duke was scared at any point in the game. Perhaps all that is just my perspective, but I didn't even stew about the loss as I normally would. I just don't think Maryland is in Duke's class this season.
They methodically worked their offense and played defense well enough to win. The Blue Devils' bench only scored 2 points yet they were able to score 96 for the game. Throw out Josh McRoberts, who has to be the most overrated freshman in the country, and the rest of the starters shot 57%. Redick only shot 4-10 from 3-point range but was able to get to the foul line and drive to the basket on Maryland's more athletic guards. Still, without Williams having his way with Maryland's frontcourt and the duo of Sean Dockery and Greg Paulus going 7-9 from outside the arch it wouldn't have been near enough for Duke to win.
Redick is a great player, that is obvious, but the hype that has begun to surround him needs to stop. He's not the greatest player in Duke history, he's not even close. In the last decade of college basketball Redick probably wouldn't even make a top 40 list of players. There are eight players in the ACC who take at least 2.5 3-point attempts per game who shoot a higher percentage than Redick. That doesn't even consider the perhaps hundred or more shooters in the rest of college basketball that also have higher percentages from 3-point range. The myth of Redick's outside shooting wasn't even questioned until last year when Arizona's Lute Olson pointed out that his own Salim Stoudemire was head and shoulders better than Redick. I would argue he isn't even the most valuable player on his own team, but that is another topic.
A number of thoughts on the game:
James Gist needs to start finishing better around the basket. Many of his 10 missed field goals were right around the lane and he also snagged 7 offensive rebounds, while only shooting 3 free throws. That isn't going to cut it. Sheldon Williams got away with some very physical play in the post, but like all star players he's going to get those calls. Gist and Ekene Ibekwe combined to go 9-23 from the floor. If Maryland is going to get into the tournament those two will have to do much better against teams like Clemson, Miami and FSU.
Gary Williams substitution pattern was curious to put it politely. With Sheldon Williams running wild in the first half and then doing further damage after halftime Williams only elected to put in Will Bowers for short stretches of the game. In the 9 minutes Bowers played Williams only scored 2 points. It isn't like this is something new as Bowers was effective against Williams in the two victories last season. I was somewhat surprised that Gary Williams didn't start Bowers again. James Gist is a talented player who still has untapped potential but he's just a sophomore going up against a senior All-American. It was a bad matchup on defense and Gary Williams should have adjusted earlier.
Nik Caner-Medley seemed to have recovered from the flu and had the best game of any player for the Terps. He scored 22 points, had 8 rebounds and dished 4 assists. It was a splendid performance. Maryland has to have those kinds of nights from Caner-Medley from here on out.
Down 12 points with 10 minutes left in the second half Maryland didn't even attempt a 3-point shot until there were under two minutes left. Playing basketball like the 3-point shot didn't exist was another tactical error for the Maryland staff. They needed to start running sets to get some good outside looks but were fixated on trying to get Sheldon Williams in foul trouble. It didn't work with the way the officials were calling the game. By the time Maryland made the switch it was too late. They had no chance if they were going to trade field goals with Duke and hence they never really threatened late in the 2nd half. It is well known that Gary doesn't like the 3-point shot but he's going to have to go to more than 9 3-point attempts if he was going to win this game. Late in the game his best shooter was on the bench.
DJ Strawberry and Sterling Ledbetter didn't play well enough to give Maryland a decent chance. They took care of the ball better, which is a good trend over the last few games, but their shot selection and defense was spotty to poor for most of the game. Strawberry is still gambling for steals far too often and has a maddening tendency to curl under high screens. I'm really not sure what Sterling Ledbetter does to justify 20 minutes of playing time.
Ready to "take off"
You may recall that head football coach Ralph Friedgen said that Maryland's football program was ready to "take off" after this past season ended with another disappointing 5-6 record. I don't know about you but "crashed into the mountain" was more of that I was thinking. Maybe Fridge meant that the staff was about to "take off" as offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe resigned from his position over the weekend. That is two coordinators resigning in the last 3 months. Look at the situation and I can't help but wonder if the program is in a state of disarray. Taaffe resigned without another job, he isn't retiring. He would rather walk away and be unemployed than stay at Maryland. Taaffe was on Friedgen's original staff and it should certainly raise some eyebrows that he elected to leave. Perhaps he doesn't think Maryland's program is heading in the right direction. Maybe the pressures and demands of trying to correct a sinking program are trickling down to the staff from the captain of the ship. Friedgen had a telling quote in the papers: "I'm definitely going to be looking for a guy who's a good coordinator and a good recruiter, you can't have enough good recruiters."
Hmm, has the problem really been a lack of recruiting, Ralph? One of reasons Gary Blackney cited in retiring after the season ended was that he was tired of being on the road recruiting. You have to imagine that Friedgen is putting a lot of pressure on his staff to bring in highly ranked recruits. However Friedgen's best recruiting classes have come the last 3 years or so and have yet to produce any successful teams. He's had some very good individual players like Vernon Davis and Shawne Merriman but they rest of the group, at least collectively, have been duds. Perhaps Blackney and Taaffe did not like the recent emphasis on getting elite recruits over say actually developing the players that they already have. When a few kids don't progress the way you want them too it is easier to just look at the next highly rated player at their position coming out of high school.
In the early years Friedgen's teams were fundamentally sound but only modestly talented, whereas now they are more talented than ever but are unable to execute well in critical moments. It has been a very stark switch over in the character of the squad the last two seasons. Perhaps Friedgen needs to focus more on coaching and less on trying to squeeze more money out of boosters or wooing the next overhyped prospect to come out of the Washington area.