I'm sure everyone was irritated by the constant ESPN mongering of the historic nature of Maryland's loss to Duke on Saturday, even though Reece Davis kept on saying it was the worst loss in the school's history though it wasn't true. But the truth hardly holds back the crew on ESPN these days and even good basketball minds like Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis have been corrupted by the superficiality of the four letter network.
For myself I felt like the 109-75 loss to North Carolina three years ago was much worse even if the margin was smaller, maybe because I was there to see it with my own eyes. Even though the talking heads on ESPN practically went orgasmic over Duke's easy dismantling of Maryland I didn't think the Blue Devils played a stellar game. They shot 42.5% for the game, hardly impressive, and only made 57% of their free throws. With Maryland shooting 28% from the floor and helpless to defend the glass to Duke's mediocre big men it didn't require impressive play to win by a large margin. Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith didn't play all that well(combined 9/28 from the floor). The absolutely smothering defense is what propelled Duke to such a large victory. Prior to the 2005 loss to UNC the Tarheels had scored 100 points in two consecutive games (105 against Cleveland State and 107 against William & Mary) and the 109 surrendered by Maryland was the fifth game that season where they scored over 100. The Tarheels shot 58%, 50% from 3-point range, out rebounded Maryland by 20 and had 27 assists. Now that was complete domination in every area. It is little consolation when you are comparing levels of humiliation, like comparing Dunkirk to Stalingrad. They are both bad the only question is did you recover from it.
The analysis of the game is fairly straightforward. If you can't put the ball in the basket it doesn't matter what else you do. Duke's defense is phenomenal for the level of athletes they have and they play the best position and help defense in the ACC by a wide margin. I was surprised that Maryland looked so unprepared for the Duke pressure in the half court. Adrian Bowie, Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez were all forced out to almost half court by Duke's guards. It took away many of the high screens the Terps tried to run and without a credible post player they were unable to exploit the interior against Duke. Brian Zoubek actually looked like a decent player against Dave Neal who was again over matched and incapable of rebounding effectively. Mike Krzyzewski, who tried soften the humiliation he just give Gary Williams after the game, identified the weakness of Maryland (unlike Leonard Hamilton and Frank Haith) and ruthlessly exploited them. He attacked Neal in the post and exploited Eric Hayes' inability to recover when he peels off to help in the post. He knew that Williams would try to use Bowie's ability to penetrate but used the sophomore's inexperience and questionable decisions against him by attacking him in the half court with relentless pressure. As with most opponents this season whenever Vasquez drives to the lane he had his players swarm to him and defeat his ability to score in the lane or find open teammates. The spacing on offense was horrendous and Maryland was on its heels from the beginning.
Much was made about Vasquez's ill conceived comments regarding the fact that he enjoyed playing at Cameron and his teammates should probably thank him because they escaped the criticism they deserved. Vasquez didn't even take a shot until Maryland was already down 9 points four minutes into the game. In that span Bowie, Neal and Hayes went 0/4 from the floor with 4 turnovers. He scored two baskets in the next three minutes to cut Duke's lead to six with 13 minutes left in the half but never scored again and sat out a large part of the 2nd half. It seems to me that much of Vasquez's passion is gone. I'm not trying to be an armchair psychologist but it seems to me the heckling incident has gone a long way in destroying his enjoyment of the game. He looks listless and detached in the last four games and unless he gets some of his joy in playing the game back Maryland has little chance to be competitive the rest of the year. This has to be the worst slump of his career and he has been largely ineffective in the last few weeks.
While Maryland has shown they can be competitive even when not playing well, the Duke loss notwithstanding, they only have wins over two teams that are a combined 1-10 in the ACC. This week home games against middle of the pack ACC teams in Boston College and Miami will go a long way in determining where this team is going. Right now the abyss is starting them in the face.
The lone positive is that even with the game well out of hand many of the players were still playing hard at the end of the game. Landon Milbourne deserves special recognition as a tireless worker who gives a yeoman effort every time out on the floor. True, most of his 19 points came in garbage time but he sets a good example for his teammates. I think Gary Williams needs to shake things up a little in the front court. The assumption going into the season was that the guard position was a strength but that has not proven to be the case so far. The three guard sets only work well when the players are all versatile and able to knock down perimeter shots. Unfortunately many of Maryland's guards are unable to consistently hit 3-point shots or get themselves open for good looks. It may be time to try out a more conventional lineup with perhaps Jin Soo Kim or even Steve Goins playing an inside role and letting Milbourne float around the lane and allow his athleticism to shine. I doubt Williams will get that radical but there needs to be some shakeups with the offense so dreadful.
I would have to assume that most fans realized Maryland was unlikely to win at Cameron so I am a little puzzled there is so much hand wringing after this loss. I guess the margin is what made everyone lose their minds. To me getting blown out by Duke isn't a measure of how far Maryland has fallen off the college basketball map. A bigger indicator of how far Maryland has declined is the regular losses to mediocre programs like Miami and Virginia Tech, not to mention the American, Ohio and Morgan State upsets.