Duke versus Maryland to decide the regular season ACC champion (as an aside it is ridiculous that the ACC does not recognize regular season champions). This all sounds so familiar. For most of the past decade it was Maryland that has been the Carthage to Duke’s Rome in the ACC. Under Gary Williams no other ACC program has challenged Duke and Carolina’s hegemony over the ACC like Maryland. He is Hannibal and the students his barbarian horde. When Gary comes out of the tunnel on Wednesday and pumps his fist I can picture him hoisting the gladius from a dead legionnaire.
It has been more than a few years since the epic showdowns that the Terrapins and Blue Devils had to decide ACC supremacy but for most Maryland fans those games still burn bright in our memory. Neither of the current Duke or Maryland squads is nearly as good as those predecessors but both are very good basketball teams in their own right. Hopefully this will be a new chapter in what was one of the best rivalries of the last decade.
Home court has been a huge advantage in the conference this year. Home teams are 57-27 so far and only Duke, Maryland and Florida State have won more than two road games in conference play. The Blue Devils have certainly been good on the road with a 5-2 record but they have played at a much lower level away from Cameron Indoor. Losing to Georgia Tech on the road isn’t anything to be ashamed of but there is also an inexplicable loss to a bad N.C. State team in a game that wasn’t even close. When you consider the thrashing that Duke received from Georgetown in a game that wasn’t near as close as the 12 point margin there are some chinks in the Blue Devils’ armor on the road. Duke’s road slate this year wasn’t all that challenging anyway as their last four road games were at Boston College (5-9), North Carolina (4-10), Miami (4-10) and Virginia (5-9), a combined 18-38 in conference play. They narrowly escaped with a 3 point win at BC, trailed Miami by 12 points at halftime and creamed Virginia, who without Sylven Landesberg isn’t much better than an average CAA team. The Blue Devils best road win would be at Clemson with an injured Demontez Stitt. As Maryland fans have seen good teams find a way to win on the road, even if it isn’t pretty, so Duke must get some credit for that but I think you can throw that 21 point Duke win out the window as a predictor for this rematch. Here is a home versus road comparison for the Blue Devils:
|Duke 2009-10||Home||Road||Opp. Road||Opp. Home|
|Points per game||86.2||69.4||60.1||67.6|
As you can see there are dramatic differences on both offense and defense for Duke depending on where they play.
Since the last game against Maryland there have been some changes for Duke. Kyle Singler has shaken off his early season funk and is Duke’s best player at the moment. He is shooting a team best 42% from the 3-point line and grabbing 7.1 rebounds per game in ACC play. Over his last four games Singler is averaging 21.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and is shooting 41.6% from 3-point range. Sean Mosley will likely get the difficult task of defending Singler who is back to playing his more conventional inside-outside game from last year than the perimeter dominant role he had earlier in the year. The hulking and stiff Brian Zoubek has carved out a role for himself by setting screens and crashing the offensive boards. His offensive rebound percentage leads the nation and he grabbed 16 offensive rebounds in the last four games. His weakness is foul trouble as illustrated by the 14 minute and 4 foul line he had against Virginia on Sunday. If Jordan Williams can get Zoubek in foul trouble it will put a serious dent in Duke’s offensive rebounding, a stat in which they are tops in the ACC.
Duke is not shooting very well since the last Maryland game at just 37.9% from the floor and 38.2% from outside the arc. That includes a home game against Tulsa. The trio of Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith provide the majority of Duke’s scoring but it is worth noting that they get away with that because role players like Zoubek and the Plumlee brothers only take high percentage shots. The 52% shooting that their frontcourt role players contribute will likely balance out a poor shooting night by one of their top trio. The Duke frontcourt isn’t one of the more skilled in the league but they know their roles perhaps better than any group. Getting a layup off a dribble penetration or offensive rebound is what that group does best and they don’t hamper the offense by trying to do much more than that. The Blue Devils have also made an effort to be more aggressive and settle for fewer jump shots over the last few games. In the Virginia Tech game they got away from going inside and were in danger of going down at home before they got aggressive on the offensive boards and started drawing fouls. Much of the key to defending Duke is limiting their easy scoring opportunities via offensive rebounds and in transition. Duke has slowed their tempo significantly in the latter half of ACC play but they will take their fast break opportunities if given them. If you reduce Duke to shooting jump shots you have a much better chance of winning. I’m not convinced that pressing Duke is a great idea and Maryland hasn’t had great success with its full court press this season. Perhaps a three quarter press would be more useful in pushing Duke out away from the 3-point line and running off some of the shot clock. It is tough to press Duke successfully because their passing is excellent and they don’t turn the ball over very often. Usually a press just leaves you vulnerable to open shooters and quick scores.
The Blue Devils have improved their defense with the exception of the Miami game where the Hurricanes shot over 50% from the floor. Duke has had great success in pushing Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes far out with their defensive pressure in prior games. It disrupts Maryland’s flex offense and leads to more turnovers. Vasquez and Hayes must do a better job of attacking Duke’s extended defense early in the shot clock. A passive approach in the half court plays right into Duke’s strength. Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker might be useful in playing more with the ball and having Vasquez and Hayes run off screens. That would force Duke to either put one of their weaker defenders on Vasquez or Hayes or be more vulnerable to dribble penetrations. It is a risky proposition because Bowie and Tucker are weaker ball handlers and more subject to turnovers than either Hayes or Vasquez. On the inside Milbourne and Jordan Williams should have an advantage on offense which they failed to exploit in the last matchup. The duo combined to go 4/15 in the last game and scored only 8 points. They will have to do better to keep Duke’s defense from keying on Hayes and Vasquez.
An interesting stat is that since ACC play started Duke has gone 1-3 in games they have allowed five or more 3-point baskets. At Comcast Center Maryland is shooting 50% from 3-point range in conference play, an average of 7.9 3-point baskets per game. How Maryland shoots from outside might be the determining factor in the game. The Terps are also shooting 46% from the floor at home and scoring 83.9 points per game in ACC play at home. In short the Terps have been an awesome offensive machine in the confines of Comcast. Duke’s vaunted defense against Maryland’s high powered offense will be a fascinating matchup.
Duke has won six in a row against Maryland since the Terps swept Duke in the senior’s freshman season. In that time I think Mike Kryzyewski has done a better job of game planning for Maryland than Gary Williams has done against Duke. Williams and Kryzyweski are by far the best bench coaches in the league and two of the best minds in all of college basketball. Kryzyewski has probably won more often between the two because he had better players but has keenly identified the Terrapins’ weaknesses over the last few years and exploited them ruthlessly. My guess is that Gary will have a new plan against Duke than we saw last month at Cameron. It should be one of the biggest games in the short history of Comcast Center.