I've felt for many years now that Maryland puts too much emphasis on their games against Duke. Certainly Duke basketball is a measuring stick for almost every program in the ACC with the possible exception of North Carolina. If you can beat Duke in any given year it probably means you are a very solid basketball team. This version of the Blue Devils is a very solid club with two exceptional senior leaders in Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler but isn't an exceptional team either. They are more versatile than last year's edition but overall are probably not as good as the team that won the national title last year. In eight of the last nine opportunities for Maryland to measure themselves against the Blue Devils they have come up short. The fact is that Maryland hasn't been in the same class with Duke for most of the last decade which makes focusing on Duke as if those games define your season even more foolish.
Last night the 2011 version of the Terrapins was found lacking in several areas. Once again the veteran guards failed to produce in a big game as has been the trend this season. The freshmen wilted under the bright lights and looked scared and unsure of themselves. The frontcourt without Jordan Williams was a non-factor in the game. The team rebounding and defense was atrocious. Mike Krzyzewski is a master at getting the matchups that he wants on offense and forcing the other team to play outside of their comfort zone. Even with Nolan Smith not having a vintage game and struggling with foul trouble Duke was still able to extend their lead with role players like Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins scoring more than all but two of Maryland's starters. Even stiffs like Mason Plumlee, who may become the Duke player you love to hate after preening following several garbage dunks while Jordan Williams was abusing him all night on the other end of the floor, had 12 points.
Maryland had little else to fight back with besides Jordan Williams who had another great game with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Williams even made 12 of 16 freethrows, hopefully a portend of things to come. The freshmen did what freshmen do and reverted back to their struggling form of a few weeks ago. The veterans guards continue to show that they are little more than role players who have been forced into starting rolls. Overall this group has been a bigger ensemble flop than The Spirit was, a movie that had a decent if unremarkable cast and yet somehow managed to be less than the sum of its parts. In equal measure Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker and Sean Mosley have demonstrated an inability to be reliable from game to game and even possession to possession. None of them can produce dependable scoring or defense and seem to lack fundamental sense of game and time situations which you would expect from upperclassmen with their level of game experience.
Gary Williams intimated after the game that effort continues to be a problem with this squad. I wouldn't disagree with his statements but I when you have a squad peppered with role players then even a slight drop in effort will get magnified. I don't think the effort was as poor as it was against Virginia Tech I just think that the group was found wanting in skill and talent compared to their counterparts.
Defensively it was a dreadful performance as Duke shot nearly 53% from the floor and connected on 10 3-point baskets. Didn't matter which of the five players Gary Williams tried to use to guard Kyle Singler (at least five by my count) as none of them could contain the senior as he scored with a variety of mid-range shots. The Terrapins also struggled to deny dribble penetrations and when Duke guards got in the lane they rarely were challenged by help defenders. As great as Jordan Williams is on offense opponents are starting to realize that defending is not the sophomore's strong suit.
Once Duke clamped down on Maryland's transition offense the Terps had no alternatives to Jordan Williams. The guards were mostly unable to find the gaps in Duke's defense and struggled to hit open shots the few times they did.
While Maryland may have squandered the last chance to notch a win against a team that will be a top seed in March all is not lost. With home games against Wake Forest, N.C. State and Virginia remaining Maryland need only steel a few road wins in the coming month to be back in the NCAA tournament picture. Things are not as dire as they appear but this was a chance to spring board to a winning streak that would have put them squarely on the right side of the bubble going into the stretch run. For a group that seems to produce poor efforts at home perhaps it is a good thing that they will need some good road wins in the second half of the season.
If you've read my blog you know my thoughts on Jamie Luckie but together with Mike Eades and Sean Corbin it was a terribly officiated game. The calls were uneven and often made by officials out of position to make a call resulting in a halting game that had little flow.
Little doubt that Duke has wrapped up another ACC title.
This Duke team, and the last few years as well, has a joyless robotic quality to it. Very little personality just mechanical and crisp execution. They are the Nick Faldo of the basketball world.
Instead of Beat Duke Week they should have a Casual Fan Week for those fans who only show up for this game next year.
Speaking of uniforms please wear the red on the road, once.