Not a lot has changed since Maryland and Duke last played at Cameron Indoor, a game which Duke won by much less than everyone was expecting. That also means that my previous preview is still accurate, which saves me quite a bit of trouble on writing this one, as long as you click that one and save me some time.
The Blue Devils are still Kyrie Irving-less. They still don't have a back-to-the-basket post presence to answer Jordan Williams. They still rely heavily on point guard Nolan Smith (21 ppg) and small forward Kyle Singler (18 ppg). They're still a top 5 team ranked by KenPom, although they've taken heavy hits in essentially every category (not hard to do, considering they were at or near #1 in a good majority of them last time).
One thing the are not anymore is undefeated. The Blue Devils have fallen twice since the original matchup in early January, with a close road loss to Florida State and an absolute blow-out at St. John's. The Blue Devils' seemingly impenetrable armor wasn't just cracked in those two games; it was blown to smithereens.
Another thing that's changed: Ryan Kelly has become a solid contributor. I kid you not - Ryan Kelly. I'm sure you heard about the consecutive FG streak he had going, but he's more than that: he's hit double figures in scoring in three of the six games since the two teams last played. That's been important, because Andre Dawkins - the guard who was forced into a semi-starting position in the absence of Irving - has seen his scoring production drop, averaging fewer than 7 ppg in the last six contests.
Past those few minor changes, this Duke team isn't very different from the one that Maryland nearly beat in Cameron less than a month ago. Neither, for that matter, is Maryland. The only real difference for either team: they've both lost, once close and once embarrassingly, since the past game. Whichever team can learn more from the two losses - both about themselves and about how to attack the other - will likely come away with the win.
We know what Maryland's shown in their losses: that they can't defeat the zone, that they still struggle at playing with a lead, and that they are prone to suffering long scoring droughts. You already know that, so no need in going over it again. A better question: what did Duke show in their losses?
Most obviously, that they're a bad road team. Both of those losses were road games, which drops Duke to 2-2 in true road games. The only wins came against UNC-Greensboro (awful) and N.C. State (not much better). Both of those teams are outside the top 100 in both KenPom; N.C. State is hovering around 100 in RPI.
Another interesting note came in the form of three-point shooting. Maryland effectively limited Duke's outside shooting in the last game between the two, and both FSU and St. John's were able to do it, too, mostly thanks to a lot of on-ball pressure. Without Irving, Duke lacks a really good drive-and-kick penetrator. As a result, they're forced to take more contested outside shots. Maryland used this to their advantage in the last game, limiting the Blue Devils to 19% from 3; in those two games, they shot just 26% from 3. Before the final five minutes of the St. John's game, they were a shocking 1-21 from 3. That's well below the 40% the Dukies normally hit.
Perhaps most important for Maryland was Duke's inconsistency at point guard and struggles with the press. St. John's used a 3/4 court trap quite a bit, and it flustered the Dukies, who had an uncharacteristic 17 turnovers. This is also good for Maryland; the Terrapins use a lot of pressure, and if the St. John's game is any indication, Duke might not have the point guard play to effectively break it with consistency. (Smith is really a 2 by nature.)
Let's be honest: a lot of it will be hard to duplicate. St. John's was a perfect storm (get it?) of shooting. Florida State had a once-in-a-lifetime performance out of Derwin Kitchen. Duke had a terrible shooting night in both games. It is possible to replicate? Hell yes. It's not like these things hit at random times. But it isn't easy to replicate, and a lot of it is in Duke's hands.
Here's the next obvious question: what does this all mean for Maryland? That's something for Gary Williams to answer, not me, because he's smarter than me when it comes to basketball matters. But, on the surface, it seems relatively simple: Duke struggles with perimeter quickness and athleticism, particularly when pressure is applied on the ball. They also struggle with pressure and post play.
If there is anything Maryland has in heavy amounts, it's pressure and post play. Between Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker, Sean Mosley, and Pe'Shon Howard, the perimeter defense thing isn't shabby, either. In fact, Maryland holds quite a bit of similarities to parts of both Florida State (the strong defense) and St. John's (the press). The one thing I'm not sold on: perimeter scoring.
That's where FSU and St. John's did most of their damage. FSU got 18 points from Chris Singleton (similar to Landon Milbourne offensively) and 22 out of their de facto PG Derwin Kitchen. St. John's doesn't even have a true post presence to begin with. It wasn't post play that did the Dukies in, but perimeter play, particularly the athletic kind. Can Maryland get a performance like that to augment Jordan Williams? Don't know. Do they need one? Probably not, but it would certainly help.
Here's the thing, though: it probably won't matter. Maryland provided a pretty great blueprint for beating Duke back on Jan. 9: beating them in the post, taking Nolan Smith out of the game, and forcing turnovers with strong perimeter defense. In fact, if that game was anywhere but Cameron Indoor, Maryland probably wins. Really, they don't need to look at how SJU or FSU beat them; they already know how to. They just need to follow through with it.
I can't fathom a situation in which the game isn't close. Maryland nearly pulled it out last time, and Duke's shoddy performance on the road in recent games means that the Comcast Center is worth at least a few points. KenPom has it as a one-point Duke victory, with the chance of victory at 51%; that basically means it's a complete toss-up. Maybe I'm setting myself up for failure, but I'm thinking Maryland pulls this one out.