This is one of the games Maryland fans always circle on the calendar: the Duke Game. But this is no ordinary Duke Game. This is the game in which Maryland will be dedicating their court to the man who rebuilt the program from the ashes of the Bob Wade scandal into a perennial power.
I'll have more about Gary Williams in another post tomorrow afternoon, so for now, lets take a look at this year's version of the Blue Devils.
As always, Duke has a pretty good team, arguably the best Maryland has faced all year. They're leading the ACC with a 16-3 overall and 4-1 conference mark, although they're coming off a loss to Florida State that seems to have, for now, placed the Seminoles ahead of everyone in the conference.
Duke comes into the game as the RPI's number 2 team, #14 in the Ken Pom rankings, and as a top 10 team in both national polls. They can definitely score the ball. But believe it or not, they actually have a little trouble rebounding. But Duke makes up for that with their efficiency on offense. They're the number 5 team in the nation in terms of their effective field goal percentage and number one in the ACC. What does that mean?
It means Duke utilizes the three-point shot effectively, which shouldn't be surprising to anyone who's watched Duke. Duke is also good at scoring points. And that's not good for a Maryland team that's struggled, especially in the second half, to defend other teams.
Duke is also an extremely balanced team in terms of scoring. Freshman guard Austin Rivers leads the team with 14.4 points per game. Duke also has four other players who average at least 10 points per game: Seth Curry (12.6), Ryan Kelly (12.4), Mason Plumlee (11.2), and Andre Dawkins (11.2). That makes it a lot harder to shut down the Blue Devils. Unlike Maryland, where you can simply shut down Terrell Stoglin and have a good shot of winning, you can't really do that with Duke. They have plenty of legitimate number two and three scorers that can step up at any time.
While Duke does have balanced scoring, one of their biggest weaknesses is their lack of a bench. The only go about three deep off the bench, but can receive significant contributions outside of their five starters. Coach K has rotated around his starters somewhat, but Dawkins and Kelly, regardless of whether they're starting or coming off the bench, can both contribute. If Maryland can attack the basket and get Duke into some foul trouble, they can greatly improve their chances of winning. Obviously that depends on the status of freshman Alex Len. If he's unable to go against Duke, that's really going to make it hard for the Terps to match up against Duke.
As is almost always the case with Duke, their guards run the show. Freshman Austin Rivers is probably going to be that Duke player you love to hate. He's had a tendency to showboat a little and I'm certain he's going to rub a lot of Maryland fans the wrong way. You also have Seth Curry, Dawkins and Quinn Cook.
Duke's forwards are their weakness, in my opinion. The Plumlee brothers are certainly better than they were last year, but they're noting too special. Mason is, however, almost averaging a double-double, but he's arguably their best front court player. Ryan Kelly has actually impressed me this season, averaging over 12 points per game. If Len plays, I think he and Padgett could have an edge inside and hopefully open things up for the rest of the offense.
Maryland has always brought their A-game against Duke. That, plus Gary's ceremony, plus the atmosphere at Comcast could make this game closer than we expect. But a lot certainly is going to have to go right for Maryland.