USA TODAY Sports
A grudge match in Greensboro.
Where + When: 7:00 at Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, N.C.
Where to Watch: ESPN2.
Lines: Vegas: Duke -13 KenPom: Duke by 11
That six letter word that starts with a B. I'm not crazy talking about it, but it can't be ignored: a win here would vault the Terps right back onto the bubble. I'm still of the opinion that they'd be on the outside looking in, given their poor non-con schedule and subpar ACC regular season showing, but two wins over Duke - one of those coming with a full-strength Ryan Kelly - is the type of resumé booster few schools can boast. It'd at least get them back in the conversation, though, and crucially would give them a chance to all but a clinch a spot against UNC or FSU. And as an added bonus, no one's really expecting anything. A loss isn't a disappointment, so the players can play loose or free.
40 minutes. There's only one way to beat a team like Duke, and that's playing the entire game through at a consistent, high level. That's not been the Terps' strength this year, as we've seen displayed perfectly in Maryland's last two games. There was the the flying first half against Virginia, when they looked like they were going to run the Hoos out of the building before the utter second half collapse; then they looked like getting bounced by Wake Forest in the tourney opener, only to play as efficient a second half as we've seen from them this year. This type of back-and-forth is part and parcel of being a young team, but the only way to have a chance tonight is through putting together a first and second half; going to sleep, even if only for a few minutes, is probably going to put Maryland in a hole too big to climb out of.
Rubber match. The last time Maryland won a season series with Duke: 2007, when the Terps swept the Blue Devils home and away. Now they have a chance to repeat that, for the first time in six years, as they come into the deciding game. The odds aren't great, but after so many years of being easily dealt with, the chance to finally come out on top on the year is mighty int
The Opponent (An Overview)
You already know everything there is to know about Duke, probably, from the first two matchups. The only thing that's changed is that now the Blue Devils have an extra weapon: Ryan Kelly. And he is firing. In his first game back, he went 7-9 from three and dropped 36 points en route to Duke topping Miami; then he went for 18 on Virginia Tech; things were quieter against North Carolina, a team that has the length and athleticism to defend him, but he's still a matchup nightmare, a deadeye shooter, and a serious problem for Maryland.
He makes Duke's M.O. that much more obvious: they're a team built on perimeter threats, with three starters who shoot upwards of 40% from deep (Kelly goes upwards of 50%) and a contributor off the bench in Rasheed Sulaimon who can light it up himself. All that spacing creates room for Mason Plumlee in the middle, and while he's hardly a regularly dominant force - Alex Len schooled him the last time the two met - he's still as good a big man as there is in the ACC. Defending them is nigh-impossible if they're hitting shots; they're just too good with the ball, and there are just too many ways for them to beat you.
There's only one thing they don't do well, and luckily for Maryland it's their biggest strength: rebounding. Playing with only one true post player can make things hell for defenses, but it leaves Plumlee stranded when it comes to cleaning up the glass. Much ado was made of Seth Allen and Maryland's efficient offense the last time the two met, but perhaps the biggest reason Maryland won was that they more than doubled up the Blue Devils up on the glass, winning the boards by a +21 margin. Unless Plumlee goes crazy on an at-times lackadaisical Alex Len, there should be a similar showing here, and taking advantage of it - limiting the Blue Devils to one shot, and getting plenty of second chance points themselves - is a necessity to have a chance.
Here's the thing, though: Maryland isn't going to be able to beat Duke straight-up. It's just not going to happen. Duke's better at almost every position, they're more cohesive, they're more experienced, and they execute better. There needs to be something unexpected tilting this in Maryland's favor. Last time, it was a raucous home crowd, a tired Duke, and a virtuoso performance from Alex Len; without the first two impossible and the second unlikely, it'll take either Dez Wells playing out of his skin or some kind of tactical masterstroke from Mark Turgeon.
The first isn't something anyone can control (save Dez himself), but Turgeon is yet again faced with another difficult decision about how to approach a game. (There's a reason we've said this so many times this year: Turgeon has never truly established an identity for his program, which means every aspect of his system is flexible. And we should've seen it coming, given that he said he style of play was "winning." There's ups and downs to that type of pragmatism, but it's a discussion for another day.) Duke is still a bit short on bodies, so does Maryland run despite the Blue Devils' high intelligence and composure? Do they press? Does Jake Layman start to attempt to neutralize Ryan Kelly, or does Maryland give up either height (Wells) or mobility (James Padgett) in their effort to check him? What about a zone? A 1-2-2 or 1-3-1, with Layman at the point, would be a risk but would push Duke's perimeter shooters farther out and force them to make tougher shots. On offense, does Maryland pound inside to Len or try to keep riding Wells?
Duke is all about matchup problems, and they've created plenty. Turgeon's not exactly an Xs and Os wizard, but he has a lot of calls to make in this one.
Expected Starting Fives
|Pe`Shon Howard (Jr., 6-3)||Quinn Cook (So., 6-1)|
|Nick Faust (So., 6-6)||Tyler Thornton (Jr., 6-1)|
|Dez Wells (So., 6-5)||Seth Curry (Sr., 6-2)|
|James Padgett (Sr., 6-8)||Ryan Kelly (Sr., 6-11)|
|Alex Len (So., 7-1)||Mason Plumlee (Sr., 6-10)|
Howard, Faust, Wells, and Len are pretty much nailed on to start. The 4 spot, however, is a question mark. Padgett played pretty well against Duke in February, but that wasn't against Ryan Kelly. Kelly will stretch Padgett to the perimeter, where he's uncomfortable and lacks the mobility and agility to stay with him. Charles Mitchell, who's more fleet of foot but also a bit more reckless, is another option; so is Jake Layman, who'd give up less height and be better able to stay in front of Kelly and deny him the ball, but he provides less offensive firepower in the post and is a liability on the boards (compared to Padge and Chuck, at least).
Either way, I'm expecting the first guys off the bench for both teams - Layman and Allen for Maryland, and Rasheed Sulaimon for Duke - to see more minutes than a few guys actually in the starting lineup.
Matchup to Watch
Really only one answer: Ryan Kelly vs. Whoever Maryland Matches Up With Ryan Kelly. Kelly has the ability to cause serious problems for any team, and when your margin for error is pretty much nil, like Maryland's is, his ability to blow up when a defense loses him is particularly dangerous. Like I said, there are three options (plus a half): Padgett, Layman, and Mitchell, with the fourth possibility being using a 1-2-2 or 1-3-1 zone. But there are three big options Maryland needs to limit: Plumlee (who has his obvious match in Kelly), Curry, and Kelly, and Kelly is easily the toughest to counter.
If Maryland puts together their Virginia first half and their Wake Forest second half, they have a fighting chance. It'll take a lot of focus, a lot of energy, a lot of intensity, and a lot of unusually solid execution. And they'll have to bring that for forty minutes. And they'll probably need some help, either from the refs or from Duke themselves playing less than their best.
That's a lot of things to go right. And I don't think all of them will; it's much more likely, I'd think, that Maryland shows up, plays well, and ultimately falls short - somewhere in between their first two meetings, albeit now against a better, more dangerous, more efficient Duke team. Maryland will lead in the second half, but fall short in the end, 77-67.