I'm a realist. Some call me a pessimist (you know who you are). I won't debate the claim, though I think it to be incorrect. And yes, my head is telling me that Duke will probably beat Maryland on Wednesday.
But for a while, I'll let myself dream a little. Maryland isn't favored to win - according to KenPom, they only have a 39% shot at it. Logically, they shouldn't. Statistically, they shouldn't. But we know what makes Duke great: the Big 3, the rebounding, the defense, the coaching, the depth, the overall game. But Maryland won't go quietly. How bout looking at why they might walk away with a W?
- Duke Won't Be in Cameron - In Cameron Indoor, there's no room for error. Maryland came out flat, and there's no way to recover from that in that arena. But this game will be in the Comcast Center, a place where Maryland has lost only once the entire year, and is undefeated in during ACC play. Getting Duke away from their fans and in to Maryland's has its obvious benefits - the energy shifts sides, obviously - but it's woth noting that all of Duke's losses have come on the road. It's fallen out of fashion to cite this fact given Duke's recent road resurgence - they've won the past three road trips - but it doesn't change the fact that they're 5-4 in true road games, and have beaten only one top 50 team on the road - Clemson. Every other road game they've won? Virginia, Miami, UNC, and Boston College. Not a murderer's row. As for the teams they've lost to? Two are about at Maryland's level (Wisconsin and Georgetown), while two are a little below them (Georgia Tech and N.C. State). Something about Cameron Indoor seems to work for them, and they don't have it in other places.
Brian Zoubek Won't See a Repeat Performance - Okay, this isn't a guarantee, but I find it highly unlikely that Zoubek will find himself with 16 points and 17 rebounds again. He's been on fire since the Maryland game, averaging 7 and 10 a game, but there's a huge difference between 7 and 10 and 16 and 17 (9 points and 7 rebounds, to be exact). Against Virginia, he was supremely ineffective, being limited to just 4 rebounds and nothing in the point column. That might signal the end of his stretch, but even if it doesn't, a repeat performance of Kareem Abdul-Zoubek would be a shock. Considering that he accounted for nearly half of Duke's rebounds (offensive and overall) and that rebounding was a huge reason for the point spread, that can only be a good thing. Sure, Duke has its fair share of big men, but the point remains: as long as Zoubek (or Mason Plumlee) doesn't come out of nowhere to dominate, Maryland should keep it close enough to be in the game late.
Maryland Will Probably Make Open Shots This Time - The first time around, Maryland shot just 38% from the floor - you won't beat many teams of Duke's caliber like that. For stretches at a time, no one could hit a shot. That was coupled with a 2-15 performance from deep. Much was made about Duke's defense, and deservedly so, but it's not like Maryland didn't have an open shot. They had plenty of chances and plenty of open shots that just didn't fall, and I just can't fathom that happening again. With a Duke game already under their belt and a crowd behind them, the intimidation factor should be nil. Had they shot at their normal percentage, the deficit for the game would've been just 4 points. Obviously, that's a bit of a pointless exercise - Duke rarely allows teams to hit their normal percentage - but the chances to make the shots were there, and Maryland just didn't knock them down.
- As Ugly As It Was the First Time, It Wasn't That Bad - Do remember about, oh, 11 minutes into the second half the last time around? Maryland was down by just 10. No, not even single digits, but for a short 2 minute stretch, Maryland showed what they could do when they were clicking. Duke turned it back on and Maryland faded away, but the point was made in my mind - when they don't have to overcome a 20 point deficit, they can beat this team. Not saying they will - I'm saying they can.
- Gary Williams' Brain - Gary is and always will be one of the best gameday coaches in America. He's already played Duke, and he knows everything he needs to about them. He can outduel K, and if he does, the landscape of the game changes.
Duke Is Coasting - This can be interpreted either way. Either Duke is more rested and Maryland more tired, or Maryland is more prepared for the game. The Dukies haven't played a top 50 opponent since they played the Terps back five games ago. Maryland, on the other hand, has played three straight, and all have been close. The odds that either team is unprepared are low, but if either was, it'd be Duke.
- The Will of Greivis Vasquez - Greivis Vasquez is basketball's Alexander Ovechkin; both are amazingly good at what they do, both play the game a strange way, both have a rival (Jon Scheyer = Sidney Crosby) and both are extraordinarily flashy. Ovi hasn't found his victories yet, but when you watch him play, the determination and effort jumps out at you, particularly against Pittsburgh (that is, Duke). Imagine that, except he never has another shot at them again. That's what will be pumping through Greivis Vasquez's veins on Wednesday. Could it backfire? Yes, and who know, that might be the probability. But if it turns out right, there's no way Maryland loses.
For the record, I'm not picking Maryland. This is a game Duke should win. This is a game they will be favored to win. But Maryland's not willing to concede the point, and there's no reason to think an upset should surprise anyone. Take this as my optimistic post for the week.