The stage is set for one of the biggest Maryland-Duke matchups in recent history tonight at the Comcast Center. The Terps currently stand at 6-6 in the ACC, needing at least two victories (probably three) in their next four games to have a legitimate shot at the NCAA Tournament heading into the ACC Tournament. A win against the Blue Devils would go a very long way to achieving this end, and enabling the selection committee to overlook the 41-point destruction of the Terps at the hands of these same Blue Devils earlier this season at Cameron.
Regardless of the standings, the Maryland-Duke game was always going to be a focal point for the Terps season, but the North Carolina win has maginfied its significance and infused a much needed jolt of energy into the fan base. Prior to the UNC game, the students at Maryland had been sorely lacking in enthusiasm and turnout through the season. With the win against the Tar Heels, the campus has been rife with passion for this upcoming matchup and it will most definitely be a major player in tonight's game. But the real question is, can the Terps pull this upset? Yes, but a few things will have to happen...
1. The crowd has to bother Duke's shooters. Duke is an outstanding jump shooting team that relies on superior guard play to win. If the crowd can get into the heads of those shooters like Paulus and Singler, their offense could get out of rhythm and help Maryland's defense. If Duke's shooters are made comfortable then they can rout Maryland straight out of the gym -- keept them off balance, Maryland could pull the upset.
2. Maryland has to win the three-point game. Maryland is not going to win a game in the paint, this has been very well documented, so if the Terrapins are going to take a big one they're going to have to rely on some big time performances behind the arc. Like in their win against North Carolina, the Terps are going to need efficient performances from Eric Hayes, Cliff Tucker, and Greivis Vazquez shooting from deep. If Duke is then forced to spread their defense, more lanes will open up for easy twos, but it all starts with making the three with some consistency for Maryland.
3. Maryland must keep the ball away from Brian Zoubek. For most teams facing Duke, Brian Zoubek is pretty far down the list of players to worry about, but his size can be absolutely devastating to Maryland down low. We have already seen Zoubek dominate Maryland in the paint, as the Terps have noone to counter him in the frontcourt. Therefore it will be imperative that Maryland not only deny the entry passes to Zoubek, but hopefully get him in early foul trouble by driving right at him with a quicker guard like Adrian Bowie.
4. Maryland has to minimize the turnovers. This always sounds cliche, but against a team like the Blue Devils it is absolutely essential that the Terrapins not play sloppy with the ball. Duke is a fast, guard-oriented team, who would like nothing more than to run up and down the court. Maryland cannot afford to waste possessions and have them turn into easy Duke baskets. It looks like Greivis Vazquez. will be playing point today, based on last week's success, so a large part of this will fall on him. But quite honestly, every Maryland fan already knows that a good part of this game is riding on Greivis' play.
Those are four points that leap out to me from a preliminary standpoint. Either way this will be a tough and emotional game, particularly for the Terps, so the Blue Devils should be ready for a fistfight regardless of what the final score turns out to be. One thing I would like to say before I close this up is this: the most underrated part of this Terrapin team is their toughness. I have never seen a team at Maryland play this scrappy, this hard, on almost every play as this year's team. This group has a chip on their shoulder and it shows in their passion. As a fan, you can't always rely on the Terps to shoot well or play smart, but you can rely on this team to play with every ounce they have.
(Photo Credit: Monica Lopossay/Baltimore Sun)