Sunday, February 11, 2007

Maryland Preview

The Terps have hands down been the most disappointing team in conference play this year. They've lost home games to Virginia (defensible) and Miami (aiee!!), and have failed to do any damage on the road (except at Wake Forest). What's been so bad isn't just that they've lost (after all, Duke has dropped 3 at home and 5 overall), but that they've looked awful doing it. And the fault lies squarely on the shoulders of the starting senior backcourt. DJ Strawberry is 31-89 shooting, including 6-24 from 3, in ACC play. He's also not generating steals or hitting the boards with anything resembling the frequency he was in pre-conference play. Mike Jones, too, proved that his pre-ACC prowess was a factor of schedule more than anything else. His 3 pt shooting in particular has dropped from 46.7% in non-conference play to 34.0% in conference. James Gist has had to carry the load for Maryland, and while he's done it admirably (27.5% of the scoring, 1.16 PPWS, .556 EFG%, plus good offensive and defensive rebound numbers), Gist is simply not the kind of player who can lead a successful one-man team in this conference.

As a team, Maryland has had one big Achilles heel on defense - rebounding. They don't seem to block anyone out, as opponents pick up over 40% of their own misses. In their last 3 games, Maryland has twice been outrebounded on the defensive end (FSU had 12 offensive boards to Maryland's 11 defensive, and Virginia led 18-17). Duke is going to have to hit the glass hard, because it's been a source of many points for opponents on the season. On offense, the Terps don't shoot particularly well and are very vulnerable to turnovers (at all 5 positions on the court).

One big thing Maryland will have going for them today is size. Maryland's perimeter players have the size to match up favorably with Duke's - Greivis Vazquez in particular will likely frustrate Paulus' ability to get his shot. The one mismatch will be whoever Jones is guarding - Scheyer should be able to work him through screens and get open for jumpers, and Nelson would be strong enough to take him off the dribble.

Today is an absolute must-win for both teams. Maryland's remaining schedule doesn't forecast any better than 3-3, and a 6-10 record simply won't be good enough (heck, 7-9 might not even be - wins over Illinois and Michigan State are becoming less impressive by the day). As for Duke, today is a statement game - it's about showing they have the mental toughness to go on the road, into the single most hostile environment for a Duke road team (maybe Rupp Arena would be worse, but only maybe), coming off of three straight crushing close losses that involved blown double-digit leads, and take care of business. A loss here and you worry about things slowly starting to spiral out of control.


UNC thrashes Wake - Terry and Wright played a combined 39 minutes, went 14-15 from the field (including 3-3 from 3), 7-8 from the line, pulled in 15 boards, and spread out 5 assists. UNC put up a .704 EFG% as a team.

Virginia Tech thrashes Virginia - the Hokies put up the best shooting game against the Wahoos in conference play - .644 EFG%, which included 67.6% from 2 (wow!). All this with Dowdell sitting on the bench for most of the game due to foul trouble. Virginia just happened to time their worst defensive performance with their worst offensive performance of the whole season - .359 EFG%, which they got by shooting bad (37%) from 2 and worse (22%) from 3. All in all, it was a perfect storm of futility that led to a big Hokie win.

Miami whomps NC State - so much for all that Engin Atsur momentum - State has now dropped consecutive games at Georgia Tech and Miami, and even the faintest glimmer of tournament hope (which is all it ever was) has disappeared. The Canes posted a 55.3 ORB% and only turned the ball over on 14.8% of possessions, turning an average shooting game (.516 EFG%) into a dynamite offensive efficiency performance (131.15 ORating). Of course, the Canes' offense has never been the problem this year - last night's 107 DRating was the best, by a full yard, in the last 8 games (which ranged between 121.1 and 138.7 - aiee!).


Brad said...

Dukies goin down...again. You see any chance they miss the Dance?

Paul Rugani said...

For the first time in years, yes, there's a chance they don't make the tournament. The only "easy" win they have left is at St. John's. Georgia Tech and Maryland are much weaker on the road than at home, but both already beat Duke by double figures. Still, Duke's profile remains strong - wins over Air Force, Georgetown, Indiana, and Boston College all look good. Picking up a road win at Clemson, BC, or UNC would be a big boost. And holding the home court is essential. I don't think any team should make the NCAAs at 6-10 in conference. At 7-9, this Duke team has a strong enough profile to warrant inclusion - assuming a win over St. John's, 7-9 puts them at 21-10 overall, with a chance for more wins in the ACC tourney. Plus, theirs will likely turn out to be the toughest in-conference schedule, to go along with one of the tougher non-conference schedules. 8-8 and it's a given. I'm still confident the Devils can be 8-8 or 9-7, and will make the tourney. But I'd be guilty of blind homerism if I said it was a guaranteed lock.