Sunday, January 27, 2008

Maryland Preview

This has been a "gut-check" week for the Devils - two games on the road, in particularly hostile arenas, against the 2nd and 3rd best defenses in the conference (as judged by conference play so far). Duke, Virginia Tech, and Maryland are the only schools to allow fewer than one point per possession to ACC opponents so far this season. Duke was able to exceed that number against the Hokies (1.05 ppp), and will look to do the same against Maryland.

The big key to this game will be inside play. Duke leads the conference shooting an astounding 61% on two-point shots, and has not been held under 54% in a conference game. Maryland leads the conference in defending the two, holding opponents to just 40.1% inside. A big reason for this is Maryland's excellent block rate of 12%, second only to BC in conference play. Duke's ability to avoid the blocks and to get easy looks inside will be critical - if Maryland can hold the Devils to 45% or lower from 2, that will be a big leg up toward the Terps getting an upset win. Of course, to do that, Maryland needs its offense to help its defense. Maryland has been turnover prone all season (although less so in conference play), and Vazquez in particular has had at least 4 in 7 of the last 8 games and in 13 games overall this season. Duke has been relentless thus far in forcing turnovers - more than 1 every 4 possessions in conference play, and only 4 teams overall have been able to turn the ball over fewer than 1 in 5. Many of Duke's turnovers have been coming via the steal (a conference-leading 14.8%), which means open court opportunities, which contributes directly to the high 2pt fg%. Maryland needs to avoid the open court turnovers if it hopes to win this game. If Duke's points off turnovers starts getting north of 15, good night Terps.

Maryland will also need to be wary of trading 2 for 3 too many times. The Terps don't shoot the ball outside often at all, and Eric Hayes is the only real deep threat. The team as a whole is shooting under 30% from three in conference play, and gets fewer points from outside the arc than anyone in the conference. Duke, on the other hand, has been shooting threes with somewhat reckless abandon - 25.5 attempts a game so far in conference play. While the results have been decidedly mixed (only 32.4% so far), Duke's shooters are clearly better from outside, and capable of getting hot at almost any moment. If Duke hits at 35% or better from outside, it could be hard for the Terps to keep up, especially if turnovers are costing them opportunities on the offensive end.

So how do the Terps spring the upset? Item 1 would be force the Devils inside, where Maryland's defense excels. Item 2 is hold on to the ball - Maryland's turnover % needs to be around 20, and they need as few open court turnovers as possible. And Item 3 is get on the glass. Maryland has a size advantage from Gist, Osby, and Shane Walker. The Terps haven't been a great rebounding team thus far, but if they can hammer the glass to get second chance opportunities, they can keep the score close.

Around the ACC

Yesterday's results were depressing from an NCAA perspective. Both BC and FSU have relatively good tournament profiles - probably better than any of the other 9 teams behind Duke, UNC, and Clemson. Both lost at home to teams with bad tournament profiles. Not one of the other 9 teams seems capable, at this point, of distinguishing itself from the rest of the pack. Teams seem to trade wins and losses, and we could very well be looking at a season where there are just a whole bunch of teams jumbled in the middle. The teams that looked like shoe-ins for last (NC State, Georgia Tech, Wake) have been very frisky in conference play, and the teams that looked like they might be a step above (Miami, BC, Florida State) have not. 3 teams in the NCAAs is looking like an alarmingly realistic outcome - heck, if Miami beats Clemson today, there will almost certainly be only 2 ACC teams in the top 25. The ACC really needs a couple teams from the middle of the pack to get hot and distinguish themselves from the rest of the field.

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