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And now, the rematch. As Duke fans luxuriated in the intense and exciting win
over UNC this past Wednesday, in College Park, the intensity is ratcheting up to
a very high level. ESPN is in town and will make a day of it. Police
are on alert and ready for trouble. After a few down games, Comcast will
be packed again. And the Maryland fans stand ready to express a hatred not fully
understood in Durham or, really in Chapel Hill.
Maryland all but screams at Duke, demanding to be taken seriously. After two
Final Fours, a national title, and an ACC Tournament title, apparently the final
validation is that Duke take Maryland as seriously as Maryland takes Duke.
On the court, that's a given. Off, it's not.
In 2000 and again in 2001, we were startled to find scalpers trying to ditch
tickets as far out as the gates of Wade. Until the last couple of years,
that was still the case, and even this year, it wouldn't have been hard to get a
ticket into Cameron.
2000 was about the point where we started to realize, you know, these guys
really, really dislike us. It's not like we expected any ACC school to
love another - Duke and N.C. State, we should say, have a mutual respect, but
still the fans want to kill on game day - but otherwise, there's no love lost
But still, it really took us back to realize that dislike had turned to
hatred, and then later it took us back again to realize that we Duke fans were
supposed to reciprocate in kind.
It's not going to happen. There is a feeling of contempt for the level
of hatred, but pretty clearly, as much pleasure as Duke fans get out of beating
Maryland, they're not going to return that level of vitriol. In our
greatest rivalry, with UNC, there is on both sides acrimony and at times anger,
but also an abiding respect and wariness. Perhaps the fact that we have to
live and work with one another keeps things on an even keel.
The Duke response to the intense dislike coming from College Park has been,
largely, to refuse to acknowledge it, but there's no denying the competitiveness
on the court. Over the last few years, Maryland has been the biggest thorn
in Duke's side. While Duke has dominated UNC, winning 15 of the last 17
games, they've struggled with Maryland. For whatever reason, Jason
Williams had a tough time with Steve Blake. The huge comeback in College
Park is treasured by Duke fans, but the previous 39 minutes belonged to
Maryland. In 2001, they won in Durham on senior day, and Duke lost Carlos
Boozer on the eve of March Madness.
And then this year, with Duke undefeated and enjoying a remarkable season,
Maryland came into Cameron and, we thought, had the game won at halftime,
because their superior size was hard for Duke to counter: with Shavlik Randolph
clearly winded after his bout with mono, and a game Lee Melchionni unable to
match up with bigger Terps, and no one on Duke's team really able to match up
well with Nic Caner-Medley, Maryland won a very intense game.
Since then, things have not gone so well for the Terps. They had
already lost D.J. Strawberry for the year, which was a blow, then went to
Clemson and lost badly, and were nipped at Miami as well. They come into
the Duke game at 14-7 and 5-5 in the ACC, and, again, the Duke game would be a
huge get for them.
Almost every year, it seems like at some point there is a knot in the middle
of the standings, and this year sees four teams at 5-5, including Maryland (and
Georgia Tech, Miami, and Virginia Tech).
So on Saturday, what to expect?
Well, in a word, intensity. But also a somewhat different situation
than in Durham.
Maryland will be playing without Ikene Ibekwe, a burgeoning hothead in the
tradition of Kenny Inge. We noticed it first in the Duke game, when he got
overly testy with Shavlik Randolph on an out-of-bounds play. Randolph put his
hand on Ibekwe, as many players do in a similar situation. We've seen his
temper in a couple of games since then. He's a guy who can be goaded into doing
something stupid and so probably will be.
He was also critical in the Durham game, scoring 15 points and getting nine
rebounds. He was only the third Terp in double figures. Caner-Medley
scored 25, and John Gilchrist had 10. He also had nine rebounds, which
Things are different for Duke, too. In the four games since Maryland, Shavlik
Randolph has started to play much better as he continues to recover from mono.
He's been starting and playing about 20 minutes a game, and while his offense
hasn't come fully around yet, he has been a solid presence on defense and on the
boards, two areas where Duke could have really used him more against Maryland.
And while Maryland is missing Ibekwe, Duke is missing Dave McClure, who of
course had a minor knee surgery and will be out for a bit longer.
Maryland still has a big presence up front. With Will Bowers at 7-1, a
talented and powerful Travis Garrison at 6-8 and 240, a highly athletic 6-8
James Gist, and not least of all, Caner-Medley, it's a load to deal with.
Duke, by contrast, offers up Randolph and Shelden Williams and Lee Melchionni,
and, for limited minutes, Patrick Johnson.
Williams is a guy who can control a game from the post, and a guy who has
improved dramatically this season. He's a superb defender and rebounder, and his
offense has really taken off.
With Randolph beside him, Duke has a potent pair of shotblockers. If
Randolph is able to avoid foul trouble, and play extended minutes, Duke can
offer a great deal more down low.
In the backcourt, Maryland offers big-time talent John Gilchrist, who has
struggled this year to balance his role with Maryland and his ambitions beyond
school. They also have Chris McCray, who is becoming a pretty fair player,
and Mike Jones, who has struggled somewhat as he has tried to master defense and
the intensity required to play at Maryland. Sterling Ledbetter is also
available, but hasn't played extensively this year except at Clemson, when,
we're guessing, Gary was throwing in the kitchen sink to try to stop the ship
Duke counters with J.J. Redick, Daniel Ewing, Sean Dockery, and DeMarcus
Duke doesn't like to list players by position, but one of those guards has to
guard 6-8 Caner-Medley. In Durham, it was Redick, and it was a tough matchup, as
Caner-Medley scored 25. That's still probably the key to this rematch, but
Maryland will have to make up Ibekwe's contributions somehow. Our guess is
that Gilchrist will be asked to do more.
For Duke, which shot poorly in the first game, it would be good to see Daniel
Ewing snap out of his recent slump. He has played hard and defended hard,
but his offense has been spotty. If he snaps out of it in College Park, so
much the better. And if DeMarcus Nelson can build on his UNC game, he'll
be a huge asset Saturday. He is strong enough and long enough to spend
some time guarding Caner-Medley, and he could bother him a bit, too.
But perhaps the key is Redick.
We say this for a couple of reasons. First, he likely hasn't forgotten last
year at College Park, when he was cursed on national TV, something you probably
remember. And odds are he'll hear some things again, though perhaps not
the same chant, or at least not in unison. Third, his performance in the
Durham game was not exactly the highlight of his season. And fourth, because,
increasingly this season, he has shown the heart and soul of a warrior.
This game is likely to be different from the one in Durham, when Maryland's
advantages allowed them to play a game of attrition. That's still possible
up front, but less so than before. Maryland is down to about seven or eight
players, depending on how much time Ledbetter gets. Garrison, Bowers,
Gilchrist, McCray, Gist, Caner-Medley, Jones, and Ledbetter - that's about it
with Ibekwe out, Strawberry out, and Hassan Fofana long gone.
That small rotation will take on Duke's equally small one, with Williams,
Randolph, Redick, Ewing, Dockery, Melchionni, Nelson, and Patrick Johnson.
Fouls are obviously key for Duke, but that's been true all year.
If Duke can manage to control either Gilchrist or Caner-Medley, then
Maryland's job is vastly more difficult. We'll be curious to see if Nelson
gets to guard Caner-Medley much. Dockery did a reasonable job on Gilchrist
in Durham, but he made several short jabs into the lane for quick points.
But they are the key to stopping Maryland, and even with them both on,
someone else will likely have to step up offensively.
For Duke, keeping Randolph out of foul trouble will be critical, and while
we've all come to accept Shelden Williams' very high level of performance as an
everyday sort of thing, it's anything but. If the two of them can control
the inside, and Gilchrist is kept somewhat under control, Duke has a great
chance at winnign this game.
So strap it on! It should be interesting, to say the least.