Duke faces Maryland Sunday night, and the Terps present an entirely different sort of challenge to Duke. More than anyone except for Pitt, Maryland will force Duke to play at an extraordinarily high emotional level. If they can't meet it, they'll lose. It would be a tough game under any circumstances, given how Maryland feels about Duke, which would take a book to explain. But toss in the remarkable win at UNC, a week to get ready, a chance to take part of third place in the ACC, and the fact that this game could be Maryland's key to the tournament, and it's as big a Duke-Maryland game as there's been for awhile.
Maryland brings a big team, with James Gist (-6-9) and Bambale Osby (6-8), both seniors, joining freshman Landon Milbourne (6-7) on the frontline. Gist is finally living up to his potential, and over the last two games, against Wake and UNC, he averaged 16.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocked shots and 2.5 assists. Osby has been just as impressive. Last year, he was a reliable reserve; this year, he's playing like a guy who wants a shot at the next level. He's been great for the Terps. And Milbourne has been kicking in 8 points and four boards also.
But Maryland is big pretty much from top to bottom,continuing a theme/difficulty Duke has had with the Terps in recent years: only Eric Hayes and Adrian Bowie are under 6-6. Grievis Vasquez and Eric Hayes start in the backcourt at 6-6 and 6-4 respectively.
That's a lot for Duke to deal with. On their side, they only have three guys over 6-6, and one of them probably won't be playing.
Maryland has size, strength and confidence on their side, but part of the reason why they've struggled this season is youth and backcourt play and turnovers overall.
Vasquez is averaging 4.3 turnovers, Gist 2.6, and Osby 3.0, and the team is averaging 16.7 per game, and it's a young team. If Duke can force turnovers the way they have so far this season, they'll neutralize some of the emotional advantage Maryland has.
We were somewhat surprised to see that the teams are basically even in rebounds, with Maryland having a very slight (39.5 to 39.2 advantage).
But really, between these two, you can only go so much by statistics. It's going to come down to defense and desire.
For all their offensive faults this season, Maryland has become a very good defensive team, as UNC recently found out as Maryland held them to 38% from the floor, and won a thriller despite only forcing 10 turnovers and getting outrebounded 46-32.
Pretty much everything is on the line for Maryland Sunday night. For Duke, not nearly as much. For everything they've accomplished - a top four ranking, a 16-1 record, and great success despite not having a traditional big man - it's hard to see Duke as being anything but the underdog in this game.