Next up for Duke is Maryland. Gary Williams was the face of Maryland basketball from 1990 until this fall.Â His personal scrappiness, his pride, and his insistence that hard work and sheer obstinance could overcome superior opponents.Â And it worked out pretty well for the Terps, as Williams led them first to the Final Four, then to the national championship.
Along the way, the nature of the rivalry reversed: in the '70s and early '80s, Lefty Driesell built a dominant ACC program, one which Duke envied.Â When Duke upset Maryland in Terry Chili's senior year, when Maryland was a Top Ten team, the students went nuts. The Blue Devil famously climbed the basket and thrust his pitchfork skwyard in triumph (this was when the Devil just wore a mask and not a comically big head designed for TV).
After Lefty departed, the momentum in the rivalry flowed to Duke. Bob Wade's tenure at Maryland ended in disaster, and when Williams took over, he really started from scratch.
Good thing he had grit and fortitude.
We didn't realize for a long time how much Maryland fans disliked Duke at that point, but the heat from that end was spectacular, and it got worse as Duke kept dominating the Terps.
During the '90s, Maryland caught up and at times got the better of Duke, but recently, Duke has had the upper hand again, having won nine of the last ten.
At halftime on Wednesday, Maryland will name the court after Gary Williams, and naturally being Gary, it wasn't a straightforward process: Lefty Driesell objected, not in his name but in the name of his players.
Williams became the face of Maryland basketball and went places Lefty never did.Â He deserves this.
This is the world Mark Turgeon steps into. And it should be said, he's done a brilliant job of stepping into it.
Did Williams fall off the last few years? Yes.Â But he's still a dominant, beloved figure and a tough act to follow.
Turgeon has been really smart to not run away from his legacy but rather to embrace it even as he insists on being his own man. And while it looked early this season as if Maryland might be in for a disastrous year, it looks now as if they'll likely be a post-season team again, even if it's the NIT and not the NCAA.
Maryland, which started the year with as many walk-ons as healthy players, is doing pretty well at 12-6 and 2-2 in the ACC. The losses to Alabama and Iona were ugly, but that was Turgeon 1.0.Â As he said, the season really started when Maryland got Pe'Shon Howard back and Alex Len became eligible.
Unfortunately for Maryland, Len is unlikely to be 100%, and even if he is, he's had a tough time adjusting to the intensity of the ACC.
Still, the Terps match up fairly well, all things considered. Their backcourt troika of Howard, Terrell Stoglin and Sean Mosley are pretty solid.Â UNC would probably be thrilled if Mosley showed up in Chapel Hill about now; he's an excellent defender.
Nick Faust, like a lot of freshmen, has been up and down, but no one questions his talent.Â He'll become a very good player for Maryland, if not this year then soon enough.
Maryland's success in this game though may come down to the play of James Padgett, Ashton Pankey and Bernard Weijs.Â Maryland's frontcourt has some limitations if Len is either unable to play or continues to struggle against ACC competition.
Padgett, you'll recall, came in with Jordan Williams and with roughly the same expectations.Â While Williams is in the NBA (although currently in the D-League), Padgett hasn't worked out as well.Â But the coaching change and available minutes have helped: his ppg have gone from 3.3 to a respectable 9.2, and he's averaging six boards a game.Â That's reasonably productive.
Pankey has had a hard time defining a role after Len starting playing and is averaging 5.4 ppg and 4.6 rpg.
And Len? After a hot start, he's tailed off and is averaging 7.8 ppg and 6.0 rpg.
Don't be fooled.Â We've seen enough of him to recognize a talented player.Â You try jumping into major college basketball with no warmup to speak of. It's a tough transition for anyone.
On the bright side, he's a smart kid, he clearly loves Maryland and being in college, and he's already stated that he's not going anywhere anytime soon.
Duke's backcourt matches up reasonably well with Maryland's, and if they clamp down on Stoglin, life gets very tough for Maryland. The Terps have to look for three point shooting from five different guards, not least of all Andre Dawkins, who has been on a tear lately. Tyler Thornton and Quinn Cook are back home, and that might fire them up, while Austin Rivers is a guy who enjoys the spotlight and likes to be the guy who takes the big shot.
But the Terps also have to deal with the Plumlees and Ryan Kelly. Duke's big men are averaging a combined 30.2 ppg and 21 boards.
Turgeon has done a solid job but has fretted that his team tends to let down, particularly in the second half. But the Terps have undeniably improved and at some point they're going to put it all together.
It won't be an easy game for the Terps.Â Yet you can't count them out. Among other things, Duke always fires the crowd up and a team can ride emotion a long way. And Duke has struggled defensively.Â If someone, say Stoglin, goes off, you never know.
As always, it should be an interesting game.
As regular readers will know, while the ACC is undeniably down, our theory for several years is that it's been coaching. That's been corrected at several schools and while Williams was no slouch, things fell off at Maryland over the last several seasons. Aside from his solid coaching, Turgeon has also made it clear that he's going to recruit very differently from Williams.Â He's already got commitments from 6-7 Jake Layman, underrated Seth Allen and most of all big man Shaquille Clear. He's gone out of his ways to improve ties with Baltimore and Maryland will soon reap the benefits.
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