After an emotional win against conference rival North Carolina, No. 2 Duke will tip off against Maryland Saturday against a Terrapin team that could be playing its final ACC games this season.
But the Terrapins (17-7, 5-6 in the ACC) believe themselves to be up to the challenge and have had almost an entire week to practice for this game.
“It’s kind of hard on this campus to not know who you’re playing,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said. “Hopefully by knowing who we are playing, it’s going to help us practice better. We have got a great opportunity this week to practice a lot and prepare for the last four weeks of the regular season.”
Since being blown out by then-No. 1 Duke 84-64 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Maryland has won two and lost two and is coming off an 11-point loss to Virginia Sunday.
“But coming off a loss where we didn’t defend, we are going to show them film and hopefully they are going to respond,” Turgeon said. “We were flat, we were tired, we were dead, whatever you want to say. Virginia was great, but we have to play better than [Sunday] as we move forward.”
The Terrapins will have a lot more defending to do against a potent Duke (22-2, 9-2) attack. National Player of the Year candidate Mason Plumlee headlines the well-balanced Blue Devil offense as he comes into this matchup averaging 18.2 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. Not far behind is Seth Curry whose 16.5 points per game and 42-percent shooting from beyond the arc is bound to stretch a defensive that Turgeon said needs to improve on its perfomance as of late.
The Terrapins will also have to contend with Rasheed Sulaimon, who keyed the Duke offense the last time these two teams met, setting a career high in points with 25 on 9-of-13 shooting. Sulaimon started that game poorly guarding Dez Wells but bounced back to deliver the finest performance of his freshman campaign.
“He did something that I think is so terrific,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the Maryland win. “He said, ‘I got you, Coach, I’ll do better.’ He just embraced responsibility. Anybody who embraces responsibility has a chance to do better.”
For the Terrapins the main offensive threat will be 7-foot-1 sophomore center Alex Len, who has been averaging 12.5 points and 8.0 rebounds a game. Despite Len’s lottery-pick potential, he scored just eight points and was often neutralized by Plumlee in the first meeting between the two teams.
The one area will Maryland will have to capitalize is on the boards. The Blue Devils have struggled to keep opponents off the offensive glass and for a Maryland team averaging 13.1 offensive rebounds per game, this could be a crucial part of the contest.
But this game is being played in the backdrop of a much larger picture. An era is probably going to end soon in the Duke-Maryland rivalry with the Terrapins impending move to the Big Ten.
“No, I hate to see Maryland leave,” Krzyzewski said in his teleconference Monday. “I mean, you’re talking when this thing started, whoever it was, those guys shook hands and said, ‘We are going to start something special. Duke, Maryland and a few others were in that room, and I like that. I hate that something that happened 60 years ago now is in a few weeks, no more.... I’m sorry that that’s not going to be there for our conference and for Duke and Maryland anymore.”
The importance of the rivalry is not lost on the Terrapins either.
“Well, I think this is another level,” Turgeon said. “I think Duke’s another level above North Carolina. It’s above everybody else. It’s another level for our fans and another level for our players and our coaches, and I think it’s like that for Duke everywhere we go. But definitely here for us, we are well aware of what this game means to everybody.”