Photo by Chase Olivieri/The Chronicle
THE CONTENTS: No. 8 and third-seeded Duke battles seventh-seeded Maryland for the third time this season in the ACC semifinals at about 4 p.m. this afternoon at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. You can see the game locally on Raycom with Steve Martin and Mike Gminski or nationally on ESPN with Mike Patrick and Len Elmore. You can hear the game on 620 AM.
THE EXPOSITION: The Blue Devils (26-6) survived an ugly, ugly basketball game with Boston College last night, with Gerald Henderson's scooping layup in the final 30 seconds providing the difference.
The Terrapins (20-12) would like to think their win over Wake Forest yesterday was enough to clinch an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. It may be, for now, but bubble-bursting wins later today by teams such as Baylor and USC could prove costly for Maryland. A win today would definitely seal a bid for the Terps, who would avoid the ignominy of missing the Tourney for the fourth time in six years.
Duke and Maryland have played twice this season already, with the Blue Devils taking both of the previous meetings. Duke won 85-44 in Durham--its best game of the season probably (it wasn't even THAT close)--and 78-67 in College Park just a few weeks ago in a game closer than that score.
THE PROTAGONISTS: I was feeling good about Duke even after the loss at North Carolina, but last night was not pretty. It's tough to say the Blue Devils ever looked like they were in an offensive rhythm, even during that stretch when they hit four threes in a row (with a little help from Rakim Sanders). It's proff yet again of Gerald Henderson's importance to this team; when he got in early foul trouble, Duke looked lost for most of the first half. Even with Kyle Singler having one of his best games of the season, head coach Mike Krzyzewski drew up the play for Henderson on the Blue Devils' last offensive possession. It's key that G get off to a good start today.
Also don't discount the effect playing in a football dome for the first time this season can have on your shooting; that (hopefully) explains why there were so many ugly misses last night.
The good part? Duke's defense was back! The Blue Devils stayed in the game in the first half because they kept BC out of its offense and out on the perimeter. And when it counted most, Duke didn't let Tyrese Rice get the ball, and Sanders had to settle for a long three at the buzzer. If the Blue Devils can bring that kind of defensive effort to the Georgia Dome today on a quick turnaround, their chances of earning their first trip to the ACC Tournament Championship in three seasons increase dramatically.
THE ANTAGONISTS: It's amazing what one good game at the right time can do for your NCAA Tournament chances. Maryland was in after beating North Carolina, out after losing to Duke, Wake and Virginia in the regular season, and now back in after getting revenge on the Demon Deacons in Atlanta. It's the same as always with this team: the Terps go as Greivis goes. Vasquez had 22 yesterday, or eight more than he's had in two games against the Blue Devils this season.
At the same time, guys like Eric Hayes and Dave Neal have definitely stepped up for Maryland dating back to that UNC game. Neal was dominated by Brian Zoubek (BRIAN ZOUBEK!) in that first meeting in Durham, but the 6-foot-7 center has held his own against taller frontlines since.
To pull off its second consecutive upset, Maryland will need those kinds of performances from its secondary players along with a good game from its headliner.
THE CONFLICT: Can Duke hold down Greivis Vasquez for the third time this season?
WHEN'S THE LAST TIME DUKE BEAT A TEAM THREE TIMES IN A SEASON?: 2006, when the Blue Devils won three games against Wake Forest, who finished last in the ACC that season (but did reach the Tourney semifinals).
WHEN'S THE LAST TIME DUKE BEAT A TEAM TWICE IN THE REGULAR SEASON AND THEN LOST TO IT IN THE ACC TOURNAMENT?: Have no data to back this up, but I'd imagine it was 2004, when an upset-minded Maryland team surprised Duke in the ACC Tourney finals in overtime behind John Gilchrist. Those Terrapins entered the ACC Tournament on the bubble, and emerged as a 4-seed after winning it. I'm not sure, however, that the Blue Devils swept Maryland in the regular season that year.
SO WHEN DOES NOLAN SMITH GO AFTER NEAL?: Let's get over it: It was a clean screen. Guys lean in on every screen, their arms are up. The biggest collisions on picks almost always happen at that point in the backcourt because the other defender isn't there to call it out. Need proof? Just read the start of this AP article about my personal favorite collision on a screen, between Oklahoma's Eduardo Najera and Michigan State's Mateen Cleaves in the 1999 Sweet Sixteen. (Hey, any time BOTH players are knocked unconscious...THAT's a screen. Sadly, no YouTube video available.)
THE DENOUEMENT: I don't see this one going easily for Duke. Vasquez is going to show up, and if the Terps continue to shoot well from the outside, they'll be around all afternoon. The Blue Devils need to show up on the defensive end and make Maryland work for every bucket; remember, Duke has a quick turnaround from last night, but the Terrapins are in their third game in three days. The Blue Devils will wear Maryland out and pull away late, hopefully making their free throws this time. (Have you ever seen such a good foul shooting team struggle so much at the ends of games? This may haunt Duke in the Tournament.)
THE VERDICT: Duke 70-63.
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