Maryland Basketball: 5 Keys to Beating Duke in ACC Showdown
If there has ever been a true must-win game in college basketball, Saturday's tilt against Duke is it for Maryland.
The tumbling Terps head into this pseudo-rivalry game sitting at a puzzling 17-7 record, and just 5-6 in the conference. Duke stands second in the conference, with a 21-2 record overall and an 8-2 record in league play.
Maryland's resume is alarmingly bare, with just one solid victory coming against NC State. Its next best wins come against Stony Brook and Northwestern.
A win against No. 2 Duke, albeit at home, would do wonders for their chances of sneaking into the NCAA tournament field.
Here are five keys to Maryland pulling off a shocking upset against the Duke Blue Devils.
Stick to Rasheed Sulaimon and Seth Curry
When Maryland traveled down to Durham back in January, freshman phenom Rasheed Sulaimon had himself a day, knocking down six out of his eight three-point attempts.
Sulaimon finished the outing with a total of 25 points, nearly doubling the total of Maryland's leading scorer. Senior Seth Curry nailed three out of his eight attempts from deep, finishing with 13 points.
Duke is a team that can get wildly hot from three. If they make a few in a row, it can completely change the momentum of the game. Maryland can't afford to let the Blue Devils get streaky from long range.
The only way Maryland can win this game is to eliminate the outside shooting aspect and attempt to outmuscle Duke's bigs. If Sulaimon and Curry are non-factors from the perimeter, the Terps will be in good shape.
Use Physicality to Their Advantage
With low-post threat Ryan Kelly still sidelined with an ailing foot injury, Duke lacks the personnel to compete with Maryland inside.
Barring Mason Plumlee, the Blue Devils lack reliable contributors inside. Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy are all better suited as wings, while Marshall Plumlee's production has yet to warrant significant minutes.
Maryland's low-post presence begins with 7'1'' standout Alex Len, but it certainly doesn't end there. The Terps carry a freshman tandem of 260-plus pounders in Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare that can wear down Duke by the tin.
Duke is unquestionably going to outperform Maryland from the perimeter, so the Terps needs to offset that advantage by controlling the paint using strength and physicality.
Slow the Game Down
The Blue Devils love to run. Excelling in the transition game has garnered a number-two overall ranking so far, which is why Maryland needs to offset that high-tempo by slowing the game down and playing at a more manageable pace.
Duke ranks 15th among Big-Six conference members in Adjusted Tempo Rating, per KenPom. Its roster features one of the best centers at running the floor in Mason Plumlee, and some uber quick guards in Quinn Cook, Seth Curry, Tyler Thornton and Rasheed Sulaimon.
If Maryland allows those players to turn this game into a marathon, Duke will run the Terps straight out of the gym. Playing a halfcourt-oriented style game will benefit Maryland and its chances of earning an upset.
Have Alex Len Attack Mason Plumlee
Despite Mason Plumlee containing Alex Len completely in their first matchup, Maryland's only hope of defeating Duke is to give Len a chance to dominate the post.
They won't beat Duke by winning the transition game or shooting the lights out. They must allow themselves to live and die by the performance of Alex Len, regardless of the fact that Plumlee is a terrific post defender.
Len is one of the few talents in America who really can take over the game if he's feeling it. The only way to find out if Len is feeling it that night is by giving him touches, which Mark Turgeon needs to emphasize.
Feed off of the Crowd
Recently, the knock on Maryland's fanbase is that it only gets fired up for the North Carolina and Duke games. Well, here we are.
In what could potentially be the last ever matchup between these two bitter enemies in College Park, the Maryland student section is going to create an otherworldly hostile environment.
If the Big East Conference eventually breaks down entirely, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville and Notre Dame will enter the ACC next season, which will effectively force Maryland to join the Big Ten in 2013-14. If that does end up happening, this really will be the last Maryland-Duke contest.
If that doesn't get the Comcast Center crowd riled up, I don't know what will. But Maryland needs to feed off of that intensity, because it'll need every advantage it can find against this pesky Duke squad.