At 6:00 p.m. ET tonight, the Duke Blue Devils will take to the Comcast Center for what could be the last road game for Duke in the Maryland Terrapins rivalry, which has been one of the best rivalries in the ACC. With Maryland set to move out of the ACC and not expected to host Duke next season, this game is more meaningful for the Terps, especially since it is a chance of Mark Turgeon’s 17-7 squad to knock-off No. 2 Duke.
The Blue Devils survived a scare against the rival North Carolina Tar Heels and will face, in my opinion, an easier rivalry game against Maryland. That’s not to say Maryland is bad, because they have a quality team, but it is more of a statement that praises UNC’s resilience in the narrow loss and the fact that they are finally hitting their stride.
Duke will have to contain Alex Len, who is easily one of the conference’s top players and the star of the Maryland Terrapins. Len has a 25.3 PER and four win shares this season, as he puts up 12.5 points per game, eight rebounds per game, and turns away two shots per game. Len’s defense is just incredible and even better than his offense, so he presents a tough matchup for Duke without Ryan Kelly. Mason Plumlee looked flustered against UNC when facing against less powerful big men, so that’s something to watch out for. However, I think there is more of a chance we see the John Wooden candidate make this a statement game instead.
To me, the strength of this Duke team right now is the play of the backcourt and just the pure offensive efficiency of this team. Facing one of the toughest schedules of any team this season, Duke has called upon their young bench to perform in key situations, and they rose up to perfection. Guys like Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston were unheralded reasons for the run that sparked the comeback against the Tar Heels, and they will continue to be factors in rivalry matchups.
Duke should be able to knock off Maryland again, and Rasheed Sulaimon is a key role player who should give Maryland fits. Seth Curry isn’t going to shoot like he did against UNC, because you just don’t see college basketball’s best three-point shooter have two inefficient nights in a row; it just doesn’t shake out that way.
Really the only other guy who scares me on Maryland is Dezmine Wells, but boy is Wells a player deserving of high praise. With 3.5 wins shares, a 20.3 PER, and an average of 12 points per game, Wells isn’t too far off from Len’s caliber as he is a great player in his own right. Wells can score, defend, and he fills up the stat sheet with an average of three assists per game and about five boards per game. Wells is going to be the team’s best passer in this game against Duke, because starting point guard Pe’Shon Howard was suspended for at least this game against Duke.
Wells’s 59.0% true-shooting clip is fantastic, but it’s James Padgett (60.4 TS%, 18.6 PER) who is the best shooter and most efficient scorer on this team. Maryland has a nice cog of players behind stars Len and Wells, so Duke won’t win this one easily without Kelly. But I still think Duke has enough guns on offense to beat a Maryland team that is, in all honesty, more “average” than “good”. I expect this to be a relatively high-scoring game going at 77-70 for the Duke Blue Devils.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.