Preview & Prediction: By Jeff Borzello
There is usually one team every year who hovers around the bubble for seemingly the entire season, then hits its stride near the end of the season and heads into the NCAA Tournament playing its best basketball. Will that team be Maryland this year? The Terrapins have a chance to potentially punch their ticket to the Big Dance when they face No.7 Duke tonight. Maryland (17-9, 6-6) is coming off of an overtime victory over North Carolina, in which Greivis Vasquez had a triple-double. Combine that with wins over Michigan State, as well as fellow bubble dwellers Michigan, Miami (Fl.) and Virginia Tech, and the Terrapins have a solid resume. However, they have been inconsistent, as indicated by their loss at home to Morgan State. On the other side, Duke (22-5, 8-4) toyed with its lineup two games ago and has a completely different identity now. Since then, the Blue Devils have defeated St. John’s and Wake Forest. Prior to that, Duke had lost four of six and was not looking like a legit threat in the NCAA Tournament. The Devils have wins this year over Purdue, Wake Forest, Xavier, Florida State, Maryland, Michigan, Miami (Fl.), Davidson, Georgetown and Rhode Island.
Maryland is led by Greivis Vasquez, one of the more fiery players in the country. He is a very emotional player, which sometimes gets the best of him, but he is capable of spectacular performances, as evidenced by his triple-double against North Carolina. Eric Hayes starts next to him; he is a solid point guard who contributes in a variety of ways, and is also a good defender. On the wing, Adrian Bowie’s minutes and production have diminished lately, but Sean Mosley and Cliff Tucker have helped pick up the slack. Tucker is averaging 10.1 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.6 steals over the past five games. Up front, Landon Milbourne is the main threat. He is a smooth player who can score in a variety of ways. He is averaging 13.8 points and 5.6 rebounds in his past 10 games. Dave Neal is a solid role player in the frontcourt.
As mentioned earlier, Duke has completely changed its identity over the past couple of games. A few weeks ago, Mike Krzyzewski replaced sophomore Nolan Smith in the lineup with senior Greg Paulus at the point guard spot. However, before the St. John’s game last week, Krzyzewski removed Paulus and inserted freshman wing Elliot Williams. The team is much more dangerous at both ends now. Gerald Henderson has become a legit go-to-guy, averaging 20.7 points over his past 13 games. He and Kyle Singler (18.0 ppg in his last five) form a duo that is very tough to defend. Jon Scheyer has broken out of his slump in the past couple of weeks (19.6 ppg in last five), and Williams adds quickness and aggressiveness defensively. Lance Thomas is active and athletic up front. The bench has been uses much less lately, but Smith and Paulus are still very solid players, and David McClure and Brian Zoubek are role guys up front.
Both teams have a tendency to turn the ball over too often at the lead guard position, which could lead to a few mistakes and easy baskets in the first few minutes. Coupled with the aggressive defensive tendencies of both squads, the game should feature some substantial up-and-down swings.
If Maryland is going to pull off its second straight upset, it will need to attack the Duke defense. The Blue Devils have struggled to defend quick point guards, and Vasquez fits that mold. He needs to obviously have a big game for Maryland. Furthermore, Milbourne will have to keep up his solid play, giving Vasquez a sidekick. Hayes and the other perimeter players have to hit shots and take care of the ball. For Duke, they are going to have to prevent Vasquez from heating up. If he gets frustrated, his emotions will get the best of him and Maryland will lose. Also, they will need to take advantage of their match-up edges. No one on Maryland can guard Henderson, who has been phenomenal lately. Duke also needs to defend better overall; the Devils allowed Wake Forest to shot 61 percent from the floor on Sunday. The difference is going to be Maryland’s momentum and homecourt advantage. Duke won’t be able to shut down Vasquez the entire game, and Maryland will get key contributions from some other perimeter players (Hayes and Tucker were 8-of-15 from three-point range against UNC, scoring 39 points). Duke is still not an elite team, in my eyes.
WINNER: Maryland MARGIN: 3-5
Editor's Early Preview
*Made on 02/06. Full preview by the GameNight staff coming soon!
Another potential job-saver for Gary Williams. Or perhaps a chance for Greivis Vasquez to prove to scouts he's a legitimate NBA prospect.
Early Prediction: Duke