Maryland enters the first installment of its biannual dance with Duke at a crossroads. At 13-5, the Terps desperately need a signature win to get back into serious contention for an NCAA berth.
Terp Nation is uneasy. Clearly undermanned upfront, the Terps have played valiantly, yet they appear to be fatally flawed in a distinct way: Maryland is unable to put teams away and/or hold big leads.
The Terps have lost three games in January. In two of those games, Maryland blew leads of 14 (Morgan St.) and 17 (Miami) points. What’s more, MD almost blew a 15 point lead against Virginia on Tuesday.
In my view, the culprit is one of two things:
1. The Terps are prone to lapses in which they grow complacent and fail to execute for long stretches, thus allowing the other team back in the game.
2. Maryland’s offense is one dimensional and other teams are bound to figure out how to stop the Terps over the course of a 40 minute game and when they do, the Terps collapse.
If it is the former, then the Terps can get better this year. They can learn to maintain concentration throughout the game and throttle teams when the Terps have the upper hand. It will be tough, but the Terps can learn to win.
If it is the latter, then the season is lost. If teams like Miami, Morgan, and UVA can handcuff the Terps for stretches of 10 minutes or more because they have figured out that MD’s offense can be permanently neutralized; then we are surely NIT bound. Again.
I’m not enough of a basketball expert to say which it is. My gut and heart says the former.
Maryland will be given an excellent opportunity to prove the doubters wrong this afternoon. The boys travel to Comcast Center South — also known as Cameron Indoor Stadium.
On paper, this game won’t be close. Duke is ranked #2 in the country and poised to take the top spot if they can beat the Terps. Fortunately for MD fans, Duke usually brings the very best out of our players.
In the last 10 meetings, the Terps have won 5 contests, including 3 wins at Comcast Center South. Last year, MD lead Duke by 10 points at halftime before falling apart in the second half. In fact, that defeat was the first in a string of five such collapses in the last 12 months: Duke, Va Tech, and Clemson last year; and the aforementioned Morgan and Miami games this year. As if you needed another reason to hate Duke. They started this mess!
This trend must be reversed. The inability to hold leads hangs like an albatross on the neck of the entire team. What better way to exorcize the demon than to triumph against the team that started it all last year?
Duke is one of the few elite teams that Maryland can match up with favorably. Duke won’t kill us on the inside, and the Terps should have the best athletes on the floor. I believe the Terps will be battling themselves as much as they will be battling the Blue Devils. If Maryland can remain mentally tough; then they can win.
I will be interested to see if Gary Williams is able to stop Duke’s three point shooting with his new found love of the zone defense.
The Terps need to win badly. A victory could turn the season around. Get busy living or get busy dying.