|Thursday, January 16
New setting, same bitter ACC rivalry
By Jay Bilas
Special to ESPN.com
Duke once again arrives in College Park as the No. 1 team in the country. Some things never seem to change, or do they?
This year's first meeting between these ACC rivals takes place in a new setting, as Maryland plays host to the Blue Devils on Saturday afternoon in the Comcast Center instead of Cole Field House. It's also the Terrapins who come into the game as the defending national champions -- not Duke -- for the first time in school history.
A year ago, the Terps snapped a four-year losing streak to Duke in Cole, handing a Duke squad that was ranked No. 1 at the time an 87-73 loss. It was the seventh time a Maryland team had beaten a No. 1-ranked team in Cole -- the most such wins for any college arena.
This year's first encounter is in a new building. Maryland is the defending champion. But the Terps (9-4) are once again looking to beat a No. 1 team, and fans can expect the same intensity from these ACC rivals. By the way, this will mark the 16th consecutive meeting between them with teams ranked in the top 25.
Gary Williams has done another outstanding coaching job to have his Terps challenging for the conference crown after losing four starters from his title team, including three NBA draft picks in Chris Wilcox, Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter. The constant in Williams' system has been, and still is, Steve Blake. There is no player in America who competes harder than Blake.
Duke, meanwhile, is maturing and playing as well as any team in the nation. While the Blue Devils (12-0) are young in spots and have a terrific freshman class, this is one of the more veteran teams in the ACC. With Chris Duhon, Dahntay Jones, Casey Sanders, Nick Horvath and Daniel Ewing, Mike Krzyzewski has a strong core group of older players who have been through the system and understand what he wants from them. The older players teach the younger ones every day in practice, and the rookies learn by watching how things should be approached and executed.
Duke is talented, yes, but also has quality experience.
Duke Breakdown: While last year's Blue Devils had more star power, quotes out of the locker room suggest the players think this year's team has better camaraderie and chemistry.
Duke plays aggressive man-to-man defense, pressures the ball at every position and gets out into passing lanes. This is an outstanding defensive team because every position guards well. The Blue Devils play denial defense, one pass away, to deny entry passes and ball reversal. Those players who are more than one pass away are always in helpside position, ready to move as the ball moves. The ball pressure has the effect of taking away a passer's vision, so that even if a man frees himself and gets open, the passer cannot see the opening and deliver the ball.
When Duke overplays, the backdoor pass is encouraged, but Krzyzewski believes that such passes are difficult when there is good ball pressure. More than ever under Krzyzewski, Duke is employing full-court pressure, using traps in the backcourt to wear teams down and speed them up.
Offensively, Duke is simple to understand, easy to scout, but very difficult to stop. Duke runs its offensive sets based upon motion principles, but most of the time set plays are called when there is nothing available in transition. Once the defensive rebound is secured, Duke looks to run, and Krzyzewski expects everyone to run the floor hard, because he has depth at his disposal and wants to wear down opponents for a full 40 minutes.
In his halfcourt sets, Krzyzewski runs a lot of high ball screens, spreads the court, and provides his players the chance to exploit shot or drive opportunities and play off penetration. When Duke hits the post, the Blue Devils are more likely to hurt opponents off of relocation passes than with post moves. Duke is averaging 89.5 points per game with four Blue Devils averaging at least 10 points.
J.J. Redick (17.0 ppg) leads the Blue Devils in scoring. He's coming off of a sterling performance against Virginia in which he hit for 34 points, knocking down nine of 13 shots. Redick arrived at Duke with the reputation as perhaps the best pure shooter Krzyzewski had ever recruited, but he has proven to be more. Redick can go off the bounce, not because he is extraordinarily quick or strong, but because the threat of his shot provides the opportunity. He loves to curl around screens and is able to square himself quickly after making the catch.
Dahntay Jones is having great success because he keeps things simple, and by taking good shots he keeps defenders honest. Jones does not have to be a great shooter, only knock down open shots as a counter to his real strength, which is attacking the basket.
Duke's young big men, Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph, are looking more and more like veterans. Williams is strong and has a knack for rebounding the ball in traffic, while Randolph is a complete player who is playing much more confidently. Both will be great players before they are done, but they have a huge challenge on the road in College Park against a team that loves to pound the ball inside.
Maryland Breakdown: Again, the Terps' success begins with Blake. He is a great passer, outstanding individual defender and a hard-nosed competitor who has taken on more of a scoring role this season. Blake is one of the NCAA's all-time assist leaders, and he can really push the ball in transition and often takes opportunistic jump shots.
When Blake gives the ball up, he looks first to Drew Nicholas, who has blossomed into a star player. Nicholas is a prime example of why seniors are so important and how the term "role player" is so limiting. Nicholas played a supporting role last season but was certainly capable of doing more if needed. Now that he is needed to be a primary option, Nicholas has shown the ability to score off the shot or drive. He leads the ACC in scoring (18.6 ppg). Just as important as his scoring is to Maryland, Nicholas knows how to guard people and is a good leader.
Maryland is second in the ACC in scoring, field-goal percentage, and 3-point shooting percentage. But the Terps have always been an "inside-out" team under Williams. They'll need to get good performances out of its frontcourt to beat Duke. Ryan Randle, who has been playing as well as any big man in the league, Tahj Holden, Jamar Smith and Nick Caner-Medley have to outplay Duke's big men for the Terrapins to win. Maryland must dominate in the paint and on the glass.
The Terrapins love to pound the ball into the paint on duck-ins after the initial flex cut in their 2-3 set. Maryland runs some quick hitters into this continuity, running them over and over again, and has had great success at it. Maryland runs a good secondary break, which includes ball screens and a back-pick for the screener, and some box sets looking for post ups, drives or perimeter openings.
On the defensive end, Maryland plays mostly man-to-man, but will play some 1-2-2 halfcourt zone. The Terrapins will use a couple of different presses, including a 1-2-1-1 three-quarter-court press, and a 2-1-2 halfcourt trap. The Terps lead the ACC in steals, blocked shots and defensive rebounds. They're not afraid to guard people and do the dirty work.
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