Maryland catching Duke at a perfect time

Maryland TerrapinsDuke Blue DevilsMiami HurricanesCollege SportsNational Collegiate Athletic AssociationMason PlumleeClemson Tigers

Most college basketball coaches never like their teams to play an opponent that has just been blown out.

As much as Maryland fans enjoyed seeing Duke get embarrassed at Miami on Wednesday night, I’m sure Mark Turgeon did not. It equaled the worst beating a Blue Devil team has taken under Mike Krzyzewski since a 27-point loss at Clemson four years ago and was among the worst the Blue Devils have ever suffered in the more than three decades the legendary Coach K has spent in Durham, N.C.

This seems like a perfect time to play Duke, which has now dropped two of the three games it has played since forward Ryan Kelly was sidelined indefinitely with a foot injury. But there remains the fact that Marylanld is a young team going into Cameron Indoor Stadium coming off a win, though hardly looking dominant itself.

To mix sports analogies, the Terps are in the on-deck circle but are not exactly hitting cleanup.

Here’s a little history lesson that Turgeon’s players can take with them on their trip down Saturday: after losing by at least 20 points under Krzyzewski, Duke has won only three times in 11 games when next facing an ACC opponent. This is a chance for the Terps to put something on what is a very sparse NCAA tournament resume.

Watching the Hurricanes shut down Seth Curry (0-for-10), Quinn Cook (1-for-12) and Mason Plumlee (5-for-15), Turgeon can challenge what has become a pretty good Maryland defensive team to do something similar.

Seeing Miami use its speed and athleticism to beat one of the most athletically challenged teams Krzyzewski has ever coached since leaving Army in 1980, the Terps should try to take the same tact by beating the Blue Devils down the court.

Whether Alex Len and Shaquille Cleare can smother Plumlee the way Miami’s Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson did – and whether the refs will allow the young Terps to do it in front of the Cameron Crazies – is certainly an issue, considering that neither of the Maryland big men had a single blocked shot in Tuesday’s 64-59 win over Boston College, and visiting teams have not exactly been the recipient of a lot of favorable calls down there over the years.

Whether the Terps can finish around the basket as the Hurricanes did is also a major question, since Maryland does not have anyone as good as Miami’s Shane Larkin running the show right now. It will be interesting to see if Turgeon sticks with the smaller, quicker lineup that he used in the second half against the Eagles, and how much of the offense goes through Dez Wells.

The big issue remains Maryland’s poise, particularly at point guard. Nick Faust had a pretty good debut playing that position at Cameron last season – the game after Pe’Shon Howard blew out his knee in practice and Turgeon benched Terrell Stoglin in the second half, causing the former Terp to tweet his displeasure.

Faust needs to play much better than he did for most of the night against Boston College.

I wasn’t surprised that Turgeon told assembled media in College Park Thursday afternoon “Duke will be ready.” Deep down, Turgeon doesn’t know whether his own team will be, and whether the Terps can shoot it well enough or hold onto the ball often enough to survive what still will be the most hostile environment most of his players have experienced.

But it’s not like Krzyzewski, the game’s winningest all-time coach, has had a lot of experience with these sort of things in his legendary career. Since 1984-85, the Blue Devils have lost only eight games by more than 20 points. Nor have the Duke players dealt with this kind of loss many times in their own careers, probably dating back to their high school and AAU teams.

Sure, playing at home Saturday should certainly make it easy for the Blue Devils – and tougher for the Terps. No matter what Turgeon told the media Thursday. I’m sure he will tell his players something far different come Saturday down in Durham. Try not to look at the name on the front of the uniforms or the four NCAA championship banners hanging overhead.

Right now, and at least until Kelly returns, Duke is not Duke.

But is Maryland ready to bat cleanup?

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