Maryland Makes A Statement

When it was all said and done, the Maryland Terrapins made more noise than what expected going into last night’s tilt with the Duke Blue Devils. In the Terps 77-69 victory, they out played out hustled and beat up a Duke team with more than a few worries headed into the NCAA tournament. 

The Terps jumped on Duke early with quick shots and great defense. Even though they lost their lead momentarily, they never lost their fight. They made Duke a three man team (more on that later) and overpowered them with balance from their starters, including Jordan Williams who was outplayed by Brian Zoubek in the first game but got the better of the matchup this time, and Dino Gregory and Adrian Bowie off of the bench.

Vazquez basks in his glory

The star of course was Greivis Vazquez who cemented his candidacy for ACC player of the year with a 20 point, five assist outing, which included an amazing off-balanced shot that was eventually the undoing of the Blue Devils. Last night’s game personified Vazquez’s career at Maryland. He is a player who plays with his heart on his sleeve and with reckless abandon. He comes of cocky (and he is) and even talks himself into corners that he can’t get out of, yet Vazquez has always been a fearless competitor that plays every game like it’s his last.

It was also vindication of sorts for Gary Williams. Williams has been getting a lot of heat in the last few years (and rightfully so for his horrible recruiting) and there was even talk of him being fired two years ago during Maryland’s second consecutive NIT trip. This year has been his best coaching job since that 2003 national championship team with Juan Dixon and company. Williams has put together a team of overachievers and little know recruiters and has turned them into the most dangerous team heading into the tournament. Tell me this; would you want to play a team that has won 8 straight, heading into a weak ACC tournament where they can pick up more steam? If you’re Kansas, Syracuse or Kentucky then the answer is no.

The really intriguing thing about last night’s game was not just that Maryland won, but they may have finally exposed weaknesses that Duke had been able to avoid all year. One, The Dukies can’t seem to get any scoring from guys other than Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer, and Nolan Smith. In last night’s game Duke took 66 shots, 14 of them came from the other 6 players in their rotation; Maryland meanwhile had six players with 5 or more shots taken. At times you could see Smith and Scheyer pressing because they know that if they can’t get it done then no one will. It leads to their second problem which is consistency. The Plumlee brothers have been terrible down the stretch watching their minutes decrease nightly, while Brian Zoubek has been hot and cold all year as well. It has to concern Coach K that he doesn’t know what he’s going to get on any given night from guys that aren’t part of the big 3. If Duke wants to go deep in the tournament, and avoid another sweet 16 letdown, then someone other than SIngler, Scheyer or Smith has to step it up.

What else Duke has to worry about is their seeding in the upcoming NCAA tournament. Maryland is making a strong case for a possible two-seed in the tournament with their play of late while Duke may have just played out of a number one seed. It opens the door for a team like Ohio State that recently clinched the Big Ten title and plays in a stronger conference that Duke.

Maryland just made the tourney committee’s next few weeks a little more interesting, and made them a force to be reckoned with. Maryland is not back at the top, but they have returned to being a respected team in the landscape of college basketball. Teams will watch the Terps very close over the next two weeks and hope that maybe there is a chance that maybe their momentum can be slowed in the ACC tournament. However, this looks like a team on a mission with something to prove. Fear the turtle indeed.

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