There are no bigger games each year to a Terps fan than the two times they square off against their archrival Duke Blue Devils. Now that Maryland is departing the ACC for Big 10 country, and these rivals seemingly will no longer resume their feud on a yearly basis, Saturday’s game seems to loom even larger. This may be the last visit to Cameron Indoor for Maryland in some time, and wouldn’t we all love to send them send the Cameron Crazies home with a bitter taste of defeat?
If an upset like that is going to happen (and with the way Maryland has traveled lately this will be a huge upset, even with the way Duke was just handled in Miami), the catalysts will need to be big-time performances from the Terp backcourt. I believe that Maryland, up front, will be able to throw enough bodies and combinations of size, strength, and quickness in the post to neutralize the surprising star, Mason Plumlee. With Alex Len, James Padgett, and the freshman duo of Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell Maryland has plenty upfront to contend with Duke. As with most games in college basketball, it’s the backcourt matchups that will make or break Saturday’s contest for the Terps. Let’s examine those matchups to see which set of guards is most capable of tipping the scale in their team’s favor during this rivalry game.
Pe’Shon Howard v. Quinn Cook
I’m a Pe’Shon Howard fan, as I believe the junior has made some big strides in his career at Maryland to become more of a floor general and distributor. However, he often now looks like he is scared to shoot, and this passiveness is being used against him; defenders sag off him regularly creating more difficult passing lanes for himself and closing down driving lanes for teammates.
He’s bumping up against a local DMV product, sophomore Quinn Cook, who has really blossomed this year in his starting role under Coach K. Cook wears his emotions on his sleeve, and feeds off the energy of the home crowd as much as any player on the Duke roster, as he’s thrown out some impressive performances on the year in Cameron. Cook is a bit quicker than Howard, making him a more effective penetrator and he can shoot the outside jumper just a bit better. Howard has a little better court-sense, and normally, finds himself playing at a more controlled pace (although he has certainly been susceptible to getting rattled).
I think this matchup is one of the most pivotal in the game. Pe’Shon and Quinn are creators/floor generals, and the one that is most able to play should put his team in a position to win: the guard that is best able to set his teammates up in good positions, keep their teams level-headed during the inevitable up’s and down’s of the game, and take care of the basketball will lead his team to victory.
Nick Faust v. Seth Curry
Faust has had an up and down sophomore year for the Terps. He is supremely talented; a long athlete with a silky offensive game, but his shot selection has hurt his efficiency. Seth Curry is a grizzled vet, playing through pain all season, ready to do whatever it takes for his team to win. Hailing from a family of 3-point marksmen, Curry is a flat-out knockdown shooter. On paper, the edge clearly goes to the Wooden Award Semi-Finalist, Curry. However, with the lingering lower body issues that plague Curry, I believe Nick can really disrupt him defensively with his length and athleticism.
We know Faust can score, but his biggest contribution to Saturday’s game will need to come on the defensive end if Maryland is to beat Duke. He needs to hound Curry into contested, deep threes, chase him hard around screens and close out in transition preventing any easy looks at the basket. If he’s able to do that effectively, and force Curry into an off-night, he’ll be making a huge contribution in Maryland’s effort to knock off the Blue Devils.
Dez Wells v. Rasheed Sulaimon
Dez is the most important player for the Terps. Straight up, he is their best perimeter defender and scorer. When they play well, Dez is normally playing well and leading the charge. His counterpart for Saturday’s matchup is All-ACC freshman Rasheed Sulaimon. Highly recruited out of high school, the kid has shown some maturity beyond his years, and plays the game on both ends of the floor. He has shown flashes of being a potential game changer. Dez has the advantage in this matchup, but Sulaimon is certainly a game adversary.
The two will challenge each other on both ends of the floor, and in my opinion, this is the matchup that will be the most entertaining to watch. Both are gifted athletes, like to play in transition and attacking the basket, but can knock down jumpers when needed. They defend hard and play the game the right way, with intensity and teamwork. I can see them bringing the best out of one another, and it’s going to be interesting to see who is ready to take over in this matchup. Wells will need to get going offensively for Maryland to have a chance, and if he can’t get the better of the freshman, the Terps won’t stand much of a chance of an upset.
Bench: Since Duke has little to no bench, we’ve only one matchup left to examine:
Seth Allen v. Tyler Thornton
These young guards both hail from the DMV, and area fans can expect them to play a key role in the rivalry game this weekend. As 6th men, their teams’ count on them to come into games and change the dynamic and energy level. However, the guards do it in very different ways.
Thornton is relatively limited offensively, but he is an aggressive defender and helps bring the type of guard pressure that Coach K’s teams have been famous for (something this year’s starting team lacks). The freshman, Allen, comes off the bench ready to fire; on several occasions this year he has provided instant offense off the Maryland bench. Thornton has the slight edge in this matchup, as he has experienced this rivalry over the last few years and is a little more experienced than the freshman Allen. It will be Allen’s first (and maybe only) trip to Cameron in his Maryland career, and although I expect him to play well, we can all agree the Crazies can have an effect on a young guy.
I will be looking to see which of these guards is able to come off the bench and provide the team the type of energy and production they expect; I believe the winner of this matchup will be a major deciding factor in the outcome of the game.
Across the board, the matchups are fairly even in the backcourt. I give Maryland an advantage on the wing with Dez Wells, but Duke’s combo of Curry an Cook are more dangerous than the Terrapins duo of Howard and Faust. The young Maryland bench, Allen (and Jake Layman included) have shown the ability to come into games, knock down outside shots, and swing games in the Terps favor. Duke doesn’t bring offensive support off the bench, but turns to a defensive stalwart, to help steady their play. I believe Maryland is slightly deeper than Duke in the backcourt, but Duke is more top heavy. Guard play will dictate the flow of the game Saturday, and will ultimately decide who comes out victorious. The unit that is able to control the basketball, play at their pace, and hit open shots will lead their team to a win. Which backcourt will it be? You’ll have to tune in to the rivalry game Saturday to find out for yourself.