Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re acutely aware of the fact that Maryland will be playing Duke for the final time as an ACC member on Saturday. It marks the end of a bitter rivalry game which, regardless of whether you’re a Duke or Maryland fan, has been great for TV ratings and always interesting. Since the 1979-80 season, only North Carolina has beaten Duke more times than the Terrapins (26) and played the Terps as many times (82). That’s a full NBA season’s worth of games against one another, and plenty of time to build up ill will.
But I’m not preoccupied with giving you a history lesson; we’re in the business of winning. I’m far more concerned with beating Duke for the third straight time, perhaps ever. And that isn’t going to be easy, to say the least. Duke is 19-5 and has put away seven of their last eight opponents. They’ve got far superior talent to the Terps, a super freshman (Parker), and a monster five-star transfer (Rodney Hood). They’ve got an elite point guard (Cook), great three point shooters (Dawkins and Sulaimon), and with that just about everything you need to win a national championship.
It’s not hyperbole to suggest this may be one of the most talented Duke teams of the past twenty years. They have two very difficult to defend superstar small forwards who would definitely start for every team in America.
(Side note: Jabari Parker is freakishly good. Save for Paul George, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James, Jabari Parker stands to enter the NBA as a top five small forward. He’s got similar range to Carmelo, the finishing ability of LeBron, and while he’s not as athletic as any of them, he may be an even better scorer. Plus, he wins all the time.)
And Duke dismantles teams. They aren’t just winning games this year; they’re shooting a cannonball through opponent. Fifteen of their games this season have been won by ten or more points, and most go into the twenties and thirties. Pitt got thumped upside the head by fifteen, and George Tech lost by what felt like fifty. They’re a force right now, folks.
So how do you beat a team that has no veritable flaws? Well, you get out your magnifying glass, look at their losses, and figure out a common theme. While Maryland obviously doesn’t have the requisite talent alone to beat Duke, Steve Jobs once said, “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” Meaning Maryland is going to have to steal the strategies of the teams that beat Duke, and emulate their traits incredibly well. We basically have go peacocking for a game and pretend we’re the alpha dog top five team of the NCAA. For forty minutes.
1.) They have no big man, so rebound we must
Duke is missing one thing that most contenders typically have: a big man. While sophomore Amile Jefferson is considered their big man at 6’9, he’s not very thick and isn’t a very good shot blocker. If there’s one weak link Maryland can exploit, it’s him. Jefferson is a fantastic rebounder on a per minute basis (averaging 13.1 per 40 minutes), but even the best big man can be boxed out well.
But regardless of who the Terps big men are going to be fighting for rebounds against, there’s no getting around that they still have to outhustle Duke here. Clemson beat them by winning the rebounding battle 48-30, Syracuse outrebounded them 38-30, Kansas did it by outrebounding them 39-24, and Notre Dame managed it with a 39-30 advantage.
You have to limit their offensive chances and increase yours, and that starts with winning the rebounding battle on both ends. Maryland’s big men obviously have to do a great job boxing out, but it’s actually the guards who will need to rebound even better than before. The bigs box out, and Maryland’s guards grab the rebounds and initiate the fast break. Since Maryland doesn’t get many points from their big men anyway and play way better in transition, it would behoove them to use this approach.
You don’t want to turn it into a running match, but you do want Duke always on their heels. Make them uncomfortable in every facet of the game and don’t let them dictate it.
2.) Take their free throws, make their free throws
Concerning Duke, one very noticeable trend of teams that have beaten them is the correlation between free throw makes and attempts. No team has beaten Duke this year without shooting better than 60% from the free throw line, and attempting at a minimum 20 free throws. If you look at every close game they’ve played, that’s probably the single biggest contributing factor to it.
But those are just numbers, and winning isn’t as simple as just earning numbers. I went back and watched the Clemson-Duke game to figure out how in the hell they lost, and it was so obvious: Clemson played incredibly aggressively from start to finish. Duke picked up 23 fouls, and the majority of those were from Rod Hall attacking an undersized paint over and over again, followed up by Blossomgame coming in and providing more.
But mostly they just attacked Duke more than other teams do. Duke is intimidating, it’s okay to admit it once in awhile. They’re perpetually ranked, have a bunch of McDonald’s All-American kids on their team, and are so methodical and exact in their approach it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment. But they’re also primped, babied, and not used to being punched in the gut. Well, Maryland has done it plenty of times, and they have the athletes to do it again this year.
They still have Duke Killers Dez Wells and Seth Allen on the roster. Allen can get by Quinn Cook every time, and Dez can draw fouls with the best of them. Everyone needs to play aggressively, but they have to actually take advantage of the shots they get from that aggressiveness.
3.) Hold Duke below 40% from beyond the arc
This one falls very much in line with the second point, because it has to do with playing aggressively enough to make Duke uncomfortable. That’s the only real way you can beat this team; rattle their cage a little. Rattling a guy like Jabari Parker isn’t easy, though. You’ve basically got to try every trick in the book to hamper his efforts, put every hand in his face you can, foul him hard on every clear drive to the basket and hope he misses free throws, and force him to take outside shots by denying the lane early.
But the Terps absolutely cannot get fried from deep against anyone. No one player on Duke should be allowed to get hot. That’s team defense and not giving up on your assignment at all. That’s fighting through screens to at least get a hand in the shooter’s face. It’s all the little things that great defending teams like, say, Clemson, do. Maryland does it occasionally, but they need to do it all the time when they’re on the road.
You don’t beat Duke by relying on one single person, and stopping someone like Jabari Parker from heating up beyond the arc requires a team effort. Same goes for denying Rodney Hood and Dawkins the same chance to light you up. Let Quinn Cook take the open threes (because there will be plenty) and hope for the best. Deny passes and put the ball in the hands of their worst shooter.
It ain’t easy, but it can be done and it’s been done before.