Maryland will travel to Durham to face No. 1 ranked Duke at 1 p.m. on Saturday with the two teams coming into the matchup off very different games.
Duke (16-2, 3-2) got blasted Wednesday night at Miami, losing 90-63 in one of the schools most lopsided losses in history. The Blue Devils could barely score in the first half, totaling only 19 points in the first 20 minutes. At halftime, Coach Mike Krzyzewski's squad trailed the Hurricanes by 23 points.
Maryland, on the other hand, won its last game. The Terps were not overly impressive in a 64-59 win over Boston College, but the win showed good signs for a (15-4, 3-3) Maryland team that has struggled offensively.
Going 2-3 over its last five games, Maryland has shot poorly but stayed in games by playing strong defense. Against BC, the Terps shooting percentage jumped back up over 40 percent. In the four games prior, Maryland averaged about 35 percent from the field and the team could hardly break the 60-point barrier.
Duke opened the season with a series of strong non-conference wins, including victories over Louisville, Ohio State and Minnesota. But the Blue Devils have been a different team since senior forward Ryan Kelly hurt his foot.
Kelly’s last game saw the Blue Devils run right past the Clemson Tigers in a 68-40 win on January 8.
In the three games since Kelly went down, Duke lost twice. Kelly averaged more than 20 minutes, 13 points and five rebounds a game before his injury.
The senior forward also gave Duke a veteran leader who could make three pointers and pull defenders off leading scorer Mason Plumlee. Without Kelly, the Duke offense has looked out of sorts.
Maryland’s Alex Len should match up well with Plumlee, but the Terps will also need to score to pull of the rare road win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Against BC, the Terps found a new wrinkle for the offense that gave the team its best offensive stretch since a 94-71 win over Virginia Tech on January 5.
Sophomore forward Dez Wells took over at point guard for Maryland, and dished out seven assists in the second half of the win over the Eagles.
“I think he just brings aggressiveness, and he can really get to the rim and finish,” Maryland guard Logan Aronhalt said of Wells. “Having the ball in his hands, coming off the ball screen, is a really good look for us."
With Wells handling the ball more, the athletic Xavier transfer gives Maryland a scorer and a capable distributor. Add in freshman Jake Layman, who has played well in two starts – coincidentally both Maryland wins – and Len, and it appears the Terps offense has multiple weapons.
“I think he is more comfortable [starting] and I know that I am more comfortable with him. It gives us a shooter and an athlete,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said of Layman. “The kid is going to be a really good player.”
Len remains the best option for the Terps. His size and skill in the paint give Maryland one of the best big men in the nation, and the Len-Plumlee matchup should have multiple NBA scouts watching.
If the young Maryland players can deliver in what will be a very rowdy Cameron Indoor Stadium is a different question.
Playing in Chapel Hill last week, the Terps froze in the first half, scoring just 20 points and trailing the Tar Heels by 22 at halftime. Maryland responded in the second half, outscoring the Heels, but not enough to come back and win the game.
Perhaps the experience of playing in Chapel Hill will have the young Maryland team prepared for Cameron. Turgeon should have his squad focused; a Maryland win would look great on an NCAA Tournament resume.