Saturday, January 24, 2009

Maryland Embarrasses Itself

#2 Duke 85, Maryland 44
Nobody would have held it against Maryland on Selection Sunday for falling at Cameron Indoor. But I think avoiding the largest loss in school history might have been a minimal expectation. This game was just absolutely brutal. Before I get to a discussion of Maryland, I would like to point out how hilarious I found it that the afore-linked game recap actually makes note that Monday will be the first time that Duke will be ranked #1 in the nation since March of 2006, as if this is supposed to be some long stretch of futility. If nothing else, it's a comment on how remarkably successful this program has been under Coach K. But the questions for Maryland are much more interesting, because their problems go deeper than one single loss. Maryland is only 2-3 in the ACC, which doesn't look too bad when you consider the win over Michigan State and the 4-5 record against the RPI Top 100. But they're going to have to get to at least 8-8 in the ACC to make the Tournament, and their schedule is really back-loaded. They still have to head to North Carolina and Clemson, with home games against Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest. In other words, they either need to take out one of the ACC's Big Four, or they're going to have to win every other game. There is basically no chance of them winning all of those other games, which means they will need at least one win over the Big Four. That's a tall order for a team that has really struggled lately. The sting from this bad loss should be a motivator, but they're going to need more than a little motivation to turn this around. They are looking more and more like an NIT team.

#24 Memphis 54, Tennessee 52
Memphis survives another close game, and moves their winning streak to ten. They still have to head to Gonzaga, but the real question for me will be if they can go undefeated in Conference USA again. They still have to go on the road against basically all of the top teams in the conference, and Memphis isn't nearly as good as they were last year, but they've clearly improved a lot since the start of the season and still have a shot at something like a 3 seed in the Tournament. Tennessee, on the other hand, would probably jump at a 3 seed at this point. It seemed like they had finally turned things around with two straight solid SEC victories. It felt like their defense was finally coming together, and there was nothing to change that opinion after this game. It was their offense that failed, with 33% shooting from the field, 20% from behind the arc, and 61% at the line. Just bad shooting all around. Of course, at this point in the season, it's all about SEC play for Tennessee. If they can win the regular season and tournament titles, I still think they've got a great shot at a 3 seed. For the SEC tournament title it will really help to get that regular season title, because seeding will be important. Barring some fluke result (like Georgia last season), we've got to figure that the SEC tournament champion will be Florida, Kentucky or Tennessee. Two of those teams will be on pace to play in the semifinals (the second and third seeded teams out of the SEC East), while the regular season champion will have a relatively easy path to the finals. It's late enough in the season that Tennessee has to start thinking about things like conference tournament seeding.

Drake 74, Creighton 62
The Missouri Valley really is chaotic, isn't it? I didn't get a chance to watch this game, but I have to wonder about that 10-for-33 from behind the arc. When you're shooting that badly, you've got to stop taking those shots. But with Drake salvaging things after a brutal three-game losing streak, it's possible that the beneficiary of all of this carnage is Northern Iowa. I still think they lack the scoring power to make a successful run through the Missouri Valley tournament, but their chances of winning the regular season title seem to improve with the day. If Creighton is going to make a run at this regular season title themselves, they're going to have to even the score with Drake in a couple of weeks. More importantly, they're going to have to head into Northern Iowa on the 8th of February and knock the Panthers off their perch. It very well might be a 13-5 that wins the Missouri Valley, but it's going to take an 8-1 record the rest of the way for Creighton to do that. I don't really see that as likely at all.


Anonymous said...

OK. As a Duke fan, I've been patient all season long. But I think it's finally time to argue that Duke will end up getting a #1 seed in the tourney.

Their defense is simply terrorizing the lesser conference foes (anyone other than UNC, Wake & Clemson), which will prevent them from suffering any big upset losses. In January, they have held Virginia Tech to 13 points in a half, Florida State to 14 points in a half, and now Maryland to 15 points in a half. Additionally, they have held Georgia Tech and NC State to 56 points for the game.

If Duke can go 2-3 against UNC, Wake & Clemson, they should end up with no less than a tie for first in the ACC. I think that will earn them a #1 seed.

As for Maryland, well, you can't spell Terrapin without an N-I-T.

Jeff said...

You can certainly argue that Duke will get a 1 seed. And if the season ended now, they probably would get one. But I'm not ready to put them in there. Remember, the odds are that they'll lose a game against a team not named UNC, Wake or Clemson. You just can't pencil in all of those games against the middle of the ACC pack. They won't all lay over and die like Maryland did today.

I do agree with you on Maryland, though. I dropped them from this week's BP65.

Anonymous said...

No, you can't pencil in those wins. But my point was that the result against Maryland was only an aberration in that Duke scored more points than they have been. Duke has held two likely tourney teams from the ACC to LESS points in a half than they did against Maryland. At some point, you have to say that Duke can, and is, doing it consistently.

Finally, my projection was based on Duke going 2-3 against the 1st tier teams. If they can win Wednesday at Wake, it's likely they'll do better than that.

I will concede that although UNC is already down a full two games in the standings, they don't have to play Wake or Clemson again so they have a pretty easy road till the ACC tourney. However, a split against Duke would make it very hard to catch up.

The other difficulty is that Wake may be a very difficult matchup for Duke. Duke's strengths are shutting down a team's 3 point shooting and generating turnovers, and their weakness is to drives to the basket. Wake virtually has no three point shooting, almost completely focusing on driving or passing the ball inside.