Monday, February 18, 2002

The CourtMaster On Terps Over Duke

Originally posted on DukeBasketballReport.com

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is now in session, and it's a good time to be a Terp! That's ok, though. It's still a good time to be a Blue Devil.

By now, you've all read in great detail about what happened Sunday in College Park. I'm going to tackle the big question: what does it mean?

For Maryland, the importance of this victory cannot be overstated. This was not a "statement game", as was their victories over #1 North Carolina (yes fans, they used to have a pretty good team in Chapel Hill) at Cole Field House in 1995 and 1998. Back then, the Terps had something to prove by knocking off an elite team. In 2002, they ARE an elite team.

Sunday's victory was important not so much for what it meant to the Maryland program and it's fans (a lot) but for what it should mean to the team in March.

Like it or not, the Terps' success this season will ultimately be judged by how they fare against the Blue Devils. Going 0-2 against Duke in the regular season would have put Maryland at a huge psychological disadvantage in Round III (and IV?).

In the unlikely event that Duke had won on Sunday and then stumbled enough to allow Maryland to win the ACC regular season anyway, that title would have been almost a hollow victory without at least one win over the Devils.

The first 38 minutes of this game bore an almost eerie resemblance to the famous (infamous in these parts) "Gone in 54 Seconds" Duke-Maryland game at Cole last season. Although many of the key players in that game were also on the court Sunday, the teams differed in critical ways from last year's squads.

Maryland is not as quick or deep as they were last season, but they are a much more mature and emotionally stable team. Last year, the loss to Duke sent them into a tailspin severe enough to threaten their NCAA Tournament bid.

This year, the team plays at a much more consistent level, winning all of the games they should along with their share against the top teams. Despite a nervous crowd at Cole on Sunday, the Terps were poised enough to never allow the Devils to get into position to win the game.

Duke is not nearly as good defensively as they were last season. No one has filled the Shane Battier role of being the roaming defensive playmaker, and the Devils were not able to make the key defensive stops against Maryland.

This loss simply means it's back to lab for Professor K. It will be his turn to counter the adjustments that Gary Williams made following Round I. K is such a master of psychology that he can be counted on to turn a good ass whipping into something advantageous for his team.

It will be interesting to see how Duke bounces back physically. Billy Packer correctly pointed out toward the end of the first half that the Devils looked tired (someone must have slipped him a note). Is it time for all of those minutes the starters have played to catch up with them? Will they make it unscathed through the balance of their schedule, which included visits to Wake Forest and Virginia? How much will they have left for Round III in the ACC Championship game, which would be their third game in three days?

Will Duke's success ultimately be measured by how they fare against Maryland? Wouldn't that be ironic?

There was a sad footnote to what should have been one of the more satisfying days in Gary Williams' coaching career. Reports came out after the game that Williams' father had passed away on Saturday, yet he shared that news only with his assistant coaches in order to not distract his team. Instead of basking in the glow following one of the great victories in his program's history, Williams was preparing to bury his father. I'm sure fans across the ACC will join me in sending our condolences to the Williams family.

Let me know what you think on the message board, or send e-mail to thecourtmaster@aol.com.

This might not be the best time to bring this up, but I wrote a feature about the history of Cole Field House that will appear in next week's issue of the ACC Area Sports Journal. I hope you take time to enjoy it.

Until next time, court is adjourned.

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