Given its impending legal battles and unceremonious departure, it’s safe to assume that Maryland won’t receive any scheduling favors from the Atlantic Coast Conference next winter. Coach Mark Turgeon has already intimated as much, suggesting that his Terrapins will be sent through the conference wringer – think brutal road games and soft home games – as a going-away present before the school bolts for the Big Ten.
That makes Saturday plenty more significant. It could be the last time Duke visits Comcast Center.
“It definitely adds a little more juice to the game,” sophomore guard Nick Faust said. “Fans will be more into it, we’ll be more locked in. They’re a great team, and we have to come out and execute and be ready from the beginning.”
Before hosting the second-ranked Blue Devils, Maryland received a much-needed bye week, six days of soul-searching after a disappointing 80-69 loss to Virginia. But the buzz has already begun. According to an athletics spokesman, Comcast Center will hand out 18,000 “Maryland Pride” newspapers for the traditional pregame crinkling and 4,000 “Maryland Pride” t-shirts in the student section. With the annual “Gold Rush” game shifted to Sunday’s letdown against the Cavaliers, Saturday is wide open for Under Armour to flex its jersey-making muscles, especially given that the Nike-wearing Blue Devils will trot out these uniforms for the game.
Jerseys aside, the game has plenty of implications for the Terps. Given Maryland’s sub-.500 conference record and distinct lack of notable wins, beating Duke could be the team’s last-gasp attempt to salvage its NCAA tournament chances, which already are hanging by a thread after its second conference home game loss this season.
The Terps hung around for the first half at Cameron Indoor on Jan. 26, withstanding a barrage of Rasheed Sulaimon three-pointers to enter intermission down only eight points. But they collapsed from there, reverting to rushed offense and watching the Duke lead balloon as Mason Plumlee took over in the second half. Plumlee finished with 19 points on 9 of 12 shooting. Sulaimon had 25 on six three-pointers. Three others tallied double figures and Duke won 84-64.
While Maryland never quite got over the hump Sunday, the Blue Devils survived a nasty road scare against Boston College. The Eagles had possession with 18 seconds left, down one point, but freshman guard Olivier Hanlan’s buzzer-beating floater found nothing but backboard and the rebound got lost in the scrum. Duke, the only top-five team to win last weekend, overcame a five-point deficit with 2:15 left.
Hosting the Blue Devils offers the Terps, if nothing else, a shot at redemption and a chance at by far its most impressive win this season. A loss, while not shocking, would still nudge Maryland’s postseason chances towards the NIT, with arguably only a stunning ACC tournament run capable of reversing the course. Turgeon admitted during Monday’s ACC coaches teleconference that avoiding the excitement surrounding the Duke game is almost unavoidable.
“Well, you know, it’s kind of hard on this campus to not know who you’re playing,” Turgeon said. “Hopefully by knowing who we are playing, it’s going to help us practice better. We have got a great opportunity this week to practice a lot and prepare for the last four weeks of the regular season.”
Maryland has three ACC home games remaining. Two, against Duke and North Carolina, would boost its RPI. Only one, Turgeon said, will contain this much energy.
“Well, I think this is another level,” Turgeon. “I think Duke’s another level above North Carolina; it’s above everybody else. It’s another level for our fans and another level for our players and our coaches.”