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Game Preview: Duke vs. Maryland

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Duke opens up ACC tournament action with a rubber match against Maryland. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY

Duke vs. Maryland
When:
7 p.m.
Where:Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, N.C.
TV/RadioESPNU, WKIX-102.9 FM
Talking points: Defensive success: how Duke measures it, and how the Blue Devils stack up according to Ken Pomeroy.

Projected starting lineups

N. 7 Maryland (21-11, 8-10 in the ACC)
G Pe’Shon Howard, 3.3 ppg, 3.7 apg
G Nick Faust, 9.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg
G-F Dez Wells, 12.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg
G-F Jake Layman, 5.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg
C Alex Len, 11.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg

No. 2 Duke (27-4, 14-4)

G Quinn Cook, So., 12.5 ppg, 5.3 apg
G Seth Curry, Sr., 17.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg
G Tyler Thornton, Jr., 3.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg
F Ryan Kelly, Sr., 14.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg
F Mason Plumlee, Sr., 17.2 ppg, 10.3 rpg

Player to watch:

Seth Curry, Duke

Curry said Wednesday that his injured right shin felt significantly better thanks to the extra days off heading into the tournament. With three days' rest before the North Carolina game, Curry stole the show in the first half, scoring 18 points and making his first eight shots. Curry finished with 20 points, the 11th time he has hit that mark in conference play.

Observations:

••• Duke split the season series with Maryland. The Blue Devils won the meeting in Durham 84-64, a much-needed confidence boost after the loss at Miami. A few weeks later, Duke didn't have enough left in the tank to complete the three-games-in-six-days stretch and lost in College Park 83-81.

Since Duke will not be facing Maryland on the tail end of a grueling stretch without Ryan Kelly, I'd bet the rubber match will go more like the first game.

••• As noted my defense story linked here and above, the Blue Devils rank on the low end of historically Final Four-caliber defenses. Now, of course, they still have the ACC Tournament to get better, and that could certainly happen.

Before Kelly was injured on Jan. 8, Duke had a top-3 defense, according to Sports Illustrated wizard Luke Winn and his power rankings (they're a must-read, by the way). In first three games after the Kelly injury (at N.C. State, Georgia Tech and at Miami), the Blue Devils' defensive efficiency plunged down to the level of a top-100-type defense.

Now, the Blue Devils have been on an upward trajectory in the defensive rankings since then. And, of course, Kelly returned on March 2, just in time for the Miami rematch. Mike Krzyzewski and his players have been raving about how much Kelly will help on defense, and there's no doubt that they are right in the big picture. Kelly's return to the lineup, though, hasn't statistically improved the defense just yet.

As Winn's latest power rankings show, Duke's defense is yielding 0.979 points per possession with Kelly back in the lineup. In ACC play without him, Blue Devils are yielding 1.009 point per possession, just 0.030 different. The Blue Devils are undoubtably more comfortable with Kelly back, which is important, too. Duke's hope is that the increased comfort leads to tangible improvement.

••• Speaking of defense, the team watched a replay of Tyler Thornton's second-half hustle play against UNC during film study this week. Thronton dove for a loose ball and bounced it off of Reggie Bullock as he slid out of bounds, giving the Blue Devils possession.

"That’s symbolic of his career," Mason Plumlee said of Thornton. "He’s just going to do whatever it takes. If I want to get open, I want to make sure he’s the guy setting the screen for me under the post. He’s just a tough kid."

••• A few players mentioned that the mindset for the ACC tournament is similar to the one the Blue Devils used during the Battle 4 Atlantis early season tournament. Duke did well there, defeating three NCAA tournament-bound teams in Minnesota, VCU and Louisville.

••• While Plumlee is a key part of Duke's offense, success behind the 3-point line is still vital. The Blue Devils are 1-4 in ACC play when they shoot worse than 32 percent from downtown. The lone exception was a 75-70 win in which Plumlee scored a career-high 32 points.

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About the blogger

Laura Keeley is the Duke beat writer for the News & Observer. Follow her on Twitter @laurakeeley
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