Yesterday, I had to block a couple of Twitter followers who were intent on hurling brainless, epithet-laden Tweets in Duke's direction. We have a name for those people where I come from: Maryland fans.
See, here's the thing. Deep down in places that none of us thinking, marginally rational, Duke and Carolina fans like to look, we know that our rivalry (or ANY good rivalry for that matter), is ultimately (albeit grudgingly) based on some kind of respect. That's right, I said it. I don't have to like anything about UNC basketball (and I don't), but I have to, nay I need to, respect that program and its history. It is this which imbues my spite with meaning. If two opposing programs can't respect each other (and this obviously has to be a two-way street) then they can't honestly care what happens to each other, win or lose. And if you don't really care, by definition you can't have mutual antipathy. Ergo, you have no rivalry. This is the case with Duke and Maryland basketball. Maryland cares, Duke does not. Maryland desperately wants respect (read: enmity) from Duke. They aren't getting any. Ever.
Now, just to clarify, I (and many Duke fans like me) detest the Maryland fan base as a whole. This is a whole different kettle of turtles, however, than rivalry-hating on the Maryland basketball program. My antipathy for them is born, not from some deep seated respect, no, no. It is nourished by the knowledge that they are a bunch of mindless, sophomoric, bottle and crude insult hurling, unimaginative vulgarians with no respect for the game, the players, the coaches (including their own, by-the by; Mark Turgeon's son had to leave the Comcast center because fans were being so abusive to his dad during the UVA game), or public property. In short (if I may paint with a broad brush here) they are the apotheosis of what it means to be bad fans.
And as such, I would have given some relatively useless portion of my anatomy (insert joke here) to see Quinn Cook's last-second Gordon Heyward-like heave go in, and completely shatter that fan base's collective psyche into a million hate filled pieces. But, alas and alack, it was not to be. Which brings me, at long last, to the game itself. Here are my impressions.
4 and 2 ?!?!- Whether it was due to fatigue, Mercury in retrograde, the as-always-witty-creative-and-oh-so-biting Maryland student chants of "Mason Sucks/ Mason Swallows" getting to him, or just a good old fashioned stinker of a no-show, this Duke team will never, ever win a game with Mason going for 4 and 2; not against Maryland, not against Lehigh, and not against whoever they are matched up against in the tournament. If it WAS due to fatigue, as K suggested, I pray to the basketball Gods that it was 3-game-in-6-day fatigue and not I've-been-carrying-the-load-all-season fatigue. The latter would be, um, bad.
6-19 - If Duke wants to not lose I would advocate a little stratagem I like to call " Don't Suck from 3-Point Range". (Remember that time when Duke was heavily reliant on 3-point shooting?) In the Miami loss Duke was 4-23 and in the State loss they were 6-20. That's a collective 28%. This may ultimately be a stronger arbiter than Mason, since, in Duke's other two close ACC scrapes (Wake and BC) they went 2-14 and 6-17 and Mason was great in those games. I guess the takeaway is this ; we can survive bad 3-point shooting (see above) and we can survive bad Mason (FSU) but we can't survive both, and that's what we got on Saturday. Oh, and bad defense, but more on that later.
Hooray for Hairston - Other than Seth's brilliant shooting performance, this was the bright spot for Duke. 11 points, 3 boards and 1 charge taken (and 24 minutes of floor time before fouling out. that's nearly 5 minutes per foul!). in all seriousness, it was great to see him have such a productive game. We'll hope for more of the same.
72% - No, that's not the percentage of the Maryland campus that was burned to the ground on Sunday (after all, they need somewhere to get nowlidge to come up with those HILARIOUS chants!) or the percentage of fans in the Comcast center that soiled themselves when Quinn let that last shot go. It is, sadly, the FG percentage for Maryland's two-point attempts. It is a testament to Duke's defensive ineptitude (which the ole defense on the game's final play epitomized) certainly, but also to a hyper-focused and hot-shooting Maryland team. They currently lead the ACC in FG % and , I would guess, points in the paint. In general, Duke more or less musters a fairly token resistance on the interior, and Mason's methods sometimes do "token" a serious discredit. That makes Maryland a particularly tough matchup for Duke. (note: I once again recognize that Mason can not afford to play aggressive defense, but he does not seem to be finding much in the way of middle-ground on this issue )
Wow - Post-game, many Duke fans were wailing about their teams' improbable inability to win when turning the other team over a staggering 26 times (explaining how the Devils took 18 more shots than the Terps). But I prefer to be amazed at how Maryland came within inches of losing a game in which they shot 60% from the floor, outrebounded Duke by 20 (neither team had many second chance points for entirely opposing reasons) , and went 25-34 from the line. That is truly remarkable.
Coach K has said it. We've said it. Anyone who's paying attention knows it. The team as it is currently configured is just good, not great. Without Ryan Kelly the ceiling is considerably lower, and, as Coach K has also remarked, the Kelly-less Devils are not a team that is just going to roll over opponents. Every game is going to be a fight, especially road games (ACC home teams are now 48-25 at home). As we saw again on Saturday, Duke's inability to protect the paint can be really crippling, especially against a team with size (Maryland leads the league in rebounding margin by 6 (!) rebounds per game). If Masonic fatigue is also now a factor that ceiling is lower still.
We are almost 6 weeks out from Ryan's injury and there is still "no timetable for his return", which is starting to seem a little odd and marginally worrisome. We need him back, folks. But you already knew that.