Maryland isnt as bad as its looked in some ACC games and Duke isnt as bad as it was in getting blown out by 27 points at Miami on Wednesday night. But the Terrapins may actually be trending up while Duke is swirling downward, trying to figure itself out without Ryan Kelly.
Duke has not played all that well since Kelly went down with an injury late in the first half of a win over Clemson two weeks ago. Coach Mike Krzyzewski first tried junior forward Josh Hairston as Kellys replacement, but that didnt work at all. Freshman Amile Jefferson is a nice component, but his weaknesses prevent Duke from finding any semblance of the comfort zone it played with when Kelly was available.
On Wednesday, redshirt freshman Alex Murphy did some nice things but hes not yet the answer, either. So as Duke has tried to tweak things, the degree of discomfort has significant.
The problem now facing Duke (16-2, 3-2) on offense is that it has just two scorers, and one of them, Seth Curry, practices once a week and is dealing with a gimpy wheel. Without an additional perimeter presence, its easier for teams to focus on Curry, plus without being fully spread out, the clear entry lanes to Mason Plumlee down low have narrowed and some have closed.
As a result, Plumlee is getting touches further from the basket than he was earlier this season when on a path toward national Player of the Year contention. Hes also been asked to pop out and set high ball screens more lately, something Krzyzewski made a point of moving away from in the preseason.
Duke entertains a Maryland (15-4, 3-3) team Saturday (1 p.m. tip) that prides itself on defense not letting teams run their sets. Krzyzewski said he was disturbed by everything about how his team played and had no answers after Wednesdays loss. But in the grand scheme of things it was just one game, and Duke has never defined itself by a single game that wasnt for a championship.
Do you think weve won what weve won unless weve played one game at a time, Krzyzewski rhetorically asked. Alright, so, weve won.
He went on a minute later, They won, they killed us, he said. So, look, Ive done this for a long time, Do you think were not going to try to show up the next time?
Duke will be ready Saturday, but making progress without Kelly is the key. Period.
Pick: Duke, 62-60
Boston College (9-9, 1-4) at Virginia (13-5, 3-2)
When: 1 p.m.
Full Court Press: Joe Harris continues to play All-ACC hoops for the Cavaliers, and when others step up offensively the Cavs are a pretty solid team because they always play defense. BCs best hope is to get Harris in foul trouble and hit 3s. This isnt a bad matchup for the Eagles, but Harris will be the difference maker.
Pick: Virginia, 63-51
Wake Forest (10-8, 3-3) at Georgia Tech (10-7, 0-5)
When: 3 p.m.
Full Court Press: The Demon Deacons have been a bit of a surprise with wins over Virginia and N.C. State in league play. They looked well coached against the Wolfpack for the first time in the Jeff Bzdelik era. But the hungry Yellow Jackets are better than their league record suggests and are due for a win. No team in the league has played the schedule Tech has faced at UNC, at Duke and at N.C. State already. Tech wins on the glass and gets transition baskets in a victory.
Pick: Georgia Tech, 70-63
North Carolina (13-5, 3-2) at N.C. State (15-4, 4-2)
When: 7 p.m.
Full Court Press: This could be a wild game with plenty of subplots. The Wolfpack have not played well since beating Duke and are coming off an ugly loss at Wake Forest. C.J. Leslie hasnt been all that engaged of late and the Packs low IQ tendencies resurfaced against the Deacons. But expect the entire team to be on the same page with the hated Heels in town. UNC must get quality minutes from its unheralded big men against Richard Howell and Leslie. Carolina also must prove coach Roy Williams right and hit a lot of shots, especially from the perimeter.
Pick: N.C. State, 82-77
Virginia Tech (11-7, 2-3) at Clemson (10-8, 2-4)
When: 1 p.m.
Full Court Press: If the Hokies cant get Erick Green much help they stand little chance at pulling off the win against the defensive-minded Tigers. Green scored 35 of Techs 58 points in Thursdays loss at home to Virginia, which is a pretty ugly figure if team basketball is James Johnsons intent. Clemson lost another close road game, this time at the buzzer at FSU, on Thursday. The Tigers keep getting better, and could win this game real big.
Pick: Clemson, 73-56
Florida State (11-7, 3-2) at Miami (14-3, 5-0)
When: 6 p.m.
Full Court Press: The great challenge for the Hurricanes is to regenerate passion and intensity to match what FSU will surely bring to BankUnited Center. Miami is coming off a 27-point win over Duke and is the best team in the ACC right now, but the fine line between that spot and third or fourth spot in the league isnt that great, unless, however, Miami notches another big win here. The Seminoles must get big games from Michael Snaer and Okaro White to catch up to what Kenny Kadji and company do.
Pick: Miami, 64-58
Season record: 139-31