COLLEGE PARK -- If Maryland can't beat Duke at Cole Field House, how can the Terps expect to stop the Blue Devils in Durham, N.C., next month, or in Charlotte during the ACC tournament, or -- if you really want to get ahead of yourself -- at the Florida site of the Final Four, Tropicana Field?
Episode one of what could be college basketball's most intriguing series in 1999 will come today, when No. 2 Duke seeks to keep No. 4 Maryland under its thumb.
The Blue Devils (12-1 overall, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) have yet to visit an opponent's court, but the home of the Terps (13-1, 1-0) is an excellent place to hit the road. Coach Mike Krzyzewski and company have fond memories of Cole, where Duke has won 11 of the past 13 meetings with Maryland.
A year ago today, it was the Blue Devils by 104-72, the Terps' worst home loss since 1969.
"They've got the revenge factor, and their crowd is going to be nuts," said Trajan Langdon, Duke's sharpshooting guard. "I'm sure they've marked us on their calendar. We're expecting them to come in confident and ready for us, so it will be a good test to see how mature we are."
Duke's nine-man rotation includes five sophomores and one freshman, but there is little question about its talent. The Blue Devils, who keep rotating prep All-Americans, were No. 1 until a two-point loss to Cincinnati in the Great Alaska Shootout Nov. 28. Langdon (18.8 points per game) and sophomore center Elton Brand (17.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg) are the key components in an attack that flourishes inside and out.
Maryland's roster doesn't carry the same pedigree, but the addition of three freshmen and junior-college transfer Steve Francis made the Terps the first team in the nation to reach 13 wins. A junior who starts on the wing and gives Terrell Stokes a break at the point, Francis is averaging 16.9 points, 4.6 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 2.3 steals.
Coach Gary Williams' team has emerged as the only viable threat in the ACC to Duke. The Blue Devils outscore the opposition by 26.1 points. That would lead the conference if the Terps weren't running away by an average of 30.1 points.
Maryland leads the ACC not only in field-goal percentage (.522), but in field-goal percentage defense (.361). The Terps' lone loss came Dec. 12 at Kentucky, when last season's NCAA champions gave a lesson in defending one's turf. Only one other opponent has gotten more than 70 points against Maryland, but the Wildcats got 103.
Duke, incidentally, shut down Kentucky, 71-60, on Dec. 22, when it limited the Wildcats to .340 shooting.
"We have to be aggressive, and get up in people's faces, in order to be successful," Francis said. "Kentucky was definitely more intense than we were."
When the Terps didn't get beat in transition in Lexington, they were slow to guard the perimeter, which takes us back to Jan. 3, 1998, when Duke made its first four three-pointers and 11 of 17 in the first half. Behind Langdon and sophomore point Will Avery, Duke averages eight threes a game, so the Terps can't afford to be a step slow.
Maryland was also a mess at the other basket against Duke last Jan. 3, when the Blue Devils didn't even have Brand, who was rehabilitating a broken foot. Stokes was nearing the end of a soul-searching stretch of six games that saw him come off the bench. Laron Profit was lost, too, missing all seven of his shots.
Now the senior wing is in the best groove of his 105-game Maryland career. After a quiet night at Kentucky, he's shot 69.2 percent (27-for-39) from the field in routs of Princeton, North Texas and South Carolina State. He didn't just feast in transition, either. Profit made seven of 10 three-pointers. He began the season 1-for-18 beyond the arc.
Profit isn't talking to the media, and if he keeps shooting like that, Williams won't mind if the silent treatment persists through March.
If Profit can continue to thrive in the half-court game, it would only add to the offensive effectiveness of forward Terence Morris and center Obinna Ekezie. The Terps still want to push the pace, however, and with Francis they might finally be able to handle a quick Duke entry on its terms.
"Duke's a great running team, and they didn't get to where they are by backing up to anybody," said Williams, who has a 4-17 record against the Blue Devils. "They're going to put their best thing out there, just like we are."
For all of the big games the Terps have played this season, it's their first major test at Cole. They had the fan advantage against Stanford, but that was at the MCI Center. They ripped UCLA and Pittsburgh in Puerto Rico. Kentucky had more than 24,000 fans rooting against Maryland.
This is an unusual Terps team, and an unusual scene. While Williams coached his players to say it's just one game in a 16-game ACC schedule, the poorer seats in Cole were selling for $250 yesterday. Choicer locations were being scalped for $500 -- in November.
"I think people are blowing it out of proportion," said Francis, who nonetheless appreciates the game's appeal. "This is definitely a game I would want to see if I wasn't playing. I would want to see Maryland-Duke."
NOTES: Williams lost his first 12 games against Duke, but Maryland took four of six before the Blue Devils began their current three-game winning streak in the series. Williams beat Duke here in 1995 and '97. Only one other visitor (Wake Forest) won at Cole last season, where the Terps are 8-0 this season. Brand is No. 2 in the ACC in field-goal percentage (.622), behind Morris (.646). Look for Morris to draw the attention of 6-8 Shane Battier, Duke's best defender.
Terps today ,
Opponent: No. 2 Duke ,
Site: Cole Field House, College Park ,
Time: 1: 30 p.m. ,
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Line: Maryland by 3 1/2
Tickets: Sold out
Today's game between No. 2 Duke and No. 4 Maryland is the seventh at Cole Field House between ACC teams in the top five. The others:
Jan. 14, 1973 No. 3 N.C. State 87, No. 2 Maryland 85
Jan. 27, 1973 No. 4 Maryland 94, No. 3 N. Carolina 88
Jan. 16, 1975 No. 5 Maryland 103, No. 4 N.C. State 85
Feb. 10, 1976 No. 3 N. Carolina 81, No. 4 Maryland 69
Jan. 12, 1984 No. 1 N. Carolina 74, No. 5 Maryland 62
Feb. 1, 1997 No. 2 Wake Forest 74, No. 5 Maryland 69
Pub Date: 1/03/99