- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Preseason pundits picked Duke fourth in the ACC. Worse, they had the Blue Devils, after an eight-year grip at the top of the conference, as only the third-best team along Tobacco Road.

If this season has shown anything, it’s this: don’t irk the Blue Devils.

No. 2 Duke (15-0, 5-0 ACC) remains one of three unbeaten teams remaining in Division I heading into tonight’s game against Maryland at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Though the Blue Devils have beaten only one ranked team, lack a deep bench and have been bothered by injuries and illnesses, they again have taken perch atop the conference.

“They’re probably achieving as well right now as any team in the country,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “They’re used to winning. They don’t want to hear they’re going to be down. … They had that mentality [of], ‘We’re going to show everybody.’ It really shows in the way they play. I haven’t seen a game where they weren’t really flying at the start.”

The Blue Devils, picked first or second in the conference each year for more than a decade, admitted they were annoyed by the preseason slight in the ACC media poll.

“Our jerseys say Duke on the front, so we’ll have a target on us,” guard J.J. Redick said. “It doesn’t matter to me where we’re ranked.”

Duke’s dominance isn’t a mystery. The Blue Devils do a few things to perfection. They pass to the open man, ride the hot shooter and play smothering defense.

“It’s the old Vince Lombardi theory — OK, here comes the power sweep. Stop us,” Williams said. “[Green Bay] felt if they executed well enough you could know what’s coming and not do anything about it. The best thing Duke does is if a guy’s open, he gets the ball. If Redick’s hot, he gets the ball. [Shelden] Williams is really doing well inside. It’s a great way to play.”

Redick is the ACC’s leading scorer (21.7 points). He has a sweet shot from outside the 3-point arc and is the NCAA’s career free throw leader at 94.3 percent with only 20 misses in 351 attempts.

Williams might not get the respect of North Carolina’s Sean May, but he could be a more complete player with averages of 19.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks. Guard Daniel Ewing (16.6) gives Duke a third scorer. The talent level drops after that, but those three are enough to keep Duke unbeaten.

“They’re trying as hard as any team I’ve coached, but we have a lot of tough games ahead,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We’re going to lose games. We could lose a good number of them.”

Duke has feasted on small schools like Tennessee-Martin, Davidson and Toledo, and its five ACC victories have come against teams with a combined 9-20 conference mark. Duke still has six games left against No.3 North Carolina, No.5 Wake Forest and No.22 Georgia Tech, but obviously half of those are at Cameron, which ranks among the nation’s tougher venues for visitors.

Maryland (11-5, 2-3) staggers into Duke off an embarrassing 85-69 home loss to N.C. State in which it trailed by 26 points at halftime. With Georgia Tech coming to Comcast Center on Sunday, followed by games at Clemson (Feb.1) and Miami (Feb.5), the next 11 days could decide its postseason fate. Needing a victory over its nemesis is a high-risk venture, though.

“It will be a test of our character seeing if we can come back,” Williams said. “You always get a chance to measure your team by how you respond to certain challenges. … I’ve always enjoyed the big games. You’re playing the No.2 team, national TV — let’s go.”

Williams hopes Cameron’s passionate fans will invigorate the Terps after their lackluster effort against N.C. State. The Terrapins showed little energy on defense, permitting 10 3-pointers in the first half alone. If Maryland stands around that way against Duke, the Terps will endure a fourth blowout in five games.

“We need to depend on each other,” Williams said. “We go down to Cameron, nobody’s going to be down there trying to help us or give us sympathy. We have to be strong walking on to the court. Duke’s a great team, but we’ve played the [then] third [Wake Forest] and fourth [North Carolina] teams in the country, so what’s the difference?”

Said forward Travis Garrison: “We have to take our anger out against Duke.”

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