TWO DUKIES PICK THE ACC
Volume XI, Episode 7
November 27, 2007
#20 WISCONSIN (5-0, 0-0 Big Ten) @ #7 DUKE (6-0, 0-0)
I can opine even less intelligently than usual concerning the Eastern Kentucky game, since I didn’t, you know, see it. Other than that, I really enjoyed it. Hey, it’s always a pleasure to miss Mike Hogewood’s riveting play-by-play. By the way, while I’m discussing announcers, or unreasonable facsimiles thereof, I got a kick out of the way that some spare part and Larry Conley did the Tools’ opening round game in the CSI Invitational in Las Vegas, and then promptly yielded the floor to phallic technocrat Dan Shulman and DICKIE V, BAY-BEE for the following night’s “championship.” Couldn’t Dan and Dick have stooped to doing the first two games on “the U”? Or, on the other side of the coin, was it really necessary to import such top-flight “talent” for the second game? I’m sure Conley, formerly a high-level analyst, felt like a fifth wheel, and, hey, too bad. Oh, wait a minute, I get it now - - Bullethead and DICKVITALE were there because that was supposed to be a game between the Tools and Louisville. Of course, BYU had other plans, which plans didn’t include failing to give away the store at the end of the “championship” game. The Tools’ defense didn’t improve, by the way. Conley, in the UNC-CH/ODU game, earned his per diem by ripping off a laughable line that bears repeating, about the tiresome Wayne Ellington: “I don’t know exactly what his range is.” This is the kind of self-important, stentorious declaration that got Larry in the position where he has to buy a ticket to see real teams play. I’m guessing Ellington’s range is somewhere between one and 94 feet. I don’t know exactly what it is either, but I do know that, despite the reputation he enjoys as some Wyatt Earp-level deadeye, Wayne is just an average perimeter shooter. Good night, Larry.
Man, there were some Devils’ Den BBS posters who were really pressing the panic button during the opening half on Sunday! I thought it was last season all over again, and, had I been favored with television coverage, would have half expected to see Josh McRahole filling the screen with his whining and screaming at a blame-free Greg Paulus for something or other. Look, the Colonels actually played solid defense, and yeah, we threw the ball away a bunch, but the basic storyline is, Duke has a letdown between Maui and the B10 Challenge, everyone’s thinking about the holidays, no one really wants to be playing Eastern Kentucky, and presto - - it’s a flat performance. However, Taylor King unpacked his bags and made a strong case for more minutes with an unreal game, the defense was very good, and in the second half, the offense came back to life. No problem.
Here’s Wisconsin, and it’s simply ridiculous that Duke has never played the Badgers before. Of course, Bucky and company have only been relevant on the national scene for a relatively short time in the recent past, so that’s got something to do with it. If you’re scoring at home, and if you further make a technical allowance for NCCU, Duke is now facing its fourth opponent in seven games it has never played before, annoying next year’s Duke media guide typesetters.
Bo Ryan has done an outstanding job in Madison, taking full advantage of the wonderful environment offered by the glistening Kohl Center to thrust his program into the Big Ten limelight. This year’s team is a complete overhaul job, as the Badgers lost Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor, who combined for 33.2 ppg and were the heart and soul of the team’s offense. In the wake (pun coming!) of those departures, Ryan has recentered his offense, Visser-like (PAYOFF!!! - - yeah, kinda crappy) around Brian Butch, the much-maligned 6-11 senior who was having a fairly good season as a complementary player in 2006-2007 before suffering a grisly elbow injury in a game in Columbus. Butch, now the focus of the Badgers’ attack, is doing pretty well this season, notching 10.2 boards a game to go with 14.4 points.
However, Butch, who led the league last year in being the subject of discomfiting remarks by commentators alleging that he needed to “work on his body,” is not the leading scorer for Wisky; that honor goes to NYC playground king Trevon Hughes, a 6-1 sophomore point who is scoring 19.4 ppg and shooting .484/.815/.419. Hughes shows promise as the Big Ten’s answer to remorseless tailgunner Jack McClinton - - and it will probably show up in this game, as the prosecution will show in a moment. Defensive stud Mike Flowers, a 6-2 senior, has been coming off the bench, but is a de facto starter in the backcourt. The frontcourt spots next to Butch are manned by 6-7 juniors Joe Krabbenhoft (7.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Marcus Landry (9.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg), and depth is provided by a host of big stiffs, the most talented of whom is 6-11 senior Greg Stiemsma (4.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg). Think Zoubek without the talent and grace. Besides him, there’s another 6-11 guy (making three in all, counting Butch), a 6-9, and another 6-10. 6-2 Jason Bohannon is the only reserve Duke should be concerned about.
Whew. Lots of size, though, right? Yes, and if this were last year’s Duke team, with a frustrated Coach K and that empty space who jumped to the NBA, Duke would get killed on the boards and lose by about 8-10 points. However, with a zone in place, and an advantage in speed and athleticism that is roughly comparable to the difference in attractiveness between Christina Appelgate (second straight column mention!) and Britney Spears, Duke is set to blow the Badgers off the court - - with the right strategy. Last season, that wouldn’t have been in place, or wouldn’t have been executed due to personnel shortcomings and fatigue, but this season, I think it will be.
Here are two more reasons why Duke should prevail. The Badgers, who are 5-0, have yet to leave the security blanket of Kohl and venture out into the real world, and you can be darn sure that Ryan designed it that way given his knowledge that he was going to lose Taylor and Tucker, the school’s all-time leading scorer. The five wins are over Dane Fife’s Summit League also-ran IPFW, Savannah State, FAMU, a horrible Colorado squad and a mediocre Georgia team that has Dennis Felton planning to suit up himself before too much longer. The Georgia game was actually close before the Bulldogs blew it, another bad sign for Bucky. Folks, when your schedule makes Ol’ Roy blush, you know you’ve had an easy run. Accordingly, adjust all Wisconsin stats to account for this pastry parade, particularly those of Hughes, who racked up a bunch of numbers against the first four opponents, but choked against the semi-real compo offered by Georgia, tallying 18 points on 19 shots. Expect more of the same against Duke.
Another problem for Wisconsin is that Bo Ryan likes to use guards and swingmen; he has rarely relied on big guys and has had a difficult time integrating Butch into his attack over the past three seasons. Ryan’s idea of a great Wisconsin player is Flowers, a stopper who can’t shoot his way out of a dairy barn (.444/.733/.314 last season, .390/.636/.333 this year, and remember, that’s against really bad opposition), and he barely played the big guys against Georgia, mostly because they couldn’t keep up with Georgia’s much more athletic attack (the Bulldogs lost largely because of a huge 25-10 team foul gulf). Ryan simply isn't comfortable using size as a weapon, and he seems hesitant this year to try to take advantage of the height on his roster.
I look for the same phenomenon here, meaning that Duke should be just fine defensively. Maybe K has decided to play DeMarcus on the opposing point guard this season, but I believe Paulus can stay with and shut down Hughes, who is an average ballhandler, and incidentally not a stalwart defender. Sure, Landry (the younger brother of former Purdue scorer Carl) and Krabbenhoft, not to mention Butch, are going to muscle some people around and grab rebounds - - but Georgia is short and was only outboarded by twelve, hardly a fatal disparity. Lance Thomas, who is really showing signs of development, will be called upon to guard one of these guys, while Singler perhaps tries his hand at containing Butch, in a fascinating matchup. My Zoubek Detector is really going off. Yes, I have one. Put Henderson on one of the 6-7 guys (no problem), have Paulus and DeMarcus watch Hughes and Flowers, and I believe you have a recipe for a very low scoring output for the Badgers.
But in order to win, Duke has to shoot well against a team that was tenth in Division I last season at 57.9 ppg of scoring defense. Of course, Illanoy was fourth in the same category a year ago and Michigan State ranked sixth nationally, so if you chose “the Big Ten couldn’t place the ball in the basket last season” as your answer, you’d be on the right track. After all, a middling UNLV squad ended Bucky’s 2007 campaign with a 74-point effort, even if the Badgers didn’t have Butch.
This should be a very interesting matchup and another excellent test for the Blue Devils, who are showing all the signs of a composed, well-coached team thus far, with a few fits and starts, of course. I look for Duke to keep its perfect Challenge record intact with another OOC win at Cameron.
Duke 78, Wisconsin 68.
Duke 74, Wisconsin 62.