TWO DUKIES PICK THE ACC
Volume XI, Episode 9
December 8, 2007
MICHIGAN (3-5, 0-0 Big Ten) @ #6 DUKE (8-0, 0-0)
Now that I finally appeased 100% of my grad school buddies who went to Davidson (thank goodness), it’s time to take stock of a few developments around college basketball.
Let’s start in the ACC, where the Tools went to the Palestra for some goofy reason invented by Horseface to regale boosters and recruits, and . . . YAWWWWWN . . . blew out Penn. Whoaaaaaaa! Break these guys up already! Look, these oafs just aren’t nearly as good as the media thinks they are, and I bet they lose six games in the ACC. Sure, they have Handbag, but not a soul on the team can play any defense, and Ellington is the only person who can lay any plausible claim to being a long-range shooter. Sure, sure, Danny Green is benefiting lately from the fact that he gave defenses no reason to pay an ounce of attention to him last season, but he’s not a reliable perimeter threat. Lawson, meanwhile, doesn’t look like any sort of threat, partly because he can't shoot, but mostly because he doesn’t have sanitation engineer BrandAn Wright to clean up everyone’s trash anymore. All the Tools fans want to sell you the idea that Stepheson and Thompson are somehow filling that void, but they’re a viable substitute for Wright in the same way that blood-freezing ghoul Matt Doherty was an adequate replacement for Dean Schnozz. Thompson is a real force at the line, raining in free throws at a 20% clip, and Stepheson is missing more than just a second “n” in his last name. Then there’s Ginyard, an offensive zero, and Robert John Frasor, a weak sister on both ends. I need not mention QT. And this group was supposed to be better without Wright and Rey Terry??? Sounds like Rusty LaRue Syndrome at work - - for those of you who are just joining us, that’s the sitch where a team’s fans wildly celebrate a guy when he’s around, then dismiss his departure with a jaunty wave. To hear Joel Coliseum denizens tell it, no one was more important to the Dorcs’ fortunes than LaRue when he played, but after he was gone, look out! “He was just a QB who helped out a little with the basketball team.” Oh? Wake fans = CLOWNS. Similarly, Terry and Wright, we now learn, were just spare parts of some sort. Not so much! This is a mediocre team. Let’s keep track.
Of course, the ACC in general just blows this season. I say this every year, but Sweaty keeps outdoing himself, so I can’t help it. Repeat it with me . . . this is Maryland’s worst team since Bob Wade. I mean, have you seen their stat sheet?? Oh, get ready to marvel at this masterpiece. What jumps out at you first? 73.1 ppg against sickly competition? Perhaps you’re more of a fan of being underwater in A/TO ratio. How’s that unbelievably bad 31.6% 3PFG figure (which was 28.0% until they played noted power Morgan State the other night) grab you? Sweet Jesus. Finally, take a gander at that minute distribution - - this is a five-man team, and one of those five is Landon Milbourne. WOWOWOW. I mean, there are bad teams, and then there is this Scaryland bunch. Twerp fans had better hope Gist is the second and third coming of Keith Booth or something. By the way, Lindy’s says that frosh Brax Dupree reminds “some” of Lonny Baxter, which merely means that the Secret Service probably has enough evidence to arrest Dupree for firing weapons near the White House. What an outstanding unit this is. Imagine if Sweaty thought he could sit back and not sign a recruiting class! No one is that dumb, other than Roy Williams.
I need a shower. I was going to address Georgia Tech, but I’m going to have to save that for next time. At least Clemson is undefeated, because they never tantalize anyone with early season prowess only to fold when it counts. Virginia looked okay against Syracuse the other night, but Singletary was sick, and the rest of the Cravs’ offense was also ailing. Jack & Diane and Yo Adrian as the other offensive weapons? Hey, if you say so, Lameao. (Pronounced “LAME-o”.) And don’t look now, but I think Studley and his rascally partner in crime, Sean Marshall, may have finally “graduated” from BC, leaving that program in welcome ruins. Actually, the Tools may not lose six games against this titanic collection after all. But Duke shouldn’t either.
In a quick national news update, the WGA strike situation, with the newest, supposedly promising round of negotiations having broken off on Friday, is really starting to annoy me. Everyone who reads this space knows that I lean fairly far to the left, so needless to say, I don’t blame the writers, who are basically just trying to ensure that they derive a fair profit from their work when it’s delivered via new digital methods. However, something’s wrong with the WGA’s negotiating strategy, because while the AMPTP is obviously a bunch of corporate tools (led by a negotiator who seems to be quite fascinated with himself), the WGA is not going to get everything it wants, and the writers are risking losing points in the court of public opinion because of the fact that non-writing employees are starting to be laid off. It simply seems to me (only from following news reports, so I don’t claim to know everything) that the WGA is not approaching the negotiations properly. The AMPTP can’t really afford not to have new TV shows and movies made, and I’m a bit baffled why the WGA negotiators can’t exploit that leverage. (It is clear that the late-night talkfests are probably going to have to restart with reduced written bits and shows heavy with guests.) Moreover, the WGA needs to look at what is by far its best strategy: divide and conquer. Make back-channel proposals to one or more of the individual studios by working around the AMPTP, and if just one studio agrees, then the rest will fall in line like dominoes. The WGA should be doing that now, rather than playing footsie with the AMPTP mouthpieces, especially if the Guild feels that the latter are bargaining in bad faith. Meanwhile, hats off to David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, and Jimmy Kimmel for paying their employees out of their own pocket so that no one has to be laid off - - Letterman (one of the classiest people in show business) is actually covering the staffs of two shows, because his production company owns Craig Ferguson’s program. And a huge Bronx cheer to hapless multimillionaire Jay Leno, who announced that he would stop paying his employees - - after a previous promise to the contrary - - and then reversed himself immediately after receiving a firestorm of criticism. What a jerk. Anyway, I feel bad for all of the people affected by this and hope that the WGA can figure out a way to break the will of the AMPTP very soon. And, to be honest, I want my one-hour dramas - - but only if the writers find a deal they can live with, of course.
Obviously, the Marty Pocius injury is just all kinds of sad. This is, by all accounts, the nicest kid around, he’s an outstanding student, he has crazy offensive game - - and he’s out for the season. I am bummed by this. Several of you e-mailed me to ask if he can get a medical shirt, and the answer is yes: the standard was relaxed so that you can play in anything up to 30% of your team’s games now and still qualify, so he’ll meet that requirement easily. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if Marty declined the shirt and just came back as a senior. He knows his coach has some bout of insanity when it comes to giving him playing time, and now we have Elliot Williams coming in next season, while losing only one player, although a very valuable one, in Nelson (I don’t see Gerald jumping after two seasons). But K will play Williams right away, with the remainder of DeMarcus’ minutes going to Smith, so Marty could be the odd man out (as always, ad nauseam). If he wants his Duke degree (and I think probably he does) and is already looking ahead to a Europro career (where he will probably blow out some scoreboards), I could see him passing up the redshirt, but stranger things have happened. Get well, Marty! I really want to see this guy come back and prosper.
Next up for the Blue Devils is a return to Cameron to take on Michigan, meaning that I get to talk about the Big Ten yet again this season, for the third time. Wheeeee! Seriously, I really do consider the Big Ten my second-favorite conference, and I know more about it than any league other than the ACC, but it is a terrible group this season. It all started with MSU’s exhibition loss to Grand Valley State, and has been pretty much downhill on rocket skis from there. Heralded IU has been woefully inconsistent, you saw Duke blast Wisconsin back to the Stone Age (or at least the Steve Yoder Era), Ohio State is clueless, Iowa is sadly simply awful, and Illannoy sure didn’t impress me much in Maui. Purdue is a sleeper pick, but this is quite possibly a three-bid league. Right on schedule, the Big East starts playing the SEC, and the Big XII hooks up with the Pac-10, so we’re stuck with the Big Ten-ACC Challenge for a while until the B10 turns itself around again. I would really enjoy an ACC-SEC challenge. By the way, props to the Big XII and the Pac-10, who played most or all of their series games on true homecourts. The Big East, unsurprisingly, worked out some goofy “pod” arrangement with the SEC that used quasi-neutral courts like the Birm-Jeff CC and Spectrum Two in Philadelphia to host doubleheaders. Weak.
So, Duke will try to surge to 3-0 atop the B10 standings board by welcoming Beeline and the Wolverines to Durham. Michigan is largely a collection of individuals playing out the string at this juncture, until Johnny B gets his own guys in there to play his rebounding-light, no-point-guard system. And they’ve played like it, going 3-5 with wins over Radford, Brown, and Eastern Washington. What can Brown do for you? Apparently, they can constitute 33.33% of your win total. Until Beilein finds a Pittsnogle and a Gansey to fit his system, he’s not going to flourish, and the relatively direction-free players on the Michigan roster aren’t going to get it done. Of course, one of my favorite developments in this college basketball season so far is Michigan going to Harvard, coincidentally meeting up with Amaker, whom the school just fired, and getting their jocks handed to them in Lavietes Pavilion in what probably qualifies as one of the biggest, if not the biggest, win in Harvard men’s basketball history, at least in the modern era. You know, although I am not a Big East fan because of thug programs like Connecticut, Cincinnati and Louisville, I do like Villanova, West Virginia, and Syracuse, and I actually thought Beilein’s move was curiously lateral. I guess Michigan probably threw more money at him than WVU was willing to pony up, but . . . has anyone reading this been to Crisler Arena recently? If not, how about UFO Hall in the last five years or so before UVa opened Led Zeppelin’s Bass Player Arena? Same deal. Dark, relatively featureless and charmless, and starting to get rather run down. Michigan has become a football school with an afterthought basketball program, due in no small part to the unbelievable recruiting successes of Tom Izzo. However, after Ann Arbor fired Applecheeks over the Ed Martin fiasco, was a credential-free lightweight like Brian Ellerbe really the best that a major state school with excellent academics could do? Amaker was left to clean up the mess, and he was admittedly moving perhaps a bit too slowly, but after six years, he was somewhat surprisingly canned, and now he’s at Harvard outcoaching Beilein and easily devising a strategy to defeat his old players.
I think Duke will win this game easily, but Michigan did give Butler something of a run on the road at Hinkle Fieldhouse the day before Thanksgiving, before losing 79-65, so we’ll run through some player analysis. Making a Beeline has been starting 6-6 senior Ron Coleman and 6-8 sophomore DeShawn Sims around 6-10 sophomore Zack Gibson, a Rutgers transfer who is not exactly the prototypical non-center that Bee’s system demands. In the backcourt, freshman Kelvin Grady is playing “point,” which is a completely different position in this concept, and 6-5 freshman Corperryale Harris, a Detroit product and Michigan’s reigning incumbent “Mr. Basketball,” is the shooting guard. Note that Mr. Harris goes by “Manny,” the standard nickname for Corperryales everywhere. The bench is not particularly deep, with 6-10 sophomore Ekpe Udoh, 6-3 junior Jerret Smith, and 6-6 redshirt freshman Anthony Wright as the main subs. [Postgame note: Smith was yanked from the team temporarily because of academic issues, so that's why we didn't see him today. My bad.]
Michigan’s team shooting is awful: .416/.669/.351. Well, the three-point number isn’t really awful, but Duke is rarely victimized by teams that cannot shoot from the floor overall, but make threes at an acceptable rate, because the Blue Devils' three-point defense is almost always excellent. The Wolvies are scoring 64.5, boarding at 33.9, and are fractionally above water in A/TO. They don’t steal much, and Udoh (3.1 bpg) is the only shotblocker. Harris, a nominee for the 2008 Shea Seals Dejuan Wheat Foundation Award, leads the team with an empty 16.6 ppg on 39.8% shooting. Sims has nice footwork and (like Andrew Lovedale of Davidson) will probably convert some debris, but he deals out more than two and a half fouls per game and will have problems with Singler on both ends of the court; I’m assuming that Thomas will cover Coleman, who is the team’s leading rebounder at 5.5 rpg - - no one else on Big Blue is collecting more than 4.3 boards. Grady is still learning how to play at the collegiate level, and Gibson and Udoh, who usually split floor time, aren’t enormous post threats. The best that can be said for Michigan is that they don’t turn the ball over much and play at tempo and under control, but 64.5 ppg against the Duke defense isn’t going to work out well.
Not exactly the Fab Five, is it? Duke will be rusty after a week-long break, but Michigan had the same seven-day layoff, and, of course, has to deal with the Cameron crowd. On Can’t Broadcast Sports, Billy Pecker somehow avoided getting himself assigned to this game, so we’ll have Clark Kellogg, making a rare foray outside of the studio, and Craig Bolerjack, whom I like. Duke should win without difficulty.
Three final notes: (1) I’m really impressed with Singler’s and Scheyer’s free-throw shooting, even if Jon’s FTAs are slightly inflated by the four designee attempts that he drew after Bo Ryan ordered Wisky into Thugball mode. Greg seems to have fallen back from an 80%-plus alms shooter to more of a 75% guy, but with those three on the court in late-game situations, and with Henderson near 70% himself after working on that aspect of his game, it helps compensate for Nelson’s continuing woes in that area. By the way, I hope DeMarcus works on both his stripesmanship and his threes as the season goes on, because he can be even more of a help to Duke than he already is with his athleticism on offense and his superb defense, and he can make a good case for himself as an NBA player, too. (2) Duke’s hiring of Chris Carrawell as its Athletics Outreach Coordinator is awesome. Chris has long been one of my favorite recent Duke players. He worked hard for four years, he waited his turn and played a solid role on the 1998-1999 should-have-been-champion team, and then put the Blue Devils’ 1999-2000 team (the subject of hit CBS sitcom Five and a Half Men) on his back, winning the ACC POY and notching first-team All-America honors while doing absolutely everything to help his team win. I’ve always felt terrible about the fact that Chris just missed getting a ring, but I bet he thinks nothing of it. It’s awesome to see a great person come back to Duke and devote himself to a service-oriented position. Congrats, Chris. (3) Speaking of recent Blue Devil Chrises, Chris Duhon received the NBA’s Community Assist Award for November for his achievements as an outstanding philanthropist, concentrating on helping K-Hurricane victims in his native Louisiana. Aggressively calling Chris out for his subpar play in his junior year was one of the dumbest things I’ve done in eleven years of this material, in what is assuredly a long list. (And sure enough, he proved me wrong immediately by bouncing back with a stellar senior season.) Duhon is an awesome community ambassador and deserves massive praise for his tireless charity work. It’s also good to see the Association recognizing that its public image would be well-served by promoting wonderful people like Chris instead of the hoods and whining infants populating so many of its rosters. Well done, Chris.
Hey, couldn’t we have gotten Verne Lundquist for this game? NCOSHA may have issued a regulation effectively barring his ever-expanding frame from the Crow’s Nest.
Duke 83, Michigan 64.
Duke 87, Michigan 62.