TWO DUKIES PICK THE ACC
Volume XI, Episode 12
December 20, 2007
Matt's comments in blue.
Rob's selection in green.
duhomme's comments in red.
#6 DUKE (10-0, 0-0) v. #11 PITTSBURGH (10-0, 0-0 Big East)
First, my best wishes for a speedy recovery to Dick Vitale. Of course I poke fun at Dick, but it’s all good-natured, and I feel very bad now for joking about his voice earlier this season, when I figured he was just suffering from a cold. Pretty dumb on my part. Yes, Dick’s cheerleading for UNC-CH and even Duke (particularly during games not involving those teams) gets tiresome, and many of the criticisms of him as an analyst as valid - - but I would take him over many other color guys simply because he is a nice guy and loves the game. He’s not and never has been a hater, like Silly Pecker, and his absolutely tireless work for the V Foundation has been incredible; I was quite moved by his personal plea during the Jimmy V Classic on behalf of Payton Wright, the little girl he and his wife met who tragically passed away not long afterwards. Dick doesn’t have to do any of that stuff - - but he does. Given all that, I think you can wish that the guy would diversify his shtick a little bit, but how can you really dislike him, particularly in comparison to some of college basketball’s irascible mediots? However, of course there are your usual mental midgets out in force on the Big Ten listservs today, calling for Vitale to retire because they’re soooooo weary of him promoting Duke and UNC-CH, instead of, say, Purdue. I guess Vitale should be required to discuss Purdue during every game, and then these a-holes would be satisfied. (I have nothing but respect for the Boilermaker program and its history, but maybe its fans should concentrate on returning their program to elite, non-Wofford-losing status before whining about Dick Vitale’s areas of concentration? Just a thought.) I was glad to hear that Vitale’s surgery was a success, he’s obviously in very good hands at Mass General, and I look forward to his return to the airwaves in February as scheduled.
The Blue Devils simply looked ridiculously good in destroying Albany. Mike Patrick just seemed stunned, and even Smellmore was really reaching in his efforts to coach the Great Danes, will Duke to defeat, and find areas of weakness upon which to harp. Sadly for our Harvard Law-trained genius, there really weren’t any. Duke rained down triple after triple, and is now shooting 44.1% as a team despite the fact that not too many teams are collapsing on Elton Brand or Shelden Williams down low, and are actually contesting the perimeter, when they can. (But kindly WATCH OUT FOR ZOUBEK - - see below.) That three-point percentage is good for seventh in all of Division I, an achievement made only slightly less fantastic by the fact that the HurryClowns are fourth in the category at 44.8%. (What the frig is that all about, right? I’ve dispatched an analyst who looks suspiciously like me to investigate this immediately.) Paulus and Scheyer are now at .500 each. Not bad. DeMarcus looked like a real marksman himself, incidentally (and seemed to be gaining confidence on his foul shots by the end). The transformation in that kid, from the standpoint of taking charge and being a leader, has been amazing - - it’s on the level of the change in Paulus’ game now that he is healthy once again. As duhomme notes below, in a far funnier way than I could express it, it would be nice if Duke would stop rushing kids back from injury when they’re at half-speed. Remember Chris Collins’ junior year? If you do, think about how much difference he might have made on the 1996-1997 team after having taken a shirt. Just a pet peeve of mine. Not that I think Greg should have shirted last season, and I know he’s a tough competitor, but now we’re seeing what he can really do. And it’s pretty damn impressive.
Looks like the team will be without Lance Thomas again tonight, which is obviously too bad due to the premier quality of this matchup. I just hope, when he does come back, that he’s truly ready. Sixteen days off after this one before playing Cornell (incidentally the nation’s top three-point shooting team, by the bye) should do the trick. Meanwhile, Dave McClure is quietly filling in admirably for Lance, and just generally reminding everyone how important he really was to the team last season. When he got hurt, it was simply all over. This year’s team doesn’t teeter on the edge of that kind of knife, but there’s Dave again, making key contributions on the glass, and playing outstanding defense. One thing I love about him is that he plays taller than he is, and he is rarely, if ever, out of position. In fact, sometimes he comes out of nowhere and grabs the board. The opposing team usually looks quite bemused.
Then there’s Brian Zoubek, and I give massive kudos to the K and the staff for getting him involved in the offense against Albany, in what appeared to be a deliberate effort to use those late-game minutes to good advantage. How many teams these days have a seven-footer with any sort of talent? Great to see the kid breaking out and showing some nice moves in the paint. The free throws were too bad, but I thought he was just nervous. He was generally a 70% or better shooter from the stripe in high school.
Another word about Scheyer coming off the bench - - how devastating this must be for the other team. I guess I’m (for a change) sort of slightly plugged in to what is going on this year - - yeah, I know, strange feeling and I’m trying to cope with it - - because not only did I correctly guess that Coach K would not, as he would have in any year since 2001, automatically pop Jon into the starting lineup in Thomas’ absence, but I also called Zoubek’s insertion. K should do exactly the same thing tonight. Scheyer, Smith and King introducing themselves at the first dead ball, or whenever, has an incredible psychological component to it in terms of affecting the other team’s mental makeup. Keep it up. By the way, I think Smith is as fast as William Avery was. I made the mistake of looking down to grab some green tea or whatever while watching the game the other night, just for a second when he got the ball at three-quarter-court off of an Albany miss, and by the time I looked up he was past the top of the key and still moving. I TiVoed it immediately.
Duke has not played Pittsburgh since January of 1980 - - illustrating one of the things I love about college basketball. With so many teams out there, it’s possible to diversify your schedule wildly, and take almost 28 years off from what actually could be a good continuing series between two somewhat similar programs. Another fun fact is that Pittsburgh native, 1960 National League MVP, and Duke’s #10 forever, Dick Groat, will be doing the color analysis for Pitt’s radio network. That should be interesting. I wonder what Dick thinks about the Mitchell Report and so many of today’s major league baseball players, with their disgusting cheating and their asterisk-laden records, relative to his own era as a player.
Pittsburgh’s best asset is probably Jamie Dixon, who is one heck of a head coach - - and if he’s some sort of scumbag or something, it’s escaped my attention, although as I may have mentioned, I am not the most avid gatherer of Big East knowledge walking under the sun. All Dixon does is win, and if his four Panther teams have sometimes benefited from mild OOC scheduling, they’ve also surprised a lot of people by managing to remain remarkably consistent, despite facing off against some fairly tough opponents intraleague. Although pretty much all traces of players recruited by Howland are now gone (and Dixon was responsible for a lot of those signings anyway), Dixon continues to prosper. He has four NCAA appearances in as many tries to his credit, including two Sweet Sixteens, and has won 31, 20, 25, and 29 games in four seasons. I was also extremely impressed by the dignity and grace that Dixon showed in the aftermath of the death of his sister Maggie, the former head women’s basketball coach at West Point who sadly died at the age of 28 from cardiac arrhythmia, cutting short what looked to be a very promising career indeed. (The Duke women’s team played Pitt in the second annual Maggie Dixon Classic, also at the Garden, just two Saturdays ago.) Dixon is a class act and an excellent recruiter and operational coach. And while this kind of remark always generates at least one nasty e-mail, the heck with it - - Dixon is someone Duke would do well to keep an eye on for future reference. If Dawkins is on the Bernie Fine plan.
This season, Dixon has been severely tested by having lost three players who were the key nucleus of his team a year ago, but he’s filled the holes and moved forward pretty smoothly. Dixon has suffered losses to his teams before, and changed some of the fundamental elements of the Panthers’ attack in the process, without really missing a beat. In 2004-2005, following a 31-5 season, Pitt changed to a bigger scheme centered on the post on both ends of the floor, adjusting to the departures of shooting guard Julius Page and small forward Jaron Brown. That campaign was a down year, but still resulted in 20 wins and an NCAA bid. The next season, after the entire starting frontcourt of Mark McCarroll, Chris Taft and Chevon Troutman burned up their eligibility, Pitt slowed the tempo and let sortapoint guard Carl Krauser distribute the ball and patiently break down defenses while 7-0 Aaron Gray and 6-9 Levon Kendall waited around for sanitation and generally cluttered things up on defense, resulting in 25 wins and another NCAA berth. Two years later, on the heels of a 29-win Sweet Sixteen campaign, Gray, Kendall, and guard Antonio Graves have moved on, but Dixon has more pieces ready to slide right in, and this time, he’s going small, with a more mobile floor presence. The guy is nothing if not prepared.
Those new pieces include several guys who have been around for a few seasons in the Steel City, and one intriguing newcomer in the person of 6-7, 265-pound forward/center DeJuan Blair (11.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg), who reminds me a little bit of Troutman. 5-10 junior Levance Fields (10.9 ppg, 5.8 apg) runs the point, while 6-1 senior Ronald Ramon, who has played some point guard in years past (Dixon has worked without traditional backcourt positions and with freewheeling guard rotations on more than an occasional basis over his four years), is now planted on the wing, where he canned 45.1% of his three-pointers last season, and is hitting distance shots at a .395 clip this time around. The breakout star has been 6-6 junior forward Sam Young, who was a role player in his first two seasons, but has now been stepped up and is leading the team with 17.8 points and 7.4 claims per game. However, here’s the guy who might be of the most concern: 6-4 senior Mike Cook, who was the Panthers’ second-leading scorer last season behind Gray, and is a transfer from ECU. Cook is tallying 11.2 ppg and not much else, but he’s explosively athletic, and burly, too. However, this is why DeMarcus Nelson is going to garner much-deserved recognition as the best on-ball defender in the ACC this season - - I imagine he will be assigned to Cook all night. Normally, a guy who went to ECU would automatically make you think that he’s one of those grudge-carrying characters who wasn’t recruited by Duke, but is ready to go off on them for one game. However, Cook is a Philly guy. Guess that’s why he transferred to Pitt, eh? Man, aren’t you glad you paid for these kinds of insights? Actually, transferring to Pitt makes no sense for a Philly guy. This is going nowhere, but note that Blair made some comments to the press the other day implying that he felt a little snubbed by Duke failing to recruit him. Well. We’ll see how that turns out.
I can’t really offer too much in the way of detailed statistical analysis concerning Pitt, because their stat sheet is completely inflated by the average to below-average compo they’ve faced so far. Three key indicators of that: (1) Young’s and Blair’s rebounding averages; (2) Fields’ 3.6 to 1 A/TO ratio; and (3) the minute distribution; Young and Fields lead the Panthers with only 28.6 and 28.4 mpg in the log so far, despite (or perhaps because of) the less than overwhelming four-man bench of 6-2 senior Keith Benjamin (a fair but not great two guard with no serious playmaking abilities), 6-8 junior Tyrell Biggs (an improving semi-stiff), 6-4 freshman Bradley Wanamaker (a great high school marksman who can’t get a shot off against college competition, hitting just 1-9 from three so far), and 6-6 freshman Gilbert Brown (who projects as a better than average swing).
Whenever I see a team in the early going with explosive rebounding numbers (41.6 rpg as a team), a point guard with a silly A/TO ratio, and low starter minutes, I smell a bad schedule, and sure enough, Pitt’s is weak. Toss out right away the opener against Houston Baptist - - that dude never stood a chance. N.C. AT & T, the St. Louis Majeruses, Mississippi Valley State, Buffalo, Boston U. and Toledo do nothing for me. That leaves us with two road games, one at Hec Ed in Seattle against U-Dub and one a few miles away against crosstown Duquesne at the Palumbo Center (a nice, hidden gem of an A-10 arena, by the way), and the most recent defeat of awful Oklahoma State at Petersen.
First, note that Pitt beat Duquesne by only five and Washington by just one - - and that came after a last-second winning runner by the Huskies in the lane was properly disallowed following a five-minute zebraic replay consultation. Second, going back to my criteria above, in the three most recent games, (1) Blair has averaged 11 boards, but Young just 3.7; (2) Fields went 5-5 A/TO against Duquesne, 3-2 against Washington, and 6-2 against Oklahoma State; (3) the bench scored nine points in 39 minutes against the Dukes, eight points in 46 minutes against the Huskies, and eight points in 38 minutes against the Gottliebs. So, (1) Blair can definitely still board against improving competition, but Young is declining fast in that area; (2) Fields’ A/TO ratio is only 14-9, or 1.55/1 in the most recent three-game span (throw out Oklahoma State, and it’s 8-7 or 1.14/1); and (3) the bench has averaged 8.3 points in 41 mpg over this stretch.
Maybe I’m completely wrong, but aside from the fact that we can expect Blair to get a lot of rebounds, and somebody unexpected to light it up, Ambrose-style, I don’t think Pitt can really hang with the Duke that I’ve seen so far. I respect Dixon and his program, but the Panthers have not seen defense like this before, and have not faced anything close to the three-point attack that they’re going to see tonight. Assuming that the Blue Devils are not thrown off by shooting at the Garden as opposed to smaller venues, and can deal with a crowd that will probably be 50% haters, I think Duke will take this one. Let’s find out!
Duke 84, Pittsburgh 72.
Duke 83, Pittsburgh 71.
Happy Holidays! Hope you’re enjoying the season when: we are subject to 10,000 hours of commercials per citizen all with the same simple message that men and women will nearly lose control of their bodily functions when given power tools and shiny things, respectively; you get in your early predictions in that favorite festive family game called “Who Will Make A Scene At Dinner This Year?; the networks delight children/torment parents by giving Shrek a Christmas special (I’ve seen it five times already); and gleeful shoppers pack the malls with the phrase “Excuse me” used as a thinly-veiled euphemism for “Get the f*** out of my way.”
Now, recently Matt was reaching out via the comments section for some help in this edition as he believed his Really Big East credentials were lacking compared with the Big 10, which has comprised about 78 percent of the material this year. Not getting any takers, he went in a different direction, artificially inflating his expertise on the Conference Galactica by juxtaposing in with material written by someone who knows even less. A brilliant strategy, and I will not disappoint.
But first: As the designated Two Dukies’ eyes, ears and [other body part] in Our Nation’s Capital, I feel some responsibility to give you a rundown of hoops and other happenings around town that may have escaped your notice. It’s called “value added,” which is law firm speak for stuff you don’t want or need but will get billed for. So here’s a quick rundown.
Georgetown is humming along, but have not played anyone of note and will not until a trip to Memphis this weekend which, if this becomes a “home” and a away series will see the teams shuttle between FedEx- and Verizon-sponsored venues in an amazing display of whoring out to corporate masters. This team certainly earned all our appreciation earlier in the year by ridding the final weekend of our basketball-viewing experience of a certain light-blue brand of hoops and their mouth-breathing coach. Plus, John Thompson CXXXXXV has managed to resurrect the program without bringing in any players convicted of beating someone with a metal chair in a bowling alley. Who knew? The other locals, not so good. At GW, Karl Hobbs’ teams took a serious nosedive when he was forced to limit his recruiting to players who were attending high schools. The result as of this writing is 4 and 5. Including a loss to Binghampton (NY), another to the University of Maryland… Baltimore County! and a 36-point performance – for the whole game, mind you – against my other favorite team Virginia Tech. Although, to be fair, they have beaten the University of the District of Columbia. In overtime.
What does this have to do with a site that focuses on the ACC? Nothing. If you would rather, Matt could change the rules and we could pick all these upcoming contests for this edition: Clemson @ Puerto Rico-Mayaguez; North Florida @ Miami; DePaul @ Clemson; Davidson @ NC State; UC Santa Barbara @ North Carolina; Centenary @ Georgia Tech; Elon @ Virginia; American @ Maryland; Northeastern @ Boston College; Florida State @ Providence; Ole Miss @ Clemson; North Carolina A&T @ Miami; and, finally, Cincinnati @ NC State.
Feel better now? I know I do. There is, of course, the Maryland Terriblepens. Like GW's level of success has declined as the number of high school diplomas on the roster has increased, so has Maryland followed the same downward trajectory in inverse relation to coaching by our boy Gary. Putting all humor aside (plink), there cannot be a faster progression from national prominence to afterthought in recent history. Didn’t this team, like, sort of get some kind of trophy in a CBS-covered event one spring not too long ago? Have they, with the notable exception two times a year, done anything since? Was their two seasons of national success due to the presence of a couple of fantastic guards and a decrease in maniacal “coaching” from Sir Williams The Soggy? The answers would be, in order, Yes, No and Yes. They suck, bad, and deserve further consideration, but that’s another show.
As for Duke, all the season’s predictions, recaps and comments on the site have well documented the difference we’ve seen as a result of minor tweaking like Paulus being healthy and mobile and able to run without pain, keeping the scorekeepers relatively busy by making use of the rule allowing substitutions during dead-ball situations, not running the offense through one player exclusively, using multiple ball-handlers (but not Chris Paul!) and actually changing the lineup on the floor when circumstances demand it. However, if you have watched any of the televised games this season, you will have been told by the Men Behind the Microphone that this season’s new look is the direct result of multiple epiphanies Coach K had while leading the national team this summer. Because until he was introduced to Jim Boeheim, a man he had never heard of before, K was unaware of the existence, use and application of a zone defense. Nor did it occur to him, through his own contemplation or perhaps moderate viewing of the sport of basketball, that inbounding the ball quickly and spreading the floor on offense has certain advantages. No, he had to spend some time in the same room as the NBA’s best for this to sink in, according to these blathering dopes. Oh! And having his assistants there helped, too. A couple of weeks of exposure this summer gave Dawkins certain insights he never picked up in a decade of playing professional ball himself. Brilliant analysis we will be saddled with hearing alllllllll season loooooong.
Not that our favorite program is free from their own version of treating the viewing public like idiots. I personally am tired of watching players who clearly have some physical malady defended by the coaching staff all season, only to be told in April that, well, so-and-so has to have surgery/therapy/time in an iron lung to heal an injury they bravely suffered through all season. Which raised two questions: why didn’t you just say so earlier and save the poor young man unneeded dissection of his game and; why the hell are you playing someone who is hurt and much less than 100 percent?
And speaking of iron lungs, the all-time bullshit rollout that is in need of multiple subpoenas from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (Dork-Vt.) is the bizarre evolving explanation of Gerald Henderson’s limited time last year. We’re told he suffers from exercise-induced asthma. Which apparently he had never encountered before, during what I would assume was at least a couple of seasons of high school ball, maybe some summer leagues or perhaps a game or two of driveway pickup with his father who is probably no slouch. Run a search, yep, it exists, and while it sounds kind of scary, he never seems to need any special attention on the bench. Okay, whatever.
Then this season starts. He's staying on the floor for extended periods of time. All cured? Guess so. Until Duke reveals that, no, he had no such condition. He was just OUT OF SHAPE! At this point, the bullshit and counter-bullshit combined with interlocking threads of bullshit create a matrix of confusing, contradictory distortions of reality Stephen Hawking couldn't explain. Did the NCAA limit practices to 30 minutes a week and then use federal marshals to strap players to their beds? Did Henderson use a Rascal during pre-game shootarounds? Perhaps the medical staff accidentally filled his inhalers with ether? He played a whole season of Division I basketball and managed to stay so out of shape everyone thought he had a respiratory disease?
Alright, enough of that. One of the neat things about this year's team at this juncture is that they've played a variety of different teams - - ones with quick guards, ones with plodding halfcourt games and a lot of size upfront, ones with maddening methodical offensive approaches - - and managed to adapt to each. The story leading up to this game is DeJuan Blair, a young but quite sizeable fellow who has nice moves for a newcomer. Sam Young is doing a lot of damage as well and, assuming Lance doesn't play, we might miss him in this one. However, while the Panthers play a lot of guys, the scoring really drops off after this first four. Not to mention they really haven't played anyone of note this year.
Blair is getting a good deal of ink, and may feel it in a nationally televised game in the Garden, so look for Duke to drive right at him and attempt to pick up fouls. And lots of threes. With around six guys who can shoot them well, they can't possibly all go cold on the same night. On defense, the strategy this year against bigger teams has been to employ that secret defense that Boeheium shared with K this summer, resulting in a chorus of angels and an utterance of "Was that what Temple was doing all these years? What a pain in the ass it was to play against that. Thanks, Jim."
Duke 83, Pittsburgh 75.
VIRGINIA TECH (6-4, 0-0) @ WAKE FOREST (7-3, 0-0)
In late-breaking news, Wake beat South Florida last night in Winston, while VPI turned back Liberty in Blacksburg in a tremendous setback for religious wackos everywhere.
I am mostly going to get out of the way here and make room for duhomme’s amazing piece below, but I must formally welcome Dino Gaudio to the ACC. Wake moved as fast as it did to lock up Goonio after Prosser’s tragic passing, because he was the primary engine behind recruiting not only a lot of their young guys, but also the three consensus top 30 signees, which include two centers, that the Dorcs have inked for next season. In a way, that’s unfortunate, because I dislike this guy and don’t think he’s an ACC-caliber coach. Some of you may remember that Lunarlandscapeface was the head man at West Point a few years ago, in 1996-1997, when Duke suffered through a really weird attack of Thugball from the Black Knights that was, quite frankly, conduct unbecoming. K was furious about the blatant show of disrespect from the guy coaching his alma mater, and the USMA fired Goonio at year’s end following a 10-14 campaign. I wonder if K is over that; I’m not. It was really despicable. (By the way, Duke went back to Christl Arena the next season for the season opener. Interesting, no?)
Well, like him or not, here he is, and frankly, the Deacons don’t look too bad relative to expectations, or even in a vacuum. There sure isn’t any doubt that Prosser could and Craterface can recruit; but can the latter be a good operational coach? I doubt it - - not at the ACC level. But the results are impressive so far. Meanwhile, Surly Seth has his team at a middling 6-4, which about what you’d expect given the offseason losses of Zabe Dowdell, Jamon Gordon, and Coleman Collins. A.D. Vassallo with starter's minutes means all kinds of trouble. And with that, excuse me, and let me make room for something really important and quite beautiful below. Merry Christmas.
Wake Forest 78, Virginia Tech 74.
Wake Forest 75, Virginia Tech 71. Reema Samaha is my cousin. She was the flower girl at my wedding when she was around three or four. She was a dancer and a performer in all ways. She could fill a room with her smile alone. And even then, watching her walk down the aisle dropping petals that day many years ago, you could see it. There are many people whose lives would have been brightened for years to come by simply being in her presence.
She was also a freshman at Virginia Tech last April when an armed man with documented unstable behavior and who had been legally declared dangerous killed her and 31 other members of the university community. And I miss her.
Now what? Oh, we can have the gun control debate. The fact that the shooter met the conditions to be banned from buying firearms in the federal database but that the state of Virginia somehow had no mechanism for reporting his details. That records of his behavioral deviance in middle and high schools were subject to privacy laws and could not be passed on. That Congress has just today decided the answer to keeping crazy people from going on shooting sprees is federal grants for what is basically software updates for half-ass state law enforcement agencies. That whenever something like this happens our elected officials pass retroactive measures that basically penalize someone for committing firearms violations while in the process of mass murder. That the university and the state have handled the situation in the most irresponsible and, at times, disgusting way possible.
But, she’s gone. Survived the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 2006 but not her freshman year of college. Killed by a man who warmed up with two early morning shootings, dropped off some mail and then finished off the day with the nation’s largest shooting despite the local authorities having several hours notice that someone on campus was up to no good with a gun. And now, as I listen to my son and daughter driving me nuts fighting over the computer, I imagine there was a time Reema and her brother or sister did the same, and her parents would do anything to have that back.
"You know who I am," he said
The speaker was an angel
He coughed and shook his crumpled wings
Closed his eyes and moved his lips
"It's time we should be going"
- David Bowie
Merry Christmas, Reema.
Virginia Tech 80, Wake Forest 70.