TWO DUKIES PICK THE ACC
Volume XIII, Episode 52
April 3, 2010
NEER, MISS! EDITION
FINAL FOUR EDITION
Matt’s comments in blue.
duhomme's comments in red.
(2E) #6 WEST VIRGINIA (31-6, 13-5 Big East) v. (1S) #3 DUKE (33-5, 13-3)
Duke’s win over Baylor was arguably its most impressive of the season, and was the kind of game that last year’s team, the 2007-2008 edition, certainly the one before that, and possibly even any Duke squad after 2003-2004 would not have won. When the game started, I wasn’t sure about having Singler guard LaceDarius Dunn, especially given the two quick fouls in the first half, but it worked out very well, and in fact, Kyle never did get his third personal foul. Naturally, his offense wasn’t there, but I have a feeling that will come back. Meanwhile, Nolan Smith Bootsied, and Jon Scheyer also destroyed, the Bears’ 1-3-1/2-3 zone, leaving it in tatters and forcing Baylor into an unaccustomed pace that caused them to adopt more halfcourt looks with the ball down the stretch, which proved to be the Bears’ undoing. Also noteworthy, to say the least, was the outstanding offensive rebounding presence by Zoubek and especially Lance Thomas. Lance didn’t have a good shooting day from the floor, but he seized eight o-boards, and boy, was that one off of Nolan’s missed free throw, leading to a kickout and a Smith three to give Duke the lead for good, uh, big? Yes. Particularly after Jon followed with a three just moments later to seal it. Props also to the Plumlees for providing an intimidating rebounding presence off the bench, and to Andre Dawkins for those two threes he hit in the first half, in particular the second, which pulled Duke out of a six-point hole and ensured that the Blue Devils would stay in the game. Neither three drew anything but net - - awesome.
One team feature that has become quite a hallmark of this squad continued in Sunday’s regional final - - the reverse fade, where Duke actually gets stronger as the clock winds down. It’s all kinds of awesome, quite frankly. Against teams without a ton of depth, it’s also extremely effective. I thought Baylor was getting noticeably spent down the stretch - - one example of which came on Acy’s stupid contact technical - - and not coincidentally, that’s when Duke took the lead for good.
In West Virginia, Duke faces a team that is in many ways similar to Purdue - - a squad that slammed the Mountaineers in West Lafayette, 77-62, back on New Year’s Day. And that means that West Virginia, at least in terms of defensive orientation, is also very similar to Duke. The Mountaineers, like Baylor, play a 1-3-1 zone, and just like Baylor, they play it because of matchup problems and defensive deficiencies that are exposed in man-to-man sets. Thuggy also runs out a lineup with four forwards and one guard, which can lead to matchup issues on both ends of the hardwood.
Of course, the Mountaineers’ star is 6-7 senior Da’Sean Butler (17.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.8 tpg, 1.0 spg, 2.1 pfpg, .416/.783/.357), who had six game-winning shots this season. This tells you a little bit about WVU’s “fortune factor,” but it also shouts at you even more loudly that this dude needs to be guarded. Butler likes to do a little stepback move and take the three, and he is certainly athletic and drives well, but he’s not a terrifyingly accurate shooter and isn’t a lockdown defender either. This is an excellent guarding assignment for Lance Thomas, in a little Newark-on-Newark battle, because if Butler can’t light it up, the Mountaineers really can’t win. In the game against Baylor, Duke struggled for a while because Lance really didn’t have a natural check, but WVU, lacking a traditional post presence, makes for a great solution to this problem. I like the edge here for the Blue Devils, but it is absolutely critical that Butler not be allowed to explode, as he did in the second round of the NCAAs against Missouri, scoring 28 of WVU’s 68 points.
The second-most important forward is 6-9 sophomore Devin Ebanks (12.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.5 apg, 2.2 tpg, 1.1 spg, .453/.768/.100). Ebanks, along with Butler, really generates a lot of offense off of secondary opportunities caused by offensive rebounds of missed shots, so the Blue Devils really need to bring some serious Windex for the defensive glass. Since Ebanks doesn’t shoot the three and rarely ventures to the wing, and also isn’t that bulky at 215, I’m tempted to say that this is where Jon Scheyer should be assigned on the defensive end. Of course, with active screen switching, this may not matter that much, and Scheyer might be part of a tandem. On the other hand, Singler should probably check Ebanks to give Duke a rough height equivalency and a weight advantage at this position. Ebanks will not beat anyone from outside - - but even in a zone look, he’s going to struggle to contain Singler, who, one senses, will be back offensively in this one, particularly give that West Virginia’s main players are similar in height and weight to Purdue’s, against whom Singler had no trouble. Sure, that was a tight man-to-man and this will b a zone, but Singler will still get opportunities aplenty to take his man off the dribble, score on loose balls, and take threes against the zone.
6-8 sophomore Kevin Jones (13.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.1 tpg, .524/.676/.406) is the closest thing that Huggins offers to a “center,” but as you can see by the three-point percentage (which is 41-101), he’s equally comfortable on the wing. This is usually the matchup that the Mountaineers seek to exploit, by drawing the opposing big man out to the perimeter, but Krzyzewski doesn’t usually fall for that. Instead, you might expect to see Zoubek and/or the Plumlee in Action flash out when Jones wanders to the arc, then hand him off to Scheyer or even Smith (depending on what the point guard is doing) for handling. With nearly a week to prepare, I have little doubt that Coach K and the staff looked at film of WVU and designed a containment plan for Jones, who hit three triples apiece in the two games in Syracuse against Washington and Kensucky - - meaning that he hasn’t exactly been in hiding. Despite a decent percentage, Jones very rarely ventures to the line. The last time he was held below double figures was in the Neers’ regular season finale at Villanova, which Weeva won, 68-66. Despite having much in the way of size, Villanova clearly gamed Jones properly and denied him good looks from distance, where he was only 1-3. In the Big East Tournament, Jones only hit one three in 102 minutes - - suggesting that Cincinnati, Notre Dame (whose coach’s number Krzyzewski can probably dig up if needed for a scouting report) and Georgetown got the memo that Jones cannot be allowed to shoot from range. At 6-8 and 250, and without a fearsome array of post moves, he’s really not that much of a threat, at least not in terms of taking over a game, if he is denied the longball. On defense, of course, Jones - - who only fouls 2.2 times per 40 minutes - - will be seeking to contain Zoubeard and the Forest Rangers, and that won’t be easy. Whoever wins that rebounding battle will gain a significant upper hand in this one.
The fourth frontcourt starter in Huggins’ unusual alignment is 6-7 senior Wellington Smith (6.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.2 tpg, 1.0 bpg, 3.2 pfpg in 23.0 mpg, .460/.595/.353). After further thought, this is where Scheyer should be used on defense, at least in initial sets, with a handoff to low post sentries as needed. Smith shot 102 three-pointers this season, but has not hit more than one in a game since March 6. (That was the regular season finale road game against Villanova again - - my guess is that Jay Wright, running out of forwards to guard the WVU players, decided to pick his poison and guard Jones more tightly than Smith on the perimeter. It worked fairly well, actually, even though Jones hit three from range and Villanova came up just short.) Smith did most of his damage on the boards early in the season, and has averaged just five boards an outing in his last 10. He is also a serious bricklayer at the line, which he visits infrequently - - in seven games between March 6 and March 25, he made exactly one free throw, in five attempts. (Ken*ucky, led by their ridiculously overrated signal caller, naturally managed to allow Smith six shots at the donation stripe, of which he converted four.) Smith is also a subpar defender and gets in foul trouble constantly; WVU will try to camouflage that by stationing him on the midline of the zone, but he’ll still get enough fouls that he’ll have to come out, in all likelihood, for long stretches. And if Duke can achieve that, then Huggins has to think about a second guard on the floor, at which point many of the potential WV matchup advantages go out the window.
Frontcourt reserves include 6-7 junior John Flowers (3.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.7 tpg, 1.9 pfpg in 14.4 mpg, .436/.468/.318). That three-point figure is 7-22; Flowers goes only 215 and isn’t a great defender by any stretch, nor does he successfully bang on the boards, and he is a woeful free-throw shooter. Duke can readily seize the edge when Flowers is on the floor. 6-9 Turkostiff Deniz Kilicli (3.4 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 1.2 pfpg in 6.6 mpg, .500/.556/.000) is another “low post” presence, but this isn’t exactly Ali Ton we’re talking about here. Kilicli (whose name is pronounced “Turkish prison”) is not, to put it mildly, an impact player. We want to see a lot of him. Finally, 6-7 junior Cam Thoroughman (1.0 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 1.4 pfpg in 7.6 mpg, .500/.542/.000) is best remembered for his ridiculous four-point, four-board (three scoreside), three-personal foul performance against Duke in 2008. Thoroughman has surpassed that point total exactly three times since. He’s the kind of guy that the Duke teams of two and three years ago would sort of ignore, even when he came off the bench and threatened, at least hypothetically, to amass statistics. Another problem was that Thoroughprick dealt out some cheap shots, flailed elbows, and generally just acted like a complete doosh - - and the Duke team of that season didn’t know how to answer that kind of behavior, even though they saw quite a bit of it in the ACC (from the likes of the unlamented Nutcracker, for example).
Hey, speaking of then-scrubs who rose out of nowhere and gave their team an emotional lift in that game two seasons ago, the starting point guard for West Virginia in this game will likely be 6-2 junior Joe Mazzulla (2.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.1 tpg, 2.4 pfpg in 15.6 mpg, .367/571/.125). Mazzulla, of course, famously came off the bench against Duke in 2008 and scored 13 points and snared 11 bounds in 31 minutes. To put this in perspective, this is sort of like Marcus Ginyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaard nailing twelve threes in fourteen tries, or Digger Phelps emitting a coherent, non-run-on sentence, or Seth Davis seizing the studio spotlight from Greg Anthony and declaring that he’s proud to be a Duke alumnus. Context? Sure. Mazzulla has scored more points twice in his career (which spans parts of four seasons - - we’ll get to that in a moment), once leveling 15 at the Pitt Panthers and then, of course, tallying 17 points on 5-11 shooting, including his first three-pointer since November 28, 2008, in the Neers’ hilarious win over Kentucky in Syracuse to advance to this game. Clearly, Mazzulla enjoys the big stage, almost as much as the media has enjoyed telling us about his recurrent shoulder injury - - he is effectively playing with one arm, which is admittedly impressive, but won’t help his already-subpar defense - - and as much as the man himself enjoys racking up arrests for domestic battery, as he did in the offseason. (He suffered the ultimate penalty, though - - he was suspended during the summer!!! And he had to sit out one whole game at the beginning of this season!! It’s Discipline, Thuggy-Style!!!!!!! Now, Mazzulla played as well as he did against Kentucky because the players that Oozeipari hired to disgrace the sport this season were among the stupidest ever assembled - - except those from this year’s Wake team, and by extenstion this year’s Texas squad. The Great John Wall just sat back in his recliner and marveled in appreciation as the stocky, nonaerodynamic Mazzulla glided to the bucket repeatedly, picking up several easy field goals and eight free throw attempts in the process. In this game, however, facing a real defense mounted by players who give a damn as a team, Mazzulla faces a few challenges. First of all, Nolan Smith has proven that he can stay in front of everybody, and Mazzulla shouldn’t threaten that streak. Second, Mazzulla is not going to be getting in Nolan’s way too often - - Tweety Carter may not be an outstanding defender, but Mazzulla is even less of one. Sure, it’s a zone look that we’ll be seeing, but even in the 1-3-1 Duke will be able to exploit Nolan’s far greater quickness with abandon. Mazzulla also deals out tons of fouls, which could be a problem given that - - if we are to believe Huggins - - his starting point guard will not be available for this one.
That individual is 6-2 sophomore Darryl Bryant (9.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.1 apg, 2.0 tpg, 2.1 pfpg in 24.3 mpg, .346/.757/.315). Bryant isn’t among the Big East’s top playmakers; he’s an average defender and can’t really shoot very well or with consistency, except at the stripe. However, he provides an emotional lift because his teammates respond to him, and shuttling him and the burlier Mazzulloid out there in shifts can confuse the opposition. As you’ve heard unless you’ve been hiding in the caves of Kandahar with Michael Steele and others with good reason to stay out of the media glare, Bryant broke his foot in practice before WVU’s Sweet Sixteen game against Washington. He visited Durham - - various reports even said the Duke Medical Center - - this past week to get fitted for a special shoe this past week, and HINT HINT TIM BRANDO, THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF ACTUAL, 100% GRADE-A CERTIFIED IRONY. However, Thuggy, in a classic example of protesting too much, has run around finding every mediot with a recording device this week and insisted that Bryant just! Is! Not! Playing!!! Which, of course, having grown up with wannabe Pravda staff writers like those on the Infominion staff a NCCH, makes me yawn. Also, I’m really not that worried about it either way; as you can see, Bryant isn’t that much of an upgrade over a pumped-up Mazzulla, and generally, the two of them rotate in and out of one spot. The main problem if Bryant does play is a lost benefit other than a detriment - - without him able to go, WVU is much more shallow, and there’s the tantalizing possibility of Mazzulla getting all geeked, trying too hard, and fouling out, leaving the Needs with a five-forward offense and no ballhandler. Which is pretty much exactly what happened when the Lexington Mildkittens nearly came back and stole one away - - despite hitting 2-487 from the three-point arc and making free throws like an army of full-on clones of John Henson. In a world . . . where no one could open that stuck jar of peanut butter . . . . [/movie preview voice] . . . yeah, I’m just not that worried about whether Bryant plays, but if he doesn’t, WVU is in big trouble. By the way, Bryant seems like a nice, jovial kid, laughing it up and smiling with his teammates on the bench, but his vehicular nickname “truck” probably isn’t that amusing to anyone involved in either of the PAIR of hit-and-runs in which he was involved over the summer, leading to yet another gripping, Huggy-style suspension that occurred . . . when it didn’t matter. Anyway, perhaps something else from the motor pool? Love how the media, naturally, never picked up on that, either, and kept drilling the kid’s nickname into the ground. Isn’t it interesting how political figures are roasted for very often minor foibles (not to say that there aren’t ones with bigger issues, of course), but in the world of college basketball, you can pretty much be a war criminal and still “get a blow” from Bill Raftery with nary a word of disapproval? Fran Fraschilla is on line one for you, sir, and he’s pointing at his exposed nads.
The only other guard on the roster is 6-4 junior Casey Mitchell 3.8 ppg, 0.9 rpg, .321/.842/.302) Mitchell was supposed to be a deadeye shooter coming out of juco, but he can be guarded very easily, and Duke needs to make sure they know where he is when he’s on the floor, because he shot 86 threes and 48 twos this season. He should be an easy check for Scheyer when he enters.
As a team, WVU is just average shooting the ball from the line (70.3%, #129 in Division I), and below average shooting from the arc (33.6%, #195 in Division I). The Sneers almost never steal the ball, are not an outstanding shotblocking team (there’s no Ekpe Udoh on this squad), and send their opponents to the line a ton - - only about 125 of the 347 Div I teams did so more frequently, and as well as Duke’s been creating freebie opportunities and converting then, that augurs well for the Blue Devils. For a team reputed to be so physical - - and which served up a better offensive rebounding percentage than any team in the country other than Old Dominion (Duke ranked seventh, just 1.5% behind) - - the Mountain Ears scored a fairly high percentage of their points (28.1%) from the bonusphere, while notching just below 50% of their points from within the confines of conventional scoring value. (Duke was a little worse than WVU in this metric, at 48.5% of its points from two-land, but the Blue Devils also scored a lot of points from the line, and typically, this is a statistical measure where Duke has faced a serious deficit in most of its matchups this season, especially against all those finesse-allergic ACC teams like GIT, BeeCee, Fake Worest, etc.) However, Duke allowed a lower percentage of points to be scored against it from the arc than all but four other Division I teams, and maintains its ranking as the top team in the nation in terms of opponents’ 3PFG% - - which, from our perspective as Blue Devil fans, is an extremely positive indicator of Duke’s fortunes. Keeping Jones and Smith from connecting from range is about as key as containing Butler in general.
By the way, in case you didn’t see it, here is a really nice article with plenty of cool quotes from Ryan Kelly. It’s fantastic how good the chemistry on this Duke team is - - and that has played a role in the team’s success. Hopefully, we’ll see that on display in this one once again.
Look, I see this matchup in much the same terms as the Baylor game. Duke really should do very, very well against, and defeat decisively, this well-coached, individually-talented, but poor-shooting, non-finesse, zone-playing-because-of defensive-matchup-fails-and-other-deficiencies West Virginia squad. Now, West Virginia did find ways to stay in virtually every game this season, but Duke is coming on strong down the stretch and has a bit of a revenge motif playing in its favor. Those Neers who were on the 2007-2008 squad are probably going to have trouble recognizing the Blue Devils in this one - - all five starters for Duke played in that game, and all have improved tremendously. Add in the physicality of the Plumlees and maybe a couple of more good looks for Andre, and this one should go Duke’s way. Come on, Devils.
Duke 76, West Virginia 68.
Are you still here? Well, so are we. And so is Duke, to the amazement of every T.V. analyst who claimed simultaneously that Duke had the easiest bracket but was also too weak to get past the second round. Somehow the Devils were given an easy path to the Final Four but were STILL not up to the task? Whatever. That’s kind of like saying someone in a cooking contest benefited from being assigned the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but was incapable of pulling it off. Quick comment to all commentators: pick one or the other to harp on. Contradictory arguments made at the same time make you look even dopier than you already are.
On a personal note, this is my first trip to the Final Four. No, I’m not in Indy. It’s the first time Duke has gone this far since I began writing for this website. Frankly, I was wondering if there was some kind of cosmic correlation between the two, as this has been (I believe) the longest absence from the penultimate game in K’s tenure in Durham. Curse broken! Here’s hoping we can stay busy through the weekend.
How many times in the two post-season events has Duke taken a game that has been close for 37+ minutes, or became close near the end, and then completely pwned the final 120-150 seconds? Nearly every one, it seems, but none as fun as this one. (Yep, in my opinion, if ACC Championship got in a fight with Final Four Appearance, ACC Championship would get knocked out within 15 seconds.) Although not nearly as fun when you cheat and check the score (because you’re working with a 20-minute DVR delay) on the computer. Sigh.
We’ve played this game before, but it's kind of fun, and helps take up space around here as well, so, let’s try it again. I beam in from the future and tell you that Duke will shoot 36 percent and Baylor will shoot nearly 46 percent. (I will not, however, tell you how many times in the last couple of editions I have typed “Butler” when I meant “Baylor.”) Surely, you would respond along the lines of, well, it’s been a good season. Sorry to see it end that way. Then I add that Baylor had eight blocked shots, but Duke had none. Wow, you would say, that is going to be an ugly game. Probably as bad as the loss to Villanova last year. Wouldn’t you feel silly once the game actually occurred!!! No, actually you would not. Given those two simple stats, assuming a bad Duke loss is natural. It just didn’t happen. What did happen is that I finally got around to coming up with the …
WIN OF THE GAME: I thought about going with the fact that this team, while relying primarily on three players to score the lion’s share of the points (where did that expression come from?), can absorb one of them having a bad game and still win. But, really, is there a better story out there that Nolan Smith dedicated the game to his father, who led Louisville to the Final Four in the EXACT same city in1980? Nolan+ Career High + Tribute to Dad = MAJOR WIN.
FAIL OF THE GAME: In the ending segment of the pre-game discussion, Greg Gumbel asked his on-air team of Greg Anthony, Bill Self and Seth Davis for their final thoughts on the key points. You’ve probably already guessed that Self and Anthony answered that question in the way it was intended, while Duke grad Davis immediately shouted that DUKE WILL CERTAINLY LOSE BECAUSE THEY HAVE SO MANY DEFICIENCIES IN BOTH THE FRONTCOURT AND BACKCOURT. Too bad they had to go and play the game, huh? Kind of ruined your proclamation made with all the certainty of predicting where the sun will set tonight.
Anyhoo, despite a gamey effort from Baylor (and the wishes of Duke alumni employed by broadcast/cable networks), the Blue Devils are currently taking in the sites of the greater Indianapolis area and getting accustomed to playing basketball in the Colts’ stadium. But, before looking at the next game, is there any other weirdness that happened in college basketball recently, particularly in the ACC? Why, my goodness, yes there is! Boston College Superintendent Chalmers canned Al SKIIINNNNERRRRR!!!!!, because, according to some reports, the fellow was pulling a George W. Bush and deciding that a previous accomplishment, like occasionally getting into the NCAAs or winning a second term in the White House was plenty, and it was now time to sit back with feet propped securely on desk and wait until the next Tyrese Rice or Jared Dudley falls out of the sky. (Note: this coaching strategy was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Wake Forest Basketball Fans v. Dave Odom Expecting Another Tim Duncan to Somehow Appear on Campus.) Making things even more knee-slappingly funny is that one of the names on the short list is …
Come on …
Come up …
With the …
Most absurd name ever …
That makes …
The St. John's hire of Steve Lavin …
Look like sheer genius …
[drum roll, please. Click here for that same cheesy one]
… Pete FREAKIN’ Gillen!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
YES!!!!!!!!!!!!! The guy who couldn’t get it done at UVA, which has decades of ACC tradition, a history of basketball tradition and is seated in the heart of prime hoops recruiting territory. Just to drop a few names, none other than Grant Hill, Danny Ferry, Nate James, Andre Dawkins and Johnny Dawkins came from nearby. Just off the top of my head and only including Duke players. Oh, Joe Smith, the national player of the year at Maryland in his sophomore year came from the tidewater region of Virginia. Not all those were during Gillen’s tenure as a time-out-burning fiend in Charlottesville, but you get the idea. This made no sense at all until I saw an interview with B.C. Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo in which he was asked, “Are you trying to make the basketball program even worse?” The response? “Oh, goodness yes. Undeniably. We’re talking about the kind of drastic move backwards as you’d see with Bill Gates moving to Amish country.”
Nice to see that kind of candor in the mess that is college sports. Uh-oh, did someone say mess? Well, lookie-here, we have Coach K facing off against the “leader” of the West Virginia Mountaineers, a man who managed to get himself on the wrong side of an academic overhaul of the University of Cincinnati after it was discovered that his graduation-rate vacuum was so bad it kept non-athletes from picking up a diploma. Upon collecting $3mill to go elsewhere, he wasted everyone’s time at Kansas State for a season before being summoned to Morgantown, WVA. Where graduating from college for an athlete is considered about as common as winning the lottery in 23 different states. On the same day.
According to one blog I recently read, Hugsandkisses is 2-1 against Coach K. Since, this same blog claimed the last time the two had faced off was in the 1998-1999 season, we’ll have to take that with a grain of salt. I remember Huggy beating Duke twice. Once was that same game from 1998-99 in the finals of the Great Alaskan Shoot-out, where Duke was down early, then came back to tie the game before unfortunately assuming Cincy was game for an extra five minutes of play. Except, they weren’t, and Snuggy called a play that involved a full-court toss for a lay-up as time expired. The other loss in recent memory (the Duke SID doesn’t have their gamenotes up yet) was, Hey, you are on top of this one! Just two seasons ago in this same event. That time around, WVU toyed around with Duke in a game that was really never in question. But that was a different Duke team.
On a final note, I find it quite interesting that Darryl “Tucks” Bryant, the Fountaineer point guard who recently broke his foot, has been declared almost certainly unavailable to play today. Not because of the nature of the injury, but because the news has been announced by head coach Sweetie-pie. Over. And over. And over. And over. Again. Anyone else think we’ll be treated to pre-game footage of him with multiple I.V.s, a team of emergency physicians hovering over him and calls for a spine donation, only to see him spring onto the floor after the first T.V. timeout? Yeah, you’re right. He’ll probably start.
Duke 71, West Virginia 70.