TWO DUKIES PICK THE ACC
Volume XIV, Episode 8
December 4, 2010
NATIONAL TITLE GAME REDUX EDITION
Mattís comments in blue.
duhomme's comments in red.
BUTLER (4-2, 1-0 Horizon) @ #1 DUKE (7-0, 0-0)
Interesting game against Michigan State. In many ways, the contest reminded me of the Marquette tilt - - not as close as the final score indicated, athletic opponent, and defensive breakdowns (deliberate or otherwise) by Duke in the final couple of minutes that made the game look more competitive than it actually was. But again, I ask - - at any time, did you think Duke would actually lose this one? I didnít. I was pretty certain that Korie Lucious could not maintain his first-half scoring pace, was willing to bid most of my possessions against the possibility that Garrick Sherman would continue to dominate inside, and knew that there was no one on Michigan State who could make the necessary adjustments to guard Kyrie Irving.
Thatís not a typo in Butlerís record up there - - they played their conference opener on Wednesday night in Chicago against Loyola-Chicago, and, well, barely escaped with a two-point win. The Horizon League, you see, has a true, 18-game round robin, so they start conference play early. Wow!! In this day and age? I thought that was illegal, or at least ethically dubious. Not so! Itís truly amazing that Horizon League schools manage to find the time in their schedules to play two more conference games than, say conferences that can only squeeze in a 16-game schedule, mostly because of the pressing need to cram USC Upstate and Longwood on to everyoneís slate. Well played, Horizon League. Back to Butler - - while Duke is pretty much inarguably a *better* team now, even this early in the season, than the Blue Devils were when they won the national championship, Butler has gone in the opposite direction. In large measure, and not surprisingly, this is due to the early Neeba draft declaration of Gordon Hayward (15.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg in 2009-2010) and the graduation of Willie Veasley, almost a double-digit scorer at 9.8 ppg, and a good rebounder out of the backcourt at 4.3 boards an outing last season. Veasley was also a good defender, and Hayward, at 6-9, created devastating mismatches in the backcourt against many helpless opponents. Now, itís worth remembering that at one point last season, Butler was 8-4; the Bulldogs finished 33-5 and beat more than a few really strong opponents on their way to and (in the case of Michigan State) in Indianapolis, before coming within a halfcourt heave of the trophy. (Whew.) Brad Stevens - - like Tom Izzo - - is a superb operation coach and also a 100% class act, and itís a pleasure to face off, for the second straight game no less, against a coach and a program that do the sport credit. So, is Butler a match for Duke this season?
With Hayward plying his wares for pay, Butlerís best player is (once again) 6-8 senior Matt Howard (16.0 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.5 tpg, 1.3 spg, 2.3 pfpg, .545/.775/.385), last seen by Duke fans throwing that vicious backpick that laid Singler out on the final play of the natty title game and allowed Hayward to get free for the halfcourt heave. (Interestingly, however, the blatant illegal screen by Howard also forced Hayward to his right a bit more than he probably would have liked, so - - who knows. It worked out fine from where I sit.) Howard has had an interesting career; he was the Ho League POY as a sophomore, but then spent much of his junior season deferring to Hayward and acting like a goon, fouling out of nine contests. In general, Howard is undisciplined and wild, and not a strong defender in the post or on the wing, where he sometimes floats on offense. He will likely be tasked with guarding Kyle Singler in this game, and Singler is much faster, laterally quick, and athletic, and he will draw Howard outside just as much as Howard wants - - and likely more. It may also be that Singler has a little revenge in mind for that crackback block, as he absolutely did not flop on the play, but (1) Singler is an incredibly tough kid; (2) things that bother a large percentage of humans do not seem to trouble him; and (3) as I noted above, everything worked out pretty well for Duke. However, remember how hard Kyle played against his little bro? Itís possible that he might be motivated in this one, especially after a down game against Michigan State, in which he nonetheless drained two critical threes and putback that miss by Irving as the shot clock expired. The latter heady play made bulletheaded technocrat and Duke-hater Dan Shulman cry when watching the replay as the light dawned that yes, Singler, got off the shot in time. Not sorry, Dan.
6-3 junior Shelvin Mack (15.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.7 apg, 2.3 tpg, 1.0 spg, .436/.773/.333) is Butlerís other significant scorer, and so far this season, he and Howard are carrying a seriously disproportionate share of the scoring load. This brings up something that Iíd like to mention briefly. Have you noticed that the Associated Press preseason poll (remember, I donít bother with the Teenage Sons of the Athletic Directorsí poll) is getting more and more unfounded, inaccurate, and irrelevant? Last season, UNC-CH was the consensus #1 despite losing an enormochunk of scoring, rebounding, and balls - - but somehow, Deon Thompson and Ed Davis were going to make that all okay. This season, of course, UNC-CH was ranked in the Top 10 before showing its (lousy) hand even earlier than it did last season. Connvicticut was unranked to start this season - - uhhhh, no. Temple was ranked. Noooo. Michigan State was virtually a consensus #2 pick, and several imbeciles who have a nervous disorder that prevents them from taking any action that might inure to the benefit of the Duke Blue Devils, like Chapel Hill grad Jay Bilas and eight AP ballotcasters (a group that does not include Bilas, who lacks a vote this season, but does include the oft-bizarre John Feinstein, whoís off on his own planet again), picked MSU to win it all. Nay! The Spartans, as we saw on Wednesday night, have several serious holes, most notably their total inability to defend on the wing. Then we have Butler, which was ranked #17 in the preseason AP poll. Is anyone paying attention? Hayward is an almost insurmountable loss for the Bulldogs in the near term, and Veasley was no slouch either. I just donít understand the collective lack of thought that is going into the preseason poll these days - - from 65 people who ought to know better. Anyway, back to Mack - - heís a very tough player, and as duhomme notes infra, Dukeís backcourt defense has been a little negligent at times this season. However, I donít think that thereís any cause for concern, as a significant number of Michigan Stateís three-pointers came in what amounted to garbage time. I expect Mack, by contrast, to be given the Jake Pullen treatment all game long, and although Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving have a height disadvantage against the very strong Mack, theyíre quicker and faster. And thereís always Andre Dawkins, perimeter defensive stopper, off the bench. Mack simply much have a big game in order for Butler to prevail in this one, and I expect him to occupy a great deal of Dukeís time and attention, much as Lucas and Summers did on Wednesday in Cameron.
6-0 junior and early warning system Ronald Nored (3.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.8 apg, 2.2 tpg, 1.8 spg, 2.2 pfpg, .308/.500./167) is the point guard, but three games ago, in a large-margin win over Siena, Nored suffered a huge collision, and has been fighting off concussion-like symptoms since, which issues have kept him out of the last two games. Heís officially questionable for this one, and while I imagine heíll play, he could be limited. His absence and/or compromised position is significant for two reasons: first, heís the point guard, and if heís not on the floor, Mack has increased ballhandling responsibilities and canít concentrate nearly as much on his shooting. Second, Nored is by far the Bulldogsí best defender on the wing. Dude can track f**king Santa, for Chrissakes. If heís not up to speed, Kyrie Irving and Nolan Smith are going to be blowing by Mack (an average defender at best) and the rest of the backcourt rotation all game long. And we saw how well that worked out for MSU. When healthy, Nored is not a shooter from either the arc or the stripe.
The other significant players in the backcourt are 6-0 senior Shawn Vanzant (7.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.7 tpg, 2.0 pfpg, .486/.444/.364) and 6-1 senior Zach Hahn (8.2 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.8 tpg, 2.0 pfpg, .308/.385/.833). Neither is a strong defender; Hahn has the netter passing skills of the two. Vanzant and Hahn are nice complementary pieces, but neither one is on the level of Curry and Dawkins, not to mention Dukeís backcourt starters. Vanzant, a physically powerful player for his size and a good rebounder off the ball, played 15 minutes in the title match last season, making the only field goal he took and registering one board and two fouls; prior to this season, he had scored in double figures only three times in his career, with two of those outings coming against Milwaukee. No, not the one with Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, although come to think of it, what do I know? Maybe it was. Hahn, for his part, is a soulless three-point gunner who doesnít have too much of an all-around game, and as a result, was never able to crack 20 mpg in his first seasons. Hahn played 11 minutes against Duke last April and logged a field goal in one attempt (a three, natch), a board and a foul. Hahn has scored in double digits nine times in his career and is by far the greater offensive threat when compared to Vanzant.
Backcourt depth comes via 6-4 sophomore Chase Stigall (3.8 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 1.3 pfpg, .250/.500/.300), who sounds like a piece of financial regulation successfully repealed by Wall Street shills, and 6-5 senior Alex Anglin (2.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.0 pfpg, .500/.667/.500), a career DíNipper who is seeing action out of necessity. Stigall may be a contributor in the future, but for now, he doesnít have the skill set to compete with Duke.
Accompanying Howard in the frontcourt rotation are 6-11 sophomore Andrew Smith (6.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.8 pfpg, .536/.556/.000), a project who saw scattered minutes as a freshman, and isnít quite bulky (at 240) or quick enough to defend well in the post, 6-7 junior Garrett Butcher (3.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.7 pfpg, .450/1.000/.000), and 6-7 freshman Khyle Marshall (5.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.8 pfpg, .414/.667/.000), an athletic Floridian swingman, which would be a great name for a band. The Floridian Swingmen - - I love it. On keyboards and backing vocals, Stingray Narvis, ladies and gentlemen!! Butcher is a spare part, but Marshall is the jewel of a three-man recruiting class that so far, has not yielded a great deal in terms of results. 6-9 freshman Eric Fromm (1.7 ppg in 6.7 mpg) and 6-1 freshman and local product Chrishawn Hopkins (1.7 ppg in 6.7 mpg) have barely been factors, even with Noredís command and control system experiencing some maintenance.
Butler was destroyed by Louisville and beaten by Evansville, and in addition to the Bulldogsí narrow escape against the Loyola Ramblers in their last outing, one of their four wins so far came against Marian. No, not Maid Marian, although she reputedly has a mean crossover. NAIA Marian University, located in Indianapolis. So, effectively, Butler is 3-2 against less-than-stellar Division I competition. The Bulldogs are #312 out of 345 D-I teams in blocked shots per possession, and they donít steal the ball much either, ranking #281 in that category. Their effective field goal percentage (which awards an extra point for made three-pointers) is #195 in the country, while Dukeís eFG stands at #12. Butler does guard the three-pointer well, at least so far, but scores a very low percentage of its points within the arc, meaning that they are particularly susceptible to a strong defensive performance. Add in Dukeís weaponry of Singler/Smith/Irving (anyone want to lay odds on a third-straight career high in points scored by a Duke player in this one?), the developing inside game, Dawkins and Curry off the bench, Irving probably wanting to play well in his home state, and what will presumably be a Duke-friendly crowd at Brendan Byrne, and I think Duke should take this one home, possibly with ease.
Duke 82, Butler 68.
To: Seth Greenberg, Paul Hewitt
CC: Roy Williams
From: John ďSwoff-ManĒ Swofford
Date: Dec. 2, 2010
I usually wait until after the season (college football, that is) before commenting on your team management, but recent events were simply too on point to put off. (By the way, before I get into the details of my communication to you, please note that I have given myself a new nickname. I hereby command that you refer to me that way when speaking to me and about me, even in private conversations. Of course, ďMaster and CommanderĒ is still a viable substitute.)
Please find enclosed a Digital Video Disc, or ďDVD,Ē of last nightís game between Duke and Michigan State. Watch it early and often, but make sure to wipe off the lard and chocolate syrup first. My point, Seth and Paul, is that I want you to learn it is possible to play good defense, even physical defense, without resulting in the ridiculous goonery you two pollute this league with. If either of you would win some games doing that, then well maybe I could see your point. But, the fact is, you send your squads out there like they are in the Thunderdome (that is one fine movie. ďTwo men enter! One man leaves!Ē Hee hee, always liked that part) and have nothing to show for it but the near-universal disdain of the basketball watching community. On the other hand, Elmore loves it for some reason and finds some way to contort a reason and logic to defend your players.
But I digress. Look, I love watching Duke get roughed up as much as anyone. But I hate watching them win as much as I hate it when I reach for the family size package of Oreos in the pantry and find only two left. I mean, itís not like I can go the store at 2 a.m. in my Spongebob robe. Anyway, no matter how much you pound on Duke, they end up beating you most of the time, and are better prepared when they face off against seasoned thugs like West Virginia in the NCAAs. All you get for your trouble is embarrassment for yourselves, your programs and the ACC. But not me. I am loved around the planet for expanding the conference and getting that really cool football championship game. When is that anyway?
Of course, next year could be different despite your efforts. Seth, you will finally be rid of serial hacker Jeff Allen, and could be left with a mostly ruffian-free roster, unless you found some eligibility left for Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan. And Paul, well, um, Iíll put in a good word at ESPN360.com for you.
One last thing. Roy, I CCíd you because I want you to know that it is possible to go into Cameron and not make it look like Duke is playing an exhibition game against a litter of kittens. I told you I wasnít going to let you live that down. I also included Tom Izzoís post-game press conference. Youíll note that at no time does he compare losing a game to being an earthquake victim, use the F word or indicate that his players are pansies.
Once again, fellows, I mean it. Any more of this D-baggery and I will admit Longwood into the ACC and ensure each of you has a home-and-away series every season. I know of a couple of donks who write for a webpage who would just love that.
Hey, duhomme here. We just got that off of SwoffiLeaks. Pretty good stuff. Only the Jolly Old Man stole my thunder by underscoring how Izzoís teams year in and year out can play some seriously tough D without turning the event into a hockey game minus the ice. Of course, in the Georgia Dome, anything is possible. Speaking of possible, did you think Duke could allow a team to make more than half their three-pointers, get outrebounded and have more turnovers than assists and still win? Kyrie Irving sure did, and was Hell-bent on making sure it happened. Nearly every dead-ball situation saw stadium personnel out cleaning the floor, only they werenít going after perspiration. They were sweeping up the bits of Spartan jersey decals that kept getting blown off by Irvingís hyperspace-like drives. Best freshman game ever by a Duke player? Maybe. Certainly the best in recent memory. So, everyoneís action item is to stop by church, light a candle and pray for an NBA lockout. Otherwise, I donít think heís coming back.
And neither may Mason Plumlee, if he keeps logging double-doubles. Singler, not including the demolition of his brotherís team over the weekend, still looks kind of out of sorts. I attribute that to the fact that from play to play heís being switched from the perimeter to the front court and vice versa. ĎCourse, that didnít matter too much in this one, huh? Neither did Nolanís strange seven-shots-in-thirty-minutes performance or his four misdirected balls (and if you suffer that for more than three hours Ö) which nearly off-set his team-high five handoffs. Hey, why donít I hand this off toÖ
WIN OF THE GAME: Itís nice to see a NCAA-T type game, against an Elite Eight or Final Four level opponent at a time in the year when it will be okay for Duke to lose, because theyíll still play lots of games, as opposed to being done for the year. Nice win, and the second over a Top 10 team in a weekís time. Good to have that experience before playing a whole bunch of exhibition games against ACC teams.
FAIL OF THE GAME: Iím pretty sure I saw Duke Associate Head Coach Stawl Bahl calling out plays way too early in the second half. Since he has some kind of athletic department version of tenure and canít be fired unless he burns down Kís house, Iím guessing weíll have plenty of time to talk about his strategy this season.
Speaking of championship-style games, Duke will travel to the Shirt Center in New Jersey to take on the Butler Bulldogs, who apparently appealed their loss in the NCAA finals last spring and found a friendly judge who vacated the verdict and granted them a new trial. Or ESPN thought this would be a ratings generator along the lines of Jordan and Bryant finding a way to bend space and time and play one-on-one at age 25. The Blue Devils have kept up their side of the bargain, being ranked number one and undefeated and all. Butler, on the other hand, I donít know. Usually, itís the team that wins the championship that starts the season flat because, during summer, all known forms of life, including those with arsenic in their DNA, have told the champs how great they are, how some day they will cure cancer, be president of the United States, buy Microsoft on a whim, discover cold fusion, be able to grant three wishes, invent bread that regenerates overnight thus eliminating world hunger, become telepathic and be even MORE interesting than the dude from the Dos Equis TV ads.
Which is kind of how Butler is playing so far this year. Meaning, spoiled and lazy. They have played, in order, Marian (poor girl never had a chance), Louisville, Ball State (first they faced Rick Pitino, then Ball State, get it?!?!), Siena, Evansville and Loyola. Now, if you are expecting me to say they played a lame schedule but at least beat everyone, you are about to be roundly disappointed. Because they didnít, dropping an away game to the unranked Louisville Bangers and losing to Evansville at home. That time around, despite being granted a five minute game-extension, they only managed to score 68 points. Did that one feature foundation-rattling shooting to the point where the Gov. Mitch Daniels had to call out the National Guard? Indeed. The Bullbricks were an infrastructure-destroying 20-60 from the floor, good for 33.3 percent. In fact, in the second half, they didnít crack the 25 percent mark.
Is that a trend? Not really. On the season they combine for 43.5 percent, although the token opposition is not far behind at 41.9. They are leading in the rebound category by a decent margin, but are just about even when turnovers are compared to passes that become points. In one of those This Must Be a Typo But I Have No Way To Verify It stats, they entire team has only managed 13 blocks in six games. Mason Plumlee, all by his little lonesome, has 14. Weird.
In even worse news for the Bravo Deltas, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack (I was at the grocery store the other day and one of the employees, when asked by the manager what he was doing, said just that) are the only double-digit scorers. Zach Wrath of Hahn comes close, but it steadily drops off from there. The team-total 74 points a game wonít cause me to lose any sleep, although the seven made threes on average might. The numbers donít back me up, as Duke opponents are successfully placing those calls less than 30 percent of the times, but there just seem to be times in games when the Devils are vulnerable to some long bombs. I donít know. Might be nothing. Anyway, assuming Duke can at least keep Howard and Mack around their season averages, and make sure Korie Lucious hasnít been granted an immediate transfer from Michigan State to Butler to light the Devils up for 20 off the bench, this game probably isnít going to be nearly as exciting as ESPN was hoping.
Letís end on a quick game note. Kryzyzewski is 18-1 at the Meadowlands, which is now named after a brand of socks. The one loss was to Arizona in the 1988-89 season. Christian Laettner, a freshman at the time, bricked the front end of a one-and-one with no time on the clock. Had he made them both, the game would have gone into overtime. And, Duke Law grad Richard Nixon was in attendance. I can remember that, but if I donít put my car keys in the same place every evening, Iím pretty much stranded.
Duke 81, Butler 70.
2009-2010 Duke National Championship!! Season:
Matt 96-47 (.671)
duhomme 94-49 (.657)
Guests 16-4 (.800)