TWO DUKIES PICK THE ACCVolume XI, Episode 3
November 19, 2007
Dude, it's 5:30 A.M. Give us a break. Just sit back, relax, and as the weirdly accented chick in that Cuervo Black ad bizarrely says, "and enjoy." Huh?
Matt’s comments in blue.
Rob’s selection in green.
A most distressing realization hit me when I picked up my copy of this season’s Sporting News preview mag - - namely, it sucks. I have every single TSN preview edition going back to 1989-1990, and they’re an invaluable resource for research purposes. They’ve been scaling back their coverage of “low majors” (a term I really don’t like - - in fact, since I’m not sure what a “minor” is in college basketball, I actually have no idea what the ubiquitous “mid-major” means either) for years, but they’re finally hit a new low this season, with tiny little writeups on each of the schools in smaller conferences that mention a couple of players and the coach’s name, work in the name of the mascot, and then move on. Last time the team made the NCAA Tournament? Where it might be located? (Always handy for, say, a Southland school - - quick, where’s Stephen F. Austin?? See?) Number of seasons the coach has been at the school? All of that information was there for every Division I school last year, and now it’s gone. Basically, it’s Athlon. Sad. Now, in order to get any real information about smaller conferences, I guess it’s Blue Ribbon or bust; maybe I’ll check out some other magazines this holiday weekend to see if any of them have raised their game while TSN has completely dropped the ball. I just noticed, while mercifully tying this paragraph off, that TSN doesn’t even bother to rank the conferences anymore - - they’re segregated into three goofy categories and then set forth alphabetically within.
And by the way, yes, Blue Ribbon’s coverage of every single Division I program is laudable, but when you consider what that book could be, and what it actually is . . . meh. My “library” still contains every one since 1997-1998, but I really use it more as a quick reference tool than anything else. I can’t stand BR’s forest-for-the-trees approach, where the writeups are organized by player, and tell you everything from what kind of teddy bear each dude slept with as a kid (or later), but then suddenly wrap up with a few ill-supported letter grades assessing the team, and tell you virtually nothing about the team as a whole: what sort of offense it runs, who should start, how the defense looks, tough opponents on the horizon, new adjustments, etc. Also, some of the writers for Blue Ribbon are excellent, and supply compelling narratives on the teams they're assigned, but others are far, far less involving. The lack of unified structure and tone is yet another flaw. And don’t get me started on the wrist-breaking self-congratulation that permeates the forewords, or the sickening quotes typically emblazoned on the back cover purporting to indicate that, e.g., Silly Pecker never harasses a female Cameron Indoor Stadium volunteer without his copy of Blue Ribbon handy. I always buy it. But it could be so much better.
Back to TSN . . . interestingly, its editors decided to neuter its coverage of all teams this season, rendering the mag functionally useless. It no longer lists all of the players’ statistics for any team, nor does it let you know projected starters, or who left and what their numbers were - - one of the great features over the past couple of decades. Turn to the Duke page, and you get a roster and a writeup with some random facts, which curiously almost completely ignores Gerald Henderson. Hello? Weird. So, I won’t be consulting TSN much this season.
Want another college basketball institution of sorts in decline? Brace yourself for the overwhelming, Hitman-like force (why does the Trailer Voice for this movie’s ads pronounce it “Hitmahn”? Is Andrea Kremer's dialect spreading?) of a terrific, seam-free segue - - to a discussion of the Princeton Tigers. Yes, things do not go so well in Old Nassau these days. Why not?
Well, let’s start with egomaniacal tool Joe Scott. You remember this jizz. He built up the previously moribund basketball program at the AFA, and parlayed that into a kind of curious lateral move back to Princeton, where he played point from 1983 to 1987. Scott’s first season as the head coach back in Mercer County was in 2004-2005, and I remember thinking that something wasn’t quite right about his sudden move, nor the easy way that he was allowed to handpick his successor at the helm of the Falcons, assistant Chris Mooney. Then Duke and Princeton played and Scott just acted like a complete jerk, whining about every call and acting like it was just sooooo ridiculous that he had to play the Blue Devils. Very off-putting. Scott later turned everyone on campus against him by benching experienced upperclassmen in favor of his own recruits, culminating in a disastrous season in 2006-2007, arguably Princeton’s worst showing in Ivy League men’s basketball history. Jadwin Gym was about half or three-quarters full for some critical home games, in the league no less - - which is unheard of.
Well, Scott has hit the road. I get the feeling he was asked to do so, but whatever the real story might be, he resigned in March to return to Colorado and take over . . . the University of Denver?? This is akin to someone like Matt Doherty coming back to his alma mater after a taste of success elsewhere, then getting banished to a much smaller school - - oh, wait. That actually did happen. Scott’s case is similar, and I don’t think his choice of Denver was accidental - - he might be lurking just north of the Academy, waiting for Jeff Bzdelik to move on so he can get his old job back. (Mooney, by the way, was quite the chip off the old block - - he bolted for Richmond after just one season at Air Force and, fittingly, has been absolutely awful with the Spiders.) CORRECTION - - as alert reader Dan points out below, Bzdelik is the coach of Colorado now, which I really should have known. Man, did it take long enough for the Buffs to part ways with the genuinely nice, but ineffective Ricardo Patton (now at Northern Illinois)? Maybe it's hard to fire a guy with a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Anyway, my point (startingly) remains as Scott hovers 70 miles to the north of his old job. Weird. Thanks for the much-needed correction, Dan.
I learned none of the above from The Sporting News.
Anyway, Scott’s tyrannical tenure in Princeton took its toll, and the Tigers went 2-12 in the Ivy last season. The school was quite lucky to coax Sydney Johnson, a former Ivy League POY as a Tiger, and an assistant to Princeton’s last real coach, John Thompson III, at Georgetown, back in the fold; he seems like the kind of eager, enthusiastic leader that Princeton needs in order to get back up to the top with the Quakers and put an end to the upstart candidacies for relevancy of Cornell, Yale, and even Brown. Brown?? Brown! And don’t ask what it can do for me, either, unless you can don a mullet and pretend to draw cute little vignettes on a dry-erase board that is actually a computer-generated graphic. We must keep up with the ever-changing slogans and marketing campaigns of our corporate masters. And hey, I thought Yale was just some out-of-the way place where surpassingly skilled jurist Clarence Thomas was embarrassed to have gone to law school.
Princeton still plays the spread offense under Johnson, and is showing signs of life in the early going, beating CenCon 59-57 and Iona 66-58. Of course, the Gaels just got pummeled by the Tools at the DumpDome by some improbable score that screams “Pay no attention to our should-have-been loss at the hands of Davidson,” so who knows what that Princeton-Iona game proves. I do know that the Tigers are probably one of the few teams in Division I history to play two sets of Blue Devils in one season - - in the space of three games, no less. Incidentally, I would love to get CCSU on the Duke schedule. There’s room. Bob Harris, Jon Roth, and philandering Beverly Hills dentist Matthew Laurance would have a field day with it. "And the Blue Devils steal the ball - - that's our Blue Devils, that is . . . now, let's go down to our Matthew Laurance behind the Blue Devil bench. Hahahaha - - is that the *Duke* bench, Matthew?" Good (theoretical) times.
We’ve already talked about Duke’s performance against a feisty NMSU club - - unfortunately, the outstanding first half, followed by a mediocre second half that would have been even worse had Scheyer not exploded, was reminiscent of the past two seasons. Still, I thought the Aggies provided good competition, and for all but about eight minutes of the game, the Blue Devils (of Duke) looked very, very good. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was watching the pressing and fastbreaking and having flashbacks to the halcyon days of, oh, 2001 or so, all of six or seven years ago. By the way, Kyle, stop fouling. That is not going to work in the ACC. Paulus, Nelson, and Scheyer are so obviously more comfortable playing around 30 minutes that it can’t be lost on Coach K - - can it? I doubt it.
Grab a chair to hear this, but Princeton’s pretty short (two 6-9 reeds are the tallest players, and then there are a few 6-7 guys), slow, and white as a sheet after a few seasons of recent recruiting. Odd. 6-7 senior Kyle Koncz and 6-5 senior Noah Savage form a nice frontcourt tandem, but the Tigers are not going to win this game. Any disciple of John Thompson III is to be respected, but Johnson needs time to Lysol away Scott’s stench and restore the Princeton program to glory. This game won’t be part of that.
What will be fun to watch: the press and break against the slowdown. The new-look Devils, who are pretty exciting so far. Coach K wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Will he? Who knows. The Maui Invitational is not one of my in-season tournament favorites because of the weak, high-school feel of the tiny, 2,400-seat Lahaina Civic Center gym, but it’s an extraordinarily well-run operation, and Duke has always done very well there, winning three times, most recently in (gasp!) 2001 over Ball State. The winner here gets Consultant Herb or Illanoy, either of whom will be a blast to try to defeat handily, and will make for a great preview writeup tomorrow night. Let me know what site that's on. And hey - - let’s stay on the winner’s side of the bracket.
Duke 82, Princeton 58.
Duke 90, Princeton 57.