Starting next edition, this introductory space will be full of the usual patterned pop culture pap youíve become used to. For now . . . drumroll please . . . itís Two Dukies Pick the ACC 2.0, Volume Eleven, Number One.
TWO DUKIES PICK THE ACC
November 9, 2007
Volume XI, Episode I
NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (0-0, 0-0 Independent) @ #13 DUKE (0-0, 0-0)
So! This feels sort of familiar. For those of you are new - - wait, what are the odds, right? On the other hand, the new site is cool-looking enough that it just might attract people who surf the Internet based on . . . uh, how cool things look. This is my dream, and obviously, weíre off to a rough start here. Anyway, for anyone who canít resist hysterical satire and college sports wisdom, that site was a couple of exits back, but like Larry Craig in an MSP menís room, itís time to swipe our hands under the metaphorical stall dividers and get down to business. If youíre new, we only pick Duke until the ACC season starts (which includes December games - - Iím too lazy to look and see if there are any this year). Then, we pick all ACC games. Iím your host, Matt, and my material is always in this kickiní blue color. Other Dukie Robís pick appears below in green. And I am joined this edition by Washington, D.C.-based humor consultant duhomme, appearing below in red, whose interests include traitorous Colorado legislators, long walks, and being much funnier than I am. Away we go.
I enjoy this part of the season because I donít have to deal with Clemson yet, but itís also a good opportunity to get to know the new Duke team, or at the very least, the new Duke team you think youíre dealing with before Mike Krzyzewski and the inevitable cases of mononucleosis and/or brokenfootosis pare down the rotation to about five and a half guys.
And this season sure looks interesting.
Last year was a challenging one for Duke basketball partisans. While the season, at least until the despicably skanky loss to the entire Commonwealth of Virginia (tough odds, but the Devils almost came through!), was not a disappointment by the standards familiar to the fans of most ACC programs, it was to most of us. You see, we are constantly reminded that we have a Hall of Fame coach and that all of our players, or most of them, are ďMcDonaldís All-AmericasĒ - - a meaningless, self-proving distinction, given that the McDoodadís selection committee obviously bases their picks on where a kid is going to college. Go to Duke, and youíll be a Mickey D - - itís almost guaranteed. In fact, the only significance of being a McDonaldís AA anymore is that some mouth-breathing Twerp or Tool fan can cite the number of Donalds on Dukeís roster when and if Duke starts struggling. Oh, well. So, it was a bit of a rough ride last season.
Most of what ailed the Duke program a year ago, thankfully, exited stage right in the person of Josh McRoberts, who was a locker room cancer and totally poisoned the chemistry of both Duke teams he played for. Except for a few sporadic moments, did anyone affiliated with the Duke menís program give you the impression they were having fun last season? Chances are McRoberts had something to do with that. I appreciated the kidís defensive abilities, but on offense, what he lacked in aggressive post moves and finishing skills he more than made up for in lackadaisical play and maddening bouts of inconsistency. What would McRobbie give you, on a given night? Aside from a load of attitude and long spurts of screaming at his teammates when he threw the ball away or committed some other laughable boner, no one knew. This, my friends, is addition meeting its good friend subtraction for a drink or three in a hip new bar. Bye, Josh.
While ďlosingĒ McRoberts, Duke gains three impressive freshmen - - 6-6 Taylor King, 6-2 Nolan Smith, and 6-8 Medford, Oregon product Kyle Singler, probably the next great Duke Blue Devil. Singler, who has an insane mix of perimeter and ballhandling skills for his size, will start immediately, and projects to lead the team in scoring. Youíll know heís really good if he sets the pace in any other category; he might. The rest of the probable starters are returnees: 6-8 sophomore Lance Thomas, who had one of those freshman seasons to forget that UNC-CH freshmen used to have in the later Dean Smith era (before Antawn Jamison changed all that forever), 6-4 sophomore Gerald Henderson, 6-4 senior DeMarcus Nelson, and 6-1 junior Greg Paulus. Nelson led the team in scoring and trailed only McJoke in rebounding last season, which isnít bad for a guard. This season, he will face a weird mix of being the squadís only senior and captain, yet playing a complementary role on the court. If DeMarcus repeats as the scoring champ, itíll be because he either took a crazy leap in production, or because something else went very wrong. This is not last yearís team . . . thank goodness.
We all loved last yearís team, except for the whole McDork part, but the sad fact was that the unit didnít introduce the ball to the bucket very often. The team scored an appalling 70.4 points per game, the lowest Duke output in 25 seasons. The defense was actually okay, even better than okay, but when the offense was that bad, it just didnít matter. This season, with Singler, an improved Thomas, a steady Nelson, and the ridiculously skilled Henderson around to, I hope, continue his skyrocketing development shown at the end of last season, I feel confident that the scoring will go up. Which brings us to Greg Paulus. This young man is a divisive guy. You either bag on him constantly or you really dig him - - Iím in the latter camp. Yes, he got beat by Ty Lawson on several (many) occasions last season - - so did a lot of point guards. But donít hand me some myth about him giving up a ton of points to Eric Maynor of VCU in Dukeís Final Game last season - - Scheyer was guarding Maynor for more than half the night (and notguarding him on the clinching jumper), and we all know that Paulus was slowed by a broken foot from which he came back too soon, as well as Krzyzewskiís mindblowing lack of substitution abilities, so thoroughly exposed against a fast team. Besides, Paulus put up more points than Maynor did - - he wasnít the problem. However, we did all discover last year that Greg, strangely enough, is actually a better shooting guard than he is a point guard, which is interesting. 45% from three-point range is pretty impressive, especially for a lead guard. But then, Paulus had to call his own number a lot last season, because it wasnít like anyone else was really getting open. This season - - probably a different story. Put me down for a fantastic season from Greg. You heard it here first, or really 4,877th - - thereís actually a lot of people calling for this, and itís not surprising.
You canít discuss Duke anymore without mentioning Mike Krzyzewskiís failure to use his bench, year after year, which has gone beyond a mere disease to something that should probably be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Last year, longtime Duke homers like me screamed and yelled and threw ourselves off handy portcullises while K sat there and refused to play his bench. The results? Paulus was good for about 25-28 minutes a game, but had to play 39 or 40, and his defense sagged in the critical concluding minutes of key contests, while the other team (usually well-rested and not shackled by some federal statute preventing its usage of more than 5.8 players) glided along. No one knows if McRoberts got tired, because he didnít exactly kill himself out there to begin with, because he didnít care. And neither do I. Nelson and Henderson are cyborgs who didnít really show fatigue as obviously as others, but it was there. And of course the main casualty was 6-5 sophomore Jon Scheyer, who totally collapsed down the stretch as a freshman, battling mono and just generally coping with the fact that his coach thought he was Lance Armstrong. As most of you know, Scheyer would score his points in bursts late last season, then completely disappear at about the 14-minute mark of the second half. His uniform would be running around the court, the lights were on, but nobody was home. It was sad. Coach K didnít mind.
Enter Smith, perhaps Dukeís fastest guard since William Avery; King, who developed an inside-out game at the highest levels of California prep play; and 6-6 junior Dave McClure, who got hurt last year just when he was really starting to look good. A rare Duke player from Connecticut, McClure is Mr. Intangibles and also one hell of a rebounder. No one knows what to expect from 7-1 sophomore Brian Zoubek, who - - now, stay with me here - - BROKE HIS FOOT in a pickup game in July, but if he can learn to improve his lower body control, which was weak enough that he was frequently muscled away by smaller defenders last season and whistled for more moving violations than Lindsey Lohan, he can be very good. Ah, and then thereís the patron saint of the Church of K Wonít Develop a Bench, St. Martynas Pocius, 6-5 with crazy offensive moves. Smith, King, McClure, Zoubek, Pocius, and Lohan (just seeing if you were still reading) will all be called upon to play surplus minutes and keep the purportedly planned up-tempo attack afloat. So will Scheyer, who is so obviously more effective as a bench player at this stage of his career that . . . oh, never mind. I just donít get K, and the season hasnít even started yet. I will suspend.
This is a deep team. Despite what you will read on other Internet sites devoted to Duke basketball if five games go by and Singler, Nelson, Henderson and Paulus are collectively averaging 37.4 minutes, there is no valid reason why the on-court time should not be *generously* distributed this season. Thatís it. Itís the whole key. Fresher guys means better defense, better shooting, better passing, better PLAY. In the immortal words of a famous Corellian smuggler, ďWell . . . thatís the real trick, isnít it.Ē Sing it, Han.
So, North Carolina Central. As I unsuccessfully quipped in the siteís self-congratulatory comeback post on Wednesday, it really was kind of the Eagles to join Division I so that Duke can get credit for this creampuff matchup instead of having to waste a perfectly good exhibition game. Yes, I have my normative complaints about the traditional dead-fish-handshake schedule this season, which, in a stunning development, features no OOC road games and far too many goofy Hostess products. Is Michigan making us return the game next season? At least that will be a true road game . . . in 2008-2009. Sigh.
Anyway, at least there isnít some catastrophic, harrowing backdrop to this game, like an incident where an NCCU student moonlighting as an exotic entertainer/liar invented some false criminal allegations that implicated Dukeís lacrosse team. Odds that Coach K will give an interview where the word ďhealingĒ is mentioned: high, or roughly the same as the chances that the SportsGuy will mention his fey discussions with some member of his family in any given column. But I happen to agree with K on the good feelings that this game can generate, and actually, I have no problem with the addition of Central to Dukeís schedule - - IF WE ACTUALLY PLAY IN THEIR ARENA (which carries the suave name of McDougald-McLendon Gym) EVERY OTHER YEAR. What would be the harm? Honestly?
Iíll digress a moment and admit that I canít remember if I supplied too much opinion on the whole Lacrosse Saga. Seriously. It happened, and not long afterwards, our then-hosting company decided to suspend its backup policies, and wave a solemn bye-bye to our data. Anyhoo, the interesting thing about the whole Affair was that everyone involved - - absolutely everyone - - acted like a complete jackass. It was almost like passing a baton - - the next guy or gal or group picked it up and immediately started drooling all over themselves. The lax coach shouldnít have condoned the playersí behavior. The lax players shouldnít have been setting themselves up for that kind of situation by hiring strippers and just generally acting like power tools. The alleged victim shouldnít have been faking her alleging. Her cohort shouldnít have gone along with it. The Durham Police Department shouldnít have failed to investigate the incident a touch more thoroughly. A cause-desperate group of Duke professors should not have made fully-equipped clods out of themselves by automatically crying racism, hurting the fight against real, actual bigotry everywhere by raising it where it wasnít relevant. And of course, who could have predicted that all of this would end up in the lap of a UNC-CH grad who was concerned with winning election to an appointed post for which he was manifestly unqualified, and who trampled legal ethics rules as well as perhaps some actual laws in his zeal to add the lacrosse playersí pelts to his office wall? Awesome. By the way, Iíve never seen an organization move so fast, and yet so appropriately and even deliberately, as the North Carolina Bar did in excusing Mr. Nifong from my chosen profession. Thanks - - Iím very proud to be a member.
Back to basketball. You wonít be able to watch this tilt unless you pony up $5.00 for ďACC Select,Ē a computer-based joke dreamt up by donut-scarfing ACC fathead John Swofford to make more unneeded money for the conference. Anyway, hereís the link: http://acc.playonsports.tv/duke. Iceman (the siteís official recap artist, which is like a rap artist, only he adds to society instead of detracting) and I will be watching, and no, thanks - - Iíll save the line about the devaluation of the dollar for next edition. When you click on that link, is that actually Coldplay that starts playing, or did Fred Barakat jump on a nearby piano somewhere in the depths of Greensboro and start trying to impress Gwyneth Paltrow while Clougherty incompetently attempted some accompanying percussion? Unknown.
I expect to see Duke dominate completely - - last yearís NCCU squad went 13-15 against Division II compo and lost four starters. The Eagles also gave up 92 points to offensively stunted Duke in exhibition play last season, although, to be fair, that was probably before everyone got mad and remembered what a jerk McRoberts was, and it was also before anyone broke their feet, got mono, and/or endured Mike Krzyzewskiís Amazing Technicolor Human Endurance Project. Eagles coach and former Chattanooga Mocs drill sergeant Henry Dickerson, by the way, is one of the few people alive who can say he lost his job to Jeff Lebo.
In all seriousness, it is nice to see this game, and it should become a staple as the Eagles prepare to rejoin the MEAC and reestablish themselves in the college basketball landscape. A few of us will also be watching to see how this young Duke team establishes itself against the wasteland-like backdrop of last season. Letís wash it all away.
Duke 90, North Carolina Central 59.
Duke 92, North Carolina Central 60.
My, what an interesting off season for Two Dukies, Inc. First, an FBI raid on the Philadelphia headquarters as the Department of Justice Anti-Trust Division investigated Matt for certain violations of the Sherman Act stemming from our arrangement over the last several seasons where he paid me not to be funny or pick the games correctly. Then the injunction, resulting in the site being shut down and preventing him from posting anything at all during the Larry Craig debacle.
Fortunately, Matt was able to settle the restraint-of-trade charges, entering into a Corporate Integrity Agreement under which he was required to pretend to be a reporter at fake FEMA press conferences, defend Duke football, check in on the father of the governor of New York, watch every single presidential debate, run the board during Herb Sendekís weekly radio call-in show, invite Gary Williams to his beach house (stock up on wings and keep the cattle prod charged!) and bring the website into compliance with various Good Internet Practices regulations. Oh, and bring me back for another season.
So, like an antibiotic-resistant strain of staph or non-stop coverage of Brittany SpearsĎ antics (many similarities there), here I am. And remember how at the end of last season I promised that if invited back I would greatly increase the level of humor, insight and accuracy of my material? Of course you donít, because I would never say such a thing. And Iíll prove it by . . . .
(looking around for the first time)
Man, this place looks expensive. I feel like Iím wasting a fortune prattling on like this. Better get on to the game.
The N.C. Central Eagles begin their first season in Division I with a trip to Cameron. And looking at their schedule, this group is going to rack up the frequent flier miles as they seem to have a whopping seven home games this year. Welcome to the big league, fellows.
Aside: When I was a junior at Duke, NCCU won the Division II title. I met one of the players at a party where he told me they were hoping Duke would take care of their end of the business (this was the year when Danny Ferryís career ended with a Final Four loss to Seton Hall) and the two schools could have a joint parade. Really cool idea.
A quick review of the roster shows this is one of the few teams Duke wonít have a size problem with this year. On that matter, Zoubek is reportedly a bit on the unathletic side due to his summer injury and, while this might cut down on his numerous traveling violations, probably means his place in a up-tempo offense is to deliver chest-bumps during timeouts. Meaning that Dukeís weakness in the middle for the 2007-2008 session will be a result of players not in the paint, instead of the one (McRoberts, cough, cough) who is there.
Meaning? Yes, lots of perimeter ball this year! Lots of threes! Lots of passes around the arc! Lots of rebounds for the other team! Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!
Except in this game. Zoubek may get some real time in this one, but I wouldnít expect to see too much more of that this year. Apparently Duke will play small and fast, with Singler as the do-it-all guy. As long as Thomas can produce more minutes than fouls, Paulus and Nelson can keep their orthopedic structures intact, Scheyer can remember to stay within 10 feet of the opposing teamís star player in endgame situations, Henderson can take a quarter off the top of the backboard AND leave change and K can, well, sort of, you know, make some in-game changes, you know, now and then, then Duke should have a pretty good year. Some weird lineups at time, but interesting.
(question from the audience)
No, I did not forget to add a hope for K to develop a rotation with more than 6-7 players. I accept, and submit.
For this one . . . look for a close score early but an eventual blowout.
Duke 94, North Carolina Central 60.
One final note: in memory of Reema Samaha, my cousin and the flower girl at my wedding, who was one of victims of the Virginia Tech shooting last spring, I will be picking all the Hokie games once the ACC season starts. Matt, thanks for that. [Oh, of course, and please, no thanks needed. All my best wishes. --Matt]
[Two Dukies internal scorekeeping will return to this space with the next edition, which will precede Duke's game on Monday, November 12 against New Mexico.]