The Double Bonus: It’s a Wall World After All

We’re still playing around with the format a little and how to best differentiate what John S says from what Tim says (besides a close, personal knowledge of their writing styles, natch). In this issue of The Double Bonus, John S’s insights are in sans-serif Verdana font while Tim’s are in smaller serifed Times New Roman. Everybody on board? Good.

It’s clear at this point in the season that John Wall is the biggest the story in college basketball. The Kentucky freshman, already the frontrunner to win Player of the Year, is the latest in a line of freshman stars to thrive in the NCAA since the NBA instituted its infamous “one-and-done” rule in 2006. But unlike Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, and Michael Beasley, Wall’s presence is being felt at the point, where he has been running the entire Wildcat offense since the season began. The immediacy of his impact and the sheer impressiveness of his athleticism put him ahead of where Tyreke Evans and even Derrick Rose were at this point in their freshman seasons.

The most surprising thing about Wall’s rookie season, though,* is how quickly he was anointed by fans and the press. Highly touted freshman usually face a fair amount of scrutiny and, as a result, criticism. Oden, for example, was hampered by injuries early in 2006-07 and was facing questions about when he would “cut loose” all season long. Guys like Beasley, Rose, and O.J. Mayo had to face questions about their character and maturity throughout the season (and there is evidence against Wall in this area). Even the beloved Durant’s breakout performance (on a national stage, at least) didn’t come until January, against Oklahoma State. But Wall seems to have been beloved since his debut (although hitting a game-winner at the buzzer in your first game IS a pretty good debut).

*Other than the fact that, as good as he is, he’s still going to better. He’s still turning the ball over too much (although against Hartford his assist-to-turnover ratio was 16:1, which is ridiculous) and his jump shot remains raw.**

**Was the aforelinked save counted as a turnover? Is that his only turnover in that game? ‘Cuz that’s like the coolest turnover ever.

I’m not saying any of this is undeserved or unwarranted—John Wall is incredibly fun to watch and easy to like—but I do think it is surprising. It is also intriguing given what could have been…

You see, every Duke fan remembers a time back in April, when the future of the Blue Devils looked very promising. After John Calipari left Memphis to take the coaching job at Kentucky, Wall, who many had previously thought would join Calipari in Memphis, said that Calipari’s move “helps Duke a lot.” This was also before Gerald Henderson, the best player on Duke’s Sweet 16 team from last season, declared for the NBA Draft. There was hope, then, that the Blue Devils could field a starting lineup that included Wall, Jon Scheyer, Henderson, Kyle Singler, and one of the Plumlee brothers.

Even after Henderson officially entered the Draft, Duke’s pursuit of Wall continued (and, at this point, if I had to pick one I’d go with Wall; sorry, G), and even intensified. The uncertainty that the Blue Devils had last season at the point guard position was only going to increase with the graduation of Greg Paulus (and this was before the news of Eliot Williams’ transfer broke). Wall was an urgent concern, not just because of his talent, but because he perfectly suited the team’s needs. Duke even jeopardized its chance at other recruits, like Eric Bledsoe (who ultimately joined Wall at UK), by saving a scholarship for Wall as he took his time making his decision.

There is little doubt that if Duke had John Wall, then they would be the best team in the country. After all, Kentucky was an NIT-team last year that was losing its best player, and they’ll be the new #1 when the next AP poll comes out. Duke made it to the Sweet 16 and is #7 as it is.

What is less clear, though, is how Wall himself would be perceived if he were a Blue Devil. Duke, after all, does not have a reputation of nationally beloved players. Quite the contrary, in fact: Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, J.J. Redick, and Greg Paulus are all on the short list for “Most Hated College Basketball Players of the Last 20 Years.” Duke itself is a school that is fun to hate.

The mass hatred of the Blue Devils even goes beyond the mere “This player/team is good, so I hate him/it,” thinking that pervades sports. Duke players get slapped with “overrated” and “unathletic” tags to a disproportionate degree. People are often quick to declare that a certain player’s skills won’t translate to the pros, to assert that someone is a product of a system, or is benefiting from playing with so much talent.

Would John Wall be a victim of this same type of thinking? If he were a Blue Devil, would we be hearing a lot more about his tendency to turn the ball over and his bad shooting? Would people explain all his assists by saying that he was playing with great shooters (after all, Scheyer’s APG is only 0.8 behind Wall’s)? Would we be hearing a lot less about Wall’s athleticism?

There is, however, another aspect to the whole phenomenon: race. Almost all of the hated Duke players have been white. Duke’s black stars, like Grant Hill, Elton Brand, and Jason Williams, have been more or less immune to such charges (I mean, how could anyone hate Jason Williams?). This is because these players do not conveniently fall into the paradigm of “overachieving, unathletic, destined to fail in the pros.”

It’s hard to imagine that Wall’s athleticism and talent would go unnoticed no matter which team he was on, but I think John Wall would actually be a victim of a more subtle aspect of the Duke-hatred. He wouldn’t be excoriated or unfairly criticized, but his greatness would be taken for granted. Fans and journalists wouldn’t express the surprise and awe they do now at his game—they would treat it with the begrudging respect fans have for A-Rod or Kobe Bryant: “Oh, the star of the Lakers/Yankees/Blue Devils did something amazing again. What else is new?”

And then, when Wall went #1 in the Draft in the summer, fans would forget he ever went to Duke. People would make the same “Duke doesn’t turn out good pros arguments” and “Duke doesn’t recruit enough talent” arguments. It’s kind of depressing, but no player, no matter how great, can change how fans view certain teams. This almost makes me glad Wall went to Kentucky…but not quite. How about you, Tim?

Am I glad John Wall went to Kentucky, so Duke can languor with only three scholarship guards—one of whom still belongs in high school—and Wall can draw more praise for the most sickening man in college hoops? Am I glad about that? I think “not quite” almost does that justice.

I think we have to separate the reaction to Wall into two camps: the mainstream media and the general population. With J-Wow at Kentucky, those reactions have been one and the same it seems: John Wall is AWESOME. If he were at Duke, however, I think we would see more of a split. As hard as you say it is to ignore Wall’s athleticism et al, it would be harder still for the mainstreamers to overlook a star player at Duke. I mean, when Duke has a good player, he gets a ton of pub. When the Blue Devils have a purportedly great one, it’s everywhere in the media (because Duke is always on TV). So I think the MSM would be giving us a lot of stories along the lines of, “It’s a New Duke” and “Who said K can’t recruit?” and “Look at what the gold medal in Beijing brought Duke” and all these pieces talking about how Mike Krzyzewski changed his recruiting philosophy because John Wall was just so amazingly talented.

Now, in this hypothetical world, I think the general population would tend in a different direction. I don’t think there’d be the same kind of lovefest, and I think we’d hear a lot about how Krzyzewski finally decided to “black it up” and soften certain long-held standards—even though these things would largely be assumptions. I think we all know by now that John Calipari isn’t on the level, and if Wall were to go to Duke, people would jump to the conclusion that K had sunk to that low in a desperate move to compete. This idea would, of course, be fomented by Gregg Doyel at CBS Sportsline (who’s generally good but who despises Mike Krzyzewski) or a local writer like J.P. Giglio. I mention him because he wrote about this last year.

And when Wall went pro and was picked No. 1, we would forget that he went to Duke and continue the “Duke doesn’t churn out good pros” argument because one-and-dones don’t count unless you really screw them up (paging Josh McRoberts).*

*It’s unfair to blame Duke for Josh McRoberts’ struggles. He was simply not a good basketball player.

P.S. We all know the real reason Wall chose Kentucky: He wouldn’t have been able to wear his precious No. 11 in Durham.

Only in the Big Ten: Fans stormed the court at Michigan when their Wolverines—preseason No. 15—beat Connecticut—preseason No. 12.

Which just goes to show: The Big Ten sucks and the Big East is awesome.

Speaking of storming the court, there’s been a lot of hubbub about storming etiquette. Georgia Tech and Clemson each took some heat for doing it after beating Duke and UNC, respectively, as ranked teams while Kansas State took the classy approach and stayed in the stands after knocking off No. 1 Texas. Now, the aptly named Storming the Floor has their guidelines for when to storm; you agree with these, John, or do we need to set our own?

This is at Wake, where they storm after any and every win (or so it seems).

I think they might be a little too lenient. An unranked team gets to storm if they beat a Top-10 team? If Illinois had handed Purdue its fourth straight loss on Tuesday, that would have been worthy of storming the court? I think not. They also have guidelines for when to do it in the NCAA Tournament, which seem superfluous given that those games are at neutral sites. I would there are two and only two situations in which storming is appropriate: 1) After beating your biggest rival in particularly dramatic or exciting fashion (buzzer-beater, shocking comeback, etc.). 2) An unranked team beats a particularly strong and seemingly invincible (preferably, but not necessarily, undefeated) #1. That’s it. That’s the list. I do agree with STF’s point that certain schools (Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA) should pretty much never storm the court. Those teams are almost never “underdogs.”

I don’t know if you noticed, but Purdue’s down to No. 15. Now, if Baylor knocks off K-State next week…STORM!

Overall, though, I have far more lenient rules than you. I’ve personally witnessed fans storm the court after upsetting Duke FOUR times—twice at Wake. And I haven’t really had a problem with any of them, even when Wake was fourth in the country. I don’t tie as much significance to rankings as I do to history. No. 19 Clemson stormed after beating No. 13 UNC at home, but that’s not because it was a big upset—or even an upset. It’s because UNC is the defending champion and Clemson never beats UNC. That’s why I wouldn’t have had a problem with K-State storming when they beat Texas as a top-ten team. It’s K-State. If it were No. 9 Kansas storming, it’s a different story.

At the same time, I love the message Wildcats’ fans sent to their team: We expected this.

I don’t think you can place too much stock in history, particularly in college. Were most of the Clemson students suffering through all those losses while they were in high school? I’m not so sure. And saying it’s OK because the Tar Heels are defending champs is a little bit of a stretch: Ed Davis and Larry Drew II are not quite Hansbrough and Lawson.

Of course a northeast elitist who had no ties to the private university he attended would say that.

Three pet peeves of mine: 1. Calling hard fouls intentional fouls. I saw this happen in Duke’s win over Wake and Syracuse’s over Notre Dame, and both calls were absurd. I’ll be honest: I always thought the problem lay just with officials. But how it’s explained in the NCAA rulebook (page 146) is equally problematic: What exactly constitutes “excessive contact with an opponent”? It seems to me that any contact becomes excessive when both players are off the ground, which is why pretty much any hard foul when someone goes hard to the basket on a fast break is deemed intentional these days.

Yeah, I always thought that “excessive contact with an opponent” was called just “a foul,” and that “intentional foul” implied, you know, intent. But I would say that guideline A-E in that link make sense to me. Also, Mike Gminski said in Sunday’s Duke-Wake Forest game that it’s an intentional foul if “the elbows are moving faster than the body.” How is that even possible? Aren’t elbows part of the body? And if by body he just meant “torso,” then OF COURSE the elbows are going to move faster than the torso. Do you know how much easier it is to move your arms than your chest?

2. Technical fouls counting as personal fouls. It happened to A&M’s Brian Davis against Texas on Saturday. He picks up his fourth, gets into a let-them-play scuffle with Geary Johnson and Dexter Pittman, gets hit with a needless double technical, and is done for the game because it’s his fifth foul. Foul trouble already plays too prevalent a role in a lot of college games; here’s a small step to alleviate that. (Washington fans can commiserate after Brandon Roy got hosed in 2006.)

3. Does each team really need five timeouts per game? I feel as if coaches use them just because they have them (see: the “use it or lose it” timeout every team calls at the end of the half if they can). In most cases, teams have four timeouts for the second half, which, when combined with the four TV timeouts, means we can have 12 stoppages of play in 20 minutes. It’s unnecessary, it lengthens games, and it prevents players from actually learning how to run late-game offensive sets instead of having every significant possession drawn up in the huddle. Now, if coaches used their timeouts to draw up good plays like Tom Izzo always does, maybe I wouldn’t mind as much.

Dogus Balbay is the Darrelle Revis of the Big XII. That guy can guard. Excited to see him battle Sherron Collins in conference.

"George Blaney, I'd like you to meet Pete Gaudet."

Man, first Connecticut loses Christopher Dodd; now they lose Jim Calhoun? He makes $12,000,000 a year for the university! Terrible economic times in the Nutmeg State.

As is though, UConn Basketball is in some trouble. The Huskies already have three conference losses and six overall and they still have to play Texas and go to Louisville, Syracuse, Villanova, and Notre Dame. And they’ve yet to win a road game. It’s not an easy task for George Blaney to step into, what with a team that has a bunch of inconsistent frontcourt players and no shooters in the backcourt.

No Lead is Safe: Was it just me or did the last week or so see an unusual number of vanishing big leads? Actually, going back to Georgetown’s 19-point comeback against UConn on January 9th, a surprising number of good teams have let big leads slip away from them. On Saturday, Kentucky saw a first half lead of 16 vanish completely against a mediocre Auburn team and the final score of Georgia Tech actually trailed UNC after being up 16 with 13 minutes left in the game (both teams ended up winning). Then on Sunday, Villanova led Georgetown by 15 at halftime, only to have the Hoyas tie the game with 4 minutes left. Unlike the Huskies, though, the Wildcats ultimately rebounded.

ACC’s Silver Medal: Speaking of Georgia Tech’s win over UNC, the No. 19 Yellow Jackets seem like the biggest threat to Duke in the ACC. They’ve beaten the Blue Devils at home, and also defeated the other two ranked ACC teams—UNC and Clemson—in the last week. And the final score of those games (they beat Duke by four and the other two by two each) doesn’t necessarily show how dominant and intimidating the frontcourt of Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors can be. If they can get more reliable shooting and fewer turnovers from the backcourt of Iman Shumpert (who dropped 30 on the Tar Heels) and Mfon Udofia, then they should contend for the ACC title…that is, if anyone can ever beat Virginia, who are UNDEFEATED in conference play since hiring the NCAA’s third-best looking coach.

(I’ve decided he’s third because he’s been passed by…)

Under Grant, the South shall rise again! Wait, what?

The second-best looking coach: Man, I can’t wait for Alabama to become a national contender, if only so we can get a look at college basketball’s Mike Tomlin, new Crimson Tide head coach Anthony Grant. I’d forgotten about him since I’ve repressed all memory of the Duke-VCU game, but that guy looks so good in a suit I feel like he should be on Mad Men (if, you know, they let black people on that show).

Sure, Grant’s a good-looking guy who already seems as if he doesn’t physically age. But being undefeated in the ACC (and you know, reaching the Sweet 16 two seasons ago with my beloved Cougs) keeps Tony at No. 2. Let’s just enjoy that this race is a lot closer in college basketball than it is in the NFL. And oh yeah, Jay Wright is self-evidently first, and he won’t be taken down until someone else breaks out the three-piece suit for a Regional Final.

And can we come up with a good nickname for Iman and Mfon in the GT backcourt?

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