The Double Bonus: Go to Hell, Carolina

What an intense rivalry.

Well, John, the students in Chapel Hill are waking up to a newspaper decked out in Duke Blue (PANTONE 287 to be exact) this morning after that beatdown last night. How pumped are you that the Blue Devils did what only three other ACC teams have done this season and beaten Carolina at the Dean Dome?

There are two ways I could answer this, I suppose: First, there’s the “I don’t care if it’s a down year for them, it’s still UNC and it still feels great to beat them.” Or there’s the, “Oh God that was close! How was that a one-point game with 6 minutes left? Why does Duke have so much trouble with even the last place teams in the ACC on the road?” And even thought I’d LIKE to say I’m riding a high from beating the Tar Heels, my thoughts are more of the second school. That was a very nerve-wracking game, and when Duke finally pulled away, I mainly just felt relief.

I’m right with you. I spent most of that game terrified of the possibility that we might lose while never actually thinking we would. The first thing that struck me about this game is how bad North Carolina really is. When you think about it, it’s amazing that this team beat Michigan State and Ohio State earlier this year. Ed Davis and Deon Thompson are both good offensive rebounders who lack discernible post moves (Thompson can hit a 15-footer, provided he hasn’t dribbled yet and is uncovered; this was far more effective last year, when he was the fifth option on the court). Marcus Ginyard isn’t even a good defender anymore, and Will Graves is a shooter and nothing else. And I haven’t even gotten to the big problem spot, which is at point guard. In short, Larry Drew II is one of those kids who ends up playing point guard because he is short and fast. He possesses no other real point guard skills, though: He’s not a good passer or decision-maker, he’s a poor defender, he doesn’t know when to push pace and when to slow down, he’s a mediocre shooter who, like Greg Paulus, often thinks he’s a good shooter.

And Dexter Strickland is even worse than Larry Drew, mainly because, in addition to all of Drew’s deficiencies, Strickland apparently cannot dribble.

John Henson looks good, though. What’s his wingspan: 8 feet?

Yeah, I, too, was impressed with Henson, considering he had kind of become the face of this underachieving team/freshman class. I can imagine next year’s team, with him at the 4 and Harrison Barnes at the 3, being rather formidable. And while I wasn’t as struck by UNC’s inferiority, it was incredibly disconcerting that they were hanging with us when they weren’t even playing that well. Their weak backcourt was just as weak as advertised; I’m not sure how many turnovers they ended up with, but it’s a lot. Graves made a couple of big threes, but the reason they were big was because Duke couldn’t pull away. In spite of all the turnovers, at one point in the second half, a graphic shown on ESPN showed we had ZERO transition points. Duke just continues to show that it can’t do that many things well, especially on the road. Which leads me to my next question: What is it about road games that changes the team so much? Does the team need a new bus driver or something? The Blue Devils are a totally different team away from Cameron, which doesn’t inspire conference for the Tournament.

It’s a good thing Ed Davis will leave for the Draft because someone in the NBA will be stupid enough to waste a top-10 pick on an energy player (where is Chris Wilcox these days?) Oh, and that I think we can expect Tyler Zeller to be perpetually sidelined with an injury.

Nobody looks better while going 7-for-20 than Jon Scheyer.

As for playing on the road, I don’t have any new ideas. Teams shoot better at home because they’re more comfortable with the rims and the backdrops and the court in general. You know where you are on your home floor; you know the idiosyncrasies of the court (I doubt, however, that a lot of ACC gyms still have dead spots). Crowd noise is a big factor in college games, especially when you’re on defense. It’s a lot easier to build momentum and go on runs with the crowd behind you; you could see the Carolina crowd get going behind them after like one Will Graves three. It doesn’t take a lot to jumpstart something at home.

With Duke specifically, though, I think it’s all about shooting. The Blue Devils missed some open looks from the midrange early, which changed the tenor of the game. If they hit their first few open looks as they often do at home, that’s a 10-point game most of the night. At the same time, they missed an alarming number of layups last night. I don’t specifically know why layups would be tougher to make on the road. There’s really no excuse. If I were Coach K, I would have driven back down 15-501 to Cameron, gotten off the bus, and made the team run a Mikan Drill.

God, you LOVE the Mikan Drill.

I actually think the pressure of this game may have gotten to some guys on Duke. Miles Plumlee in particular seemed to be forcing things, and he dropped a couple balls, lost a pass out of bounds, missed some easy layups, and generally did a lot of things you don’t expect a starter on a Top Ten team to do. As for the other guys, though, it’s kind of hard to tell when Brain Zoubek or Ryan Kelly is nervous—they’re not exactly poised players under any circumstances—but missing layups is never a sign of comfort. Perhaps this means we’ll have an easier time with them at Cameron—and I suspect we will—but Roy Williams owns us in Durham.

Oh, and by far the worst part of the game: We STILL can’t get a fucking Duke-UNC game without Tyler Hansbrough and his goddamn dad!

He has an ear infection, John! Have you no decency?

The injury of more concern, though, is the one to Lance Thomas’ right knee. After the game, the word is that it isn’t an ACL but that it’s “serious.” Provided Thomas can be back by the end of his senior season (it’d be somewhat sad otherwise), I actually think this could be good for Duke. It opens up time in the frontcourt for Mason Plumlee, who has kind of stagnated since that breakout performance against Wake Forest, and forces Krzyzewski to have a looser leash on Miles Plumlee, who has regressed since that breakout performance against Wake Forest. Ryan Kelly and Andre Dawkins could see much-needed time as well. Furthermore, with just three big guys in that frontcourt rotation, maybe they all won’t have an “It doesn’t matter how often I foul” attitude, which commentators always suggest is a good thing but often just leads to other teams being in the bonus earlier. Of course, it’s possible this isn’t an actual attitude, and this is just how they all play. Duke will miss Thomas’ defense, but I don’t mind seeing the Plumlees thrown into the proverbial fire on the defensive end.

Yeah, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that fouling often is just part of the natural skill sets of Thomas and Zoubek. But it may not be too late for the Plumlees to learn how to play ACTUAL post defense (and if they did, they’d be the first Duke players to learn that since who? Carlos Boozer?). I’m all for scenarios in which those guys get a chance to develop more in big moments in games, but I’m not so sure I ever want to see Ryan Kelly on the court unless the game is effectively over.

I’m going to blame my brother for Thomas’ injury, since earlier in the game he called Thomas the team’s best defender. And while I fought him pretty hard on that claim, losing him could be a big blow. I’ve said before that I thought Thomas was our best chance to turn into a viable fourth option on the offensive end, and his interior defense is certainly important to the team’s success. And that is besides the obvious disappointment of a player potentially losing the end of his senior season.

But I do expect the Tar Heels to bounce back and be ready for us in March. Because if there’s one thing Roy Williams does, it’s put things in the proper perspective.

Look, I’m sick of everyone bashing Roy Williams. I could give a shit about “proper perspective” right now.

There’s getting beat, there’s getting blitzed, and then there’s what UNLV did to BYU on Saturday in Vegas. That was like BYU was DC, and UNLV was Precipitation. Just look at that first-half Game Flow.

To be fair, it may have been some Mormon holiday we’re unaware of…

And then New Mexico went in and took care of the Rebels last night in Vegas. It wouldn’t surprise me to see two teams from the Mountain West in the Sweet 16.

Only in the Big Ten can you have a three-game losing streak and still be in first place. And I’m looking at BOTH Michigan State and Purdue.

To be fair, those are both of those teams’ ONLY losses. At least this isn’t the Pac-10, where Washington had a three-game losing streak and a two-game losing streak and is one game out of first.

Draymond Green, a.k.a. The Dancing Bear.

With Kalin Lucas out, Draymond Green was Michigan State’s best playmaker. I don’t know if this says more about the kind of passer Green is or how evanescent Chris Allen and Durrell Summers are on the perimeter for the Spartans. I still like this team to win the Big Ten and make noise as a two-seed in March, but they need Allen, Summers, and Raymar Morgan to show more than they did these last few games.

You know how I know the Pac-10 sucks? USC, a team that lost to Loyola Marymount, averages an even 60 points per game, and is ineligible to participate in the conference tournament, is one game out of first.

Remember when Texas was good? Man, team looks a lot like Wake Forest last year, doesn’t it? As much as everyone was praising Damion James’ performance earlier this season, he’s not the kind of guy you can run an offense through. He can hit threes, he can make midrange jumpers, he can dominate the glass and put it back for an and-one. But he doesn’t do any of these things that well.

On the Longhorns’ perimeter, Jordan Hamilton might be one of my favorite players to watch. If someone like Doug Gottlieb calls you a ballhog, you take it with a grain of salt. Doug calls a lot of people out. It’s what he does. But when Ron Franklin and Fran Fraschilla joke that you’re “not shy” on the offensive end on more than one occasion, you know there’s a problem.

Texas is a LOT like Wake Forest from last year, actually, right down to being in the same conference as the “real” #1. Like Wake last year, nobody really thought Texas was the best team in the country when they were #1. They’re probably closer to the 14th-best team in the country than they are to the best. Inevitably, they’ll end up falling to the 4-line in March and getting upset by Cleveland State in the first round, in a move that absolutely kills my bracket. Texas is just not on the same line as Villanova, Syracuse, Kentucky, and Kansas 

Here’s my issue with Kansas, though: Sherron Collins. I know, it’s pretty weird to cite a team’s best player as my “issue” with that team. But Collins, for all that he does well, seems to have this idea that he needs to take over the game at times. And with Cole Aldrich and Marcus Morris (Marcus is the good Morris, right?) in the post and Xavier Henry on the wing, Sherron Collins NEVER needs to take over a game. NEVER. He doesn’t need to do what Kalin Lucas does for Michigan State, and the only way Kansas can lose is if it forgets about all the weapons it has.

That’s why KU plays its best with Brady Morningstar on the court instead of Tyshawn Taylor. Taylor is a better player, but the Jayhawks don’t need another perimeter scorer; they need a glue guy/defender/three-point shooter, which is exactly what Morningstar is.

This has been a running trend with Kansas during the Bill Self-era. They’ve always had a lot of talent, but the real issue has been how that talent coalesces and works together on the floor. At the same time, I think they will need Sherron Collins to hit a big shot/take over a game down the stretch, and I think having a guy with that attitude will pay off.

And Marcus may be a “good Morris” but he’s not the BEST Morris.

If I had to pick my national champion today, it’s Syracuse. Everyone on that team knows their role, they all excel in them, and they have a go-to guy in Wesley Johnson who can step in when needed and step aside when not. Plus, the Orange’s zone this season is as good since I gained the ability to evaluate zone defenses. Last year, the Cuse played a lot of the time with Andy Rautins and Paul Harris as the wings on the baseline; now Rautins is at the top and the back three consists of three guys 6’9” or taller. And if my brief point guard career taught me anything, it’s that height makes zones exponentially more difficult.

Yeah, way to steal my thunder. I was all ready to predict a national championship game of Michigan State and Syracuse last week, but then Kalin Lucas got hurt and I lost my nerve. Syracuse is an exceptionally talented team and Jim Boeheim is a great coach. You could say that about a lot of teams right now (Kansas, MSU, Villanova) but Cuse is playing the best right now.

Tim and John are both on the 'Cuse bandwagon; that pretty much means everyone else should get off.

That said, it still surprises me when Big East teams going up against Syracuse don’t know how to handle the zone. I mean, it’s not a surprise. You’ve had time to prep for it. If you’re playing Syracuse, and nobody flashes to the foul line almost immediately on your first possession, you’re going to lose. It’s that simple.

Yeah, teams NEVER have trouble facing conference opponents with standard defensive schemes!

One of the odd circumstances around the Orange’s run for a title, though, is that they can’t play in the East Region, since that will be held at the Carrier Dome. Villanova fans can almost book their trip now as the top seed in the East, while the Cuse will have to travel—probably all the way out to Salt Lake City.

And granting that timeout was wrong. That should have been UConn ball with 35 seconds left. At the same time, the Huskies shouldn’t have given Syracuse two points by fouling Wesley Johnson on the inbounds play or committed that intentional foul at the end.

Yeah, and Jerome Dyson’s ill-advised three down the stretch also shouldn’t have happened. Also, can you believe that Fran Frischilla and John Saunders showed as much restraint as they did in not making dozens of “get ready for 6 OTs” comments?

Fellow uniform buffs should have noticed that both the ‘Cuse and the ‘Conn slightly modified their jerseys (as did Texas earlier in the week). Those teams all wear the ubiquitous Nike System of Dress unis (tight top; longer, looser shorts; side stripes that tend more toward the back than the side; and that superfluous stripe on the back of the shoulder). They all added trim to the collar (+) and eliminated said superfluous stripe while adding a bunch of dots to the shorts and watermark patterns on the back. They’re upgrades, but none of them are as good as the uniforms those teams rocked before the S.O.D. (I still love the old Syracuse unis.) Kentucky’s made the switch as well.

I don’t see any difference between Georgetown this season and the Duke of the last few seasons: A shallow team that, when shooting lights out, can take down any team in the country.

Stop trying to justify your absurd claim back in November that Georgetown was “not a Tournament team.”

A lot of people talk about how Duke is a different team at Cameron than it is on the road, but is there any team that gets a bigger lift at home than Dayton? The Flyers, who have dropped one home game to Rhode Island, just blasted successive A-10 first-place teams in Xavier and Charlotte by 25 and 28, respectively, at home. If this team ends up in the play-in game, I like their chances.

Dayton will not end up in the play-in game.

Game(s) of the Week: I’m interested to see if Saint Mary’s can knock off Gonzaga tonight in Spokane, how the Pitt fans retaliate against West Virginia on Friday (my prediction: by winning), if Princeton can rock the social order of the Ivy League at Jadwin Gym on Saturday against Cornell, if Maryland can improve on last year’s 85-44 loss at Cameron, and if Robbie Hummel and Evan Turner each go for 30 again when the Buckeyes host the Boilermakers on Wednesday.

Upset Pick of the Week: Mark it down now, NPI faithful. Texas A&M rocks the Jayhawks on Big Monday, 76-71. Aggies are sneaky good with Sweet 16 potential.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Wey on February 11, 2010 at 8:57 AM

    “The Double Bonus” or “Talking Basketball with Regis and Kelly” …am I right??

    Reply

  2. Posted by doc on February 11, 2010 at 9:09 PM

    I don’t care where Duke is ranked, boys and girls, they are not real good this year. I can’t see the Blue Devils making it past the sweet 16, and maybe not even the thirsty thirty-two. Singler and Nolan are disappointments in my book and the big guy is just plain ugly.

    Reply

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