I wanted to start 2010 off with a real humdinger of a post title, guys and girls, and I think I just knocked it out of the park.* Welcome to a new year of SCSD!
*IKEA Car Park, Hoboken, New Jersey
Last February, Clemson invited us into their basketball gym as a sort of trick, and it ended with our trusting team being slaughtered and embarrassed in front of a crowd of very mean people. 74-47 was the final score, and it was the beginning of the end of our season. Any delusions of Final Four potential were nipped at the bud on that cruel evening, and the rest of the year went to script.
Luckily, delusions of Final Four potential in 2010 are firmly intact, as the Devils had their revenge in Cameron last night with a 74-53 win against the #18 Tigers. It as a nice way to open ACC play, and hopefully it erases those bad memories. A few thoughts:
1) Our defense has been pretty spectacular so far; in the first half, Clemson scored only 12 points. Some of that may have may have owed to intimidation or early jitters, but this is a ranked ACC school, not some out-of-conference cupcake. Duke's pressure is seriously rattling opponents, and a big difference this year is that teams aren't getting second chances when they force an early miss. Between Singler, Thomas, Zoubek, and the Plumlees, we're finally owning the boards.
2) I can't say enough about Scheyer and Smith. The former is the steadiest player in college basketball, with an insane 5.5 assist-to-turnover ration (leads the nation) and a knack for drawing fouls or hitting the big shot when the other team starts to gain momentum. The latter has improved leaps and bounds from last year, can now drive, hit the short pull-up, and hit 3s consistently, and is getting closer to being the true point guard we need. Both had 22 last night, and Scheyer added six assists. He also had a crucial second half steal-and-trey sequence that sent Cameron into spasms and made Coach K go into full-fledged excited-rat mode. His inner eyebrows dove in toward his nose, his eyes lit up with yellow, and he even flailed both arms in a sort of clawing motion as he took two steps onto the court. Beautiful to behold, if you have weird ideas about beauty.
3) We didn't even really light it up from the floor last night. If there's one complaint I can muster, it's that the pressure sometimes made us look hesitant and awkward. They broke the press with ease for most of the game, but there were times when even the perimeter D seemed to send us into a small retreat. When Smith or Scheyer have the ball and a defender gets in their face, I want to scream at them to just fly by, the way Jason Williams used to. But they mainly turn their backs to the defender and look to initiate the offense with a pass to the wing. Which is fine, of course, sometimes...but I can't help but feel that more driving would set up some easy baskets, both down low and on the kick-out. And I know they're capable.
In the end, this isn't a huge issue. At least not yet. I'm just afraid that if accepting pressure and letting it push us backward becomes habitual, we set ourselves up for failure against the elite defensive squads and open the door for a repeat of Duke-Villanova in last year's sweet 16.
4) You know me. I'm the first one to make fun of Zoubek. And it still pisses me off when he tries to take a charge in the middle of the lane instead of playing defense. But credit where it's due: he's turned into a competent role player. Didn't think this day would come, but he knows what he's doing out there. I could say the same for Lance Thomas. Neither one are as detrimental on offense as I thought they'd be.
All in all, I couldn't ask for a better start to conference play. This Saturday we hit the road, destination Georgia Tech, and we'll get our first chance to see how the boys handle themselves in a hostile environment.
Moving on, here's something interesting: 3 of next week's first round games in the NFL playoffs will be rematches from week 17. That's got to be a first, right? In all three cases, the team with the worse record won, and won big. Two of those wins, by Green Bay and the Jets, came about largely because their opponent had nothing to play for and rested some key components. But even still, doesn't there have to be something mentally unsettling about facing a team that just routed you? Right now, I'm convinced that all three winners from week 17 should be favorites. Dallas is a no-brainer, because their win actually vaulted them ahead of Philly and gave them home field in the rematchm, but Green Bay and the Jets both hit the road. I still give them the edge.
Speaking of my prodigious predicting ability, it's time for:
A HIDEOUS LUMP OF BOWL
Old goals: 25-9 straight up, 20-14 against the spread.
Currently: 14-16 straight up, 10-20 against the spread!!!
Which means I still have a chance to finish over .500 straight up. Hoorah!
Tonight, I like TCU (-3) over Boise State both ways. Mountain West has been awesome, and the WAC has been just that.
This, by the way, is the bowl game I've been looking forward to the most, even a bit more than the championship. Happy New Year.