Monday, April 5, 2010

Morning: Championship Night

Here we are, guys and gals. After a great season and a tourney run that can almost be called improbable, the Dukies are heavy favorites to win the national title tonight. Very few people believed in this team, and the sheer amounts of Duke hate became the primary news story leading up to the Final Four. But we came out and whipped West Virginia, a team that was supposed to be our toughest opponent yet, by 21. And we out-toughed them in the process, a common and unexpected theme over the past month.

Duke was supposed to be the over-hyped and weak, full of guys who could shoot 3s and not much else. But the legions of fans who stopped paying attention sometime in the middle of 2008 had their beliefs rocked for good on Saturday. Zoubek and Lance Thomas dominated the boards again. Scheyer and Smith proved they could drive at will. Singler triumphed over 'better athletes,' carrying the team in the first half. And the team defense made West Virginia look truly awful.

There will be much more today, but for now I'd like to go over the checklist from Saturday's post and see how it played out.


1. Can we stay with them man-to-man and not get killed by cuts and screens?

A resounding yes. WVU only managed 57 points, and they looked utterly lost for the entire game. Afterward, Coach K told Clark Kellogg that he was grateful they had an entire week to prepare for WVU's complex offense. That time certainly paid off.

2. Their shooting: will Butler go off like he did against Kentucky? People forget, but that came could have been a first half romp if not for Da'Sean getting hot. If they hit contested shots against us, things get tough.

This never became an issue. The Mountaineers shot pretty well (41% from both 2 and 3), and this let them stay in a game that was very close to being a first half blowout. But they could never get enough open looks, or even realistic contested looks, to go on a lucky run. Butler only attempted two shots from three point range before his injury, and he missed both. And by the way, that fact that he has an ACL tear is extremely sad. I saw that news yesterday on the ESPN bottom line, and they followed it up with something like "Chad Ford now projects Butler as 2nd round or undrafted." Way to stick a spike in our hearts, Worldwide Leader.

3. Can anyone stop Mazzulla from penetrating? If he gets into the lane, can we at least contain him there? If Nolan guards him, can he hold him like he's done against other quick opponents?

Nolan has become a defensive machine. Mazzulla had 4 points, 3 assists, and 2 turnovers. Nolan got into his head and never left. In a night of great performances, this was one of the best. The WVU guard, who mocked Duke the last time they met by slapping the floor, had absolutely nothing to offer.

4. Do we start Singler off guarding Butler? A similar strategy in the last game, when he guarded Dunn, resulted in two quick fouls and threw him off his rhythm for the rest of the game.

Different night, different result. Singler did guard Butler, and did a spectacular job. Da'Sean looked completely out of sorts, and before his injury had only ten points on 2-8 shooting.

5. Can Old Snowshoes and Lance and the Plumdogs keep WVU off the boards? They've been successful all year, but WVU will one of the best and most athletic rebounding teams we've faced so far. A key offensive board here and there could be quite demoralizing, especially if we're playing from behind.

The Mountaineers pulled down 9 offensive boards to our 11, but they couldn't capitalize on any second chances until the middle of the second half. The combination of pretty good defensive rebounding and outstanding perimeter defense rendered this a non-factor.


1. Can Scheyer handle the heat? I still think Huggins would be crazy to come out in a 1-3-1 zone, but even if that's the case, the top man will probably extend out and put pressure on the point. We know Nolan is up to the task, but Scheyer is a step slower and will sometimes turn his back to the defender in the Paulus mode. If he gets stuck in a retreating mindset, it'll affect our entire offense. He needs to attack like he did in the second half against Baylor. If he doesn't, Coach K will have to have Nolan run the point.

As I thought, Huggins had them in man for most of the game, including the first 15 minutes. But the intense defense did nothing to faze Scheyer, who ended with 6 assists and 0 turnovers. Considering how he had been cooped up by quick guards in the past, those stats are really remarkable. A fantastic game from Jon. He attacked, never got caught in high traps, and created offense on his own when it was necessary.

2. Will our shooter knock down shots? This one is pretty simple. A cold night will send us home in a hurry. The open 3s have to fall.

We were on fire. Just like against Kentucky, WVU gave up a lot of open threes. Unlike the Wildcats, we weren't missing. 13-25 from long range was the final total, tying a final four record.

3. Can all Earth, Wind, and Scheyer all produce points? We're past the point where having two of three show up will be good enough. I'm not saying they each need 20, but a repeat of Singler's Baylor performance won't fly.

Simply put, they saved their best game of the year for the biggest stage. 21, 19, and 23 were the respective totals, and they were 22-45 from the field. When all three have strong games, Duke goes from very good to great, and the nation saw a great team on Saturday.

4. Can we get at least a little point production from the bigs or Dawkins? Andre's 3s were huge in the Elite 8, and it'd be so nice to have him contribute a couple more. Down low, Zou, Lance and the Plumlees will have to be able to hit some short ones, especially if they zone up, and good interior passing is a must.

Zoubek made 3 open layups, Lance hit an open jumper, Mason had a bucket, and Miles turned his only field goal into a technical (the proper call, by the book, but also dumb and unnecessary. Hey look, everyone, it's the referee! He needs attention! He's part of the story!). Together, the four big men were 6-9 with 12 points. Not fantastic, but we didn't need them.

5. Boards. Same as #5 above. We'll need second chance points.

Needed 'em, and got 'em. We had 17 second chance points before WVU got their first. At one point, Zoubek ripped a board and literally had a wide open dunk. Instead of taking it, he passed back to Nolan, who hit the 3. Pretty selfless stuff from Old Snowshoes. That kind of player is invaluable.


1. Foul trouble. Probably won't kill us with the bigs, but if any of the big 3 have to sit early, that's very bad news. Same for WVU with either Butler or Mazzulla. They don't have a second option at PG.

Never an issue in this game. Nolan had 3 by halftime, but he played smart in the second half and didn't have to miss much playing time.

2. Coaching. Will the 1-3-1 blow up in Huggins' face? Will Coach K screw us with a late stall offense?

After Butler went down, the stall was the right move. The Mountaineers didn't have the fire power to come back, and it was wise to drain clock. Kudos to Coach K.

3. The crowd. Who will they be pulling for? No, strike that question. They'll be pulling for WVU. The question is, how hard? We've shown we can handle adversity in a hostile 'neutral' site game, but it'd be nice if the Duke contingent was strong.

As expected, the Mountaineer fans were loud, but they didn't have many chances to really explode. At this point, I don't think there's much fear left to exploit in the Dukies. That will be put to the test tonight, but there's just enough neutrality and noise absorption in these big domes to render it a non-factor.

4. Refs. If they call a tight game, advantage Duke. If they let a lot go, advantage WVU.

They let almost everything go in the first half, and it favored Duke. They called a really tight game in the second half, and it favored Duke. Nice how that works.

5. Heart. You would not expect either of these teams to get overly frustrated or to quit on their coach or themselves. But the most intense pressure can produce some strange results, and it's worth keeping an eye on.

Duke was never losing this game. West Virginia looked really disheartened in the second half, even before Butler went down. Though of course that particular straw really broke the camel's back. I don't think they suffered from lack of heart, and they never quit, but there was nothing to be had against the Duke defense, and that takes its toll.


1. My dream last night. In it, West Virginia ran us off the floor. The score was something absurd like 32-4 almost immediately. Is this a good omen (getting the demons out in dreamland) or a bad one (vision of the future)? Or was it maybe just a dream that won't have any affect at all on the game's outcome?

So hard to tell.

Meaningless! Back later with more national championship thoughts. This is a great day.


  1. I'd been waiting for Plumlee to get T'ed up for that junk all season. I never expected it to happen in the Final Four.

    That being said, as much as I hate Duke and think they really "shouldn't" be here, the Blue Devils have done what 63 other teams in this tournament have not done, and that's taken care of business when they have been afforded opportunities. That's on Kryzooski and the players, so props to them for doing what needed to be done to get in this position.

    Now they have to finish the job. I think Butler will prove to be up to the task to shut down Duke's offense - I think they can neutralize Singler and Smith and let Scheyer's hot or cold hand set the pace early. If Scheyer's hitting, switch off - they can't ALL be hitting shots again, can they? The problem I foresee for the Bulldogs is scoring enough points to win the game. I trust Stevens will come up with something, but I see a slow, plodding game that ends up 66-61 one way or the other.

    Maybe Scheyer will travel and turn the ball over on Duke's final two possessions of the game, a la Trajan Langdon 11 years ago.

  2. For the record, the WVU game was duke's slowest game of the year ... only 54 possessions. That's fewer possessions than Butler has had the entire season as well. I don't see the slow game playing into butler's hands