Monday, February 28, 2011

Hey Gary Williams

You know what you are?

You're a sweaty troll-dude sad sack who forgot how to recruit.


You know where you belong?

You belong in a David Mamet play. You should be screaming and throwing your coat and yelling about insurance. You should be trying to sell a shitty screenplay to a Hollywood mogul who despises you. You should have a college-age ungrateful gypsy-dress wearing daughter with a poet boyfriend named Duncan who doesn't respect you. You should be finishing 4th in a sales contest because nobody trusts you enough to buy a car. Alec Baldwin should send you packing with some heartless words.

You know what you do on an off day?

You go to the airport, read the newspaper, and pretend you're waiting for a group of friends so you don't feel so lonely. Then you go home and sob over a stale bagel.

Sorry, that last one was personal.

But God, Maryland stinks. How do you field an entire team without one guy who can hit a three? How does Jordan Williams devolve over a season until he can't even get a shot up with out John Henson swatting him into the 8th row? Seriously, Henson had 7 blocks. 15 of them were on Williams. -8 were on Tyler Zeller, El Floppo, who scored 25 points.

As you can probably tell, I skipped the Oscars, and James Franco's inability to speak in anything but a stilted, fluidless monotone*, to see Maryland blow their shot at a tourney berth. Or, more accurately, to hope and pray for a Carolina loss that never had a chance of happening. If you want to read about the Duke loss, check out Sunday's post.

*And I'll tell you what: I think he was doing it on purpose. It's a weird actor cliche to be the guy who sort of stares into a camera and can't perform live. I think it started with Robert Duvall, who legitimately stutters and stumbles when he's interviewed off script, and it became kind of a cool thing. Like, "oh look, he's a brilliant actor but he can't even complete a sentence...his talent must be so intuitive. It comes right from the soul!" And with Duvall, it's probably true. Now other actors pull this shit; opening their eyes real wide, speaking loudly and without inflection, and seeming dazed. Believe me, they're being total phonies. They've been trained since they were little children to sound and look incredibly natural on camera. I really wish I could think of another example right now to bolster my point. That would be reallll convenient. God, I know so little about show business.

And hey, what's with Jesse Eisenberg? Is he too cool to smile? Does he think he's become Mark Zuckerberg, who actually has never smiled in his life? Come on, Jesse, you're famous because you're an awkward looking relatable Jewish kid who reminds us all of being young and not cool. Fucking give us a grin, man.

I did hear his red carpet interview was pretty sweet, though. But enough about the Oscars. I really only watched like a half hour when I got back from the game, so it's possible I'm totally off on Franco. Please correct me if he was actually funny and was missing the deer-in-the-headlights look at the beginning.

Back to Carolina: what a hard team to peg. It looked for a while like they were fading, but yesterday they seemed all but unbeatable. Sure, Maryland made a couple small runs in the second half, but the closest they came was 8 points. Zeller, much as I hate him, was in domination mode. He was automatic inside, finishing 10-16. And Henson is nothing more than a force of nature. The dude redefines how the game is played in the paint, and that influences an opponent's entire style. I have never seen a team shoot more jump shots from about two steps inside the three-point arc than Maryland last night, and that has everything to do with Henson and his absurd wingspan.

Marshall looked great as usual, with 10 assists and 3 steals. You know how people don't talk about Nolan Smith leading the ACC in scoring and assists anymore? It's because Marshall just needed Larry Drew gone to utterly dominate that category. It's not out of reach yet; Kendall has 5.3 and Nolan has 5.2. But when you look at their assists per 40 minutes, Marshall owns- 10.0 to 6.2. In fact, among the top 100 assist-leaders in the country, Marshall is first in assists per 40 minutes. Nobody else quite got to double digits.

All of which is to say: they can be scary. But we can't forget that Maryland stinks and looked totally lost for the majority of that game. When Jordan Williams is your only real inside player (Padgett and Palsson are softer than the rabbit's tail Harrison Barnes pets for good luck during timeouts), and you don't have anyone who can shoot the 3, that's what happens. Why can't Gary Williams recruit? The man won a national title! He coaches an elite program in a major conference! Why can't he field the top talent? I'm totally stumped. My only guess is that he completely lacks the charm to entice good players, but I have no idea if that's actually true.

So where does that leave the ACC? After big wins this weekend, FSU and Virginia Tech join Duke and UNC as locks. Maryland is 7-7 now, and they have an okay shot to finish 9-7. Clemson is 8-6, but they'll lose to Duke on Wednesday and need a win at Tech next weekend to finish above .500. If the Terps and Tigers each wind up at 9-7, the 5th berth goes to the one that makes it farther in the ACC tourney. I think that's pretty cut and dry, right? Neither one has any good out of conference wins. Maryland won their only head-to-head meeting in College Park, but Clemson has the better RPI. Both will have 20 wins overall. I think it's basically dead even right now.

Which means one of them has to win a quarterfinal game in the ACC. Whoever finishes sixth will face FSU in that round, and whoever finishes fifth will face Virginia Tech. Personally, I'd rather get the Noles without Singleton.


I have tried my damndest to avoid it until now, but it's time to get the speculatin' goggles on: are we going to see Kyrie Irving take the floor in Chapel Hill?

The question has been asked, my friends. In this "notes" column, which is 100% innuendo, they say it could happen. But again, they have as much information as the squirrel chewing on pine bark out my window. Still: IT'S A REAL NEWSPAPER, AND THEY SAY HE'S GOING TO PLAY!!!!

Here's my theory: if he wasn't going to play, that would have been announced by now. It's one thing for Coach K to issue his 'probably' warnings ad nauseam, but that's not the same as saying he's done. Not by a long shot. In fact, if he was actually not going to play, there's no way Duke's PR machine would let us hold on to that sliver of hope. I've believed it for the past two months, and I believe it now: they keep the possibility alive because they expect that he will play.

And if he does, my pals, then woe to the fucking nation. I'll be at the game Saturday, and if Kyrie Irving steps foot on that floor in uniform, I will literally start throwing punches. I think that's what he would want. Myself and the 300 other Moody Blues in attendance will start a riot and clear the powder blue vermin from the building. It will be like a weird pagan religious ritual, violent and cleansing all at once. Then Kyrie will get the rare 50/50/30 (50 points, 50 assists, 30 rebounds) and Duke will win by 200. We'll all charge the floor, and then Chapel Hill will burn to the ground.

Or something like that. Anyway, here's an amazing photo of Kyrie doing the Dougie after Mason's jam against Temple. Extra large version here.

Because seriously, we need him. Not for Carolina; I have confidence that Nolan and Singler can win an ACC championship game against their younger rivals on the road. No problem. But for a title run, Kyrie is a must. Like many Duke teams past, we're a little too dependent on three-point shooting, and I'd have to encounter a situation where we had to shoot lights out for four straight games to have a shot.

Now, just for fun, here's a twitter exchange I had with a Carolina fan. It started with this, on February 6th:

I may live to regret this tweet, but I don't see how UNC can beat us, even at home. They're fading while we're peaking.less than a minute ago via web

Picking them is fine. "Dont see how" is ignorant. RT @SCurrySavesDuke: may regret this tweet, but I don't see how UNC can beat usless than a minute ago via Twitter for Android

@SCurrySavesDuke this from a guy so steeped in Duke/rivalry tradition he named his blog after a transfer from a year ago.less than a minute ago via Twitter for Android


@SCurrySavesDuke "I got no idea what you just said, little man. But you touched a brother's heart..."less than a minute ago via Twitter for Android

I think that's well done all around. And as you can see, I have no maturity issues. I'm totally fit to use the internet.

I had one other notable twitter adventure this weekend, and that came Saturday afternoon when I started my #PeopleWhoVoteAgainstNolanForPOTYAreRacist campaign. This basically consisted of me saying things like:

-Would Jimmer Fredette have all this attention if he wasn't....A WHITE MAN?

-What does Jimmer Fredette have in common with at least 8 former Players of the Year? HE'S WHITE.

-Look, I don't want to play the race card, but I'm watching BYU and Jimmer is clearly....WHITE!

-@JHolt915 denies the racism inherent in the POTY race. Maybe because he's...WHITE?

Now, I thought this was clearly tongue-in-cheek. Most others did as well, but there was a gigantic backlash of angry white people who thought I was insinuating that they were actually racist. One lovely lady even called me a racist and stopped following me. I will be ruing that loss for a long time.

Clearly, this blog should not be about about my twitter adventures, but since there were a few offended folks, I thought I should maybe spend some words here.

1) It was a joke.

2) I was being an absurd conspiracy theory character.

3) It should have been obvious from the tone and caps lock.

4) Seriously, though, I kinda do believe it helps to be white for these kind of awards in an unconscious, hidden bias kind of way. See Tyler Hansbrough (Naismith) and Adam Morrison (Oscar Robertson POTY Award).

5) However, it was a joke.

6) If I started pulling punches for fear of offending people, this blog wouldn't be as fun, believe me. If you already don't think it's fun, then imagine it even less fun.

7) If that's not cool with you, sorry and adios.

I will now conclude with a story an optometrist friend of a friend told me last night at the game. One of her main tasks every day is to put contacts in her patients' eyes. To do this, she stretches their eyelids. No big deal. Being me, I asked her about the grossest eye-related thing she'd ever seen. Turns out, she was applying a contact lens to a female patient, opened the lids, and the woman's eyeball came out of the socket! Not knowing what else to do, she applied the contact and put the eyeball back in. Then she asked the patient how she felt. "It was weird at first," she said, "but it feels fine now." The optometrist, shaken, had only one option- do the other eye. AND IT HAPPENED AGAIN! Eyeball right out of the socket! She did the same thing; contact on, eyeball back in. After that, she was forced to tell the woman what had happened, and the woman didn't even think it was that big a deal.


I'm never opening my eyes all the way again. See you tomorrow. Oh, and prepare yourselves: pretty soon we will be organizing a tourney pool competition with either a) other Duke blog communities or b) a Carolina blog! I will need 25 of the hardiest souls available to carry the SCSD! banner into battle. More on this later.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fire on the Mountain, Run Boys Run

I'm pulling the trigger on the rare Sunday post because I know I won't feel like talking about this loss tomorrow. I was at a friend's birthday party last night, and though I watched the whole game on a decent-sized tv, there was the usual fraternizing and drinking to distract me. Which was probably good, because I felt angry and frustrated enough even with wavering focus. Though it certainly didn't help to have a bunch of UNC students giving me shit and rooting against Duke the whole way. Here are my thoughts, and feel free to contribute your own.

*4-20 from 3. You could basically boil the game down to that, if you wanted. Duke doesn't win when they miss threes; 11-35 against FSU, 5-26 against St. John's. If we lose in the tournament, that'll probably be the reason. Of course, it's more complicated than just going cold; being on the road doesn't help, and the style of the opposing defense forces those low percentages. At least to some extent. Virginia Tech matches up with us almost ideally; they had tall guards to close down the perimeter, and big, quick forwards to lock up Singler. They lacked a true center, but that's not a big deal against Duke.

*Kyle's brief, false spring is over. He shot us right out of the game, and his offensive play, in my view, was egregiously selfish. I never expected to say this, but I think it's time to concede that he's a great defender, useful on the boards, and capable of burying an open 3. But he's not someone we need to be running the offense through. We don't need to feed him in the post or run him off screens or clear out so he can drive on a quicker defender. It's just not helpful. Unless we face a team like Temple without anyone taller than 6'8" (hint: not going to happen), he needs to become a role player.

*As you can tell from this article, the Virginia Tech game probably meant a lot to Seth Curry. I'm not sure if he was nervous, over-amped, putting too much pressure on himself, or what, but the result was a disaster. I felt bad for him; it can't be easy to have your worst game in front of your dad like that. Seth will be back, and last night's disaster will be a bad memory, but I'm sure it stings.

*Virgina Tech out-fought us on the boards, which is really aggravating. Allen, Davila, and even Delaney made a killing on the glass, and a lot of their boards came at the expense of our bigs. We shouldn't be losing contested rebounds to smaller players, and we largely have not had that problem this season. I really, really hope Tech's 42-35 margin was an anomaly.

*Ryan Kelly needs to stop shooting. STOP, RYAN. Well, let me amend that: I have no problem with missing a wide open 3. But there's no reason he should be missing FOUR. That's not good for anybody. My favorite fan reaction came from an anonymous commenter on yesterday's post:

the plumlees are fucking worthless, they can't box out worth shit. Ryan kelly's great-grandparents should've succumbed to the famine, he hurts us more than helps us at this point. Seth's 0 not his fault. What a lack of professionalism down the stretch, up 6 with 5 to go and with 2 separate shots at winning the game getting jack shit.

That's some good Irish hating!

*Nolan had a heavy load to carry, and he did an okay job. It wasn't great, it wasn't awful. I heard a few people comment on his weak showing toward the end of the game, but I can't be mad at him. He kept attacking, and he shot 9-18. In a hostile environment, when none of his teammates are showing up, I think he did a pretty admirable job.

*My friend Brian made the good point that Duke might have been better off running. We knew Coach K would try to grind it out against a team without a ton of height, but that strategy presents two big problems. First, it guarantees that the other team will never be truly out of the game. The hope is that you establish a 6-10 point lead and slowly add on, but if the other team catches fire all the sudden you have no cushion. Second, it places a heavy burden on the halfcourt offense, which frankly looked awful last night. Why give the other team time to D up on your guards and Singler (especially when they're all bigger) when you can set a faster pace?

*The endgame stunk. With 5 minutes left, we had a 5-point lead. Then a very questionable charge call on Nolan happened, then Tech got hot, then Miles missed his dunk (you really just have to throw up your hands and resign yourself to fate with him), then Nolan missed the front end of the 1-and-1, then Singler missed 30 shots in a row (roughly), and Tech closed on a 14-5 run.

*Maybe someone can help me out in the comments: why does Tyler Thornton ever play? What does he bring to the table?

Alright, let's get to some positives:

*Mason Plumlee's effort at the end of the game was almost heroic. Between the steal and the offensive boards and actually making a foul shot, he kept us in the game. For all the shit I give him, I'm big enough to admit that he's really improved in the past month.

*Our defense is great. Even when we shoot poorly, we're never out of a game (with the exception of St. John's, which I see as very fluky).

*Bad luck played a part last night. Singler's tip could have gone in, Miles could have made his dunk, Nolan's foul shot could have bounced in, etc. Duke isn't going to give up many leads with 5 minutes left, even on the road. A lot of things had to go Tech's way for them to come out winners.

*We saw signs of life from Young Threezy. Coach K played him 18 minutes, and he buried a couple big threes. Let's hope this is a trend.

Now we can talk about what this means.

1) Virginia Tech just became the 4th ACC team to make the tournament. Maryland can take a step toward being the 5th with a win tonight.

2) Duke and UNC are now tied in the ACC. As of Sunday morning, next weekend's game looks like it'll be for the ACC championship. However- and this is a big however- the Heels have two tough games; tonight against Maryland and Wednesday at Florida State. I personally don't believe they'll come through with two wins. Duke will win Wednesday against Clemson, and hopefully it'll guarantee at least a tie.

Enough. Bring on the perfection proclamation, bring on Carolina. And let me know what I missed in my semi-stupor last night.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Duke - Virginia Tech: The War Before the War

The fun is over, Moody Blues. Get your war paint out of the closet, forget the memories of the second half against Carolina, and stop treating your loved ones with affection. Blood is going to flow, my friends. Be stern to the mailman. Don't give the traffic cop no respect- cross when he's telling you to stop. If a car gets impatient, give the driver the finger as you walk past. Tell the priest at your church that you ain't got time for sermons and just give you the damn wafer. Make a suitcase out of pine needles and mail it to Texas with an armadillo inside. Find the tallest traffic light in your town and throw a child's football at it until someone gets mad. Become a Freemason and tell a Catholic he'll never become president. Add four pints of juicy juice to a jar of milk and sell it as love potion at a county fair. Form a softball team at a nursing home and ban the home run. Cry for no reason while you watch cartoons. Make pancakes in the shape of an interesting sailor from history. Accuse three women of witchcraft. Nail a sign to your door advertising free lessons in "Violent Yoga." Follow a squirrel into the woods and pay it five dollars to answer a toy telephone. Wear masks in public and pretend you think grass is currency. Wear elbow pads for no goddamn reason.





Tonight will be a battle. At least I think so. Virginia Tech is the type of team that can put up 91 points on Maryland and then lose 61-54 to UVA. But they haven't lost at home since early December, and their smallest margin of victory over those last nine wins in Blacksburg was eight (91-83 against the Terps). There is pride in the Coliseum. The Cassell Guard defends its house.

The importance of this game cannot be overstated. Or maybe it can. Let me try: "If Duke doesn't win today, China will bomb Washington, D.C. and enslave everyone from North Dakota." There, I overstated it. But honestly, it's important. I have a gut feeling that Maryland's going to pull off an upset at Carolina tomorrow night. If that's the case, a Duke win tonight would give us a 2-game edge and, essentially, the regular season ACC title. If Carolina holds serve, the win keeps us in line for the tie-at-worst situation. One way or another, you can't drop this game. And believe me, Tech will be gunning. As it stands now, their tourney fate is far from guaranteed. A win tonight, though, and they'll be dancing like Fred Astair, my idol.*


We didn't get the Hokies at home this season, so there's no previous battle for comparison purposes. Not that it would matter; Virginia Tech lost to BC, GT, and UVA on the road. They're a different team when they come down from the hills. If they can't look in the stands and see 9,000 dudes with pitchforks and tobacco spit cans, they aren't quite right.

But we're not getting them on the road. When the Devils get off the plane in Blacksburg, they'll hear the twangy opening notes of Dueling Banjos resonating somewhere in the invisible distance. They're walking into a hostile arena, even more hostile than they'll face in the sanitized Dean Dome come the Fifth of March. This, you could say, is our last real hostile road test of the season. This one's for pride.

Let's look at the Hokies.


-Overall defense. On KenPom's page, you can see that they do everything well without doing one thing spectacularly. 30th in overall defensive efficiency. 70th in forcing turnovers. 53rd at defending the three. 89th at defending the two. 67th in blocks, 72nd in keeping opponents off the line. Just solid everywhere you look.

-Scoring inside. 53.9% of their points come from inside the arc, and they shoot a very impressive 52% in that range.

-Avoiding steals. Top 15 in the country in ball control.


-There are no true weaknesses on this team. They don't rank in the bottom half of D-1 in any evaluative statistical category. Their only real mediocrity is rebounding. They're 151st on the offensive end, and 102nd on D.

We all know about Malcolm Delaney. He struts around the court like he's king shit, and he scores a lot of points. When things don't go well, he starts whining and becoming distant from his teammates. When things do go well, he's a force of nature. And even when the team isn't at its best, Delaney does damage. In a world without Nolan Smith, he'd be the favorite for ACC Player of the Year. Here's the stat line:

19.1 ppg, 4.2 assists, 3.3 boards, 1.7 steals, 43% from the field, 43% from three, 87% at the line.

Dude is good at basketball. Still, if you play him the right way, things can go bad. Against UVA, he was 6-15 from three. Repeat: 6-15 from three. At some point, he clearly decided to check out and just start chucking. It didn't help his game, it didn't help the Hokie offense, and it resulted in a 61-54 loss to a bad team.

As you can probably tell from the rebounding numbers, the team does not have a lot of height. Jeff Allen (6'7") and Victor Davila (6'8") are the biggest dudes, with Terrell Bell (6'6") contributing 5.4 boards per game. Like some other recent teams we've faced, the guards are pretty big; Delaney at 6'3", Erick Green at 6'4".

And Tech isn't very deep; outside of their starting five, nobody gets more than 11 minutes per game.

All of which, sadly, leads to an inevitable conclusion: Duke will try to grind them down. We've seen it over and over against this type of team, and it seems to be fairly successful. If we get these guys in foul trouble, they're screwed. Coach K knows it, and there will be plenty of post feeds and guard penetration. Virginia Tech plays a slow tempo anyway, and I can't see Duke forcing the issue on the road. They'll try to run a set offense, stifle the Hokies on D, and win a 65-58 type game.

The only mitigating factor is this: Virginia Tech will sometimes play zone. My basketball brain tells me we won't see much of that tonight, since they match up so favorably on us man-to-man. Their tall guards should limit Curry and Dawkins, and unlike Temple they have taller forwards who can match up with Singler. I can't imagine Seth Greenberg is horribly worried about the Plumlees, so it wouldn't make any sense for him to play zone. If he does, though, we will welcome it with open arms, and the scoring and pace will increase dramatically.

On defense, I'm curious to see who will guard Delaney. I imagine Nolan's the man, and that match-up will be the best part of this game. Singler and Jeff Allen will probably find each other for a nice undercard. Virginia Tech will want to force the issue down low, and Duke's ability to prevent easy interior points will define this game. If the inside is shut down, Delaney might get into bombing mode. He's more or less the only 3-point shooter on the team (Bell shoots a nice %, but has only attempted 51 on the year), and if we can force the game outside, our chances are excellent. But if Allen and Davila do damage inside, and Delaney and Green have success driving, it'll mean trouble for the good guys.

I am absolutely pumped for this game. It's a great match-up, and as much as people want to talk about how Temple was a good tournament test, the real challenges start tonight. I think Duke comes out strong on offense and gradually uses the country's third best defense to push the Hokies outside and let them bomb themselves into submission. I think Greenberg will make a mistake at some point and get burned by going zone. I think Kyle will have a tough game, but that Nolan will thrive.

Prediction: Duke 71, Virginia Tech 63

Before we get to the Hot Potato, a couple fun things from readers. First, from GB, check this out. His comment, followed by the video:

You guys should rewatch the Duke/UNC top 5 on Duke blue planet. During the Seth Curry interview towards the end Curry and Dawkins have an inaudible conversation (they were looking really shifty) that ends with Curry asking Dawkins if he's chicken (presumably) to shit talk Reggie "Duke can't guard me" Bullock for his goose egg of a performance that night. As Dawkins gets up and out of the view of the camera you can hear him say HELLO REGGIE and then something that sounded like "can't hold this". Happens around the 3:25 mark.


And Candice alerted me to this absolute gem from the Onion Sports Network. Their graphics people deserve some kind of award. Maybe an Oscar. Can we give them Best Supporting Actress? Is that being used this year?

Only Martin Plumlee was found under an actual rock.

And from Freaky Jim B the Unrepentant Funkmaster Freakdog comes this side-by-side comparison of two American icons:


Jim says:

Tyler Zeller is a fucking Romulan. That's probably some kind of recruiting violation, right?

Brilliant. I heard Spock used to flop any time an enemy ship came within a few light years.

Okay, let's Hot Potato it up. I realize it's been a while since I've posted standings, so here we are:

Carrie was out of the lead for a while, but she's surged back to claim her rightful spot. And just so everyone's aware, Hot Potato ends at the end of the regular season. There are three games left for glory.

Today's Hot Potato is:


PlumbleFouls + PlumbleDunks

How many combined fouls and dunks will the Brothers Plumlee commit/execute tonight? Guesses in by tip at 9pm.

There are two other fun ACC games today:

1) BC at Virginia, noon - Eagles need a win.

2) Miami at Florida State, 4pm - Battle for Florida, and the Noles want to end any drama about their tourney chances. This is the third straight spoiler opportunity for the Canes, who are 1-1 thus far.

And don't forget Maryland-UNC tomorrow night. With any luck, I'll be in the house. Last but not least, check out BYU-San Diego State today at two . Hopefully Jimmer stinks so Nolan takes the lead for POTY.

I'm going to post "Tin Man" by Future Islands again. I haven't forgotten that I put it up last week, but I'm really and truly obsessed. I suggest you listen to it and get psyched/melancholy/furious. Have a great weekend.

Friday, February 25, 2011

ACC - Who's in, who's out?

Happy Friday, folks. This is a total cop-out post; late and short. A busy week reached its climax today, but I'll be back tomorrow morning with something more lengthy about Duke-Virginia Tech (Saturday, 9pm). For now I'd like to spark a discussion about ACC teams and their shot at the tournament.

Here's how I group them:

No chance, barring a miracle conference tourney run

Miami (17-11, 5-8)
Virginia (14-13, 5-8)
N.C. State (14-13, 4-9)
Georgia Tech (11-16, 3-10)
Wake Forest (8-20, 1-12)

Need a perfect finish and a great conference tourney run

Boston College (16-11, 6-7)

Barely outside the bubble:

Maryland (18-10, 7-6)
Clemson (18-9, 7-6)

Barely inside the bubble:

Florida St. (19-8, 9-4)
Virginia Tech (18-8, 8-5)

Absolute locks:

Duke (26-2, 12-1)
UNC (21-6, 11-2)

The bubble teams are the most interesting, so let's take a closer look at each, starting from the top down.

Florida State: 54 RPI, 19-8, 9-4

Significant out-of-conference wins: Baylor

Before Singleton's injury, they looked like a lock. Now? Well, they're still pretty close. They need one win in their last three to reach the 20-10 milestone; 20 overall wins, 10 conference wins. But those games are far from gimmes. It starts at home against Miami, who played to their potential for the first time all season in a huge win against BC. Next is home against a Carolina team who, despite recent struggles, keeps winning the games they should and will be fighting for a chance to stay within a game of Duke before the year-end showdown. Last, they visit N.C. State. Again, a game they should win, but State has shown a little fire of late, and a road game is a road game.

The fact is, Florida State is a different team without Singleton. They don't have much chance to do any damage in the big dance, and even though the tournament committee isn't supposed to consider that, you know it'll be in the back of their minds. Give them any excuse to exclude the Noles, and you can bet it'll happen.

Still, one more win for FSU cements their resume; it's hard to turn down the 3rd place team in the ACC when they've reached 20-10. But that one win is proving a lot tougher than anyone thought.

Virginia Tech 63 RPI, 19-8, 8-5

Significant out-of-conference wins: Oklahoma St., Penn St.

Again, we have a team that seemed to be a virtual lock last week. Then the horrendous loss to UVA happened, and things became a little topsy turvy. All the sudden, the Hokies are in a real tough spot. They finish the season with Duke, Boston College, and away at Clemson. The BC game shapes up nicely for them, but Duke and Clemson have the distinct smell of losses. If they finish 20-10, 9-5, is that good enough? The answer probably depends on how Maryland and Clemson finish, but Tech's resume doesn't really inspire a lot of confidence. If we assume that the ACC will get 4 teams (and I think that's the most we can reasonably expect), I don't see a 1-2 finish being good enough unless they make the ACC finals.

This is a really puzzling team. Five of their conference losses have come to Virginia (2), Georgia Tech, and Boston College. You'd expect them to win at least three of those games, and the poor record gives them the label, deservedly or not, of inconsistency and underachievement.

Maryland: 81 RPI, 18-10, 7-6

Significant out-of-conference wins: Penn St.

They need a big win Sunday at UNC. That's the long and short of it. If they manage that, they can easily win their last two against UVA and Miami. And that would give them 10 conference wins, 21 overall, and a pretty airtight argument for the tournament (provided they win at least 1 ACC tourney game). In a way, they're in a better position than Virginia Tech. Ken Pomeroy has them ranked 19th, despite everything, and only a few bad losses have kept them from the top tier. A win against Carolina, and suddenly they're on everyone's radar.

A loss against UNC, though, probably spells disaster. It'll relegate them to 4th or 5th in the ACC, and barring a run to the ACC tournament finals, that may be all she wrote. In which case they'll kick themselves for the loss at Boston College two weekends ago.

Clemson: 64 RPI, 18-9, 7-6

Significant out-of-conference wins: Seton Hall

I really like this team, and I hope they find a way to make it in. The problem is, the rest of their schedule looks tough: Wake, at Duke, and Virginia Tech. Well, Wake isn't tough, but it will be damn near impossible for them to take down Duke on senior night when the Devils are going for a second straight perfect season at home. And Virginia Tech will be fighting for their tournament lives in what should be a real battle.

Last Thursday's 8-point loss to N.C. State was killer, though they recovered with a good home win against Miami. Assuming they lose to Duke, wins against Wake and Tech would make them 20-10, 9-7, in which case they'd probably need to make the semifinals of the ACC tournament to have any shot.

Boston College: 50 RPI, 16-11, 6-7

Significant out-of-conference wins: California, Indiana, South Carolina

Much respect to Steven Donahue for an excellent coaching job with minimal talent this season. The lesson of the year? Everybody else in the ACC better hold on for dear life when this guy gets his recruits in. The BC athletic department should be patting themselves on the back right about now.

That being said, this probably isn't their year. Donahue held it together with smoke and mirrors, even coming within a Reggie Jackson 3 of upsetting Carolina on the road. But the cream rises to the top, and great coaching only goes so far without talent. Even if BC finishes 2-1 (UVA, V. Tech, Wake), they'll only be 8-8 in conference, and they won't have 20 wins. Nothing but an ACC tourney win could get them in the dance. The only chance they have otherwise is to win out (next week's game in Blacksburg is the huge obstacle here) and make the ACC finals. Both scenarios seems like a real long shot. The one thing the Eagles have going for them, though, is that in case of a tie, they have a better RPI and better out-of-conference wins than the rest of the ACC bubble.

Still, I'm not holding my breath. In 2-3 years, though? Watch out, ACC. Dudes are going to be tough.


If I had to pick today, I'd say the ACC field looks like this:

Duke, UNC, Florida State, Maryland

Let's hear everyone's thoughts.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

More like the SHIRLEY Temple Owls (Duke-Temple Wrap)

Riddle Time

Q: How is Duke like an unattractive person at a bar?

A: They start looking way better as the night goes on.

Also, they cry a lot in the morning while you brush your teeth, and it takes them an awkwardly long time to find their coat.

Point is, we're chronic slow starters. Let's took a look at the last few games and compare the score after 10 minutes with the final score, and include the average difference rate for the first 10 and final 30:


After 10: 13-12, Duke (Average: +1 per 10 minutes)
Final: 78-61, Duke (Average: +5.3 per 10 minutes)

Georgia Tech

After 10: 18-15, G. Tech (Average: -3 per 10 minutes)
Final: 79-57, Duke (Average: +8.3 per 10 minutes)


After 10: 15-13, Virginia (Average: -2 per 10 minutes)
Final: 56-41, Duke (Average: +5.6 per 10 minutes)


After 10: 20-18 Miami (Average: -2 per 10 minutes)
Final: 81-71 Duke (Average: +4 per 10 minutes)


After 10: 25-19, Carolina (Average: -6 per 10 minutes)
Final: 79-73, Duke (Average: +4 per 10 minutes)

Those were our past 5 games. Here's Duke's total score taking just the first 10 minutes of each:

Duke: 78
Opponent: 90

And now the final 30 minutes of each:

Duke: 295
Opponent: 213

That's pretty crazy, right? We go from an overall average of -12 in the first 10 minutes to +27.3 in any 10-minute period after, a 39-point swing. The obvious question now is 'why?' Why have we trailed in 4 of 5 games (and barely led in the other) after 10 minutes? Why does it take that specific length of time to warm up and start playing good basketball? Are we not stretching? Should we play a 10-minute scrimmage beforehand? Does Coach K make us start out passing the ball 15 times per possession like Gene Hackman in Hoosiers?

I honestly have no idea why this happens, but I'm willing to hear suggestions. I certainly hope it doesn't continue; that kind of habit will bite you against better teams.

In any case, Temple wasn't a very good team. As I thought, the injuries to Randall and Eric hampered their offense to a fatal degree. Where they may have had a chance to keep things somewhat close late into the game with a healthy roster, without those pieces they were totally hamstrung. The Duke game plan was sound; stifle the Temple perimeter, take your chances inside, isolate Singler against small defenders, and penetrate/feed the post to create open threes.

Time to take out the grading pencil.

Ichabod Drain: A. Huge, great, fantastic game from Singler. Note the new nickname: did you see post-game interview? Singler is a surprisingly gaunt dude. If Tim Burton ever made a basketball movie, he'd be the star. I thought a new moniker was in order, and I went back and forth between Ichabod Drain (like drain the 3) and Icha-God Crane. Still not sure which one I like more, and outside opinions/alternate suggestions are welcome. My pal Sean had a third idea; he thinks Singler looks like an unknown muppet, second from the right:

Neither of us know that muppet's name, so if anyone can help, it would be much appreciated.

Anyway, Sing's great game was a little bit predictable, since Temple would always be forced to guard him with someone 4 inches shorter. I predicted yesterday that he'd be our primary scoring option, and it was clear from the first possession that Coach K was hellbent on breaking his senior's slump. 28 points later, mission accomplished. Singler even shot higher than 50% (10-19) within a game for the first time since his great showing against Maryland in early February.

Even more importantly, maybe, he shut down Ramone Moore, Temple's best scoring threat. The Temple guard scored 8 points on only 7 field goal attempts, both well below his season average. Once again, Singler proved that he's among the top defensive players in the country, and last night he was the clear choice for Player of the Game.

A word of warning: this great effort may break Singler's slump, or it may not. We have to remember that the match-ups were particularly favorable for Singler against a depleted Temple squad. It won't be long before he's back to being covered by the likes of Harrison Barnes; tall, long, quick dudes who have made 2011 something of a disaster for Singler. I'm happy about last night, but we definitely need to see more. Be optimistic, but carry some caution in your back pocket.

Plumblebum the Greater C+. What a lunatic. What a crazy, big ole lunatic we've got in Mason Plumlee. By all rights he should have thrived last night, but he didn't. He was just okay; good on the boards, decent at avoiding stupid shots, and poor on turnovers.

My absolute favorite sequence of last night, and maybe of the year, came early in the second half when he tried to dribble the ball upcourt after a defensive board. He's actually shown some ability of late to jumpstart fast breaks with a great outlet pass and occasionally one or two dribbles to create some space. This time, he overreached and decided to take it all the way to half court. You could see the Temple guard sneaking up from behind, and on my couch three people were screaming at him to pass. But the guard caught up, tipped the ball way, and Temple took possession. Mason, attempting to make up for his mistake, ran up behind the Temple guard, hacked the hell out of him, and got a break when the refs swallowed their whistle. The ball came loose, and the whole thing ended with Nolan scoring on a lay-up. Fabulous. Classic Mason.

Speaking of Classic Mason, I mentioned his soul-mama head shake after a slam against Georgia Tech, and Duke Blue Planet came through again. You can see the goodness at the 46-second mark of this video:


Like I said, his work on the boards was decent, but Lavoy Allen made a bit of a killing down low, and Rahlir Jefferson did well too. I really wavered between C- and B+ for ole Mase, but I think the post points conceded and the 4 turnovers push him to the low end.

Kid Shimmy: B-. Kind of a rough game, at least by Nolan's standards. 4 assists to 3 turnovers won't raise any eyebrows, and the 15 points is his lowest total since that weird Bradley game when he scored 2. The shooting was off too; 5-17 is his worst one-game percentage since the first Maryland clash on January 9.

Here are two things that concern me:

1) I'm worried that success for Singler and Smith might be mutually exclusive. Nolan took a big step back to give Kyle free reign, and we've seen how Singler seems disconnected when Nolan excels.

2) Nolan's shot looked weirdly off. I'm going to worry about this for approximately 5 seconds, because it's a minor, petty complaint that will probably be resolved or proved ridiculous by next game. Still, something seemed amiss. Luckily, my gut instincts are usually wrong. That's why I love numbers. YOU CAN'T ARGUE WITH A NUMERAL!

The Koala Apostle: B. I thought it might be a tough game for Seth. Temple's guards all average around 6'4", which is great for Singler and bad for shorter guys like Curry and Dawkins. And while he was pretty limited (9 points on only 6 shots, 5 of them threes), he made efficient use of his 34 minutes: 0 turnovers, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, only 1 foul, and 3 timely bombs. That's the Curry intelligence, and it's why he's been so important since January.

The White Raven: B-. He needs to stop shooting threes. He had a nice little 3-game stretch against BC, Wake, and State when he was 8-10 from behind the arc, but in the 8 games since, he's only 2-13. In the 8 games before the mini hot streak, he was 2-16. Time to start passing, White Raven. You can't fly like you used to. (sad music) You can't fly like you used to. (Okay job on the boards, though.)

Young Threezy: B. Coach K needs to play him more. They need to sort out the differences. It's not too late, guys! Look inside your hearts!

The Thorn: C I didn't realize this until a commenter pointed it out, but he's actually been kinda weak lately on the perimeter. It seems like opposing guards can drive past him at will. He also commits a lot of fouls; 4 in 11 minutes last night. Was his great defense earlier in the year an optical illusion? Or is he just a freshman experiencing growing pains? One way or another, this is why Dawkins needs to find his way back into the rotation.

Stupid Fouls: Stupid Fouls. Stupid Fouls gets a grade of Stupid Fouls based largely on his Stupid Fouls.

Team Defense: A-. Other than a few easy inside points and a stretch late in the first half when it seemed like we couldn't get a stop, I'd call this another excellent effort. Holding Temple to 61, even without two starters, is good work by any measure. A combination of strategy and skill has elevated Duke to 2nd in the nation in defensive efficiency (only Texas is better), and we're peaking at exactly the right time.

Other thoughts:

-Did anyone see Kyrie's dance on the bench after Mason's big dunk? This guy is friggin' fantastic. They showed him on the reverse angle camera on ESPN, and he was doing some combination of holding his teammates back, shoulder jiving, and running his hands through his hair. I love Kyrie Irving.

-And what about Wojo screaming at the big men during an early timeout? Did he want them to slap the floor more often? Was he sublimating his extreme guilt at not being able to coach big men?

-As I mentioned on twitter last night, Temple coach Fran Dunphy looks like a frustrated office worker at a government job. I want to buy him a beer and hear his complaints about middle management. I want to gently remind him that he has white donut powder on his shirt. I want to ask him about the last he shaved his sad walrus mustache.

-My favorite lineup, Smith-Curry-Dawkins-Kelly-Singler, played the last four minutes of the first half. They scored 10 points and gave up 6. The strengths and weaknesses were basically what you'd imagine; Temple got a lot of offensive rebounds, but Duke moved the ball well and ran a fun offense.

Full ACC rankings and wrap-up tomorrow. Enjoy the day, enjoy the win.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Seth Curry Saves My Mom (and a Duke-Temple Preview)

Yesterday afternoon, while I was toiling thanklessly in class, striving for a degree of dubious value and staggering toward a depressingly uncertain future, my mother and stepdad were on the Duke campus. They left the Bryan Center and were walking toward the quad when my mom recognized a familiar face leaving The Loop. Several minutes later, this:

So, yeah, that's great. That's just really fantastic. I'm so happy for her, I really couldn't be happier. What a great day for my mom. She must be so happy. She must be just really filled with joy and-





No! No Shane! You promised yourself you wouldn't do this. Just be happy for your mom. Come on man, practice being a grown-up. You're 28, man. This is a good chance to stop being pathetic and start getting your life togeth-





Seriously, though, when I stopped weeping and cursing, I thought this was pretty cool. According to them, Mr. Curry was very nice. They even asked him if he read my blog, which gave me feelings of mild embarrassment and un-mild gratitude even from far (and really, what other emotions do you ever feel about your parents?), and he was nice enough to at least pretend that he'd heard of it and read it a couple times.

So, Seth Curry: thanks for being nice to my mom. May you score bountiful points.

Today, I think, is one of the most interesting games of the season. The 24th-ranked Temple Owls are coming to town for a little shindig. Duke's home non-conference win streak is now at 3,024 games*, and this is the final test of the season.

*May not be the exact number, but it's a lot. I think it's a record.**

**Fine, I looked it up. It's 85. The last loss came almost exactly 11 years ago, on February 26, 2000, to St. John's. I can't find out whether it's an NCAA record (probably not), but it's definitely the longest active streak in the NCAA.

This game is particularly special to me because one of my funniest memories from college had its origin with Temple. I have no idea if this will come across as hilarious via text, but I'll give it a shot. I had a friend named Jared in college, and he was something of a wild man. He was also very funny. Early in the year, I think, we played Temple away. We were watching the game on tv, and Mike Dunleavy (one of Jared's favorite players), hit a bunch of threes. Jared got so psyched that he yelled out "Mike Dun-LEEEEEEEEVY!!! HOOT, HOOT, HOOT, HOOT!" As he yelled the 'Hoots,' he turned to us, his face turning red with exertion, and bobbed his head emphatically with each one. Imagine a really crazy person barking like a dog inside a jail cell, and then magnify it by seven.

Now, why did he say 'HOOT!'? Great question. It had something to do with the fact that Temple's nickname is the Owls, but of course even that doesn't really explain anything. Why would you yell the other team's nickname after you shouted your player's name? It didn't make sense, and will probably remain a mystery forever. But his performance was so emphatic and insane that it had us all on the floor dying.

After that, it became Jared's calling card. In games at Cameron, when Mike Dunleavy started heating up, we'd all turn to him, anxiously waiting for the outburst. And his timing was perfect. Our expectations would build, and then Dunleavy would hit a three, and we'd brace ourselves...but it wouldn't come. Then we'd all pray for another one, and the energy would rise, and then he'd find himself open, our hands would fly into the air, praying the ball would find the net, and...


And if you thought it made no sense the first time, imagine how ridiculous it seemed when Duke wasn't playing Temple. The expressions on the faces of everyone around us were absolutely priceless (shock at the energy of Jared's performance, confusion at the hooting, and a small but healthy dose of fear), and it was inevitably one of the most hilarious experiences ever. Seriously, my stomach would hurt from laughing and I'd miss several minutes of game action.

Great times. Anyway, it's nice to see the Owls (21-5, 11-2 A-10) back in town. Let's take a look at KenPom's stats and see what these dudes are all about.


-Defense, defense, defense. They're ranked 26th in the country in overall efficiency, 19th in preventing 2-point scoring, 12th in defensive rebounding, 21st in opponent field goal percentage, and 19th in keeping opponents off the line. They're also pretty decent in blocks (47th) and steals (75th).

-Ball control. They only turn it over on 16.9% of possessions (17th in D-1), and they rarely have the ball stolen or blocked.

-Inside scoring. 75th nationally in 2-point shooting percentage.


-Shooting threes. This isn't so much a weakness as a mediocrity. They're middle of the pack in D-1.

-Defending the three. See above.

-Offensive boards. See above.

-Getting to the line. They're actually pretty bad at this, 245th in the country with a 34.7% free throw rate (FTA/FGA).

-OPPONENT FREE THROW %! THEY SUCK AT THIS! Oh wait, they have no control over that. Unless they're very smart at who they foul...I'm worried.

Here are the four factors for both teams, courtesy of StatSheet:

So, the emerging profile is a team that plays hard-nosed defense, loves to muck it up inside, and is at least slightly uncomfortable playing behind the arc. However, there are two things to consider:

1) They play in the Atlantic-10. The competition is nowhere near as fierce as you'll find in any major conference, even the struggling ACC. It's important to look at non-conference games. In those, Temple beat Seton Hall, Georgia, Maryland, and Georgetown. They lost to California, Texas A&M, and Villanova. Not bad.

2) More importantly, as GB pointed out in yesterday's comments, they have some recent injuries. Michael Eric, their 6'11" center, is down for the count with a knee injury. He was averaging 7 points, 6 boards, and almost 2 blocks. Scootie Randall, according to this article, is highly doubtful with a foot injury. He's their second-leading scorer (11 ppg), a 6'6" junior and one of only two guys who can really hit the three.

Those are gigantic losses. Their biggest player on the court will be Lavoy Allen at 6'9". After that, it's pretty much 6'4" and below. For the third straight game, Duke will be facing an undersized, guard-heavy team. Which probably means we can expect the same defensive strategy- press the hell out of the perimeter, take away the 3, and force the Temple guards to drive or feed the post.

The scary part is that Temple's offense is geared toward that type of game. Unlike Virginia and Georgia Tech, they're not lost without the three pointer. In fact, they're not even particularly fond of it. The whole thing reminds me a little of St. John's; they only knocked down 3 threes against Duke, but they made a killing penetrating the lane. Despite the injury to Randall, Temple still has Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez, two tall (6'4"), aggressive guards who can finish off the drive. Moore is averaging 15.4 per game, and the offense will run through him tonight. If you'd like to prepare your hatred early, here's what he looks like:

When Duke is on the attack, expect them to look for Singler as a primary scoring option. Whoever guards him will probably be at least 4 inches shorter, and Coach K will look to exploit the mismatch by curling his senior off picks and springing him for 15-foot jumpers. Ryan Kelly could play a big factor in a similar role (minus the picks), and I'm sure there will be token attempts to feed Mason Plumlee in the post and create open three opportunities on the kick-out. His newfound passing ability will be put to the test.

It might be a tough game for the likes of Curry and Dawkins, since they'll be manned up by tall, quick guards with instructions to deny the three.

I'm really, really looking forward to this game. I mean, I look forward to every game day; I love waking up and realizing there's a Duke game that day, which is probably a little bit sad. But tonight will be especially interesting. Temple should be a good test, vaguely approximating what we might face in a second round or sweet 16 match-up in the tournament. It's a different, more skilled team than we're used to seeing in the ACC, and it will force us to play the grinding type of style you need to use once or twice in any successful tourney run. Unlike the UVA game, it won't be the annoying kind of grind where the other team is fated to lose and just ruins the flow to no apparent end. This is going to be a legitimate battle.

Unfortunately for Temple, the injuries and the fact that they're playing in Cameron will probably deny them any real chance to win. Duke is scoring a little too well lately, and their defense has been rock solid. Did you know we're now second in defensive efficiency in the country? We allow 86.1 points per 100 possessions. Only Texas has us beat.

The Owls are creatures of the night, and they can rotate their heads on a 360-degree swivel. Tonight, they'll need that skill to watch Duke running past them and scoring at will.

Man, I wish I hadn't written that last paragraph. Anyway, prediction: Duke 76, Temple 68.

Oh yeah, the Hot Potato. Tonight, we're featuring:


Give me the total points of anyone and everyone who starts on the bench.

Lastly, there are a couple huge ACC games tonight.

1- Florida State at Maryland, 9pm

The Seminoles are mere inches from clinching an NCAA berth, and Virginia Tech's loss to UVA, which virtually guarantees the Noles third in the ACC, probably sealed the deal. But make no mistake- this is a must-win for Maryland. They need to finish 9-7 in conference to give themselves a chance, and that means three wins in the final four games. If we assume they'll fall on Sunday at UNC, that means they need to beat Florida State, Miami on the road, and UVA. Tonight's home game, against a team missing their best player, is a good chance to show they belong.

2- Miami at Boston College, 7pm

Typically I hate all things Boston, but the Eagles have grown on me. They're one of the few overachieving teams in a conference filled with underachievers, and Steve Donahue's stall ball strategy against UNC was brilliant. I like these guys, and they've put themselves in position to make a run at the tourney. At 6-6, their remaining games are home against Miami, at UVA, at Virginia Tech, and home against Wake. My gut feeling is that they'll need to win all 4, because unlike Maryland I don't see this team going far in the ACC tourney on a neutral floor. Miami has their second of four straight chances to play spoiler. They missed their first opportunity last weekend against Clemson, falling by 4 at home. After BC, they have a chance to make things tricky for Florida State and Maryland. And I'm really looking forward to whatever they put together in the ACC tourney.

It's a great night of basketball. Let's go Duke! HOOT HOOT HOOT HOOT!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Restoration: Duke is #1


Crap. That picture is a real missed opportunity.

After a topsy-turvy week in the rest of the top 10, Duke is king. If we can win the next four games to close out the regular season, I think we'll be guaranteed a #1 seed regardless of what happens in the ACC tournament.

Today's post will be kind of a smorgasboard, kind of a state of the Duke union, and kind of a chance for me to brag about the new purchase I made at the Duke bookstore:

You can imagine how thrilled my girlfriend is that my Robbie Cano bobblehead has a new friend for the mantle. Coach K definitely has a little creepiness to his style, and whoever made that bobble head captured the hell out of it. I mean, I'm a big Coach K fan, and that thing still gives me nightmares. Seriously, I've had it two nights and I've already had two nightmares of that wobbling head coming after me. (Nolan Smith has rescued me both times, thank God.)

Speaking of the Duke bookstore, I was all psyched to go there two days ago and pick up this year's team poster. I hadn't yet seen the design, so you can imagine my disappointment when I was confronted with this:

Bleh. Following last year's hilarious Goodfellas masterpiece, "One" is a gigantic disappointment. In my mind, a perfect team poster has a weird theme, is kind of corny, and maybe utilizes a bad pun. At the very least, it should have personality. Even this "Duke Rocks" poster from a few years ago does the job. There's absolutely no good reason for the entire team to be in front of a rock face. They're just there for the pun, and I can respect that.

I ended up holding off on buying this year's poster. It's too bland, too devoid of personality. I might buy it later, but they'll probably have to win a title before I pull the trigger.

Here's my idea for next year's poster: The Hoedown in K-Ville. Everyone on the team wears redneck clothes (especially Mason Plumlee). I'm talking cut-off jean shorts, tattered flannel, work boots, straw hats, the whole nine yards. Nolan is chewing a long piece of grass and plucking a banjo. Mason is fiddling, and his shorts are particularly short. Seth and Kyrie are dancing the do-si-do, Ryan Kelly is in full slack-jaw mode with a pitchfork at the ready, and Andre Dawkins, his mascara running, is looking bitter and holding a baby. The baby is Tyler Thornton. Josh Hairston is the quack village doctor, and he wears a white lab coat while sipping on a moonshine jug (XXX). On the left, Miles Plumlee is perched in a tractor and thoughtfully smoking a corncob pipe. Coach K is wearing overalls with no undershirt, and he's on the right foreground chasing a sheep. Oh man, what does he even want with that sheep? The sheep is Coach Wojo. The whole thing takes place on K-Ville, and there's a bonfire raging in the background. You can fill in the rest. Tell me that wouldn't be the most satisfying team poster in history. TELL ME.

It'll never happen, though. You guessed it: politics.

Okay, let's get serious and address some of the problems facing Duke as we enter March. What follows is all in service of answering a larger question: does this team have a chance to win a repeat national title?

1) The Singler Slump

In this Charlotte Observer article, Coach K talks fairly openly about his senior's struggles.

"We won’t win a really important game unless Kyle is playing with that spirit," Krzyzewski said on the ACC teleconference. "And if he hits his shots, then we’re a lot better. It’s kind of a phase during a season, kind of like a hitter who is a .320 hitter but is hitting .250. We think he will hit .320 and balance out for the season."

He admitted that the struggles reached during the UVA game, and he went on to say what we've been saying around these parts for a while: he still plays great defense, and he still gives maximum effort.

Still, you can't ignore the offense. Since ACC play began on January 2nd against Miami, Singler is 88-221 shooting. That's 39.8%. His lowest season average came last year, when he shot 41.5% for the season. His three-point rate is down to 35% from 40% a year ago. In the five games since his great effort at Maryland in early February, he's only shooting 32.7% from the field.

For comparison's sake, Nolan Smith is shooting 48.2% from the field. Granted, he's a Player of the Year candidate, but it's still a vast gulf for two guys who get roughly the same number of shots every night.

I don't think there's an obvious solution here beyond wait-and-see. Coach K and the staff have taken pains to get Singler his shots and integrate him into the larger offense. I don't think you can knock them in that regard. I liked the way Singler played against Georgia Tech, but at the end of the game he was still just 5-14 from the field. At this point, you have to wonder whether he's just not quick enough to create his own shot off the dribble. Further, you have to wonder whether it's worth our while to bend over backward getting him shots when we have other great options. Last, you have to wonder if Singler made the right choice coming back to school. It's great for Duke, and maybe not so great for his draft stock.

2) Good Mason vs. Bad Mason

The most I can say is this: I'm thrilled that we've come to a point where there's a 'Good Mason.' He's had some real gems in the past month. I'm man enough to admit it. When I went with my parents back to Duke's campus the other day, we saw he and Miles chatting with what looked to be family friends by Cameron. We sat and watched them for a while. Nothing really to report, except that Miles was wearing pirate-length cut-off sweat pants. My mom told me I should go up and say hello and maybe get a picture, and if it was anyone else, I probably would have. But I've taken one too many shots at the Plumlees in this blog, and it would've felt kind of exploiting to pretend to be a big fan or something. So I just watched.

But the point is, I'm starting to see a possible future where I like Mason. Both as a dude, and as a player. He's starting to show some real passing acumen, which is so, so valuable in a big man. A huge part of Zoubek's emergence last year was his ability to pass from the post to the perimeter and set our guards up for threes. Mason has shown that talent lately, and he's also crashing the boards harder than ever before. I thought his second half effort against Carolina was borderline heroic, especially considering how badly he played in the first half.

It can't have been an easy path for him this season. He thrived under Kyrie Irving, and the sky must have seemed like the limit after he scored 25 against Marquette. But then the toe injury happened, and the easy buckets disappeared. Mason's improvement has been slow, variable, and fraught with relapses. He's still prone to stupid fouls, as we saw against Georgia Tech. He'll still make bad defensive decisions that lead to easy buckets (we've been over this before; the stupid block, the ill-advised steal, the statue D, the unnecessary double team). And he still doesn't have a strong sense of where is on the court, especially on offense. It drives me nuts to see him take fadeaway short-range jumpers when a hard dunk would do.

But now there's a Good Mason, and that's a relief.

3) The Tragic Ballad of Young Threezy

We had some good chatter about this in the comments yesterday after my realization (about a month later than everyone else, apparently) that there's a good chance he'll transfer at the end of this season. GB had this to say, which I thought was pretty on point:

Dawkins needs to watch some Trajan Langdon tape and figure out how a shooter is supposed to work away from the ball to get himself open. He has just been standing in his corner, and although there are certain plays where that works like some of the top of the key ball screens, he will never get consistent offensive opportunities doing that.

Completely true, and Seth Curry had the same problem earlier in the season. During a recent game (Miami, I think), the announcers mentioned that Stephen called his younger brother up and told him he needed to work harder on offense, particularly on moving without the ball. That registered with Seth, and his season began to turn around.

Obvious question: why the hell did it take Stephen Curry to enlighten him? Where are the coaches? Why aren't they working with Dawkins on off-the-ball movement? It's a simple piece of wisdom, and it seems like they should be focusing on it every practice. Maybe they are, and Dawk is just lazy or uncoachable or something. I don't know. But it's aggravating to see that much potential go to waste. When you think about it, how much would Carolina just kill to have Dawkins right now? I guarantee Roy would do anything in his power to teach the kid to get open on his own. A shooter of that caliber should not be relegated to mop-up duty.


Can Duke win a national title?

I have no idea. I don't see any teams that are obviously better (and hell, we are #1), but you still have to wonder if we can take down a series of big, athletic teams who can excel on the interior and pressure our guards enough to produce a low shooting percentage. Of the three guys discussed above, I think Singler and Plumlee are the most critical. You know what you're going to get from Nolan (excellence), and I think we can count on Seth Curry to be johnny-on-the-spot in important moments. I've written Dawkins off for this year, and anything beyond 'non-factor' will be a pleasant surprise. Kelly will play smart, opportunistic basketball, and be a little too weak to bang with the giants, and Miles will be a frustrating, barely-serviceable power forward.

The uncertainty lies with Singler and Mason Plumlee, and I think we'll know more by the end of the regular season. Tomorrow we play Temple, the only all-Jewish school in Division 1, in what should be a pretty stiff non-conference home test. (Trivia: can you name every "Big 5" Philadelphia team? Temple is one of them. I tried yesterday and blanked on one.) After the Owls come a'calling, the Dukies are at Virginia Tech, home against Clemson, and away against Carolina. It's a brutal end to the year- a miserable gauntlet that will call the fabric of our team into question. Stay tuned, Moody Blues.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Duke-Georgia Tech Awards Show

Following Duke's 79-57 drubbing of the Atlanta Engineers, we're going to change things up a bit today, pay homage to the upcoming Academy Awards, and give out some hardware. We'll call these trophies the "Cammies" (full name: Cameron Indoor Stadium Awards). There are 25 statuettes to be distributed, so let's get right to the fun.

1. The FoxSports Award for Terrible Television Production Values

And the Cammie goes to...Fox Sports! Let's be honest, this one was never really in question. With 10 minutes of botched audio to start the game (I'm no expert, but I think approximately .5 out of every 2 seconds was dropped), a complete refusal to show crucial replays, and an obsession with crowd shots, Fox Sports is the runaway choice. In fact, they've won the award so many times in a row that it's officially been named after them. Also, their sideline cameraman dropped the ball at one point and revealed that Jenn Hildreth is pregnant.

2. The Casey Sanders Award for Committing Dumb Fouls

The Cammie goes to...Mason Plumlee! This was always going to be contested between he and Miles, but Mason got off to a strong start early in the first half when he ran headfirst into a guard 10 feet beyond the three-point arc and then flopped backward in a really poor attempt to draw a charge. After that strong start, he needed only 28 minutes of playing time to foul out.

3. The Karl Hess Award for An Egotistical Referee With Itchy Lips Who Blows His Whistle at the First Sign of Contact Regardless of What Actually Happened and Seems to Always get the Call Wrong.

And the Cammie goes to...

Sadly, Karl couldn't be here to accept his award as he's currently calling a charge on Nolan Smith for buying a bagel on campus.

4. The Shane Battier 'This is Why We Love You' Award for Constant Effort

And the Cammie goes to...Kyle Singler! He secured this one after hustling for a long rebound in the first half, out-fighting two Yellow Jackets for the loose ball, then finding Nolan for an open 3 on the wing. As the shot went down, the cameras caught him in the background pumping his fist emphatically. Despite his recent struggles (which showed real signs of ending yesterday, by the way), the Sing still lives to play Duke basketball. He's physically incapable of playing at less than full tilt, and his satisfcation after a gritty play, which didn't even end with him scoring, shows what the man is all about. This is why we love you, Kyle.

5. The Joe Girardi Award for Firing Up Your Team by Going Bonkers on a Ref/Ump/Official

And the Cammie goes to...Coach K! It began when Nolan drove down the lane and Karl "Marx" Hess got suckered into calling a charge when the defender fell over and screamed like he'd been shot. The next time down the floor, Tyler Thornton fought through a screen while guarding Iman Shumpert and got a forearm to the face as a reward. Hess' reaction? Foul on Thornton. That's when Coach K took it to the next level. Great coaches know when to send themselves a step over the edge, and the timing here was impeccable. After Shumpert's 4 free throws, Tech led 18-13. But the fans and players were riled, and they finally shook off the cobwebs for good. A 24-10 run ensued, and by halftime the good guys led by 9.

6. The "I Bite My Thumb at You" Award for Best Old School Jeer

And the Cammie goes to...the Cameron Crazies for the timeless classic, "I'm blind! I'm deaf! I want to be a ref!" I laughed out loud when I heard this in the aftermath of Coach K's technical, and I was fervently hoping they'd segue into "A rope! A tree! Hang the referee!" They didn't, but it didn't detract from the greatness of the original chant. That's the kind of good stuff you rarely hear these days. Later, the Crazies started to sing the "Ole!" song, which was cool but entirely unpredictable. Strange night in Cameron.

7. The Moody Blue Award for Most Brutal Chant

And the Cammie goes to...the Crazies again, for the cruel and unusual "Daddy's better!" chant when Glen Rice was at the line. Fox managed to aim their cameras in the right direction for once, and you could see Rice shake his head in something like disappointment and annoyance. It clearly bothered him, and he missed the foul shot while the crowd went crazy. The most personal thing you can say to a dude is that he's not as good as his old man, and for their incisive cruelty, the Crazies deserve our acknowledgment (if not our respect).

8. The Reggie Miller "I'll Bring us Back" Award for clutch deficit shooting

And the Cammie goes to...Seth Curry, who hit a gigantic three with 7 minutes left in the first half to give Duke its first lead (23-22) since the very beginning. Like Reggie, he seems to love shooting bombs while his team is down, and more often than not he's the guy who brings us over the hump.

9. The Mark Madsen Award for Awkward White Guy Celebrations

And the Cammie goes to...Mason Plumlee! After a jam in the first half, he did his own little imitation of the Smitty Shimmy by giving a soul-mama head shake to the baseline camera. Again, I hope somebody captures this, because it was pretty hilarious. And how much would you pay to see Mason dance like Madsen in the video linked above?

10. The "What Happened to Mom" Award for Best Commercial with Sad Family Undertones

And the Cammie goes to...Just for Men! This is the commercial played about 5 times during the game where the two daughters go up to their dad with some Just for Men coloring gel and say "it's time,'d be a really good catch for someone!" So he gets rid of the gray, goes on a date, and sends a cell phone picture of him and the new lady to his excited daughters. But wait a second...what happened to mom? Did she leave? Did she get caught with another guy? Did she...die?? Is the army? No, that wouldn't make sense. But you have to wonder if the first line of this commercial was originally something like, "Dad, you've been depressed ever since mom's been with Jeffrey. Why don't you color your hair?"

11. The "Emerald Nuts" Award for a Totally Meaningless Commercial

And the Cammie goes to...Chrysler! This commercial was played approximately 38 times during the course of the game. It's the one where the REAL HARDCORE MAN NARRATOR talks about how Detroit is actually a great city because it doesn't have a bunch of prisses like those prissy New Yorkers and it's really gritty and then the opening strains to "Lose Yourself" by Eminem come on and they trot out their latest car. The best line of the commercial is when the guys goes, "this isn't the story you've read in the papers." Correct, narrator; this is the story some suits in an Chrysler ad agency are shoving down our throats. The truth is, Detroit is a festering sinkhole, a shining exemplar of America's industrial failure in the last 40 years and a dire warning about what happens when big business isn't made accountable to the people. Also, the Japanese make better cars.

12. The Stepfather Tom Award for Hilarious Grumpy Conservative Commentary

And the Cammie goes to...Tom, my stepfather! He and my mom are in town visiting, and last night he took issue with the Chrysler commercial for reasons entirely different than mine. After it ended the first time, before I could say anything, he was on his game. "They're the only company who hasn't paid the government back for the bail-out, you know," he told me. Meanwhile, my mom was sitting on the ground playing angry birds on her cell phone. Needless to say, we are not Chrysler's target audience.

13. The Greg Paulus Award for Devastatingly Slow Defensive Rotation

And the Cammie goes to...Miles Plumlee! Part of Duke's man-to-man defense is that the bigs step out on perimeter picks to make the guard go around them and waste time. The ideal play is to take a jab step, pose an obstacle, and then pivot back and cover your man. Miles Plumlee is absolutely terrible at this job. Not only is he slow, but the minute he gets on a smaller guard his eyes light up and he thinks he can get a steal. This usually ends up in a dumb foul, or, after a series of easy passes, an uncontested bucket inside. Rumor has it that Miles might play volleyball at Syracuse for a year after he graduates.

14. The Elliot Williams Award for Freshman Intangibles

And the Cammie goes to...Tyler Thornton! The Boy with the Thorn in his Name just keeps delivering those quality minutes. He's good with a pass, borderline great on perimeter D, and money from the foul line. When you think back on this season, it's difficult to remember many Tyler Thornton highlights, but the truth is that almost all of his contributions have been positive. I really, really wish we had the big man equivalent of Thornton this season. Then we'd have a clear shot at the title.

15. The John Stockton Award for Sweet Steals and Assists

And the Cammie goes to...Seth Curry! He led the team with 6 dimes and 2 steals, including a sweet pickpocket effort on Rice late in the game. He started the second half with three straight assists, one to Singler, one to Mason, and the excellent dish to Nolan after Mason sparked the fast break. The dude is brilliant on the court.

16. The Kevin Love "I can't believe THAT guy is making great passes" Award

And the Cammie goes to...Mason Plumlee! Seriously, where are these dishes the past few games coming from? And why do a weirdly high percentage go to Ryan Kelly, of all people? Seriously, though, I know I've taken my shots at Mason, even in this post, but he had another stellar game yesterday. Aside from the five fouls, his line is pretty great: 4-7 from the field, 9 boards, 3 assists, and a block. I thought for sure he had more than 3 assists, but I guess the awesome dish to Kelly and the two kick-out threes to Seth Curry were it. But he had at least two excellent outlet passes to spark a break (if this were hockey, where they gave assists to two players, he'd be good), and a number of other kick-outs for open threes that were missed. I hate to jinx it, but all the hopeful Dukies out there might be right; he's starting to look like Zoubek circa spring 2010.

17. The Dennis Rodman Award for Distracting Your Own Teammate

And the Cammie goes to...Mason Plumlee! Apparently I'm unable to compliment the guy without giving him a hard time immediately after. This one made me laugh; at some point in the second half, with Nolan on the line, he clapped right as the shot was going up. And this clap came from nowhere; it was totally puzzling why he'd do it right at that instant. Total Mason Plumlee move. (Nolan made the shot...the only thing that could distract him is facing Nolan Smith on defense, and anti-Duke scientists have yet to make that nightmare a reality.)

18. The Harry Houdini Award for Best Disappearing Act

And the Cammie goes to...Andre Dawkins! I don't know about you, but I haven't seen him since Christmas.

19. The Nolan Smith 'Oh No I Think He Might Transfer' Award

And the Cammie goes guessed it, Andre Dawkins! I just thought of this last night, and it sent a little shiver up my back. Tom brought up the fact that we have Rivers, Cook, and possibly Sulaimon coming in next year. Thornton and Seth Curry will be back, and there's an outside chance we'll have Kyrie too. Things do not get any easier for Andre, and it seems pretty clear to me that there's some kind of issue between he and Coach K. Seems like the perfect storm for a transfer, right? And that would be bad; despite the disappointment of this year, we know Andre can light it up, and I personally like him. I'd hate to see him go.

20. The Miles Plumlee Dry Joke of the Night

And the Cammie goes to...Tom! When Plumblebum the Lesser checked in for the second half, Fox showed up a close up. "Oh good," said Tom, his voice betraying nothing. "Maybe he can pick up four fouls." And on the very next possession, he body checked Shumpert on the perimeter. Fortunately for Duke, it was the first time all night Hess kept the whistle in his mouth.

21. The Karl 'Magic Eyes' Hess "That Was a Terrible Call Even By Your Standards" Award

And the Cammie goes to...Karl Hess! Daniel Miller, the big white ogre for Tech, decided to thug it up a little in the second half, and on one Nolan drive he sent him sprawling with a hit that would've been a five minute major if both dudes were wearing skates. For the second time and final time all night, Hess and his henchmen just sat there staring. Seriously, these guys could not have been worse. Even Tim Brando, who spends most of every game refusing to watch replays and change his blatantly incorrect opinions despite the presence of real video evidence, took the refs to task for that one.

22. The Dr. J Award for the Most Graceful, Glorious Jam

And the Cammie goes to...Kyle Singler! It happened on an assist from Nolan with about 12 minutes left in the second half, and it was a surprisingly smooth, aesthetically pleasing effort from our senior. Now I ain't saying he's the good Doctor or nothing, but it wasn't half bad. And despite his poor field goal percentage (5-14, which seems about par for the course this season), I think this game was a step in the right direction for ole Boom Radley. He grabbed 9 boards, had 2 assists and 2 steals, and generally seemed more in the flow of things. I'm hoping this is a gateway to the Singler we know and love, the guy who can light it up and score 25 on a good night.

23. The Chris Duhon Award for Most Unselfish Dish

And the Cammie goes to...Nolan Smith! With 28 points late in the game, he received a pass on the fast break near the foul line. He could easily have attempted the drive, and he probably would have at least been fouled. But instead of gunning for the 30-point milestone, he dished to Seth Curry for the lay-up. Less than thirty seconds later, he was out of the game for good. This award is named after Chris Duhon not just because he made great unselfish passes all the time, but because in 2001, with the national championship game winding down, he had the presence of mind to pass the ball to Jason Williams, who had told his team that a dream of his was to hold the ball as the clock ran out in a title game.

24. The Michael Jordan Award for the Sweetest Finish

And the Cammie goes to...Seth Curry! On that same pass from Nolan, he took the contact, contorted his body, and sort of did a twist underhand no-backboard reverse lay-in. Amazing.

25. The "You Owe me a Tall Boy, DUDE!" Award

And the Cammie goes to...Josh Hairston! I made a bet with my friend Chris, easily the most negative Duke fan around, that Duke would score 80 points against Georgia Tech. The wager was a tall boy, which is what we've been betting all year. On every occasion, he takes the anti-Duke side, and I support the team. With 8 minutes left, Duke had 67 points, which far surpassed the 80-point pace. But like a tiring swimmer racing the world record line, they flagged as the game wore on. By 5 minutes, they were barely ahead of the pace with 73. Then the subs came in, and they ran the clock down on each possession and then failed to score. At 77-57 with a minute left, I knew it was the last possession where we'd shoot. Thornton ran the time down to 50, then 40. I was watching Seth Curry the whole time, screaming for him to come off a pick and get open. Instead, Hairston drove the lane, put up an ugly shot, and missed. End of story, end of tallboy. Ryan Kelly got a dunk at the end, but it wasn't enough. Alas, another Coors Light slips away.

The doldrums of the schedule are over. We finish the year with Temple, V. Tech, Clemson, and UNC. The perfection proclamation is so close I can taste it, and the ACC title is near enough to be tantalizing. Have a great day.