Monday, March 28, 2011

The Weekend of Mercy

To some extent- to some small, merciful extent- the universe has settled into a pattern we can accept. Thursday's painful anomaly will always be on the books, marveled at by historians and celebrated by our enemies, but the karmic wheel of the universe swung back to smite the perpetrators before the dust had even settled.

Here, now, are the acts of mercy from Saturday and Sunday:

Arizona lost

Against Duke, they were 9-15 from three. Against UConn? 4-21. If you add those together, you get 13-36, or 36.1%. Arizona's season average is 39.7%. Welcome to the land of corrections, Zona.

They still grabbed offensive boards at an absurd rate (48.7% compared to 47.1% against Duke compared to a 34% team average),* but their effective field goal percentage fell from 61.1% to 42.6%. Most important of all, their offensive efficiency, which at 134.8 was the best single-game effort Duke had ever faced since they started keeping stats in 1997, fell to a reasonable 108.6.

Sure, we had to watch a few more Momo moments, with the chest pounding and the overwrought stare-downs, and the entire game was full of Derrick Williams' distraught supplications every time a call went against him. But now they're gone. Good riddance.

Butler won

Serious question: is there a succession plan at Duke? We all know that, like a kingdom, a college basketball program is highly dependent on the strength of the monarch/coach. And like a kingdom, we need to have a plan for when ours is gone. Why not Brad Stevens?

Because, seriously, how the hell did Butler make the Final 4 again? Everywhere you look, these guys are barely on the good side of mediocre. The 32nd best offense? The 59th best defense? And these numbers were accumulated in the Horizon League, meaning they're probably a little inflated? I mean, those numbers are okay, but they're not Final 4 good. They're not even Sweet 16 good.

I hate to give too much credit to a coach, but clearly Brad Stevens is able to do things with inferior talent that surpasses the capabilities of all other coaches. Not only is he a master of teaching; he has a definite charisma that infuses a team with self-belief and ensures that they peak at exactly the right time.

In a two-week stretch from late January to early February, Butler dropped 4 of 5. Their opponents weren't exactly forces of nature- Wright St., Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Valparaiso, Youngstown St. Immediately after the last game, they had to play on the road at Cleveland St., one of the best teams in the conference. The timing couldn't have been worse.

Somehow, they won that game by 12. And they kept going, winning their last seven regular season games, two in the Horizon tournament, and four in the NCAAs to make their second straight Final Four.

Along with everything else, Brad Stevens is an excellent game coach. In four games against high-ranked opponents since the tourney began, he had to fight for every small advantage on the way to winning by 2, 1, 7, and 3. Against Florida, he brought on seldom-used freshman guard Crishawn Hopkins late in the game, knowing his team needed a spark. Hopkins hit a huge three and a nice assist in four pressure packed minutes. It was a slight touch from Stevens, but it made a huge difference. He and his team also managed to shut down Florida's inside game in the last 10 minutes, allowing them to overcome a double-digit deficit and send the game into overtime.

Point is, the man is young and awesome. He seems to have 5 main strengths:

A- He loves pinpointing another team's weakness. Using advanced stats and knowledge of his own team's strengths, he's mind-blowingly good at making close games of potential blow-outs. And let's face it, last year's national title game was a great example.

B- He's a natural leader. If his players didn't believe in him, they would not have made the runs they made this year and last.

C- He has a sense of the rhythm of a season. Those bad losses in January don't matter; he knows how to get a team to peak when it matters.

D- He's preternaturally calm. Which is an echo of his leadership; his teams will never panic.

E- Despite being limited by his school, he recruits brilliantly, with a focus on defensive-minded players who will stay at least a few years.

He was interviewed at halftime of yesterday's early game, and apparently he told Billy Donovan in the post-game handshake that Donovan had outcoached him. Which is blatantly wrong, but it was a nice gesture. The truth is, Donovan looked panic-stricken and out of his element in the last 10 minutes, and his team was no different. Butler, meanwhile, was a reflection of the coach; tough, calm, and resourceful.

At a time when a lot of Duke fans, myself included, are questioning the game coaching and recruiting abilities of Coach K (because let's be honest with ourselves; the Michigan and Arizona games were a low point in Coach K's career), it's time to start thinking successor. Stevens is signed with Butler through 2021, but there has to be an opt-out clause somewhere. Is it too early to reach out to him? Shouldn't Coach K want to get on board for the good of the program? Why can't he give a reasonable end date for his career; say...2016? He'll have a thousand wins by then and hold every longevity record in the books. And then we can bring in Stevens, and the Duke program can march on uninterrupted.

I know it's big to bring in former players and alums as coaches, but none of Coach K's proteges are really setting the world on fire. And we shouldn't forget that Coach K himself was an outsider. In fact, most Dukies are outsiders in general, from students to faculty to players to coaches. We're not like Carolina; this isn't a family legacy. Stevens, a former hard-working guard who worked his way up from volunteer duties in a small Indiana school, is a natural choice.

Sound off in the comments if you have an opinion on this. Is it better to go outside the school, or should we bring a Dukie back? If so, who?

Kansas lost

I don't have any special hate for Kansas, but their loss was a reflection of Duke's loss. The Jayhawks' offensive efficiency, 88.6, was their second-lowest of the entire season (87.9 against Texas). Their effective field goal percentage, 37.1%, was their lowest single-game effort since March 4, 2009, against Texas Tech. VCU, a team that normally shoots 37% from 3, made 12 of 25 for 48%. Kansas was 2-21.

I'm not saying the quality of VCU's play had nothing to do with Kansas' failure. But the truth is, it could only matter so much. Kansas is the best field-goal shooting team in the country, and they couldn't make anything on Sunday. Unlike the Duke loss, their own poor play was more responsible for the loss than the excellent play of their opponent, but the result was the same. In the end, they picked the exact wrong day to have a horrible game.

That's what makes the NCAA tournament so difficult to win. Bad luck is always waiting, and if it bites you, there's no second chance.

It feels good, in a weird way, to have all the #1 seeds gone. It proves that we've entered the age of parity, and somewhat diminishes the pain of the Arizona loss. I said this on twitter yesterday, but it bears repeating: the combined total of the Final 4 seeds (26) sets a new record. The previous high was 22 in 2000, when Wisconsin and Carolina both made it as 8-seeds. This is also only the third time in history that no #1 seed has made the Final 4, and it's the first time ever that we won't have a #1 or #2 seed. It's a new day in college basketball.

I have a prediction. VCU is really riding a hot streak right now. They've played some great ball, but they've also been lucky. They benefited from an historically bad Kansas game yesterday, and against FSU they had to shoot 12-26 from three and shoot 56.6% from the field just to eke out a 1-point win. In both games, they were badly out-rebounded but survived due to excellent shooting.

Corrections are coming. I think they're going to run into an experienced Butler team this Saturday that will not only out-rebound them, but also won't miss shots. And they'll play solid defense, and the pressure of big stage combined with the law of averages will reduce VCU to normal or below-average output. I think Butler wins a grind of a game by 8-12 points.

UNC lost

The bad shooting that's plagued the Heels all year finally did 'em in. 3-16 from three just doesn't cut the mustard, and it didn't help that Kentucky had their best shooting performance in over a month. It absolutely killed Carolina to lose Henson for so long; all the Flopsy charges in the world weren't going to make up for the lost defense.

Two generalizations about UNC fans:

1- They don't appreciate Zeller. Granted, I hate the guy, but UNC fans seems to give him a lot of hell for being soft on defense and not tough enough in general. I know this isn't universal, but I've heard it enough from friends and seen it on enough message boards to spot a trend. Guys, he's a dynamo on offense. He's ranked 92nd in the offensive player ratings, and he never misses when he has the ball on the block. This is a valuable dude, and he deserves recognition. Without Zeller, Carolina would have been nowhere near the elite 8.

2- They can't enjoy any success without contextualizing it in terms of Duke. Seriously, the number of Carolina fans whose first instinct after beating Marquette was to say something like "Where's Duke?!?!" was downright pathetic. Here's a tip, gang: when you've advanced further than your rival in a playoff system, it's not about your rival anymore. It's about you. The possibility of meeting your rival again is officially null and void. You can enjoy it without worrying about Duke.

Now that both seasons are over, though, I'll indulge the rivalry and take a look back. The balance of the season could have gone two ways on Sunday:

A- Carolina beats Kentucky. They make the Final Four, which gives them rivalry bragging rights despite Duke's 2-1 season edge. The status of the Final Four, like it or not, puts them over the top.

B- Carolina loses to Kentucky, and the only difference in the tournament is that they got to face an 11-seed in the Sweet 16 while we ran up against a blitzkrieging 5-seed. Our season, on the merit of the 2 victories, is superior.

See you next year, fellas.

36 comments:

  1. Can't wait for all the UNC fans to ignore 99% of this post. To them, the only thing you wrote is "Duke had a better season than Carolina".

    I love that Gothic Madness is done before the Final Four starts. Somehow Old Chalksy pulled out a fourth place finish amid all the upsets.

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  2. I love the idea of Stevens coaching at Duke after K leaves. But there are a lot of things that have to fall into place for that to happen.

    1) Stevens has to ignore the armored cars full of money that every program in America will be sending to his house between now and when K retires.

    2) Stevens would have to divorce himself from his loyalty to Butler. That's no small thing really. He's built a program there, they were the first program to give him a chance, and if he waits 5-7 more years (Coach K's potential amount of time left before retiring, IMO) that loyalty and connection will only be stronger.

    3) Don't forget that ole' Roy will probably be looking to send himself out to pasture around the same time as K. There potentially could be a huge battle for Stevens between UNC and Duke.

    So a lot has to happen for him to come to Duke, but I'd love to see it. Of course, in 5 years there could be another coach that rises from obscurity. I mean, who had heard of Brad Stevens 5 years ago?

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  3. I only was able to watch 2 games this weekend: VCU-Kansas and Butler-Florida.

    The plays at the end of the Florida game were aqful. In a tie-game with 30 seconds left, you decide to hold the ball for 22 seconds and then jack up a step-back 3? Then in overtime, you at least call a time-out this time, but then you do basically the exact same thing? Doesn't everyone know the correct move in either of these situations is to start with the ball at the top of the key, get a high screen, carry the ball like your a running back, put your head down, run directly into the center and then throw up a prayer? Or go for a lay-up in any event?

    For the vcu-kansas game, I'm not sure I've seen such an upset not ever feel like an upset while watching it. It lacked that crowd intensity that comes with an upset. It lacked the random fade-away 3's that just seem to keep falling. VCU looked like the better team to me with the better game plan. The only thing that had the feel of an upset was the amount of hustle the VCU players put into things. Granted, Kansas couldn't hit a 3 and VCU hit most of theirs (which were largely unguarded).

    I like Brad Stevens too and think it would be a good idea to go after him. But, seems like a midwestern boy, rihgt? More likely to go to indiana, kentucky, or something more in that vein if he were to leave?

    ~Sean

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  4. Also, I see the NBA in Brad Stevens' future.

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  5. On the subject of Brad Stevens:

    I would absolutely love to see him take over for Coach K when he retires. Then again I think the same can probably be said by any basketball team in the country about their coach. (some taking away the "when he retires" bit) I think that Brad Stevens will pretty much be able to go wherever he wants so the question is: Would he come to Duke?

    Personally I'm not sure the answer is yes. Dude has some pretty big ties to his current state. What would he gain by coming to Duke? Pressure to succeed arguably the best basketball coach ever, his wife would need to find a new job, his kids would need to go to a new school, etc. It seems like a lot of pressure. (particularly since you know Duke is going to expect instant greatness from whoever succeeds K)

    It'll be a tough job to fill that is for sure. Anyway we can just clone K and have him succeed himself?

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  6. @sean K is from where again? Oh yeah, Chicago. I understand where your coming from, I think if Stevens is interested in leaving Butler it will be for a blue blood program. IU, UK and KU are all possible, but those coaches aren't going anywhere soon.

    @nastemu I can't imagine him going to the league, but I'm sure some teams will come calling. The Rockets GM thinks along the same lines in terms of
    Valuing sabermetrics, so that could be a possibility.

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  7. I think it's a little early to anoint Brad Stevens the successor. Granted, his body of work in four seasons is impressive, but we can't know if he can sustain this level of success. Meanwhile, someone like Jay Wright has built a very impressive resume over a much longer stretch of time, and he's done it in a power conference, which makes a difference. As of now, I think Wright is a better choice and Stevens has some catching up to do. Although I have little doubt that by the time Coach K eventually chooses to step down, there will be a very compelling argument to poach Stevens away from Butler.

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  8. Brad Stevens was likely the #1 coach on the lists of all of the open coaching jobs last year and he signed a long extension to stay at Butler. I don't think he is going any where.

    He is from Indy. His wife is from Indy. He has gotten to 2 Final Fours and he hasn't needed to leave his back yard.

    Maybe I big program like Duke is what it takes to get him to leave Butler, but I doubt it. He doesn't strike me as a person to go after the money. He is very comfortable where he is and that is good enough for him.

    I would love to see him succeed Coach K, but it won't happen.

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  9. "2- They can't enjoy any success without contextualizing it in terms of Duke"

    - He said, while posting extensively about Carolina on his Duke blog.

    Jesus man, first you bust on AZ for excessive celebrating and self-congratulation, now you spend several paragraphs gloating about a UNC loss and viewing your season partly through a UNC prism, while chastising Heel fans for too much "contextualizing" about their rival.

    Invest in a mirror.

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  10. Stevens to Duke, or anywhere else for that matter, is something that is tough to see because he has shown so much loyalty to Butler. But coaches relish a challenge, and coaching a big program presents such a challenge to a coach who has had the kind of success Stevens has had a smaller school.

    Also, take a look at the All-Access stuff ESPN did on Duke and Butler. Did you see the stark difference between the facilities at the schools? That's one thing a big time basketball program can offer that schools like Butler cannot. And that's the type of carrot that can be used as a factor in drawing a coach like Stevens away from his loyalty to a smaller school.

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  11. I agree with everyone above, it's a total longshot. If he ever does decide to leave Butler, which is anything but certain, there will be a lot of competing interests. And there are some good reasons for him never to come to Duke, such as the high expectations and uprooting his family. Also, he seems like the kind of dude who would enjoy the challenge of building and maintaining a program like Butler as a career. I guess what I'm saying is that if he ever does leave, I think we should throw everything we have at him. And one way or another, it might be time to start worrying about what comes after Coach K. I guess we'll see.

    -Shane

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  12. Forgive me, for I am about to Blaspheme. Here goes - I am not sold on Brad Stevens yet.

    This is a two-year run. It is barely that. Would we be having this conversation had Butler not made the early round buzzer-beater this year? Or had they not barely beaten Murray State in the early rounds last year? I for one am not ready to lay the world at his feet based on two tournaments. Not so fast my friends.

    Granted, Butler has now made 5 straight NCAA tourney appearances. Granted, Butler has literally been put on the map as a result, with enrollment applications up about 25% in that time. Granted, Stevens' use of sabermetrics-style statistical analysis of opponents is revolutionary, and he is a great leader and passionate loyalist. Granted, he has a baby-face that makes you HAVE to root for the little guy. It is still too small of a sample size.

    In these glorious decades that Mr. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has been leading Duke to the mountaintop of college hoops, many a Brad Stevens have come and gone. A two-year tourney run does not a legendary coach make. What if Shaka Smart wins it all this year and this is the front end of a 4-peat? Who is the hot young prodigy coach then? Ask me right now if I had to pick one guy and maybe Brad Stevens makes my short list, but that list will surely change by the time Coach K hangs up his whistle.

    Maybe it is the loyalist in myself, but I would still rather hand it over to Chris Collins than anyone if I had to pick today. With Doug as an assistant/advisor and Nate James still doing the recruiting legwork. Wojo then teaching the guards and 5+ years from now maybe Elton Brand or someone coming back to work with the bigs. Or maybe in 5+ years, Brad Stevens. I'm just not sold YET. Thank goodness we still have Coach K for a while longer.

    JD

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  13. "Why can't he give a reasonable end date for his career; say...2016?"

    It would kill recruiting from 2012-2016 and all but assure the cupboard would be left bare, meaning it would be anything but a smooth, seamless transition to the new coach.

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  14. But Oliver, there is a difference contextualizing failure in terms of UNC (Duke this year) and contextualizing success in terms of Duke (UNC this year). UNC fans seem fixated on Duke even when UNC is doing well ("Where is Dook?" at your own NC game!) whereas Duke fans find mild amusement at best (NIT, anyone?) when Duke is doing well and UNC is not.

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  15. Also, heard on a sports station this AM, from the host, that Brad has recently hired IMG. This is not a guy who is going to wait around for K, Roy, or anyone.

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  16. American History Y?March 28, 2011 at 1:35 PM

    We have all been thinking about K's successor-in-waiting since 2004, when he almost took the Lakers' job. With the possible exception of Mike Brey, none of K's proteg├ęs has had the type of success that would warrant the Duke job (and note that Brey was the only one who wasn't a former player). So when Stevens took Butler to the title game against Duke last year, the notion of him replacing Krzyzewski was too good not to entertain. If K retired tomorrow, I would hope Duke would go after Stevens.

    But the main thing is, whenever K does retire, I sincerely hope they go for the best coach available, regardless of whether he has ties to Duke. A single-minded focus on staying "within the family" may not yield the best results (see Doherty, Matt). So for now, let's pencil in Brad Stevens as the best successor-in-waiting and finalize the list whenever Coach K does move on.

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  17. I find your comments on Brad Stevens very interesting.I must disagree with your take on Coach K and recruiting. he got Kyrie and Austin Rivers (most coaches would sell a family member for them).It is highly unlikely that Duke will have to vacate any wins due to the recruiting methods utilized. While I appreciate your blog, let Zona go as a not uncommon tournament anomaly (Duke has benefited from a few in the past) and move on with Seth Curry saving us.

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  18. Should have qualified it. K is great at recruiting guards, and not so hot at big men.

    Fair point to anon above, you can't declare he's going to retire at a certain point or it ruins continuity.

    -Shane

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  19. First post - longtime reader. I did join the AZ game thread (unfortunately). Enjoy your stuff Shane.

    You can only announce a Coach K retirement date if you have a confirmed, identified successor. Stevens will be recruited by every single major D1 school that will have an opening, PLUS a handful of NBA teams. Imagine what he'll be able to do once he gets good talent. With 2 Final Fours over the last 2 years, the recruiting pool will definitely improve. That being said, Duke has as good of a shot as anyone soley on name/reputation alone. I don't think its a long shot for Stevens to come to Duke, IF Duke wants him.

    The biggest problem I see is that Coach K is nowhere near retirement. I can see him coaching well past 2021. He's 63 now and in 10 years, he should be going strong. As a matter of fact (and I hope it doesn't come to this), I can foresee a Joe Pa situation here. Duke can never force him out and so he'll coach as long as he wants to. Hopefully, for Duke's sake, Coach K will have enough sense to do what's right for the team and leave before he forgets where he is.

    -TheLaettnerDays

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  20. Finally, can SCSD take the lead in bringing daggumroy back?

    That clever Kentucky fan needs to realize daggumroy is much bigger than his precious UK getting to the FF or even winning it. 'Roy was some great stuff, and needs to continue observing things in his Royness. Loved that guy (though now I understand why his deep-woods seemed even deeper than Asheville!).

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  21. I always assumed that Capel or Dawkins was the rightful person to take the throne but...

    You can't argue that Brad Stevens could be the perfect person. Everyone is hot on him now, but would we have been willing to give him the keys mid-season?

    Another scary thought...What would Stevens' have done with the likes of Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, and Kyrie Irving in the tourney instead of his crew?

    Throw in a name like Duke, the great history, incredible facilities, and the ACC... He could be great!

    But I am not asking for Coach K's head, he aint a Bowden and this aint Florida State....

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  22. I'm by no means asking for Coach K's head either. Sure he had a bad 2011 tournament, but if Nolan Smith and AZ just play to normal averages, we win that game. Can't pin AZ playing out of its mind on Coach K. Michigan's stall game - well maybe.

    Let's not forget, Coach is still in his prime (albeit probably the downwards slope of that prime). He has 11 Final 4s, 4 Championships - you can't measure what he's done for Duke. Bowden was a bumbling losing idiot when he finally left Florida State. Coach K has a good 10-12 years before he even approaches that state, if ever.

    Which does beg an interesting question. How many Bowden-esque years (i.e., no NCAA tournament or 1st round exits) in a row does Coach K have to have before we start asking for his head? In this fickle day and age, I put the over/under at 3 - although he probably deserves more than that.

    - TheLaettnerDays

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  23. Stevens is the guy. He should be our succession plan.

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  24. Stevens will be coaching the Pacers in the next 5 years. #BoldPredictions

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  25. My dream coach for Duke would be J.J Redick with Nolan as his assistant, it would be awesome...would it work out well? No. but it would be amazing

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  26. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rob-kirkpatrick/the-racial-biases-of-duke-hating_b_839560.html

    Did you see this article? Curious to see what you think.

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  27. I like Stevens just as much as the next guy, however call me and tell me what has happened in the next five years. So hard to keep up the current pace he is at. Also, K hasn't lost that much. One year removed from a national championship must not buy a little leeway around here?

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  28. I think Coach K has done enough in his coaching career to have earned the job until he decides to hang it up. It's his until HE and he alone decides he is done.

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  29. We should wait to see how the Shaka Smart/Brad Stevens showdown ends before we make any crazy secret society moves to get rid of Coach K and replace him with a new younger coach. Let's not be too hasty.

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  30. Nobody wants to force Coach K out, or anything like that. But it would not be ideal to be stuck without a plan when he does leave. And good call Gene, let's be like Georgia Tech and just offer $7 million per year to whoever wins the Butler-VCU game Saturday. Bluefaced, pretty good article, I'll probably link that tomorrow. And Nasty...WHO DO YOU KNOW?!?!?

    -Shane

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  31. Can we get Nolan to replace coach K? Also change the rules to allow the coach to play? Basically I want to find some way to keep Nolan playing for Duke.

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  32. You go to UNC don't you? Thought i read that earlier. Doesn't seem like your even a true Dukie at all. Benidict Blogger

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  33. I love Brad Stevens and made the same suggestion in a comment thread on DBR after the Duke-Butler rematch earlier this year. I dread the idea that we will limit ourselves to the Duke coaching tree, none of these guys have done enough to convince me that they're worth consideration. Brad Stevens has the following going for him.

    1) He's young enough that he could establish another dynasty at Duke a la Coach K
    2) He's from the midwest, too...
    3) He has icewater running through his veins, he makes Coach K look like Jerry Tarkanian after a 6 pack of Monsters.
    4) He focuses on defense first, good solid team defense.
    5) He recruits well, and gets the most out of his players.
    6) He recruits stand-up quality guys unlikely to put ego first (ok, maybe Hayward aside) or cause problems for the program.
    7) Like Coach K, he's an outsider and will do his own thing, which I think is a plus.

    I really, really, hope the Iron Dukes and other eminences-grises at Duke have the foresight to look beyond the Coach K family tree....

    And of course, I hope Coach K lives forever.

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  34. The problem with a hire of Stevens: he doesn't recruit a high-major talent pool. He doesn't have any experience pulling in the big, NBA-caliber talents that Duke must have in order to continue dominating the ACC.

    You have to recruit the Austin Riverses of the world differently than you recruit the Shelvin Macks. Butler is a beautiful story, but Duke needs a coach with experience recruiting top 3 guys.

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  35. Austin Rivers isn't going to Butler. Austin Rivers is going to Duke. You put Stevens in charge of Duke, I guarantee you, he is able to recruit better players.

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