I don't particularly want to talk about the loss, which ESPN called a "stunning romp" (as if St. John's was a giddy Victorian-era British girl who scandalously stripped to her bloomers while running through her Uncle Nigel's tulip garden) and it's not because it was too painful or heartbreaking or anything like that. Yes, it was embarrassing, and yes, it showcased a truck load of Duke weak spots yet again. Yet. Again. St. John's isn't a team we'd lose to very often, but the stars happened to align yesterday and we were on the business end of an ass-kicking. Bad luck played its part, as it usually does in these kinds of losses, but that's not the whole story. We can't just discount the same crap we're seeing time after time.
Here's what I'm hearing from everyone, and I'll admit to thinking it myself, at least the first part:
"This is just like the Georgetown loss last year, and look how that ended up."
It's a tempting thought, but in the end it's a crutch. It's bullshit, actually. It's a crutch of bullshit, and it collapses under logic just like an actual crutch of bullshit would collapse if anyone was stupid enough to put their weight on it. It's the kind of bullshit that we can work past, that will hopefully be the refuge of the people on DBR who self-flagellate while weeping before their shrine to Coach K.
Gang, this ain't last year. Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas aren't walking through that door. St. John's isn't Georgetown. And this team isn't going anywhere but home in the Sweet 16 unless Coach K performs a healing miracle on a toe.
Okay, so here's why we lost.
1) St. John's shot 58.2% from the field. They usually shot 45%. They couldn't fucking miss.
2) Duke ended the game on a 4-5 three-point binge. Just an absolute tear. Just excellent shooting. Oh, and before that, they were 1-21. Which is a mark they could probably have topped if instead of shooting, they turned around and tried to kick the ball backward over their heads.
3) Apparently we can't stop any perimeter player from driving to the lane while we turn and look on in utter befuddlement.
4) The Plumlees are the worst thing to happen to Duke University in years. I'm serious. And I don't give a shit how impressed Clark Kellogg is that Mason Plumlee can grab 12 boards over Wake Forest. These. Guys. F*ing. Stink.
And by the way, Mason had four rebounds today against a team that didn't play anybody over 6'8."
And by the way, Mason thinks it's legal to pass the ball to yourself.
5) The minute we started to make a comeback, the referees made sure to screw us on like five straight possessions. And please, don't take this as me blaming the refs. I know we lost the game fair and square. But unless Ryan Kelly can foul somebody with his mind, and unless it's legal to dry hump Seth Curry, and unless Tyler Thornton has body odor that constitutes a foul, we got jobbed. The one thing that pisses me off to no end is when the refs are enjoying the home upset as much as the crowd. It's easy to tell; the minute they're being ridiculously emphatic when making a call the home side will love, and acting timid and apologetic when making a call for Duke, you know you're in for a long one.
Good for St. John's. Good for them for kicking our asses. I've had a longstanding debate with my friend Chris, who is somehow even more negative than myself, about whether or not Duke could be blown out this year. I said no. I said Smith and Singler were too good and had too many guard tools at their disposal. We could lose, but we'd never get creamed. He took the opposite position, and he was right.
It's bad times all around. The slow three-point shooting starts are becoming an epidemic. And I got news for you: this team won't win without the three-point shot.
Let's pretend for a minute that last year never happened. Let's pretend we lost in the Sweet 16 to Purdue because we had on off shooting night. Or pretend Zoubek never emerged, or Thomas got hurt, or whatever you like. Pretend it didn't work out. We'd be looking at, wait for it, 9 straight years of Duke teams with great guards and no effective big man. We'd be looking at yet another team that can be very fun to watch but is just not constituted to win a title. If you want to look at things historically, last year was an anomaly in a string of similar failures. And it's not set to change. Next year we're seeing another great guard class, and our lone big recruit is:
On the bright side, I've been looking for a great excuse to use 'the three stooges' as a group nickname. It never quite worked when I would scream it at the Powell brothers during Syracuse lacrosse games. They were just too good to make it stick. No pun intended. Crap.
For real, though, I have no idea how good Marshall Plumlee will be, and yes, I do feel kind of like a dick for making fun of him already. But hey, I'm a Moody Blue. It comes with the turf. I throw rocks at houses and swear at children.
I could have used a little Moody-Blueness from Nolan yesterday. Sure, he scored a lot, and he got into that scrape with Burrell, but I got pretty sick of seeing him pat everyone from St. John's on the back and go out of his way to help the other team up while his own guys stood around like frightened deer. Also, this is the kind of game where Coach K getting tossed would have been appropriate. Maybe with like 7 minutes left, when the calls went against us. Girardi picks his moments to go apeshit on umpires, and it's always calculated to fire up his team. All I saw Coach K do was sit there with his disbelieving grin like he just couldn't fathom how bad things were going.
But back to Nolan for a second. He ended up with 32 on a respectable 10-19 from the field. He had three steals and seven boards. It's hard to complain too much, but at the same time it really felt like he was on an island out there. I realize the rest of the team's shooting woes are partly to blame, but for the first time all year I think we saw the effect of not having a true point guard. When the rest of the team isn't clicking, Nolan doesn't have that extra gear to integrate everybody else. Kyrie had it due to his absurd talent. Scheyer had it because he worked like crazy and kept improving. But Nolan, one of my all-time favorite Dukies, is a scorer. He's not a distributor.
As for Singler, I'm starting to wonder if he's even a scorer. After struggling during most of January's ACC play, he had yet another tough shooting game. 7-17 this time. He ended up with 20, but really, what half-decent player wouldn't end up with 20 taking that many shots? His field goal percentage since conference games began is 40%, which isn't that noteworthy until you consider that his lowest season average of all time, last year, was 42%. He's taking more shots per game this year, 14.14 as compared to 13.75 last season, and his scoring is up to 18 from 17.7, so maybe he's being consistent after all. But that takes the beginning of the season into heavy account, and he's only had two good shooting games in his last nine. Long story short, it's high time for Sing to get hot again.
Commenter NastyEmu and I had a discussion the other day about Dawkins' shooting struggles in ACC play. I dismissed it in part as small sample size, but that's getting harder to defend with every game. He was 1-6 yesterday, and you can say what you want about the difficulty of shooting in MSG, but he's now 12-42 from 3 in 2011, for a dismal 28.6%. This from a guy who was 31-58 (53.4%) before January 1st. The attempt totals are getting closer to each other, and the small sample size argument is disappearing in quicksand. He's almost half the shooter he used to be. We may never know the whole story, but diminished confidence and fatigue probably play a sizable role. Seth Curry has had some nice games, but he hasn't shown that he can completely fill the Dawkins gap, and our team is worse off without Young Threezy's production.
I wish I knew what happened on defense yesterday. That fact that 6'7" Justin Brownlee ate our lunch doesn't surprise me, but I did not expect 6'2" Dwight Hardy to score 26. That doesn't usually happen against Duke. Their guards drove past us at will, and the reasons confound me. It's not usual for our backcourt to play as though their shoes are filled with cement. Maybe it was just part of the miserable day, another intangible gone awry. We woke up slow, or something. I hope to hell it's not a trend.
Because there's bad news awaiting us in Maryland. The Terps got a very big win on the road last night, beating Georgia Tech 74-63. You all are probably sick of me talking about Ken Pomeroy, but you've got to brace yourselves for one more story. I sent him an e-mail a few days ago pointing out the ridiculous home record of ACC teams in intra-conference games. I asked him if he had numbers on the all-time record for highest winning percentage. Two days later, he was nice enough to respond:
I don't know the all-time record, but the highest since 2000 is the 2000 MCC which went 44-12 (.786) at home. Average win% is 62% in conference play.
This brief, two-line note was a little like being blessed in person by the pope while the ghost of John Lennon plays "Imagine" on a couch a few feet away, smiling at you. OMG YOU GUYS HE KNOWS MY NAME!
Anyway, the ACC home record in conference games is now 30-11 (.732). With a strong streak to end the season, they could easily challenge that MCC mark, and they're annihilating the 62% average. The aforementioned NastyEmu compiled numbers for the ACC for the past few seasons, and they've all been right around that average. This is a strange year.
Which is why Maryland's win last night is so impressive. Georgia Tech was 3-0 at home in ACC play, with quality wins over UNC and Georgia Tech. Maryland shouldn't have won, and they definitely shouldn't have won by 11. As of now, the Terps are a huge anomaly in the ACC. They're 3-1 on the road, and 1-1 at home. But they've now won 3 in a row, and they'll be psyched beyond measure for Wednesday's battle in College Park. The Maryland faithful have dubbed this "Beat Duke Week," and it's easily the biggest game on their schedule. If we bring anything but the A-game, it'll be lights out in front of the world's most obnoxious fans.
And if I'm being honest, this is also the game I most want to win on our regular season docket. It really is. I just hate Maryland. I grew up in upstate New York, so I guess I don't full understand the Duke-UNC thing. I never hated UNC, and I don't now. It's not ingrained in me. I only know what I see, and what I see is that I abhor everything about Maryland. This is the team I want to beat. I'm not going to hedge my bets; it will be immensely, immensely disappointing to lose to that team.
Speaking of Carolina, here's even more bad news: they're getting good. I went to Saturday's emphatic win over State with my friend Justin, and I must admit that it was fun to watch. Harrison Barnes scored 25, and he was pretty exciting. Justin even tried to high-five me after one of his early shots, and I felt the brief tug of wanting to comply. I'm a Moody Blue, so of course I headbutted him and threw a soda at a veteran, but the instinct was there.
UNC is going to give us fits. They have a guy in Barnes who can drive and finish inside, they have two big men in Henson and Zeller who might score 40 points each if Roy is smart enough to give them the ball, and their point guard Marshall should be able to penetrate at least as well as the St. John's guards. Carolina's one weakness, and why they probably won't go anywhere this season, is that they can't shoot. At all. But if Duke has a poor shooting night, Carolina is an all-around better team. They are very, very capable of beating us.
It took until halftime of Saturday's game until I got some good anti-UNC feeling going. After the teams left the court, Butch Davis and the Tar Heel football team took the floor to raucous cheers. I had to listen to Davis talk about the resilience of his team, and thanks the Ram's Club (the rich, boring fans) effusively while barely mentioning the student body, while memories of his awful clock management and overall incompetence festered in my head. Justin summed it up nicely: "They're basically celebrating the fact that there's no 10-second run-off rule in college football."
Exactly. Butch Davis is annoying. His stupid team and their stupid violations ruined my one chance to be an actual on-site college football fan. Carolina fans should be pissed, regardless of the fact that they overcame their coach's idiocy to beat a mediocre SEC team in a mediocre bowl. Screw you, Davis, and the donkey you rode in on.
That's all I've got in the tank this morning. This is FMW. The M stands for Maryland, the W stands for week. You can fill in the blanks.
Tell me your worst or best Maryland story. The gem in my life was watching the Dukies roll them at home in 2002. My fellow freshmen and I had been camping out for two weeks, and the day before we watched old games on a big screen in K-Ville, including J-Will's Miracle Minute from the season before. Then the game happened, and it was the craziest I've ever seen Cameron. It was total destruction; 99-78, and they went home with their tail between their legs. Later that year they'd destroy us at home, and then go on to win the national title when Duke suffered its most disappointing loss maybe ever against Indiana in the Sweet 16, but that day was absolutely perfect.
See you tomorrow. Enjoy Drew Nicholas' smile. This was night J-Will broke the ESPN audio feed.
"This is absolutely scary. Maryland has played a brilliant basketball game. Duke hasn't been anywhere near the top of its game. And guess what? Duke's back within two!"