Posted on: March 22, 2008 4:53 pm

Duke isn't in the Sweet 16 (again)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Last year you could call it a fluke.

That's what I called it, at least.

But Duke's loss to West Virginia on Saturday means the Blue Devils will now miss the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season, this after they had made the Sweet 16 in nine consecutive seasons before losing to VCU in the first round of last year's NCAA tournament. So yeah, the mighty have fallen on hard times relative to their usual type of times, and the only obvious explanation is that Mike Krzyzewski has made multiple bad recruiting decisions that have left him with a roster full of nice guys, only some of whom are physical and/or athletic enough to lead an elite program.

And don't tell me about all the McDonald's All-Americans.

That's a splendid thing to put in a media guide. But it is accepted fact that many players are named McDonald's Al-Americans because they are being recruited by Duke, meaning Duke doesn't sign McDonald's All-Americans as much as it manufactures them.

To this point, I'll ask this question: How many future NBA players were on this Duke roster?

Answer: A couple, probably.

Kyle Singler will play many years in the NBA, and I'm assuming Gerald Henderson will, too. But there weren't any serious prospects beyond those two, which is fine for most programs but less-than-fine for a program that has long been considered the best of the best. I mean, scrappy play and hustle and slapping the floor is great and all. But it takes pros to hang banners, and Duke is now mostly devoid of pros relative to the North Carolinas and UCLAs of the world.

And it's not getting fixed by next season.

The Blue Devils are losing DeMarcus Nelson and replacing him with Elliot Williams, a McDonald's All-American shooting guard from Memphis. But when Duke missed on prep standout Greg Monroe it ensured the Blue Devils will play another season without a notable post presence, and so it's hard to imagine Krzyzewski won't again have the same issues with his team.

Which is not to say Duke will be bad.

Let me be clear about that.

The Blue Devils should return four starters from a 28-win team, and that'll put them in the preseason Top 10. But the guess here is that they'll still be a piece away from having the personnel to hang another banner. And though that's OK for most programs it's just not what we've traditionally expected from Duke, which will now watch the second weekend of the NCAA tournament on television. Again.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 22, 2008 3:39 pm

Duke is not making jumpers, which is bad for Duke

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Duke made two of its first three 3-point attempts, which is when I made the post below. Since then, the Blue Devils have missed eight consecutive shots from behind the arc, which is why they are now trailing with less than 14 minutes remaining.

Missing like that is not the way to advance.

And if this doesn't change the Blue Devils will miss the Sweet 16 for the second straight year.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 22, 2008 2:36 pm

Duke is making jumpers, which is good for Duke

BIRMINGHAM, Ala -- Duke is hitting its 3-point attempts early against West Virginia, and that's the biggest difference between the Blue Devils that nearly won the ACC regular-season title and the Blue Devils that nearly lost to Belmont in the first round of the NCAA tournament. I realize that sounds simple, but it's arguable no elite team relies on its ability to make jumpers to be successful more than Duke.


Because contrary to what a roster full of McDonald's All-Americans might suggest, Duke is not the type of team that overwhelms opponents with talent and athleticism the way a North Carolina or Kansas or Memphis does. For Duke to be great it needs to make jumpers and really defend, and anything short of that could have the Blue Devils struggling with anybody.

And by anybody, I mean Belmont.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 21, 2008 6:49 pm
Edited on: March 21, 2008 6:50 pm

From the hot seat to a hot commodity

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- College basketball is a funny sport.

Here's another example: Darrin Horn is in his fifth season at Western Kentucky. He won 15 games in his first season, 22 in his second season, 23 in his third season and 22 in his fourth season. But because the Sun Belt is traditionally a one-bid league, Horn had missed the NCAA tournament all four years, and word in basketball circles as recently as a month ago was that if he didn't make the NCAA tournament this season he might be replaced.

Seriously, WKU officials/boosters were prepared to consider a change. And then South Alabama got knocked out of the Sun Belt tournament. And then Western Kentucky won the Sun Belt's automatic bid. And then Western Kentucky beat Drake in the first round of the NCAA tournament. And now Darrin Horn -- a man who was on the hot seat a month ago -- is merely a win over San Diego from reaching the Sweet 16, and if that happens he'll suddenly be labeled as an "up-and-coming" coach, at which point Western Kentucky will be lucky to keep him.

So to summarize, Horn is no longer in danger of losing his job.

Instead, WKU is now in danger of losing its coach.

Again, college basketball is a funny sport.

And Horn is gonna get the last laugh.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 21, 2008 4:39 pm
Edited on: March 21, 2008 7:15 pm

Pete Campbell is something serious

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- We're off to a good start today.

Western Kentucky beat Drake 101-99 in overtime while Davidson edged Gonzaga 82-76.

So two of the four early games were fabulous, just great competitions highlighted by Stephen Curry's 40-point effort that gave Davidson its first win over a Top 100 opponent since 2005.  When it happened it seemed unlikely anybody would trump Curry for Player of the Day honors. But now I'm sitting here at the BJCC Arena, and I swear I don't think Pete Campbell is ever going to miss another shot.

There's still eight minutes left in Butler's soon-to-be-final victory over South Alabama, and Campbell already has eight 3-pointers. He made six in the first half to push the Bulldogs to a huge lead, and the Tennessee staff sitting courtside is hoping the senior gets all of this out of his system before they have to deal with him on Sunday.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 21, 2008 10:45 am
Edited on: March 21, 2008 10:46 am

The CBI is silly (but the games are close)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Thank God it's Friday!

And I sure hope it's better than Thursday.

Yes, the Duke-Belmont game was fabulous,  a reminder of what makes the NCAA tournament the greatest postseason event in American sports. But outside of that, well, there wasn't much to hold anybody's interest. I mean, did you see the final scores?

Xavier 73, Georgia 61.

That's how the day began.

UCLA 70, Mississippi Valley State 29.

That's how the day ended.

And in between it was more of the same as 13 of Thursday's 16 first-round matchups were decided by double-digits. The only exceptions were Duke-Belmont, Kentucky-Marquette and Texas A&M-BYU, and it was almost enough to make me yearn for the College Basketball Invitational.

Have you been following the CBI?

If so, you've got a serious problem that must be addressed immediately.

But at least that silly event is producing competitive games, even if they are insignificant.

Six of the CBI's eight games have been decided by six points or less because nothing screams "this is gonna be a tight one" like Valparaiso-Washington and Houston-Nevada. Valpo beat Washington by a point; Houston beat Nevada by a point. And it was so exciting that Houston coach Tom Penders compared the atmosphere to, well, I'll just let you read the quote.

"It was a heck of a game," Penders said. "This CBI is going to be something special and it's nice to be one of the first 16 teams invited to this. It was like a national championship environment in here."

Seriously, Tom?

A national championship environment?

Clearly, it's been a long time since Penders has sniffed a national championship environment. That's why he's coaching at Houston instead of Texas. But in fairness, Houston's 80-79 win over Nevada does sound like it was a "heck of a game" if only because it was competitive. And given what we witnessed in the NCAA tournament on Thursday I'm inclined to root for competitiveness, regardless of the event.
Posted on: March 20, 2008 6:09 pm

Come on, Barack! Did you forget your platform?

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- I'm a little disappointed in Barack Obama's pick to win the national championship.

North Carolina?

Sure, it makes sense.

But does it really represent Obama and all for which he stands?

I don't think so considering the presidential hopeful has wowed voters in recent months by acknowledging the fact that he is an "unconventional" candidate. He's been asking people to embrace it while shunning conventional wisdom, and it's working brilliantly. But when it was time for Obama to practice what he pounds, the democrat caved and went with UNC, meaning he sided with the establishment, with old reliable, with the comfortable pick.

My opinion: Obama should've gone outside the power structure (i.e., the BCS-affiliated leagues).

Because an unconventional candidate should have an unconventional pick.

How about Xavier?

Or Memphis?

Or Gonzaga?

Any of those would've worked, I think. But if Obama just had to go with a BCS-affiliated program then the pick should've obviously been Stanford -- an academic school led by a set of twins (Brook and Robin Lopez) from a white mother and black father. It's perfect given how Obama comes from a white mother and black father, too. It would've sent a message about how those from unconventional backgrounds can achieve greatness. But nooooooooooooo. Mr. Unconventonal had to go conventional with his bracket. And if his campaign subsequently comes undone he'll only have himself to blame.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 20, 2008 4:10 pm
Edited on: March 20, 2008 4:11 pm

Early observations from Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, Ala -- Friday-Sunday pods really are the worst.

They place writers in a dilemma, force us to act like we care about what is happening in some interview session when we're really most interested in the actual NCAA tournament games starting elsewhere. I mean, Ronnie Arrow is great, just a splendid coach and wonderful story. But Kentucky and Marquette are in a tight game, and it's right there on the TV. And this must be what Amy Winehouse feels like when somebody puts a pipe in front of her. She knows what she's supposed to be doing (and not doing). But it's difficult, I tell you, and I'm sure Coach Arrow understands.

Anyway, her are some early observations:

  • Michigan State snapped a pattern of producing first-round wins backed by first-round losses every other year that began in 2001. The Spartans cruised to a 72-61 win over Temple. Next up is Pitt, which is destroying Oral Roberts.
  • Georgia's dream run is over. I'm not surprised. But I was stunned when the Bulldogs jumped to an early big lead over Xavier before ultimately falling 73-61. I have Xavier going to the Elite Eight. I was concerned at the half.
  • Kent State looks terrible.
  • Purdue does not look terrible.
  • When is our first notable upset coming?
Category: NCAAB
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