Posted: 2:51 a.m. Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Duke enters the 2013 NCAA Tournament with some impressive credentials: a 27-5 record, a No. 2 seed, a No. 6 ranking in the final AP poll, a No. 1 ranking in the RPI and a second-place finish in the ACC regular season standings.
It’s amazing how similar that resume is to the one that the 2012 Duke team carried into the NCAA Tournament: a 27-6 record, a No. 2 seed, a No. 6 ranking in the final AP poll, a No. 2 ranking in the RPI and a second-place finish in the ACC regular season standings.
And we all know how that one ended.
Of course, there is a big difference between that team and this one – the 2013 Blue Devils are intact and relatively healthy … the 2012 Devils had to try and survive without Ryan Kelly.
Still, there is an element of uncertainty about this Duke team. A week ago, coming off a rout of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and 18-0 with Ryan Kelly in the lineup, Duke was on the verge of locking up the No. 1 seed for the entire tournament. The Blue Devils were a popular pick of the pundits – a consensus choice to make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament.
Friday night’s loss to Maryland changed all that.
And I’m not sure, but I think it should have. Look, this is still the same team that looked so formidable a week ago. But, frankly, I can’t explain what happened in Greensboro – and that scares me.
I was certain that Duke would come out and play inspired basketball against the Terps. When Duke lost to Maryland a month ago, it was viewed within the program as something of a fluke. Everything conspired to cost Duke that game in College Park – the atmosphere, the accumulation of some bizarre travel, a letdown after a mentally challenging home victory over UNC, the sheer fatigue of playing three games in six days and (although no one would ever mention it out loud) some strangely inconsistent officiating.
Maryland rushed the court and celebrated their victory over their most hated rival with a glee that had to get under the Duke players’ skins. Surely, I reasoned – and I think the staff reasoned – the players would be inspired for a rematch in Greensboro.
Instead, the Blue Devils played like they didn’t want to be there. Coach K called timeout 90 seconds into the game to try and light a fire. During the first TV timeout a few minutes later, he looked at his seated starters and asked “Who are you guys?”
Well, they were not the team that had played so hard and so well all season. They were not the team that had earned a No. 1 seed and status as an NCAA favorite.
THAT performance is what makes me – and, I suspect, most Duke fans — nervous going into the NCAA Tournament. Normally, I’d say that Duke was a prohibitive favorite to reach the Sweet 16 and would have a better than 50-50 chance to win two games in the regional finals and get to the Final Four.
Now, I don’t know. Despite the Lehigh loss a year ago, I doubt Duke has anything to fear from Albany in the first round, but starting with the second round – Creighton or Cincinnati – Duke will be playing teams good enough to beat the Devils, if they bring another clunker.
I hope that doesn’t happen.
Starting with the 2010 ACC Tournament, Duke won a string of 14 straight postseason games, encompassing the 2010 ACC Tournament, the 2010 NCAA Tournament, the 2011 ACC Tournament and the first two games of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
So, it’s not like the veterans on this team haven’t tasted postseason success.
But starting with the Sweet 16 loss to Arizona in 2011, Duke has gone 1-4 in postseason with only a narrow victory over lowly Virginia Tech in the 2012 ACC Tournament quarterfinals. So these guys have faced defeat too.
The legacy of this team – and these seniors — depends on the next couple of weeks. Go back to last year – the 2012 Blue Devils really had a great season as K passed Knight on the all-time win list, the team beat such powers as Kansas, Michigan State and North Carolina – none of them at home. There was an 8-0 ACC road record and that spectacular victory in Chapel Hill
And, yet, the entire season was tarnished by the Lehigh loss. The misery of that defeat has tainted everything the 2012 Devils accomplished. Poor Austin Rivers has somehow been transformed in the minds of many Duke fans and outside commentators as a team cancer, a selfish player (despite having some of the highest assist totals for a freshman wing guard in Duke history) who somehow underachieved … even as he became the first Duke freshman to ever earn first-team All-ACC honors.
I’d hate to see something like that spoil the 2013 season and tarnish the team’s tangible accomplishments – the sweep of UNC, that incredible November run in the Battle of Atlantis, followed a few days later by the Ohio State win in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
This team needs to make a deep tournament run. It certainly has that ability. Now they just have to find the passion and sense of urgency that was missing in Greensboro.
THE RODNEY DANGERFIELD CONFERENCE
The ACC got just four bids to the NCAA Tournament.
At least that’s one way of looking at it. When you add Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pitt, which will all officially join the ACC next summer, the ACC got seven bids. And, if you count Louisville, which arrives one year later, that’s eight.
Still, the Selection Committee’s lack of respect for the current ACC was manifest. I can see the case for dropping Duke to a two seed, but the same treatment to Miami – the first ACC team since seeding began in 1979 to win the regular season outright and win the tournament without getting a No. 1 seed – was outrageous.
And don’t get me started on the Virginia situation … or UNC’s placement as a No. 8 seed.
Ah, the heck with it … I’m going to rant. And I’ll start with North Carolina’s ridiculous placement, because no one can accuse me of being a big UNC fan. This is reason, not emotion.
My problem starts with the respect the committee showed for the Mountain West Conference, which earned five bids. Far more respect that for the ACC. I hear it from some national pundits too – about what a great conference the Mountain West is.
Okay, where’s the evidence? A year ago, the Mountain West got a lot of respect too. They got four bids in the NCAA Tournament … and won one game. No one game each .. one game total.
Were they better this year?
Well, let’s see. Their RPIs all look good (they did last year too) and because they beat each other, they all ended up with a credible number of top 100 wins. But that’s almost entirely based on internal competition. How many really good teams did the mighty Mountain West beat outside the league?
Let’s look at the league’s record against top 50 out-of-conference competition.
The best team in the Mountain West – New Mexico — beat No. 49 Connecticut and No. 50 Cincinnati. Period.
Colorado State beat no top 50 teams. San Diego State beat No. 27 UCLA. Boise State beat No. 25 Creighton. UNLV beat No. 45 Iowa State.
Those are the five Mountain West teams that got bids. The other four teams in the league added one – Wyoming beat No. 37 Colorado.
So to sum up – the Mountain West Conference that has garnered so much praise and collected so much respect from the Selection Committee stepped outside the league and beat the following top 50 teams:
That’s a grand total of six – just one in the top 25 … barely. It’s hardly impressive. Yet, the Mountain West teams were all top 50 teams themselves, so they got a lot of credit for beating each other. But outside the league? They hardly beat anybody.
Now, look at the ACC, rated behind the Mountain West and certainly given less respect by the selection committee. Let’s list the ACC’s top 50 non-conference victims:
That’s exactly twice as many top 50 wins as the Mountain West … with five wins coming against teams rated higher than anybody beaten by the MWC. Heck, the last place team in the ACC – Virginia Tech – has a better out-of-conference win (Oklahoma State) than the best team in the Mountain West.
I can’t see how North Carolina wound up as a No. 8 seed, while UNLV is a No. 5? C’mon, almost every one of UNLV’s significant wins were against other Mountain West teams. Not only is UNC rated higher in the RPI that UNLV (18 to 22), they played head-to-head in December and UNC won by six.
Okay, it was at North Carolina, but UNC was without its best player that day (Reggie Bullock) and the Tar Heels were not playing well at that point in the season. Yet, anybody who saw the game had to come away understanding that UNC was a better team. UNC is getting more votes in both the AP and UPI polls. UNC ranks higher in the RPI and UNC ranks higher in Pomeroy.
I just don’t see the love for UNLV and the distain for UNC. Ditto for San Diego State, which got a better seed than UNC despite beating one NCAA Tournament team outside the MWC and Colorado State, which got exactly the same seed as UNC without beating a top 50 team from outside the overrated MWC. I do respect New Mexico’s record, but I think they are a weak No. 3 seed.
I’ll be very interested to see how the Mountain West performs in this year’s tournament – as good as the hype or badly as it did a year ago.
HOW GOOD IS THE BIG TEN … AND INDIANA
I’m also a bit leery about all the accolades piled on the Big Ten … and Indiana. You often hear it spouted by talking heads that the Hoosiers won the best conference in America. Okay, I guess it’s the best conference, even though the ACC had an 8-6 record against the Big Ten this season and the ACC beat more top 50 non-conference opponents (12 to 11) and more top 25 non-conference opponents (5 to 3). During the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the ACC’s top 5 teams were 3-2 against the Big.10′s top five teams – and that was with the Big Ten’s top 5 having three home games.
It didn’t seem to matter that Indiana kept losing down the stretch (3-3 in the final six). Nothing was going to shake the perception that Indiana was the best team in the country … because they won the regular season title in the best conference in the country.
Again, okay, but I could point out that Indiana finished with exactly the same conference record as Duke (14-4). They won the Big Ten because there wasn’t a team such as Miami that got hot in conference play.
Overall, Indiana ended up with a worse record (27-6 vs. Duke’s 27-5) against a weaker overall schedule than Duke (Duke was No. 1 SOS; Indiana No. 11). Both lost in their conference tournament. Duke and Indiana played three common opponents (UNC, Ohio State and Minnesota). Duke was 4-0 against them with two home wins, a neutral court win and a road win … Indiana was 3-2 (3-0 at home and 0-2 on the road).
Of course, Duke has the added element of Ryan Kelly’s injury. Duke lost Kelly for 13 games, going 9-4 in that stretch. With him, Duke was 18-1.
When the experts were talking about Louisville’s selection as the No. 1 seed in the field, they made a big deal about the fact that when Louisville lost to Duke head-to-head, the Cards were without center Gorgui Deng. But when they lost three straight games in mid-January, Deng had been back a month. They lost four games in all at full strength. Miami lost three games early without either Durand Scott of Reggie Johnson – who turned out to be a very minor contributor for the ‘Canes. But they also lost three games late at full strength.
Even Gonzaga lost more games at full strength (against an extremely mediocre schedule) than Duke did at full strength.
Let’s talk about the Zags, a popular No. 1 seeded team. Duke played 13 games against teams that made the NCAA Tournament, beating a No. 1 seed (Louisville), two No. 2 seeds (Ohio State and Miami), a No. 5 (VCU) and three No. 8s (N.C. State and UNC twice) …. Plus a No. 9 (Temple).
Gonzaga did win seven games against NCAA teams — of course three of them were to No. 12 seed St. Mary’s, a rather curious at-large selection by the committee (more on that later). Their best wins were over No. 4 seed Kansas State and No. 5 seed Oklahoma State (a team Virginia Tech also beat). They beat No. 10 seed Oklahoma and No. 14 seed Davidson (a team Duke also beat).
They lost to No. 6 seed Butler (playing without its best player) and were crushed at home by 7-seed Illinois.
That’s the resume of a No. 1 seed?
WHAT ABOUT VIRGINIA?
I want to get back to St. Mary’s, because their selection sticks in my craw.
Check out their resume. They have one top 50 win (No. 25 Creighton). The only other NCAA teams they beat were No. 14 seed Harvard and No. 16 seed Pacific (they actually split with Pacific). They were 26-6 on the season, but 17 of their wins were against teams with an RPI above 150. They were 9-6 against top 150 teams.
They lost to Georgia Tech.
If I were at Virginia with four top 50 wins and eight top 100 wins, I’d be outraged. The Cavs beat No. 2 seed Duke, No. 5 seed Wisconsin (on the road!) and two No. 8 seeds (UNC and N.C. State). Heck, they beat more top teams than Gonzaga, much less St. Mary’s.
Kentucky (three top 50 wins and seven top 100 wins) also has a reason to be ticked off The selection of St. Mary’s and Middle Tennessee (one top 100 win) to at-large spots has to drive those schools crazy.
The committee chairman came on the air and said that Middle Tennessee was picked because they won on the road. Well, they didn’t beat a top 100 team on the road. They were 2-3 against top 150 teams on the road. They did pile up a 9-1 road record against teams above 150.
Kentucky, by contrast, was 3-7 against top 150 teams on the road … and 1-0 against teams 150-plus on the road.
So Middle Tennessee got in by beating up a bunch of terrible teams on the road? Kentucky got punished by trying to play a much better schedule?
I don’t always agree with Jay Bilas, but I do like the point he made that it no longer matters who you beat, only who you lost to.
It’s a double standard. The power teams, which have difficult conference schedules, are punished for losing to good teams, while teams from weak conferences are rewarded for not playing any good teams.
Look, I know Virginia had flaws in their resume (and I understand that Maryland, despite their ACC Tournament run, has a weaker resume than the Cavs). And I have no love for Kentucky and no reason to defend their resume.
But if the ‘Cats played Middle Tennessee or St. Mary’s on a neutral court tomorrow, which team would be favored to win? Let’s set up a tourney – Kentucky vs. St. Mary’s and Virginia vs. Middle Tennessee. Guess who Vegas would favor.
If the committee wants to lean over backwards to reward the little guy, at least admit and stop spouting nonsense about picking the best 37 at-large teams. I’m not sure Virginia or Kentucky was one of the best 37 at-large candidates, but I KNOW that Middle Tennessee and St. Mary’s were not.
– It was an interesting coincidence that ESPN decided to run the 30 for 30 special on N.C. State’s 1983 national championship run – titled “Survive and Advance” – Sunday night after the selection show.
Coach Jim Valvano was one of the best tournament coaches that I ever covered. The title of the documentary is the perfect explanation for his success – he approached every tournament by focusing on the next game, surviving that, then worrying about the next game when it was the next game.
But I also remember when Valvano broke his own rule.
In 1986, he had a solid team that made a strong run to the Elite Eight, where the Pack was beaten by No. 2 Kansas in Kansas City. State also played Kansas in the regular season several times in that era, including a game early in the 1988 season. So when Valvano saw the brackets in 1988, he was not happy. He was scheduled to open against unheralded Murray State, but it looked very much like the Pack would be facing Kansas in a second round game in Lincoln, Neb.
On the Monday afternoon after the ACC Tournament, Valvano held a press conference to discuss the upcoming NCAA Tournament. No more survive and advance. Very few words about Murray State. Instead, we were treated to a long diatribe from the Wolfpack coach about the unfairness of the seeding and how much he didn’t want to face Kansas again.
Well, he never had to play Kansas – his Wolfpack was upset in the first round by Murray State.
Since that time, I’ve observed that when coaches and players start talking about the bracket – either their placement in the field or potential opponents – they almost always lose. Not always, but close to it.
I thought about that as I heard the first reaction from UNC fans to their placement in the field and their potential second-round matchup with top-seeded Kansas.
Yeah, I think they deserved a higher seed. And I think it’s unfair that they should have to face Kansas in Kansas City just to get to the Sweet 16. But I do know that complaining about it does no good.
So far, I haven’t heard Roy Williams or his players bitching. But if they do, I’m going to pick Villanova in my brackets.
– What loyalty does a fan base owe a struggling coach and team?
I thought about that this weekend as I watched the Wake Forest nation tear itself apart over the Jeff Bzdelik issue. My thinking was also spurred by some comments by UNC coach Roy Williams after the championship game, when he charged that “90 percent of the media and 95 percent of our fans jumped ship” earlier in the season when the team was struggling.
Start with Bzdelik first. The guy he succeeded won 61 games in three seasons. In three seasons, Bzdelik has managed to win 33.
Is it surprising there are some irate Deacon fans?
But do those concerns excuse a segment of the fan base buying ads in local papers calling for Bzdelik’s ouster or for openly rooting for the Deacons to fail in order to precipitate a coaching change?
Winston-Salem Journal beat writer Dan Collins, who has probably given Bzdelik more positive coverage in his three seasons than the rest of the ACC media combined, wrote a critical blog last weekend summing up the season. Collins labeled the year “a massive fail” and said that he was going to stop peddling the future of Wake Forest basketball – Dan said he’d do that for two seasons, but not for three. He literally begged Bzdelik to give him something positive to write.
The next day, in the media room, Dan told us that it felt like he had been drafted at as the leader of a mob of angry villagers, chasing the monster into a windmill. Country Dan, a semi-professional singer and songwriter, even composed a song “Pitchforks and Torches”:
Woke up in the middle of a mob,
Pitchfork in one hand,
Torch in the other,
Never wanted to be,
In the middle of a mob,
Just got swept along,
By everybody and his brother.
Now, nobody was chasing UNC’s Williams with pitchforks and torches, but there was some grumbling when his young team didn’t explode out of the gate as quickly as most Tar Heel fans and many media members (I admit, there is considerable overlap in those two groups) thought, there was some grumbling.
But did “95 percent” of the UNC fan base really “jump ship”? Or was Roy just being a bit over sensitive? I didn’t see a drop in attendance in the Smith Center. I didn’t see any ads in the local papers, ripping the UNC coach. I’ve heard some critical calls on talk radio and a few critical posts on UNC message boards, but is that evidence that the great mass of fans has junped ship?
– Duke fans can be happy that UNC didn’t win the title. With a victory Sunday, the Tar heels would have tied Duke for the most ACC Tournament games won … and would have gotten within one of Duke in ACC championships (Duke leads 19-17).
– Listening to the announcement of the field on CBS, it sounded to me as if within the space of 30 seconds Doug Gottlieb predicted that Duke would lose to both Creighton and Michigan State … that would be quite a feat.
– When ESPN’s experts projected the Final Four later Sunday night, I noticed that all five – Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps, Dick Vitale, Jay Williams and Seth Greenberg had Michigan State in the Elite Eight … okay, I know it’s no gimmie game, but c’mon – a week ago these guys thought Duke was the No. 1 seed in the tournament and the NCAA favorite … now not one of them thinks Duke can get past Michigan State? Wow!