RTC Live: Princeton @ #1 Duke

Posted by rtmsf on November 14th, 2010

Game #10RTC Live is pleased to make our first trip into the hallowed halls of Cameron Indoor Stadium on the campus of Duke University this afternoon.

The Duke home opener is always a special day in Durham, but today’s game commands even more attention than usual. An extra banner hangs from the ceiling of Cameron Indoor Stadium, and this team enters with pressure its predecessor didn’t have: expectations of another national title. Questions do exist for Mike Krzyzewski’s team, though. Can Kyle Singler improve, or was last year his ceiling? How do Duke’s young guards fill in for Jon Scheyer? Will Seth Curry live up to the hype? How much playing time will Coach K give freshman Kyrie Irving? And was Brian Zoubek one of the most underrated players in college basketball in 2009-10? The preseason #1 Duke Blue Devils will have their first opportunity to answer those questions against the unranked Princeton Tigers. Princeton enters today’s game after an overtime win against Rutgers to open the season on Friday. The Tigers’ first win against a major conference opponent since 2004 was largely the work of senior Dan Mavraides, who had 26 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists in 41 minutes of play. Princeton’s 6’11 center, Brendan Connolly, added 7 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists, and needs to replicate that performance if the Tigers hope to keep Duke’s big men in check. If you can’t be in Cameron for the game, join up here and let RTC Live be there for you.

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2010 NBA Draft Winners and Losers

Posted by zhayes9 on June 25th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

Now that the Draft is complete, time to look back at Thursday night’s winners and losers, from coaches to NBA teams to players to conferences and everything in between:

Paul George saw his stock skyrocket all the way to #10 and the Pacers, Al Bello/Getty Images


Big 12 – One of the premier college basketball conferences has gained quite a surge of momentum in the last few weeks. Big 12 commish Dan Beebe convinced Texas it was in their best interests to keep the league in tact even after the defections of Colorado and Nebraska, two of the more downtrodden BCS-conference hoops programs in the country. After chopping off those two anchors, a ten-team, 18-game round robin format has been agreed to starting in 2012. The Big 12 momentum only continued at the draft on Thursday where an astonishing seven of the top 24 selections reside from the conference (and Kentucky isn’t even a member). Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh, Kansas’ Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry, Texas’ Avery Bradley and Damion James, Oklahoma State’s James Anderson and Iowa State’s Craig Brackins, not to mention Cyclone transfer Wes Johnson, were all nabbed in the first 24 picks. The Big 12 barely trailed the ACC in terms of overall conference strength last season and the results of the first round only confirmed those numbers.

John Calipari – As Fox Sports Jeff Goodman astutely pointed out, expect plenty of John Calipari mug shots in near future drafts unless he bolts for a dream NBA job. Five of his Kentucky Wildcats from one recruiting class were taken in the first round on Thursday, from John Wall at #1 overall to Daniel Orton at #29. Next year could see two more Kentucky players announced early in the draft in center Enes Kanter and point guard Brandon Knight with forward Terrence Jones another potential first rounder. In 2011-12 when Marquis Teague, Michael Gilchrist and another top ten recruit TBD join Big Blue Nation, it’ll be the same Calipari hugging his revolving door of players on a June night in NYC. Don’t think this is just Calipari doing this for his departing players or that recruits are not noticing. He’s fully aware of what his face constantly showing up on ESPN’ s cameras means: furthering his reputation of sending talented players to the riches of the NBA. And quickly.

Paul George – It’s been a quick ascension for George, a workout wonder who saw his draft stock shoot up in the last few weeks until he landed to Indiana at #10. It’s doubtful even George saw this coming after being lightly recruited out of Palmdale, Calif, and settling on Fresno State for his college choice. George saw both his FG% and 3pt% plummet from his freshman to sophomore seasons and he only upped his PPG by 2.5 and RPG by 1.0 along with very low assist totals. He also played for a 15-18 WAC team against far more inferior competition than, say, Kansas’ Xavier Henry, who went one pick later to Memphis. Henry averaged 13.5 PPG, shot 46% from two and 42% from three on a team filled with players who needed touches.

Greivis Vasquez’ reaction – I don’t think anyone who watched Greivis Vasquez play four years at Maryland was surprised when they saw the emotional Venezuelan surrounded by family and friends in the crowd at Radio City Music Hall waiting for his name to be chosen. Vasquez has been projected as an early-to-mid second round pick- a scorer, leader and improved floor general that simply lacks the lateral quickness to defend NBA guards. Yet rumblings surfaced that Memphis loved Vasquez at #28. Sure enough, when he was pegged at that exact spot, the only outward, raw emotion we saw Thursday night emerged as Vasquez pumped his fist, hugged his family and practically sprinted to shake David Stern’s hand on the draft stage. Congratulations to Greivis.

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Singler’s Return = Duke #1

Posted by rtmsf on April 19th, 2010

The SCOOP doctor, Jeff Goodman, is reporting that Duke all-american forward Kyle Singler is returning to Durham for his senior year.  A formal announcement from Singler is expected in the next 24 hours, but suffice it to say that good fortune is shining on Mike Krzyzewski and his Blue Devil program in a big way lately.  According to the mock drafts, Singler was projected as a late first-rounder but he has decided that a shot at another national title at Duke is worth more than the guaranteed dollars that he would have received as a new draftee.  He and fellow ACC big man Solomon Alabi were the only two underclassmen in this mock draft projected as first rounders who had not yet declared — will Singler be the only legitimate first round returnee in the college game next season?

Singler Will Be the Top Returnee in America Next Year

Regardless of what Alabi decides, Duke is in tremendous position to defend its title next year.  The Devils lose three regular seniors from its national championship team — Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek — but their replacements are just as talented if not more so in the forms of Kyrie Irving/Seth Curry and the Miles/Mason Plumlee brothers.  The irreplaceable wildcard was always going to be the versatile Singler, but with his return to the Duke lineup Coach K’s team will undoubtedly enter 2010-11 as the #1 team in America with a very good chance at repeating next April.  The team will upgrade its athleticism at the guard positions and among the bigs, and so long as Coach K can find ways to feed and channel the intensity of the Plumlees in the same way as it worked with Zoubek this spring, Duke will be once again be on the grand stage for all of America to hate.  Maybe if we’re really lucky Singler will all of a sudden start attracting random teenage fangirls, begin referring to himself in the third person and use opportune moments during NCAA Tournament games to step on other players’ chests.  If we’re lucky.

Seriously, though, it’s funny how college basketball works sometimes.  Two years ago we had major cognitive dissonance believing that Singler had been considered the equal of UCLA’s Kevin Love when the two were doing battle back in the Oregon high school prep ranks throughout the mid-2000s.  Yet here we sit in 2010 and it is Singler, not Love, who has the chance to make college basketball history with repeat national titles.  We’re certainly not implying that makes him better than Love either then or now, but it’s well beyond what we thought we were getting when the blonde forward came out of Medford three years ago.  And it just goes to show that sometimes it’s better in college basketball to have a stable of pretty-darn-good players who stick around three or four years rather than sicknasty players who you can only keep on campus for one.

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Selected Thoughts From Final Four Weekend

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2010

You know how this works… here are some random thoughts bouncing around our head as we come out of a pretty damn good Final Four in Indianapolis.

Welcome to Indy!

Coach K is the Current Dean of Coaches.  But let’s get one thing put to rest right away.  He’s not John Wooden.  For all you presentists out there convinced that the era we’re currently in is tougher than any other previous one, get your head out of your sphincter.  Make all the excuses you want, but Wooden beat all comers west AND east, year after year after year after year (ten times in twelve seasons).  We could go on and on about this, and if the numbers were anywhere near each other (like if K had eight titles to Wooden’s ten), we’d entertain the argument.  But they’re not, and Coach K would probably be the first to chastise you of such foolishness.  Now, with that said, Krzyzewski is a clear #2 all-time with his most recent title.  Tom Izzo came into the Final Four with everyone gushing about his six appearances in the last twelve years, but it’s K who has done it better for longer, now with eleven F4s and four national championships to his credit.  Whenever he decides to retire, and there’s a good chance it won’t be for another decade, Coach K will have far surpassed the man whom he set his eyes on as a target way back in the early 80s — UNC demigod Dean Smith.  What seemed like a herculean impossibility at that time ultimately came to pass, as Coach K is now the Dean of Tobacco Road and the Smith family tree of he and Roy Williams must combine championships at UNC to simply match those of K (something undoubtedly not lost on Williams in his lair at this very moment).  Furthermore, Krzyzewski proved with this year’s team that he doesn’t have to have better talent than everyone else to cut down the nets — his other championship teams were stacked to the brim with future pros, but it will ultimately be the 2010 national titleist that raises his legacy from one of the coach with the best talent to one of the talent with the best coach.

K: Best in the Business

Greatest Title Game Ever? Had Gordon Hayward’s half-court shot found net, we’d be on board with this.  The storyline is just too good.  Even better than Villanova taking down big, bad Georgetown in ’85 or NC State’s miracle of miracles two years earlier.  The Jimmy Chitwood/Bobby Plump comparisons would have been endless, and we’re a little more than halfway convinced that we’d have seen our first-ever title game RTC should the ball have gone through.  Unfortunately for most of America, like many life-story endings awkwardly forced into a Hollywood template, reality leaves you waiting for the next moment that never comes — the Hayward shot didn’t magically bounce up in the air and fall back through…  The truth is that the national championship game was a hard-nosed, calculating, defensive-minded drama between two teams where every single point came with a price tag.  But it wasn’t beautiful, and in order to have greatness bestowed upon a game, it usually needs to end with a make rather than a miss.  This is not always the case, but it’s difficult to buy into the GOAT argument when the last made field goal occurred with just under a minute remaining (as a comparison, the widely-accepted greatest game of all-time, 1992 Duke-Kentucky, had five lead changes in the last 35 seconds of overtime).  So where does it rank?  Still pretty high — for our money, this was the best championship game since 1999 UConn vs. Duke (yes, Memphis-Kansas was thrilling, but not for the entire game), and is definitely in the top 6-8 in the post-Wooden era, but let’s keep our wits about us here. 

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RTC Mea Culpa: K Shows His Brilliance Again as Duke Wins #4

Posted by rtmsf on April 7th, 2010

If 70,000 people can act in unison as a single living organism, that moment was when Butler’s Gordon Hayward put his shot into the air from fifty feet last night.  The crowd, roaring its approval after Duke center Brian Zoubek intentionally missed his second free throw attempt with 3.6 seconds remaining, took a collective breath.  All eyes bored through the orange ball as it sailed in the direction of the opposite goal, and when it approached the intended target, there wasn’t a soul in the house who believed that it would actually miss its mark.

The Dream Seemed Possible (Indy Star/S. Riche)

To the consternation of screenwriters, the assembled media, neutral fans, the entire Hoosier State, underdogs everywhere, and advertisers calculating their future CBS promos – pretty much everybody except Duke fans – it did.  The ball hit the backboard, caromed onto the rim and popped off the front of it a little too hard, securing Duke’s fourth national championship in the last twenty seasons.  It wasn’t supposed to end that way, said the storybook tellers.  The tiny school from a few miles north of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis was supposed to give us the timeless Hoosiers story in modern form — with Gordon Hayward taking the role of history’s Bobby Plump and the Butler Bulldogs channeling Milan High.  Instead, in a brutal reminder that real life isn’t Hollywood and history doesn’t often repeat itself, it was an old familiar face and and name who were left standing tall at the end of this night — Coach K and his Blue Devils.

As has been written numerous times in the lead-up to the Final Four and championship game, Duke may be the Evil Empire in the eyes of most college basketball fans, but this particular group of Blue Devils is eminently likable.  Looking back at some of Krzyzewski’s more vitriol-inspiring teams, the 2009-10 national champion lacks an identifiable villain embracing his role as a coldblooded assassin such as Christian Laettner; there is no impossibly accomplished athlete-cum-scholar like Shane Battier on the roster; and the only people on the team who inspire a wipe-that-smug-off-your-face response in fans are assistant coaches Steve Wojciechowski and Chris Collins.  The players themselves engender no such particular hatred.

Gotta Give Him His Due (Indy Star/S. Riche)

No, the only possible element of the 2009-10 Duke Blue Devils is the Darth Vader of Hoops himself, Mike Krzyzewski.  Fans love to hate the man who has now surpassed his mentor Bobby Knight with the most titles in the post-Wooden era, and it’s in no small part because of his sustained success over three decades of college basketball.  This site in particular has been very critical of Coach K’s recruiting strategy of the last half-decade or so, largely eschewing one-and-done type of players in favor of the three and four-year ones who develop over time from very good ball players to great ones.  We didn’t think that his plan of focusing on those next-level recruits like Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and so on without the assistance of an elite NBA talent or two could result in a national championship.  We were wrong.

And we were wrong because of Coach K’s brilliance as a sideline tactician and his ability to learn from personnel mistakes over time.  There’s been a laundry list of big men in the post-Boozer era who have come to Duke and never amounted to much more than window dressing as K highlighted his perimeter attack — Michael Thompson, Josh McRoberts, Jamal Boykin, Olek Czyz, etc. — but his decision to stick with Brian Zoubek in the post this year despite three previous seasons of largely inconsistent play turned this team’s greatest weakness into a strength.  While the bulk of the Devils offense still came from the perimeter, the interior defense and rebounding (esp. second chances) that Zoubek provided was an element that the team hadn’t seen since The Landlord was patrolling the paint in the mid-2000s.

Zoubek's Toughness Helped Duke Win the Title (Indy Star/S. Riche)

From our view, this was the difference in not only Duke’s season but also last night’s game.  According to the stat-keepers, Zoubek blocked two shots but his presence was felt on numerous others as the Bulldog players had trouble finishing layup attempts in the lane all night long.  His 7’1 reach was especially important in forcing Gordon Hayward’s potential game-winning fadeaway to hit the rim an inch long, and his six offensive rebounds resulted in seven additional points for his team.  In a game as close as this one, it’s very easy to see his importance.  In previous years, it’s unlikely that without Zoubek inside that the stable of Duke perimeter defenders would have been able to keep an offensively efficient team like Butler to a mere 34.5% shooting, one of their worst showings of the season.

It’s not likely that this particular Duke team will weather well in terms of historical significance, but because of that fact it may have represented one of Coach K’s greatest coaching achievements while cementing his place as the second-best coach of all-time.  His three other champions were loaded to the gills with NBA talent, while it’s difficult to envision anyone other than Kyle Singler on the 2010 champs getting much of a look at the next level (and let’s be honest: Singler is nowhere near as talented as any of Williams/Battier/Boozer or Hurley/Hill/Laettner on the other Duke title teams).  With the bulk of his team likely to be back in Durham next year and a couple of stud recruits joining the team, Coach K will have a good shot at moving past Kentucky’s Rupp with the second-most titles from a single coach and make a run at tying bitter rival UNC with a total of five national championships.  At age 63, you have to figure that K will have several more good chances to get there in the next decade.

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RTC Championship Game Tidbits

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2010

Each day this week during the Final Four we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region. If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Duke (Patrick Sellars)

Butler (Andrew Murawa)

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National Championship Game Analysis

Posted by jstevrtc on April 4th, 2010

RTC has attempted to break down the NCAA Tournament and Final Four games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses. Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds. Here are our thoughts on the national title game. Whomever you’re rooting for, we hope you enjoy it.

9:07 PM — #1 Duke vs #5 Butler

The six months since practices started have passed like a dream. As fans of college basketball, we travel this road every year from mid-October to early April. We always know our destination well in advance, we just don’t know who we’re going to find there. Therein lies the beauty of the NCAA Tournament. The entirety of that six months is spent trying to determine one thing: who’s playin’ on Monday night.

What a situation in which we find ourselves at the end of this particular journey. The fates have determined that the answer to the second most important question of the season is, “Butler and Duke.” There’s only one question left, the biggest one of all. All those practices, weightlifting sessions, sprints, miles, interviews, and games for each of these players on those two teams is now distilled down to one query:

What will you do on Monday night?

Hayward can guard anyone on the floor. And probably will. (AP)

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Final Four Game Analysis

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2010

RTC will break down the Final Four games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are Saturday evening’s national semifinals…aka…THE FINAL FOUR!

6:07 pm – #5 Michigan State vs. #5 Butler The winner of this game will have a built-in motivational mechanism, since this game is popularly considered the “Who will lose to West Virginia or Duke on Monday?” game.  Best be careful, because as we know, there’s almost no better way to get your guys ready to play than to tell them that it’s them against the world.  That nobody respects them.  That everyone expects them to lose and lose big.  In the case of Butler, I know I wouldn’t want to face a team playing in their home city and with that motivational tool.  A lot is being made of the home crowd advantage that Butler supposed to enjoy this weekend, but I ask you: because people love the storyline of a mid-major getting to the Final Four, in what city could you play this thing where Butler wouldn’t have most of the fans in the arena rooting for them?  I’ll tell you — East Lansing, Durham, and Morgantown (or anywhere else in West Virginia).  Well, we’re not in any of those towns.  Let me just add this…walking around this downtown area, I see mostly Butler fans, which is understandable.  But it’s not like the Duke, Michigan State, and West Virginia fans stayed home.  It’s Lucas Oil Stadium, people.  It seats over 70,000 (it must, to qualify to host this thing).  The freakin’ Colts play here.  The Butler cheers might be loud, but the other squads will have their supporters, too.  As to what’s going to happen on the floor, watch the boards.  This will be a rebounding battle for the ages, because it’s the biggest disparity between the two teams.  It’s not something Butler does particularly well, and it’s Michigan State’s greatest strength.  Brad Stevens knows his boys have to swarm the glass to have a chance.  They’ve done everything else he’s asked of them in each tournament game, not to mention the rest of the season, and I wouldn’t doubt that you’ll see them turn in their biggest effort on the boards this whole year on Saturday evening. Can Butler do it but still stay out of foul trouble?

We only picked against you three times, Coach Izzo. And we're sorry. (AP/Al Goldis)

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NCAA Basketball 2010: The BCS Version

Posted by nvr1983 on April 2nd, 2010

With all the talk about the coming 96-team tournament, many in the sports media have forgotten that there is already another ridiculous major college sport championship in place: the BCS. We took you through this process in a post last year, but it’s worth going over again as the blogosphere is ablaze with opinions on changing our beloved NCAA Tournament.

Here are the basic ground rules:

  1. We are following the BCS Football guidelines as closely as possible. Obviously there are some differences. A college basketball team is expected to win more than 9 games (we kept a cut-off at a 75% winning percentage). We replaced the Notre Dame rule with the Duke rule since they both have sketchy TV contracts (Notre Dame with NBC and Duke with ESPN).
  2. I used the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls as the human polls and ESPN.com’s InsiderRPI, KenPom.com, and Sagarin’s ratings as the computer polls. The computer polls include data from the NCAA Tournament, but as you will see it didn’t affect the results that significantly.
  3. We used the traditional BCS calculations for determining each team’s score weighing the two human polls and the combined computer poll average as 1/3 of a team’s total score each.

Here are the results:

We will let you digest that for a minute and will provide more information/analysis and the BCS Bowls after the jump.

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Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: Duke

Posted by zhayes9 on April 1st, 2010

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Here are the Butler, West Virginia and Michigan State previews. The final installment discusses the Duke Blue Devils in their quest to return to college basketball glory.

NCAA title for Scheyer in his senior season?

Crucial Tourney Moment(s): Nolan Smith delivered the best game of his Duke career at the most opportune time. Facing a two point deficit late in the second half against an ultra-talented Baylor team playing in their home state, it was a Lance Thomas offensive rebound kicked out to Nolan Smith for an open three that gave Duke the lead and the momentum. Following a free throw and defensive stop, it was once again the vastly improved Smith knocking down a three to hand his Blue Devils an advantage they wouldn’t surrender. Their back against the wall against a team athletically superior and equally talented, Duke teams in the past four years would have folded up their tents, unable to match the size, physicality and fight of their venerable opponent. This year, toughness has been the mark of a Duke squad that finds themselves labeled Final Four favorites. And Nolan Smith’s back-to-back threes against Baylor were a huge reason the Blue Devils are still standing.

Advantage Area: Duke has the best perimeter scoring of any Final Four team. Nolan Smith can knock down outside shots, beat defenders off the dribble and has established a patented floater that’s impossible to defend. Jon Scheyer loves to drive or find open shots off of ball screens and is a marksman both from long range and the charity stripe. Kyle Singler is the hardest player to defend when he establishes position near the basket and loves to utilize a mastered fade-away jumper. Any one of these three can score 25 points on a given night and it’ll be the task of a stellar West Virginia defense to contain two of them and force the pressure on one of Singler, Smith and Scheyer to carry the load. Duke has also shed the notion this season of being soft. Their forwards- Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek and the Plumlee brothers- are tremendous at finding prime rebounding position with the sole purpose of kicking out to an open guard for an unchallenged three. Nobody plays with more intensity than Duke, something you simply could not see in previous seasons.

Potential Downfall: The Blue Devils are not a particularly good man-to-man defensive team. They play defense at an efficient rate as a unit. The guards don’t overextend as much as in past years because there’s size under the basket to disrupt shots, meaning the guards don’t feel as pressured to force turnovers on a constant basis. If Da’Sean Butler or Kevin Jones can get Scheyer or Singler into a one-on-one isolation opportunity on the offensive end, they should be able to draw a foul at the very least because none of the Duke guards are exceptionally quick. The problem is that the Mountaineers offense is based more on cutting and screening than penetration. Duke also relies completely on three players for their scoring. Their forwards and centers are just there to set effective screens and hit the boards with authority. If one of the Big Three gets in foul trouble and the other has a poor shooting night, Duke could be in serious trouble because they’re so dependent on Singler, Scheyer and Smith.

X-Factor: Brian Zoubek has improved over the course of three months more than any player in college basketball. His breakout performance came against Maryland in the middle of ACC play and Big Z certainly has not regressed since then. There might not be a better rebounder in the nation right now, forming quite a rebounding tag team with Lance Thomas and/or Miles Plumlee. Zoubek also operates at a more efficient rate when he gets the ball in the low post and can power his way to the foul line with his 7’2 frame. Prior to this season, Zoubek was an offensive liability that just clogged up space on the floor. Now he’s a vital cog on a Final Four team.

Key Semifinal Matchup: Kyle Singler vs. Devin Ebanks. Duke’s second leading scorer is coming off a regional final performance in which he didn’t make a shot for the first time in his career and had to chase LaceDarius Dunn around the floor for almost 40 minutes. The matchup with Ebanks might be easier defensively but should be quite the task on the offensive end. Ebanks is a superior defender, extremely long and loves to draw charges. If Ebanks frustrates Singler into another off night, it’ll be up to Smith and Scheyer to bail Duke out once again. Ebanks should also look to push Singler further and further away from the basket because he’s not particularly proficient at dribble penetration that far away from the rim. Both of these small forwards love to induce contact and live at the foul line.

Crunch Time Performer: Jon Scheyer is the #1 option late in games for Duke, although Nolan Smith can also provide a clutch shot like he did against Baylor, and Kyle Singler isn’t chopped liver himself. If Scheyer receives a ball screen from Zoubek or Thomas and gains momentum going to his right, he’s almost impossible to stop from either scoring or drawing a foul. He  loves to linger around the three-point line when a shot goes up for an offensive rebound and kickback, so even if Smith’s name is called late against West Virginia, Scheyer could still end up with an attempt. Also, if the ball is inbounded under the basket by Scheyer, look for him to receive the ball right back in the corner for a three. Duke runs that play constantly and yet nobody seems to be able to defend it.

Experience: This Duke unit doesn’t possess a plethora of tournament experience. The seniors lost in the first round in 2007, lost in the second round in 2008 and lost in the Sweet 16 in 2009, so none of these players have Final Four experience, a rarity for a Duke roster. I’m pretty sure Mike Krzyzewski has been here before, though. Only Michigan State truly has experience at this stage.

Forecast: Duke is the favorite heading into the Final Four, and for good reason. They’re healthy, efficient on both ends and playing their best basketball at the right time. Jon Scheyer has found his outside stroke just in time for the Final Four and Nolan Smith is also peaking. Even their oft-criticized forwards Thomas and Zoubek have perfected their roles within the Duke game plan. Whether they can contain Da’Sean Butler if the game is tight and rebound as effectively as in previous rounds could be the key to advancing. Many believe the tougher test is Saturday’s contest with the Mountaineers rather than the winner of Butler/Michigan State. I’m not as convinced.

Prediction: Duke hasn’t won a national title since 2001. That seems way too long for a program that’s become the standard bearer of college basketball since the mid 80s. Much like the Yankees finally breaking through at the end of the decade, I see Duke beginning a new era on Monday night. Another banner is hoisted to the rafters of Cameron Indoor Stadium and the Blue Devils are your 2010 National Champions.

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