The men whose visages grace the face of the Mount Rushmore of the Atlantic Coast Conference were chosen based on a simple set of criteria. The faces of those who grace the mountain must belong to truly legendary individuals; men who changed the game, left a lasting legacy, or otherwise accomplished feats of greatness that remain unmatched or unequaled. The ACC is fortunate to have such a rich history of legends that there is an embarrassment of riches, and it’s difficult to choose only four. Ultimately, the four that were picked were the ones whose accomplishments stand out not just as spectacular in the conference, but in the entire sport.
Mike Krzyzewski – Simply put, he’s the most successful men’s basketball coach alive today. He has more wins than any coach in history, four national titles, and built Duke into a perennial national power. He has the most (77) NCAA tournament wins of any coach ever and has the second most Final Four appearances ever. In the history of all of college basketball, only John Wooden and maybe Adolph Rupp can point to coaching accomplishments that come close to what Coach K has achieved. Krzyzeski is a coaching icon whose adaptability and disciplined approach makes Duke a threat to win the national championship any given year. The continued success of Krzyzewski and Duke are a credit to the ACC, and the high profile of the sport’s most famous active coach has helped to keep the national attention on the conference.
Dean Smith – When Dean Smith retired, he had set the all-time record for wins in men’s college basketball at 879, had won two national championships, been to 11 Final Fours (second to John Wooden, tied with Krzyzewski), and won a record 65 NCAA tournament games (he now ranks second, having been surpassed by Krzyzewski). While Frank McGuire won the ACC and North Carolina’s first national title in 1957, Smith is the man who built North Carolina into a regular championship contender. Over the course of 36 years, Smith built the Tar Heel program into a national heavyweight and helped turn the conference into a serious threat to take the national title any given year. Smith won the ACC Coach of the Year award eight times, a record that still stands. As a coach, he was a pioneer of advanced statistical analysis and his use of “points per possession” came literally decades before tempo-free statistics were a part of the national conversation. Similarly, his book, “Multiple Offenses and Defenses,” is the best-selling basketball strategy book of all time. While Smith’s quantitative accomplishments and coaching record may be surpassed, his outlook and philosophy have left a much deeper mark on North Carolina, the conference, and the game itself. Read the rest of this entry »
North Carolina State‘s Scott Wood is many things. He’s a sweet-shooting three-point sniper for an increasingly potent Wolfpack attack. He’s a gifted marriage counselor who truly understands the pain of the human condition. He’s the Atlantic Coast Conference’s current leader in offensive efficiency rating as well as true shooting percentage. It’s also been some time since he missed a free throw. Specifically, it’s been a year and a day since he last missed a free throw in a game. Last weekend he broke J.J. Redick‘s ACC record for most consecutive free throws (Redick made 54 straight), and Wood hasn’t displayed any interest in missing anytime soon. As of last night, Wood stands at 63 consecutive makes, including a few clutch shots as Boston College desperately tried to extend the game by fouling the one guy in college basketball who you just shouldn’t foul. In any case, Wood is now only 22 makes away from tying the all-time Division I record of 85 consecutive makes, set by Butler‘s Darnell Archey. That seems challenging, if doable.
The Man Who Couldn't Miss (US Presswire)
My favorite detail of Wood’s rise to free-throw shooting genius comes from Robbi Pickeral’s profile of the shooter. No, not the part about how low tops are the key to his success (though that, in all fairness, is pretty funny). The best part comes from a simple declarative sentence, paraphrasing Wood’s appraisal of his chances at breaking the all-time college record:
Wood said he once made 214 foul shots in a row, in a gym with his uncle when he was 12.
I’m not sure quite what it is about this that makes it so funny: The highly specific and precise memory of middle-school free-throw shooting glory witnessed by his extended family or something I ate for lunch, but now, I can easily say that I hope he smashes the national record for the glory of the conference. Luck be with you, Scott Wood. May your ankles move freely and your future wife never cheat on you.
For the last ten years, fairly or unfairly, Duke has had the perception of being all backcourt all the time. Long gone are the days where Christian Laettner, Elton Brand or Carlos Boozer graced the court in Durham. In describing his recruitment decision to attend Michigan last week, Mitch McGary let it all out: “all [Duke's] big men do is set screens and rebound and that they don’t get a lot of touches.”
Josh McRoberts' Relative Lack of Success at Duke Still Haunts the Blue Devils
Duke Hoop Bloglooked at this perception, which moves closer to reality as the memory of its last dominant big man, Shelden Williams, fades out of casual fan memory. The author comes to the conclusion that the Williams/Redick era is the answer, and I see his argument. But I don’t think it’s that simple, or even the biggest factor in Duke’s relative decrease in a post presence over the last ten years. I think the real argument is much more complex and is a combination of four main factors:
Even though real, meaningful basketball has started, indulge me for a bit more while we talk about one more meaningless game. Nolan Smith hinted at it on Twitter a couple of weeks ago and it turns out that the rumors are true: There will be a Duke-North Carolina alumni game featuring some of the very best players in each program’s respective histories. To return to one of the more tragic themes of this fall — the sadness of NBA fans is transmuted into joy for college basketball fans. Due to the NBA lockout, this alumni game is expected to include a sizable number of current NBA players. For Duke, last year’s stars in Smith and Kyrie Irving will team up with some of last decade’s stars, namely Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, and Chris Duhon. For the Tar Heels, the lineup is headlined by a number of stars from the 1990s: Jerry Stackhouse, Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, and Brendan Haywood.
Duke Stars Together Again?
Notably lacking from either lineup is the presence of many players from the mid-2000s. While Raymond Felton is expected to play for UNC, and Gerald Henderson will suit up for the Blue Devils, some young blood might add a little more spice to the game. Some accounts, notably this one by Duke Basketball Report, suggest J. J. Redick will play, which would certainly be a welcome addition. The most conspicuous missing name, though, is Tyler Hansbrough. In the Kentucky Villains game, Hansbrough showed that he wasn’t absent from the exhibition circuit. That combined with his continued presence in Chapel Hill during the lockout would seem to make him a prime candidate for taking part in this game.
This Texas A&M to the SEC thing has certainly gotten interesting. Despite previous assurances from the Big 12 that none of its ten institutions would create a legal barrier to TAMU leaving the conference, Baylor, perhaps seeing the CUSA or WAC writing on the wall, has other thoughts in mind. Mike DeCourcy is correct in writing that Big 12 schools (and really, all of the schools around the country) are being extremely shortsighted in their our-time, right-now mentality, but the SEC has been clear in that it will only take a school into its league if it is free and clear of any legal liabilities. Texas A&M was all set to join the SEC on Wednesday, but Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe stated in an email to the SEC on Tuesday night that previous conversations in fact only referred to conference obligations, and that individual schools would still need to waive their rights in order for A&M to move to the new league. Apparently eight of the nine remaining conference members, with Oklahoma as the lone exception, are currently unwilling to waive their rights. “We are being held hostage right now,” TAMU president R. Bowen Loftin said on Wednesday. So what next? Our best guess is that Texas A&M will negotiate some kind of settlement agreement with Baylor that will ultimately destroy the Big 12, but the truth is that nobody really knows at that point.
Washington announced that its junior point guard and former McDonald’s All-American, Abdul Gaddy, has been cleared by his doctors to go 100% back on the court in practices. The much-maligned player tore his ACL on January 4 last season during a Husky practice, and after 13 games at 21 MPG, he appeared to be slowly adjusting to his role as a pass-first point guard on a deep and athletic Washington team. His 3.1 assist to one turnover ratio was very promising, though, on the heels of a freshman season where it was much closer to even (1.3 to 1). Lorenzo Romar’s team lost a huge amount of its production from last season’s NCAA Third Round squad, but big things are expected from sophomores CJ Wilcox and Terrence Ross so the Huskies will need Gaddy at full strength to get them the ball on the wings in the right spots. Most every analyst believes that the 19-year old Gaddy has some talent, his problem has been simply a matter of harnessing it.
Yesterday Luke Winn brought us a list of the top ten most efficient guards of the so-called ‘efficiency era.’ Today he moves on to the wings. If you are in the business of guessing who the top players are in the last decade from an efficiency standpoint, you probably won’t do a lot better than JJ Redick, Adam Morrison and Brandon Roy in 2005-06 season. These three players in that single year represent three of the top five seasons from the wing in the last ten years — perhaps you’re not surprised by Redick and Morrison as a college hoops fan, but Roy’s 2006-07 NBA ROY season perhaps was a clue to just how good he was in college too.
Unfortunate news from the WCC, but Santa Clara senior star Marc Trasoliniwill miss his senior season after tearing his ACL in an exhibition game in his hometown, Vancouver, British Columbia, on Tuesday night. He came down awkwardly just a mere two minutes into the game and doctors diagnosed his injury soon thereafter. Trasolini was the second leading returning scorer for the Broncos at 13/6 and his absence in 2011-12 definitely puts a crimp in plans for Kerry Keating’s team to make a run at Gonzaga and St. Mary’s in the league next season.
There’s been a lot of discussion about how schools might try to game the APR/930 system now that they can actually lose scholarships, and eventually, postseason opportunities, as a result. This article from the off-the-beaten-path of the Dakotas suggests that even at that level, schools might use their last few scholarships to load up on high GPA students in order to make sure they reach the written threshold. As South Dakota head coach Dave Boots states, “all three of the [international] kids that we signed are really good students.” Mid-major games but big-time grades — is that what we’re heading toward? Rest assured that if a marginal couple of D-I schools like South Dakota and South Dakota State are already doing this, the power conference schools have institutionalized it. As we wrote several weeks ago, this is not a good thing.
There Was Nothing Inside for the Devils Tonight (AP/S. Cannon)
While most of the media will point to poor shooting nights by Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith and bemoan the continued absence of Kyrie Irving, when Coach K addresses his team his primary focus should be on the Blue Devils’ complete lack of production on the inside. As Luke Winn astutely pointed out a month ago when Irving first went down, the distribution of the ball would change significantly, but even he failed to predict the precipitous decline in production that we are seeing from Mason Plumlee, who has only scored more than four points once in eight games since Irving was injured. The Blue Devils had so little on the inside tonight that they ended up taking 35 out of their 61 shots (57%) from beyond the arc, which would appear to indicate either a lack of a presence or confidence on the inside. To be fair to Plumlee, he was productive on the glass, grabbing 14 rebounds, and FSU is very tough to play against down low (ask Jared Sullinger who “only” had 11 points and 13 rebounds earlier this year). Still, Duke needs him to step up and become a presence on the inside like he was earlier in the season (25 points and 12 rebounds against Marquette) if they expect to compete with Ohio State with Jared Sullinger or Kansas with Marcus and Markieff Morris while they wait/pray for Irving to come back.
Having said that, we need to congratulate Leonard Hamilton and the Seminoles. Derwin Kitchen was a load on the inside today, putting up 22 points and pulling 10 rebounds while Chris Singleton added 18 points to go along with his usual outstanding defense. We also want to tip our hats to their fans for a solid RTC at the end that was performed safely but effectively and in an appropriate setting. While we wait on video of tonight’s RTC to appear on the Internet we recommend you check out the last 20.5 seconds of FSU’s upset of Duke in 2002.
Yesterday on Seattle radio station KJR, NCAA president-elect Mark Emmert gave an interview with host Mitch Levy where he discussed his thoughts on some of the hot-button topics impacting collegiate sports. Dr. Emmert, who will assume his post on November 1 of this year, is currently the president of the University of Washington and the former Fulbright winner is widely recognized as one of the savviest up-and-comers in the world of academic administration. His rise up the ranks from an assistant professor (Northern Illinois) to Vice-Chancellor (Colorado) to Provost (Montana State) to Chancellor (UConn and LSU) to President at UW is impressive on its face, and his skill at political maneuvering and fund-raising should be obvious. The concern we have, however, in all situations where administrators move from an academic to an athletic environment is whether such a transition will be seamless — in other words, will that person “get it?” The danger in the application of ivory tower customs and norms to the world of athletics is that you can find yourself in troublesome spots if you haven’t gauged the environment correctly, such as when Emmert badly overreached in asking for public funding for a new Husky Stadium in the midst of a massive nationwide recession. While that example represents a single misstep in a career full of home runs, it gives us pause when taken in concert with the following quote he made on the KJR radio broadcast. In discussing the much-maligned one-and-done rule in college basketball, Emmert said:
I much prefer the baseball model, for example, that allows a young person if they want to go play professional baseball, they can do it right out of high school, but once they start college they’ve got to play for three years or until they’re 21. I like that a good deal. But what you have to also recognize is that rule isn’t an NCAA rule. That’s a rule of the NBA. And it’s not the NBA itself, but the NBA Players Association. So to change that rule will require me and others working with the NBA, working with the players association. We’ll be having those conversations, because I think it would be good for young people and good for basketball.
Emmert Seems a Smart Fellow, But the MLB Model is a Mistake
Before we get to our argument against this idea, let’s briefly touch on the reality of this proposition. You hear this frequently stated among coaches, fans and pundits, but what all of these folks fail to recognize is that the NBA wants nothing to do with this on either the management or the players’ side. Commissioner David Stern and his owners do not want untested teenagers who are virtually complete unknowns coming into their league because they are unmarketable, while players do not want untested teenagers who are virtually complete unknowns coming into their league because they take away veterans’ jobs. The NCAA acts as a veritable minor league for the NBA, providing a competitive environment to fully vet and scout players for at least a year before some 80-year old owner throws sixteen million dollars and the viable future of a franchise at them. Think of it this way — were Washington Wizards fans more excited about #1 pick Kwame Brown (who nobody outside of rural Georgia had ever seen play) or #1 pick John Wall (who was on national television about 4,000 times last year)? As a point of fact, the NBA powers-that-be seem more interested in extending the one-and-done rule by another year than rolling it back in any way. And why not? — it’s better for business.
Now, as to Emmert’s proposal itself, we’re going to explain why this is not a preferred option without regard for what the NBA wants or will agree to. The remainder of this post represents pure advocacy for the college game and the college game only. We see three compelling reasons that the NCAA should not bother to explore this MLB model possibility, as tempting as it sounds to an educator/administrator such as Emmert.
What Say You, UK Fans? One Year of Wall or None of McGrady?
The NCAA Needs Marketable Stars Nearly as Much as the NBA Does. This is the dirty little secret of college basketball in the 21st century. The hardcore fans of the elite programs at Duke, Kansas, UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Indiana, et al, aren’t going anywhere. These folks would watch their teams play if they suited up four skinny 12-year olds and a rented donkey. But the casual fan won’t. The casual fan wants to see star power, and he wants to learn who the next big basketball talents will be through the crucible of the best postseason in all of sports, the NCAA Tournament. When players like Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, John Wall and many others are on college campuses building considerable buzz throughout the season and heading into March, this collective must-see component to the game takes on a much different meaning than when the player names are instead Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, Adam Morrison and Tayshaun Prince. All great collegians, but do you see the difference? Who does Mr. Office Drone/Bracketeer tune in to watch more readily? Furthermore, CBS/Turner Sports just signed a fourteen-year, $10.8B deal to broadcast the rights to the NCAA Tournament, in case you’d already forgotten, and there will be none-too-subtle pressure on the puppet-masters of the sport to ensure that the best possible product is placed on the floor. For the maximum amount of interest to take hold, that product without question must include the top 18- and 19-year old basketball players in the world.
WhenHigh School Seniors Make Their Decisions, Coaches Bear the Brunt of It. We talked about this back in June, and nothing has changed in the interim. We saw what happened to recruiting from 1995-2005 when coaches had to compete not only against rival schools for the talents of a player, but also the siren call of the NBA. Whether it was Kentucky and Tracy McGrady, Florida and Kwame Brown, Duke and Shaun Livingston, or North Carolina and JR Smith, the fans and (more directly) coaches of those programs where agonizingly forced to endure a late spring phone call to learn that, after many hours spent recruiting the player to their campuses, it was all for naught. And those were the elite players! Imagine the situations where the player was fully expected to go to college but still was lured away – Jackie Butler (Mississippi State), Ndubi Ebi (Arizona) and Louis Williams (Georgia) all come to mind. How does a coach go about finding a suitable replacement for a star recruit so late into the signing period? Short answer: he can’t. We certainly understand that it’s frustrating to a lot of people (coaches included) to have to lose a star player as a one-and-done, but to have spent the same amount of time recruiting him and not receive even a single season of his talents is far worse, isn’t it? That’s what would happen if the MLB model were implemented — recruiting would once again become a two-phase process.
For Better or Worse, NCAA Basketball is the NBA’s Minor League. It’s not the NBDL (although it has found a nice niche as a training ground for older players), and it’s not Europe (similarly). Rather, college basketball remains the NBA’s minor league, and where the MLB example fails is that college baseball is not. Each professional baseball franchise has several levels of minor league teams beneath it by which to develop its prospects, whether they come directly from high school or after three seasons of college. This is a HUGE difference. The reason is that, as Mark Stein notes in this article, the vast majority of prep-to-pros players during that ten-year period were nowhere near ready to impact the professional game on a regular basis, and there remains no true professional minor league in basketball available by which to develop them. NCAA hoops is it. The list of players who came right into the NBA and contributed immediately is much shorter (Dwight Howard, LeBron James) than the list of those who took a few years to develop (nearly everyone else, including superstars Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal and Amare’ Stoudemire). If Mark Emmert is worried about the players (and his quote above seems to imply that he is), then he needs to push for an environment that will foster player development for the next level, in much the same way as he would inspire any student with soaring dreams. This tact dovetails nicely with what we described above that college basketball should be selling – Watch the greatest sporting spectacle on earth — the NCAA Tournament — where the stars of tomorrow are on stage today.
We obviously recognize that there are no easy answers here. Any model implemented will have someone complaining. But beginning in November, it will be the obligation of Emmert to push the game of college basketball forward in popularity and interest. After all, NCAA Tournament dollars fund nearly the entire operation there in Indianapolis. The way to do this is not to push college hoops down a path that makes it even more like college baseball, a sport that nobody cares about in large part because there is no direct connection between those players and the pros; but instead, Emmert should work with the NBA to pursue a model more like college football, an incredibly popular sport where everyone knows that today’s Heisman Trophy candidates are tomorrow’s NFL all-Pros.
Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round 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 the Friday evening games.
7:10 pm – #8 Gonzaga vs. #9 Florida State (Buffalo pod)
This is a very tough game to call, so let’s start with what we know about it. The Zags, no stranger to cross-country travel, come into Buffalo after an 11-day layoff where St. Mary’s took Mark Few’s team behind the woodshed and beat them handily in the WCC Tournament championship. Florida State comes in having dropped its quarterfinal game against NC State in an effort that had their fans shaking their heads in disgust. So needless to say, both teams are looking for a fresh start here. The Zags are always dangerous, and this year’s squad led by Matt Bouldin and Elias Harris has the offensive firepower to score with just about anyone in America. Merely an ok three-point shooting team, they tend to rely on the drives of Harris and mid-range game of Bouldin to create offense. However, they don’t tend to respond well to teams that crowd and push them around, but unfortunately, FSU is just such a team. The Seminoles enjoy the nation’s top defensive efficiency, and while they have the opposite problem of finding points, they should have no problem putting the clamps down on the Zag scoring options. The question here comes down to whether the FSU defense, anchored by 7’1 Solomon Alabi and 6’9 Chris Singleton’s combined four blocks per game, is better than the Gonzaga offense, and we think that it is. And as up/down as the Seminoles were in the ACC, they never came close to losing to the likes of Loyola Marymount and San Francisco, as Gonzaga did this year.
The Skinny: The Zags this year aren’t quite as good as they usually are, and they’re facing a team that will shut down their biggest strength. FSU wins this one by eight points to get a date with Syracuse.
7:15 pm – #7 Oklahoma State vs. #10 Georgia Tech (Milwaukee pod)
Here’s another one that’s got people confused. For good reason, too. All year long we’ve been waiting on Georgia Tech to do something with all that talent, and now they’re playing better basketball, just in time. Oklahoma State’s showing against Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament will cost them some support, but we’re going to excuse that performance. That was a tired basketball team, playing their third game in a six day span with K-State at the end of it — and the Wildcats were coming off of a five-day rest. Georgia Tech is going to go inside to Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal like crazy, but when the Yellow Jackets actually shoot the three, they shoot it well. Defending the three is a glaring OSU weakness, so it will be interesting to see how often Georgia Tech eschews their big men in favor of launching it from the arc, because those shots will be there. So…good outside shooting, great inside players…sounds pretty good for Tech, right? The question will be whether or not they can get to that point in their offense. Georgia Tech ranks in the bottom twenty of Division I teams in terms of turning the ball over. Can the Jackets, then, find a way to keep James Anderson from shredding them or Keiton Page from raining threes?
The Skinny: Oklahoma State won’t have to exert too much energy guarding the three, since Tech’s propensity to turn the ball over will take care of some of that. The Cowboys have been getting more and more help from their role players, and we feel 9-7 in the Big 12 is better than 7-9 in the ACC this year. It’ll be a great first round game, but we like Oklahoma State in a close one.
Backdoor Cuts is a college basketball discussion between RTC correspondents Dave Zeitlin, Steve Moore and Mike Walsh. This week they each pick their favorite moment of the decade — and their answers may surprise you.
DAVE ZEITLIN: Guys, in life I only have two rules: 1) Don’t commit murder; and 2) When a decade is coming to an end, I need to categorize everything in “best of” formats. Seriously, I eat that stuff up like I’m Rick Majerus at a buffet table. I’ve already listed the top 10 Penn basketball moments of the decade for my new Penn sports blog (yes, that’s a plug — now click on the link before I consider breaking rule No. 1) and I’ve read countless more of these types of lists. Who knows why? I guess I’m just a sucker for moments — glorious, spine-tingling, remember-where-you-were-when-you-see-them moments that shed a little light on why I devote way too much of my pathetic life to sports.
But this is a column where we get stuff done. So our goal is to pick out the truly best moment of the decade. Of course, this can mean a lot of things. For me,it’s hard to pick just one from the NCAA tournament, which features a handful of memorable games and plays every year. So after further consideration, I’ve decided my favorite moment of the 2000s happened this year. It wasn’t a do-or-die game for either team and many people didn’t even watch the end. But Syracuse’s six-overtime win over UConn in last season’s Big East tournament was truly epic — and my No. 1 choice.
I won’t recap the game for you. That would take up too much space, and I don’t even think I remember much of it. Here’s what I do remember: placing a friendly wager with my sports editor about the game (I picked ‘Cuse!), leaving work after the first overtime, listening to one or two overtimes in my car ride home, coming home and chatting with anyone who was online (was that you, Steve?) through the next couple of overtimes, and then pacing around my apartment and muttering like a crazy person during the final two overtimes. How many overtimes is that? I don’t even know. That game made me forget how to count.
Seriously, I didn’t know what to do during the last hour of that game. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run around the city and find people to talk to about the 2-3 zone. I wanted to drive to Syracuse, find the walk-on that played the final overtime because everyone else fouled out and hug him. I wanted to write the words “March Madness” on a piece of paper and then make out with it. It was that good.
Was it the most important moment of the decade? Definitely not. But it was my favorite. And now I’m eager to know — what are yours? There are no rules, no restrictions. Mike, this is your chance to pen a poem on why St. Joe’s was the best sports story in Philadelphia in 2004 other than a horse. And Steve, you can, um, write about how BU’s only trip to the tourney was spoiled by Bob Huggins being mean. I’ll be anxiously waiting — it’s just too bad there won’t be any six-overtime games to keep me entertained in the meantime.
A polarizing figure for our columnists
STEVE MOORE: First of all, that 2002 tournament game still gives me nightmares. Did Steve Logan really need to go back in the game when Cincinnati had a bazillion-point lead? Bob Huggins thought so. Bob Huggins also hates puppies. So there’s that. Also, what does a list of Top 10 Penn Basketball moments of the decade look like, exactly?
Like the first trickles of a flash flood, the verbal barrage about our beloved sport really started picking up this week. There’s a lot more previewing, interviewing, writing, talking and salivating going on around the college hoops blogosphere. Let’s take a look at some of the items that are catching our interest…
Dissecting Duke’s Recruiting. Gary Parrish wrote an interesting article last week about Duke’s recruiting over the past five seasons and we had to comment on it because it fairly accurately depicts what the substantive problem with Duke has been in the postseason (i.e., away from CIS). We’re on record as saying that Duke hasn’t had a true game-changing stud since Luol Deng graced the gothic campus with his presence for one season in 2003-04. This is not to say that Duke has been without very good players during that time. Shelden Williams, JJ Redick and Gerald Henderson all come to mind as great collegians. But none of those players, and certainly none of the laundry list that Parrish mentions as some of K’s other ’top’ recruits (McBob, Singler, etc.), are the kinds of elite NBA-level talent that gets teams through the regionals and into the Final Four. There are of course notable exceptions (George Mason in 2006 is the most obvious), but this is Duke, and Duke is always taking a team’s best shot. They’re going to be very well coached, but Coach K and his staff know that well-coached moderate talent will lose out to elite talent more often than not. This is why when Parrish says that Duke needs to secure commitments from Harrison Barnes and Kyrie Irving in order to compete with UNC, Kansas and now Kentucky on the national stage again, he’s right. The Jon Scheyers of the world are great to have on your team, and will win you a lot of games over four years; but they’re not the players who can carry a team through rough spots en route to the Final Four. If you don’t believe us, check out who was the MOP of the 2004 Atlanta Regional, leading the team in scoring in both regional games and literally saving the team on more than one occasion with clutch buckets (hint: it wasn’t the more celebrated upperclassmen). Box scores here and here. If Duke is serious about getting back to the big stage again before Coach K retires, he needs players like Barnes and Irving to get it done. Fundamentally, Duke fans probably realize this, which is why each of these visits makes for tense moments in Durham.
Midnight Madness. So we’re only eight days away from the start of basketball practice, and thankfully the NCAA closed the loophole that meant we were having these things all month of October, like last year. But ESPNU will be back with coverage from 9pm to 1am EDT next Friday, with a simulcast from 8:30-9pm EST on ESPN. There will be coverage from nine schools this year, including Kansas’ Late Night in the Phog, Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness, UNC’s Late Night With Roy, and several others (Michigan St., Duke, Washington, Georgetown, UConn and North Dakota St.). RTC will hopefully provide live coverage in some fashion, but we’re still working out what that will be. Make sure to check back early next week for more details.
Ed. Note: for all of the posts in the RTC 09-10 Class Schedule series, click here.
The ACC has been North Carolina’s league for three straight seasons now. With four prolific stars departing from Roy Williams roster, this could be the year Duke re-claims supremacy in the most fabled conference in college basketball. The loss of athletic swingman Gerald Henderson early to the riches of the NBA hurts, but the late inclusion of a young point guard to compliment two potential blue-chip power forwards and the dynamic duo of Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler means Duke has the goods to capture their first ACC regular season title since J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams manned the Cameron Indoor Stadium floor.
Let’s face it: this program hasn’t quite featured the mystique and aura that normally comes with Duke basketball since the heartbreaking loss to UConn in the 2004 Final Four. Duke’s pinnacle has been the Sweet 16 since that crushing blow and critics are lining up over whether coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s Olympic conquests are hurting the program. Still, a top-two ACC finish and an Elite Eight seem like reasonable goals for this Duke team that only lost Henderson, transfer Elliot Williams, quarterback Greg Paulus and glue guy David McClure. Three top-50 recruits and four of the Blue Devils’ top five scorers return for a squad looking to knock an inexperienced North Carolina team off the mantle.
How does everyone’s favorite hoops team stack up schedule-wise? Let’s examine:
Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 8. Duke normally doesn’t back down from challenging their team in non-conference play, so their participation in the NIT Season Tip-Off and neutral/road games against Georgetown, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Iowa State and St. John’s doesn’t surprise me. The Blue Devils normally excel in November and their only formidable foe in the NIT tournament this year is Connecticut. They’d match up in the finals if Duke can slide past Coastal Carolina, Charlotte and most likely an Arizona State team that lost both James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph. A November 27 final against UConn at MSG would certainly not lack for entertainment. The ACC-Big Ten challenge pits Duke a difficult road game at the Kohl Center, a venue where Wisconsin rarely loses. Neutral floor games against Gonzaga in NYC and Iowa State in Chicago are included, along with a January 30 visit to Georgetown to face a Hoya team that could be a well-oiled machine at that point. Conference USA favorite Tulsa also makes a trip to Cameron in late February, which has the potential to be dangerous for Duke. The non-conference slate certainly presents challenges, and credit Coach K for agreeing to send Duke to places other than Durham for tests that will certainly benefit the Blue Devils come ACC play.
Cupcake City: Only six true cupcakes on the slate for Duke this season as UNC Greensboro, Coastal Carolina (part of the NIT), Radford, Gardner-Webb, Long Beach State and Penn travel to Durham (although I should count Charlotte the way they played last season). A program with Duke’s stature doesn’t have to schedule Gonzaga in NYC or travel to Chicago to play Iowa State, but they do anyway. Unlike Washington, Duke will be battle-tested for conference play and their computer numbers will give the Blue Devils a boost when it comes to seeding debates. Duke is usually in the top-ten in RPI every single season and there’s a reason why.
Ed. Note: Check the category team of the 2000s for our other entries in this feature.
As we mentioned in our earlier “Team of the 2000s” posts, we felt that the top-tier programs fell into a few clear clusters. There was some debate amongst the RTC braintrust about where certain teams fell within those clusters so we can understand if you disagree with where a team is ranked (that’s what the comment section is for). Teams in the top five either have made it to every NCAA tournament this decade (a sign of at least being respectable every season) or have a 2nd championship to bolster their case.
#4 – Duke
Overview. This will be the most controversial selection on the list because it is Duke. Love them or hate them (and I’m pretty sure that most college basketball fans hate them), the Blue Devils remain the standard that other programs are judged against. That is not to say that they are the best program of the decade (there are still three teams ahead of them), but much like the New York Yankees, who are experiencing a similar title “drought,” every fanbase judges their success against what the guys in Durham are doing. To be completely honest, I ranked Duke lower than any of the other voters, but in the end their consistency (particularly during the regular season) won out and put them ahead of some of the other elite programs. The case for Duke being ranked above the teams below it in our countdown: 82.6% (regular season winning percentage–Gonzaga is the only other team to crack 80% and they don’t play in the ACC); 7 post-season and 4 regular season ACC titles (just an absurd number when you are competing against UNC although UNC’s inconsistency helped inflate this); 10 NCAA tournament trips (look at the above summary to see how often many excellent programs have missed the NCAA tournament this decade); 8 Sweet 16 appearances (maybe Duke hasn’t been that successful during the 2nd weekend, but they have gotten there more than anybody else); and 1 national title (more on this in a bit). The case against the Blue Devils? I alluded to it earlier, as Coach K’s teams have struggled mightily in the NCAA second weekend making it to the Final 4 “just” two out of the eight times they made it to the Sweet 16. In addition, Duke’s absence of a 2nd title prevents it from claiming a spot in the top 3. Out of the team’s below it, Tom Izzo‘s Michigan StateSpartans have the best argument, but Duke’s vastly superior winning percentage (82.6% vs. 72.1%) and huge edge in conference titles combined with playing in a better conference (the ACC may be down, but you never see an abomination like this come out of the ACC) and NCAA-best 8 trips to the Sweet 16 (versus 6 for the Spartans) are just enough to make up for Michigan State’s edge in Final 4 appearances (4-2 although both teams were only able to seal the deal once).
Pinnacle. As it is with any team that won a single title this decade, the choice here is simple: the 2001 title. After coming up just short with one of the most talented teams in recent history in 1999, Coach K reloaded with a class featuring Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy Jr., and Carlos Boozer. Although not quite as dominant as the group that left just before they came in (Elton Brand, William Avery, and Corey Maggette – I know he was a year after the other two, but I wasn’t going to include Chris Burgess in there), the former was able to do something the latter failed to do – win a title. Together with Shane Battier, who led the Blue Devils emotionally and in taking flops, this group made it to the Sweet 16 in 2000 before being upset by Florida. The following year the Blue Devils were able to give Coach K his 3rd title, but not before surviving three marginally tough games (vs. USC in the Elite 8, vs. Maryland in the national semifinals, and vs. Arizona in the championship game) to claim the title. The defining moment of that title game was Dunleavy Jr.’s 3-point barrage (three 3-pointers during an 11-2 run) that re-established Duke’s control of the game. One thing that will stick with Blue Devil fans forever though is their four games against Maryland, which were some of the best college basketball games you will ever see, the most memorable being the 10-point comeback in the last minute at College Park (although we are willing to debate with someone who argues that the 22-point comeback in the national semifinals might be better).
[Warning: Maryland fans may want to avoid this video.]
Tailspin. Other than the two UNC titles? The 2006-07 season. A rather mediocre Duke team went 22-11 in a season that included two separate four-game losing streaks. The latter of those losing streaks came to finish the season with the final insult coming courtesy of Eric Maynor and VCU. Much has been made on this site and others about the lack of elite talent in Durham lately, but fielding a team whose four best players were DeMarcus Nelson (junior), Josh McRoberts (sophomore), Greg Paulus (sophomore), and Jon Scheyer (freshman)… you are in big trouble. The primary explanation for this was that outside of Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick, the Blue Devils had a long string of McDonald’s All-American busts from 2002 on, with Shavlik Randolph, who left prior to that, being the most famous example.
Outlook for the 2010s: Grade: B+. Duke is still Duke and can land 5-star recruits, but it’s not like it was at the end of the last decade when Duke had its choice of McDonald’s All-Americans. Back then, one of the big controversies was if Coach K made the right choice taking Mike Dunleavy Jr. instead of Casey Jacobsen (for the younger generation of readers trust us when we say they were both actually very good college basketball players). Now it is a big deal when Duke lands the #3 shooting guard in next year’s class instead of John Wall. Duke will still be able to get a couple of top-notch recruits every year because of their tradition (it goes back to before Coach K, youngsters), Notre Dame-like TV deal with ESPN, Coach K’s stature, and the fact that it’s one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country (mothers like to brag about the Duke degree even if it is for the infamous Sociology major). However, the Blue Devils have fallen a notch below UNC in the hearts and minds of elite recruits and that will only get worse when Coach K retires (gasp!) as their is no clear successor in line for his throne.