Welcome to this week's edition of "Musings and Notes." It's being published a day late because I spent the weekend preparing for my last ever exams as an undergraduate student. Just a few more months of school, and then it's time to find a real job. With that in mind, I'd like to wish those students who are browsing this column the very best of luck on their exams. Remember, we're very close to a nice, long vacation.
Random thoughts after last week's games
*The highlight of the week for me, by far, was the commentary team for the Michigan State-Bradley game. Jim Jackson kept mispronouncing Marquise Gray’s name (It’s KWEESE, not KEESE), and his partner kept getting angrier and angrier. Every time Jackson would mispronounce it, you’d hear a pronounced “MarKWEESE” from the other microphone. It was pretty entertaining. But you know, for somebody who’s such a stickler for pronunciation, you’d think he’d be able to get Delvon Roe’s name right.
*UCLA, what's happening? If you want to be ranked among the elite teams in the nation, you’ve got to actually BEAT an elite team. Or not lose to Michigan.
*Note to teams who play Michigan: If you pass the ball, you’ll find a way to beat their zone. So pass the ball.
*Live by the three, die by the three. I wonder what the real life equivalent of shooting 7-33 from deep and losing by eight is? I’d say death by repeatedly shooting yourself in the foot.
*Michigan State is in trouble without a healthy Goran Suton. I’ve never thought of him as a dominant physical presence, but apparently that’s what he is. I hope he’s healthy in time for the trip to Texas.
*The season is several weeks old, and we’re still hearing announcers talk about the extended three-point line. The last time there was this much hype surrounding a single foot, David Beckham was on his way to Los Angeles.
*This week’s reason you can’t take the Big Ten Network seriously: They claimed that Goran Suton was out for the whole season, when all reports have him back by late December.
*Well, at least the bottom of the Big Ten is better than the bottom of the ACC. If not for North Carolina and Duke, the Big Ten wins its first challenge.
*The game between Ohio State and Miami featured one of the craziest shots I've ever seen, second to only to this crazy Byron Eaton shot from last season. Lance Hurdle's desperation shot to beat the shot clock buzzer was a thing of beauty. I leapt out of my chair, and I don't even like either team.
*Pitt will get cruelly exposed as overrated once conference play begins. They're not the third best team in the nation. Maybe not even the third best team in the Big East.
A closer look at...the Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Well, most of the teams in the Big Ten gave a respectable account of themselves. Wisconsin snagged a good win on the road, Northwestern managed to beat a decent opponent, and the vast majority of the games this week were very close. Iowa-Boston College came down to missed free throws with essentially no time left. Maryland needed an exciting comeback to knock off Michigan, and Ralph Sampson III ended up on the winning side against his father's alma mater.
But I need to emphasize than only most of the Big Ten kept it respectable.
The two best teams in the Big Ten suffered embarrassing blowouts. Purdue lost to Duke by 16 on their home court, and Michigan State lost to North Carolina by 35 at a "neutral" site just an hour away from campus. I think both Purdue and MSU will be greatly improved when March rolls around, but it looks like they've got a massive gap to make up.
Michigan State's effort was very disappointing. First of all, the game was at Ford Field, a pretty short drive from East Lansing. You could get tickets for nine dollars at the athletic office, yet the stands were only a third full at best. Come on Spartan fans. There was a potential Final Four preview (and yes, I'm still standing by that) in your own backyard, and the place was deader than it would be for a Lions home game.
Author's note: I was not at the game myself, but through no fault of mine. I had to play in a concert that had been scheduled before the game had been scheduled. I suspect the band director would have rather been at the basketball game, too.
I honestly think that it would have been better to hold that game in the Breslin Center on campus. There would have been a sellout, there would have been a raucous environment, and Michigan State might have stood a chance. Well, probably not...
Purdue simply ran into a very good Duke team coming off a great performance in New York City. Coach K had his team moving the ball well, shooting well, and being aggressive. While Purdue is a very talented team, they're also very young and untested. An experienced Duke team was just way too much for them to handle.
This does not mean that if Duke and Purdue, or MSU and UNC meet each other in March, the result will be the same. Duke met Michigan for a second time this season and lost after blowing out the Wolverines in New York City. Three years ago, Duke walloped Michigan State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but ended up losing to the Spartans when it really mattered in March.
The Challenge is still a very entertaining few days at the beginning of the season, even though the Big 10 has never won it. It's entertaining, but it's also completely meaningless. Tom Izzo's teams are always dangerous in March, and the Big Ten as a whole usually tends to have a lot of success in the tournament. Daniel Damico wrote an excellent article on the topic just a couple days ago.
My point is, the ACC can gloat all they want right now. But they don't play 'One Shining Moment' in early December.
Spotlight on...Duke and the ACC
My feelings for Duke are very complex. I grew up in Lexington, KY, the epicenter of Wildcat Nation. I think Ashley Judd is the most beautiful woman on the face of the planet. I still can't see a picture of Christian Laettner without snarling. And if you want me to watch his buzzer beater from 1992? It'll ruin my week. I am no Duke fan.
But dammit, I respect them.
The Blue Devils have long been one of the nation's elite basketball program. I'm not a member of the "Duke sucks" brigade because it's simply not true. Plenty of great programs miss the tournament every now and then, but Duke (with the exception of the year Coach K was on leave) has been a March fixture for a long time.
Would so many people hate Duke if they weren't a great basketball program? No way. Nobody hates NJIT. This distaste for Duke has to be considered a compliment. Loads of people hate the Yankees, but that's only because they've got loads of trophies. A lot of teams would do well to learn from Duke's model of success.
Like I said, I won't root for the Blue Devils (unless they're playing Michigan), but I'll freely admit that they're one of the best programs of my lifetime.
Anyway, for this week's "Spotlight on...", I brought in a guest who understands Duke basketball like few others. He knows their history, he remembers their great games of the past...he's been a fan since before Coach K, and will no doubt continue cheering for Duke long after Coach K retires. He's one of Bleacher Report's finest writers, BabyTate.
Joe Guarr: Hey Babytate, thanks for helping out! I've just got a few interview questions for you.
BabyTate: Thank you for the opportunity to share some information about the Duke Blue Devils basketball team.
JG: Let's have a little background info first. Have you always followed the Blue Devils, or have their been other college hoops teams in your past?
BT: I began following the Duke basketball team well over half a century ago. There has never been any other college basketball team that I supported as "my team."
JG: What's your favorite Duke basketball memory? (Keep in mind that if you say 'Christian Laettner, 1992', I might cry)
BT: My favorite Duke memory is two–fold.
On a historical note, the December 1961 game with Wake Forest played on the neutral court of Greensboro which featured the names of the Duke players on the back of the uniforms. This was the first recorded instance of any school putting names of individual players on the back of uniforms. My all–time favorite Duke player, Art Heyman, scored 33 points that night to lead the Blue Devils to a 75–73 upset of the eventual ACC Champion Demon Deacons, who went on to the Final Four that season.
Of a more recent recollection, the 2001 team that won the National Championship despite having center Carlos Boozer break his foot at the end of February. Casey Saunders filled in for Boozer until he could come back and play in a limited role later in the season.
In the Final Four, Duke found themselves down by 22 points to Maryland, Shane Battier led a charge that overwhelmed the Terrapins and Duke won 95–84. The Blue Devils won their third National Championship in 10 years (1991,1992,& 2001) against Arizona 48 hours later. Duke is the only ACC school to win three National Titles in a 10 year period, a fact all Blue Devil fans take pride in.
JG: College Hoops is a tough world, and even programs like North Carolina have missed the tournament in recent memory, but Duke always seems to be a fixture in March. How has Coach K been able to maintain his success at Duke for so long?
BT: While Coach Krzyzewski has been fortunate to have several great high school players over the years, the principle of success is much broader. The players Coach K brings to Durham understand he genuinely cares about them as people, not as walking advertisements of NBA contracts in order to recruit other star high school players in the future.
Therefore, the fulfilling relationship between coach and player leads to a development of the person's talent to the ultimate level. The pleasure of a team that grows and matures before your eyes allows Mike to continually be re–charged about coaching, and this leads to the players performing on a consistently high level over the course of his tenure at Duke. The result is a significantly higher number of wins than losses. Naturally, this allows Duke to always be in the chase for an NCAA tourney bid.
JG: Duke, Carolina. Two teams with a history of success that reside just miles from each other. Is this the best rivalry in all of college sports?
BT: Goodness no, there are many passionate rivalries. Louisville–Kentucky, Purdue–Indiana, Temple– St. Joseph come to mind, and that is just basketball. Vic Bubas, the quintessential Duke Basketball Coach (1959-69), stated to former coach Bill Foster (74–80), that one shouldn't put too much emphasis on the UNC game or you will miss the big picture which is winning the ACC tournament, which qualifies you for the NCAA Tournament. I have always taken coach Bubas' advice to heart.
JG: It's time to get some ACC predictions from you. Please give a sentence or two to explain your answers. Who wins the ACC this year?
BT: Now, you must understand the tournament champion has always been considered the team that won the ACC. This is because the ACC has held the conference tournament since league inception in the '53–'54 season. The winner of the tourney is the automatic qualifier for the NCAA tourney, not the regular season champion. Much like Major League Baseball or the NFL. If I didn't think Duke stood a good chance of winning then I wouldn't be much of a supporter would I?
BT: Before the season I would have said Wake Forest, but now I feel Wake Forest is one of the best teams in the country and, may very well win the ACC Championship. For a true Darkhorse, let's take Clemson. They are well coached and have lots of athletic ability and experience.
BT: Too early to tell but, there will be pressure on Sidney Lowe to produce this season in Raleigh. Wolfpack followers made Herb Sendek's seat so hot he left for the desert and he has since produced competitive teams at Arizona State. N.C. State was the original power of the ACC when it was created and they are hungry for another title.
JG: Player of the Year?
BT: Although he has not played in all of the games due to an injury, the national buildup for Tyler Hansbrough of UNC is far too great for anyone to compete with.
JG: All-ACC team?
BT: Only an early season guess but, here goes:
Kyle Singler – Duke, 17 points, eight rebounds, and three assists a game.
Tyrese Rice– Boston College, 18 points, five assists a game. 44 percent three-point shooting.
Tyler Hansbrough– UNC, 22 points and seven rebounds a game.
Jeff Teague– Wake Forest, 21 points, five assists, two steals a game. 57 percent three-point & 82 percent FT.
Grevis Vasquez– Maryland, 18 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals a game. 88 percent FT
Add Jack McClinton of Miami as a sixth man, deadeye shooter.
JG: Comeback Player of the Year?
BT: Gani Lawal– Ga Tech, 20 points and 11 rebounds a game
JG: Rookie of the Year?
BT: Sylven Landesberg– Virginia, 19 points and six rebounds a game.
JG: Duke had that recent hiccup against an improved Michigan team. Do you expect the Blue Devils to rebound from that setback? How will they do it?
BT: Duke lost to Michigan for a number of reasons but, Duke just beat Michigan two weeks before by 15 points on a neutral court so, I believe the Blue Devils are certainly competitive with the Wolverines.
Duke will have to show improvement in several areas to continue to make a run for the Final Four, which should be the goal of this year's team. Duke and Michigan have had great games in the past 45 years. Let's hope there will be other great ones in the future.
Many thanks to BabyTate for giving a great interview! He's a truly passionate Blue Devil fan and it was a pleasure interviewing him.
If you'd like to participate in a future "Spotlight On..." segment, drop a note on my bulletin board. I'm especially interested in hearing from fans of the Pac-10 or Mid-Majors.
What I'm watching this week
Stephen Curry is in the national spotlight once again as Davidson takes on West Virginia on ESPN Tuesday night. He's averaging a ridiculous 31.4 ppg for a very good Davidson team. But West Virginia is very well coached and will be looking for a high-profile win. Can't go wrong with this one.
Texas is coming off a great win over UCLA and looks to ride their momentum into a matchup against undefeated Villanova. Jay Wright has the Wildcats playing great basketball, but Rick Barnes has built the Longhorns into a national power.
Maine vs. Oklahoma. I just want to see if Blake Griffin can outrebound Maine by himself. I think he will.
Be sure to tune in next week for a special exam week edition of the Musings!