You know how people say, “It’s five o’clock somewhere”? Well, it’s in that sense that we say it’s a big weekend somewhere. Maybe in Los Angeles, for example?
But there are a lot of bouncing balls to chase before we bunk down in front of our teevees Sunday night. Mike Potter tells us that the women’s teams have had their post-season fates signed, sealed and delivered, but for one small matter.
And Adam Sobsey is, at this very moment (12:19 p.m.) gawking at the stars and tweeting like mad from courtside at Cameron. Wave to him if you turn on your television. He tells us about some troubling trends that might, just might, disturb Mike Krzyzewski’s dreams in advance of next Saturday’s battle royale with the Tar Heels.
Duke women can’t afford to cruise
A couple of things were made clearer over the past week for the Triangle’s three ACC women’s basketball teams, but one more big question is still up in the air.
Barring some sort of catastrophe, UNC is going to be in those NCAA Tournament games at March 17 and 19 Carmichael Arena. Barring the winning of four of its next five games, N.C. State is going to the WNIT.
But whether or not No. 7 Duke is going to be assigned to the Raleigh Regional—as the No. 1 or No. 2 seed—is still very much up in the air.
With one exception all season—that being the still inexplicable home loss to Clemson—the Tar Heels (19-8, 9-5) have won every game they needed to win to stay a default NCAA team. They’ll be solid underdogs Friday night on the road against No. 6 Maryland (23-4, 10-4), and will also be underdogs when they host Duke on Sunday. And of course the number of Senior Day upsets in the Battles of the Blues in just about every sport has been too numerous to count.
Failing an upset of the Terps, the Tar Heels will be locked into that 11 a.m. Thursday game at the ACC Tournament where they’ll probably face off with—of course, Clemson (6-20, 2-13) in front of 10,000 screaming Triad-area schoolchildren. Guess who they’ll be rooting for?
State (16-13, 5-10) guaranteed itself a winning season with its victory at Boston College Thursday night. Now, if the Wolfpack shocks visiting Maryland on Sunday and adds a couple more quality wins, or if Kellie Harper’s club simply wins the ACC Tournament it’s going to the big NCAA show.
Failing that, it’s the WNIT, where conventional wisdom would guess the Wolfpack would get several home games in Reynolds Coliseum.
Now as for Duke, the Blue Devils go for the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament tonight at 7 against No. 5 Miami (13-1, 24-3). The Blue Devils have NEVER lost to the Hurricanes in eight tries.
They need to win their final two regular-season games plus complete the three-peat as ACC Tournament Champions to get that Raleigh spot. By doing that the Blue Devils would have leapfrogged the Terps and the Hurricanes, and just need for Notre Dame to fail to win the Big East Tournament to set up the following national No. 1 seeds: Baylor to Des Moines, Stanford to Fresno, Connecticut to Kingston and Duke to Raleigh. —Mike Potter
Would it be going too far to say that the Duke me are cruising?
The thrills and chills of the comeback-kid wins over UNC and NCSU having abated, Duke hammered Boston College on the road, as any good team should (ahem, Florida State), then avenged their Jan. 21 home loss to the Seminoles down in Tallahassee on Thursday night. The Blue Devils controlled the game for nearly the entire 40 minutes. Sure, Florida State made it close a couple of times in the second half, but there was someone available to hit a three-pointer more or less any time Duke needed one. They were 13-28 from three against a team that is supposed to be a defensive boa constrictor.
And they won despite this eye-popping statistic: four of their starters—Seth Curry, the Plumli and Tyler Thornton—combined for a paltry 19 points, or one fewer than the fifth starter, Austin Rivers, scored all by himself. You would assume a loss when 4/5 of a team’s starters can’t break 20 points, but Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly came off the bench to pour in 35 more points on just 18 shots. Dawkins went 6-9 from the three-point line (actually, way behind the line, in a few cases—total bombs), netting 22 points in just 21 minutes, and Kelly’s baker’s dozen included a huge trey to give Duke some late-game breathing room. All in all, Duke appears to be playing very sound basketball, consistently, for the first time perhaps all season.
It seems like, every year, no matter what Mike Krzyzewski might be trying to do, no matter what kind of balance he’s trying to achieve with his offense, Duke ends up as a three-point shooting team that exploits opponents’ need to cover them tightly on the perimeter and opportunistically drives to the basket every so often, too. In hindsight, it’s no wonder that this team seems like an extreme version of an already pronounced tendency of Krzyzewski’s teams: they have a clowns-in-a-Volkswagen supply of three-point marksmen. There was, earlier this season, a run-and-gun movement that has since been abandoned. There was Krzyzewski’s attempt to install a full-time point guard, a role that four different guards have basically shared all season anyway, oh well, never mind about that, we’ll just stick to the buffet. There was an attempt to establish Mason Plumlee as a go-to, even elite-level big, which has not really succeeded; then there was talk, after brother Miles had 22 rebounds in a game at home against (undersized) Maryland, of the elder Plumlee turning into Brian Zoubek ca. 2010. But the Plumli are erratic—they have scored a combined total of just 36 points in the three games since Maryland—and were no match for Florida State’s Xavier Gibson and Bernard James.
No, this is another three-point-shooting Duke team, and it doesn’t even seem to matter, game to game, who does the damage. There’s no J. J. Redick here. Sometimes Curry, sometimes Dawkins, a little Kelly, a fair amount of Rivers. Throw in a touch of Thornton. Three, three, drive (layup), three, drive (foul), three, three. If they keep hitting at somewhere near a 13-28 clip, look for them deep in your NCAA Tournament bracket.
By the time you have probably read this, Duke will have played Virginia Tech at home (Saturday, noon) and beaten them. Then they will go to Wake Forest and beat them, too. Then they close out the season at home against the hated Tar Heels, with UNC looking for revenge for the Blue Devils’ miraculous triumph in Chapel Hill, and it’s possible that the ACC regular season championship will be on the line, as well, between two top-10 teams with identical records. I don’t know, I guess I’ll watch. —Adam Sobsey