Saturday, March 04, 2006

So, I Hear That There's This Basketball Game in Durham Tonight

I'm going to go on the record right now and say that I'm not 100% pleased with the ridiculousness surrounding Duke-UNC this week - from constant ESPN hype, to Dr. Strangelove-esque columns (Or, How I Learned to Stop Hating and Realize That It's Ok to Like Duke), to the weird triple coverage planned for tonight. Fox and MLB did this with Yankees-Red Sox, and now everyone who's not a fan of either team is completely sick of both - that's not something I want to see happen with Duke-UNC. Saturation is good - oversaturation can be a big problem.

Of course, for me, Rivalry Day is always one of the most exciting times of the year - it brings back memories of the first UNC game I saw in Cameron, the first bonfire afterwards, etc. This year's game carries all the right ingredients for a Duke win - everyone, and I mean everyone, has been talking up Carolina lately. They've elevated their play enough that they're no longer just the year's feel good story (for those of you who, unlike me, can tolerate that particular color of blue), they're just a really good team. If the season ended today, they'd be seeded higher than both NC State and BC in the NCAAs, and I don't think anyone could have predicted that at the start of the year. Alongside this hype has been talk of Duke's recent struggles - relatively lethargic wins against G. Tech and Temple, and an unimpressive showing in a loss to FSU. Casual observers have seized on this recent play to think that the Tar Heels can score the big upset. Of course, they forget that a) it's Senior Night in Cameron for our most cohesive senior class in a decade, b) the team is bound to be refocused and hungry after coming off a loss, and c) Duke is actually the better team. So let the talk keep building for the Carolina upset, and let the line keep moving less and less in Duke's favor - it'll just make it all the sweeter when we win.

By the numbers, we're vulnerable in exactly the place that UNC beat us last game - the Heels are a very good rebounding team - they get almost 56% of the total missed shots, including 41% on the offensive end. Duke, as is well documented, not so good - just 44% of the total missed shots, and we give up 41% to opponents on the offensive end. Carolina used this difference to its advantage during the big second half comeback last time - one thing to watch for in this game is over the back calls - I had thought this foul had completely disappeared this season until the FSU game, when both teams got hit with a few whistles for it. Carolina got a lot of their offensive boards through Duke players, and getting just a couple of calls on that could make a difference tonight. In pretty much all the rest of the areas, the teams are evenly matched - both play very good field goal defense, both execute well on the offensive end, both share the ball well within their offense, etc. The one clear cut Duke advantage is in turnovers - we force more and they give up more (one caveat here - in the 6 game win streak, the Heels have done a very good job holding on to the ball - only 16.3 TOs per 100 possessions - you want an explanation for why they're on that streak, look no further). The FSU game revealed how important it is to win the turnover battle - it can negate good shooting and/or offensive rebounding, because the other team has fewer possessions in which they have a chance to score. In the last game, Duke was +5 in the TO margin - expect that number to increase inside Cameron tonight.

Again, I think the ingredients here are right for a Duke win, and possibly a big one. 12 hours and counting....

While you're waiting for Duke-UNC, there are three automatic bids that will be handed out this afternoon - let's take a brief look at those games:

12:00, ESPN2 - Coastal Carolina at Winthrop - I wish I could find the actual post, but I don't remember exactly where it came from, so I'll have to paraphrase. If I said there was a coach out there who had played with Michael Jordan, been an assistant on a National Championship team, had good success at a smaller program before being quickly elevated to coach a major conference school, only to find mediocre results and heavy controversy among the fan base, get run out of town while watching the new coach enjoy terrific success in his place (with his recruits), and now finds some measure of redemption by coaching a small conference team on the coast to one of the best seasons in program history, you'd think I was talking about Matt Doherty, right? Well, you're wrong - I'm talking about Buzz Peterson, who has the Chanticleers (funny name) of Coastal Carolina on a 12 game winning streak, including a sweep of prohibitive conference favorite Winthrop, who just happens to be their opponents today. For the most part, the games during that streak haven't been close - average margin of victory is almost 12 pts/gm. Today, they'll take the conference's best offense up against the best defense in the Big South. The Eagles have better talent (ex. A, Torrell Martin, ex. B, James Shuler, ex. C, Craig Bradshaw), and home court, but that didn't stop Coastal from stealing a win there earlier this season, and you can bet they're not intimidated playing there today. If the Chanticleers can pull off the three-game sweep, it will be behind the gunning of Jack Leasure (1.23 ppws on the year, very good for a guard putting up 35 minutes and 18.0 points a game) and Pele Paelay, who contributes almost 15 points of his own.
Terrific kick-off game to championship week.

2:00, ESPN2 - Lipscomb v. Belmont - These two teams split the season series, with each holding home court slightly unconventionally - the pace of each game favored the road team, but the home team won playing the other team's style. Belmont is a high scoring, running and gunning team - their pace is top 50 in the country, and their offensive efficiency is tops in the ASun. Lipscomb prefers a slower pace, and relies on the conference's best defense to get the job done. These were the conference's two heavyweights all season - they tied for 1st with 15-5 conference records, and both have advanced to today's finals on the back of two double figure wins in the first two rounds. Both games in the regular season had big final margins, but today's rubber match should be much closer.

4:00, ESPN2 - Murray St. v. Samford - Much like Lipscomb and Belmont, these two ruled the OVC this year playing markedly different styles. Murray State relies on a top 100 defense (tops in conference) to shut down their opponents, while Samford plays extremely slow, possession oriented basketball (4th slowest pace in all the land), but executes extremely well, for the best offensive efficiency in the OVC. The two matchups this year were split, with Murray State really establishing itself defensively in the second game, holding Samford to just 38 points. I'll take defense over offense in a rubber match, and look for the Racers to represent the OVC in the NCAAs this year.

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