Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Great Escape

(Disclaimer: I haven't watched the game. I was at the first round games in Anaheim today, and for some reason my DVR decided not to tape it. I was having a heart attack constantly refreshing my blackberry for the score, and ended up completely missing about 7 minutes of BYU-Texas A&M, even though I never left my seat.)

The box score shows two teams that played almost equal games. Shooting, free throws, turnovers, even rebounds, all were very close. Which is what you expect in the NCAA tournament, and what you expect in a 1-point game. It is not, however, what you expect in a 2/15 matchup. Gerald Henderson's coast-to-coast layup and DeMarcus Nelson's steal mean that this game will be a footnote, rather than Exhibit A. An almost, a what-might-have-been. It would have been the biggest first-round upset in NCAA history, not because it was the biggest talent disparity between teams, but because of Duke's pedigree. Instead, it's another Georgetown 50, Princeton 49 - remembered, but not legend.

So how did the Devils find themselves in this situation? First, Belmont had an excellent game plan - spread the floor, take advantage of Duke's overplays, and go 1-on-1 wherever there's a mismatch. It sounds a lot like the gameplan Georgetown ran against us in their win at the MCI Center two years ago, and it's a style of offense that Duke has always been and will always be vulnerable to. Kudos to the Bruins for executing it so well, and to Coach Byrd for drawing it up. Second, Duke was 6-21 from 3. This team needs the outside to open up the inside, because it can't really do it vice versa. When the outside shots aren't falling, the offense will always be less than optimal. And third, Duke missed some opportunities. They had 13 offensive rebounds, but only 9 second chance points. They had 11 steals, but only 14 points of turnovers and 10 fast break points. Turnovers and offensive rebounds are the best chances for easy points, but the Devils couldn't get them easily tonight. Nonetheless, they did just enough (and I mean just enough) to scrape out a win. West Virginia awaits - more on that matchup tomorrow.

Around the ACC

The only other ACC team in action tonight was the Maryland Terrapins, who bowed out of the NIT in a loss at Syracuse. While it's disappointing to see the Terps leave the NIT so quickly, Syracuse was probably a better team no matter where the game was played, and certainly better in the Carrier Dome. Gist and Osby combined for 44 and 18 on excellent shooting, but the Terps couldn't get outside shots to fall and couldn't get stops at all. The ACC currently stands at 4-2 in all postseason play, with Miami, Clemson, and UNC lacing them up for the first time tomorrow.

East ACC Pod Preview

Speaking of UNC, here's the preview for their pod, which on Saturday could present the first in a series of difficult matchups for the Tar Heels on the road to San Antonio.

2nd Round Sweet 16
97.76% 70.84%
63.79% 20.97%
Arkansas 36.21% 8.06%
Mt. St. Marys 2.24% 0.13%

Indiana as an 8 seed is one of the most unusual decisions the committee has made in a while - it clearly has bought into the notion that the Hoosier players are simply not interested in playing for Dan Dakich. The Hoosiers have both the stats and the record to merit a 5 or 6 seed, not to mention the talent. Eric Gordon is a prime-time player as a freshman guard, and DJ White is as strong and talented of a low post player as UNC will have seen all year. The offense revolves around this inside-outside combo, and particularly thrives on getting both players to the line - nearly 500 attempts between the two of them. If the team that played for Kelvin Sampson shows up, they should have no trouble with Arkansas, and should give the Heels a run for their money. But if the team that lost 3 of its last 4 a) by 29 to Michigan State; b) to Penn State; and c) to Minnesota shows up, they'll be headed home hat in hand before the weekend. I'd like to think DJ White has too much pride to let that happen, but who knows. As for Arkansas, the Razorbacks have been a little bit of an afterthought in this matchup, but they're a mighty talented team themselves. Patrick Beverly and Sonny Weems are solid offensive threats, and Beverly is a tremendous rebounder for a 6'1" guard. Arkansas has three big bodies that love banging the offensive boards for second chance points - Darian Townes, Charles Thomas, and Steven Hill. And those same big bodies have made it very tough on opponents to score inside - Arkansas is 13th nationally in block rate. But the Razorback offense is less than stellar and they really shoot themselves in the foot by turning it over a ton. Still, with 4 guys 6'10" or taller, Arkansas has the height to make life miserable for DJ White and Tyler Hansbrough, if they can advance.

UNC starts off the weekend with Mt. St. Mary's, winner of the play-in game. It's a team playing for a fallen fellow athlete - a track star at the school died just before the conference championship. Unfortunately for Mt. St. Mary's, this is not a matchup they can plausibly win. UNC is one of the best two rebounding teams in the country (along with UCLA) - the Mountaineers are short, and one of the worst rebounding teams in the tourney. UNC loves putting its guys (Hansbrough especially) on the line - the Mountaineers struggle to limit opponents' free throw attempts. UNC is more vulnerable to being beat from the perimeter than from inside - the Mountaineers are not a good outside shooting team. But regardless of what happens tomorrow, they picked up an emotional win on Tuesday and have an NCAA Tournament victory in 2008, which is more than 309 other teams in college basketball can say.

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