Tuesday, February 13, 2007

:35 Shot Clock

We might as well get this out of the way first: Duke is still going to make the NCAA tournament.

They will wind up getting 20 wins, and that’s before the ACC Tourney, in which they have been historically successful. They have three impressive non-conference wins against Georgetown, Indiana and Air Force and they beat Gonzaga before their best player got busted with some psychedelic ‘shrooms.

But what if they end up 7-9 in the ACC? Should a team that can’t win half it’s game get into the tournament?

Ethically, I say no. Even though 65 teams get in, the playoffs are supposed to be an exclusive place. There are a lot of teams that can go 7-9. But The Dance is also supposed to include the 65 best teams, and Duke is one of the 65 best teams in the country, as much as I hate to admit it.

So they’ll get in, but as like a 9 or a 10 seed. What is more embarrassing: missing the tourney altogether, or going as a 10 seed? I say going as a 10 seed. If you muss atogether, you just say hey, you know what, we’ve fallen on hard times and this just wasn’t our year. But we’ll bounce back next year. But going in as a 10 seed…well that is reserved for all of the underachieving programs that CBS just wants to see on TV. And that is exactly what Duke is. I don’t care what Andy Katz or Pat Forde say, the committee thinks about this stuff.

That said…what if Duke goes 6-10 in the ACC? I think it’s a pretty real possibility; they still have to play at No. 21 Boston College, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Maryland and at UNC. BC is playing out of its mind right now, they already got handled by G Tech, Clemson is going to want revenge after getting screwed in Durham (boy, that sentence has an awful connotation to it, doesn’t it?), no one gets up for Duke quite like Maryland, who already beat them handily anyways, and there is no way they are beating UNC on UNC’s home court. Is there a guaranteed win anywhere in there?

Forget 7-9….it is completely conceivable that Duke does not win another game in ACC play all year. I mean, it probably won’t happen, but if it does, would you be surprised? No way they get in with only five ACC wins, or even six, I don’t care who they beat outside ACC. Duke has some work to do. Let’s hope they screw it up.

You know what is going to happen? They are going to go 6-10 and then win the ACC Tournament, get the automatic bid, make a run to the Elite 8 and piss off everyone in the entire nation. (And yes, that was a whole hearted reverse jinx.)

The Dukies start their road to the NIT tomorrow night when they play BC. I don’t know who to cheer against more: Duke or Jared Dudley. I can’t put my finger on exactly why I dislike J-Dud so much; maybe it is all the screaming and yelling, maybe it is his hair, which looks…ah, not very well groomed. I think it is just his general demeanor on the court. I want to tell him to shut the hell up. You play for Boston College and no one cares. It would be very satisfying to see him miss 23 straight shots. Yea. Still, it is Duke. Go Eagles.

Also: I would like to amend my selection of Dominic James as the point guard I would feel most confident in leading my team on a Final Four run. James is still an incredible talent, and if you need him to get you 30 some night and carry a team to a win, I think he’s your guy. But as far as LEADING a team on a prolonged run, the pick has to be Acie Law IV, who will be known as simply AL4 from now on around these parts. He has handed in some ballsy performances lately, giving his team whatever it needs – scoring, distribution, defense – you name it. And Bill Self called him the most clutch shooter in the Big 12. A gutsy leader who gives you whatever you need: sounds like the ideal point guard to me.

You know what match up I most wish would happen in the tournament? West Virginia vs. Georgetown. They are the two most difficult offenses to prepare for in the county, I think. And if you are a fan of the backdoor, this is your dream match up (upon a second reading, I probably should reword that sentence, but it made me laugh, so it is staying). WVUs two-guard offense going against G’towns Princeton offense. Is there another match up that could more perfectly illustrate the difference between NCAA hoops and the NBA? I say there is not.

The Weekly Final Four Confidence Picks: As far as resumes go, the polls reflect pretty well how the teams should be ranked, I think. But rarely – if ever – does the teams ranked No. 1-4 all make it to the Final Four. Usually at least three of them crumble. Wisconsin is ranked second in the nation right now, but are you really confident they will be playing for the national title? Me neither.

So, who are the four teams you are most confident in making a trip to the Final Four? As of right now, my list looks like this:

  1. Florida. So much experience and they are just ravaging the SEC right now. They deserve the No. 1 spot, even if they are incredibly annoying, Joakim Noah punched a cheerleader and they have no compelling reason to cheer for them.
  2. North Carolina. The sheer talent is just overwhelming. Take the Duke game: they played atrociously, didn’t guard a soul but were so deep that they could hang around until Duke started shooting itself in the foot. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: they are the only team who can hand in a sub-par effort in the tourney and still win it all.
  3. Texas A&M. They are just so gutsy. There is no shot in hell these guys fall victim to an early round upset. AL4 just won’t let it happen.
  4. No one. I feel incredibly confident in those three right now, and no one else is really all that compelling. Ohio St. seems very up and down to me, and guards dominate college hoops, not big guys, so the Oden factor isn’t overwhelmingly important to me. Kansas has choked more than a two-year-old eating grapes and UCLA got shredded defensively by WVU. Not even Kevin Durant can get that Texas team to the Final Four. This fourth spot is up for grabs. Gun to my head, I’ll say Butler.

The Weekly Team That is Completely Overrated. Ladies and gentlemen, the Pitt Panthers. Let's ignore the fact that Pitt has not fared well in the NCAA Tourney over the last few years, and focus on this year's team instead. Let's look at their quality wins, shall we?

They did trounce Florida St. in the sixth game of the season, and they did beat G'Town in the middle of the year, but really, that's about it. They lost to Wisconsin and OK St. back to back and lost to Marquette and now Louisville. Their best road win of the year was at WVU, and that is a rivalry game. I know they have a good record, but are they really the seventh best team in the country? Would you be surprised if they lost in the first round? Me either.

If they had one perimeter player who you could just give the ball to and he'd get you a bucket, Pitt would be phenomenal. But they really don't. They rely mainly on their defense, and all it takes is one above-average shooting day from a team they aren't familiar with to knock them out of the dance, because they really can't go bucket-for-bucket on the other end. If I am a mid-major, and I draw Pitt in the opening round, I'm packing my suitcase for three nights.

The Weekly Oden or Durant Debate. I’m still firmly entrenched in the Durant camp. Here’s my latest reasoning. The No. 1 pick has a pretty good chance of going to Boston.

Of course, it isn’t guaranteed that Boston will get it – they have just a 25% chance as the worst team in the NBA. But they have the best chance. On an related note, doesn’t the lottery actually encourage tanking rather than discouraging it? If you really want that first pick, you have to do everything in your power to make sure you get it. Lose, lose and lose some more. Give yourself the best chance possible. But if the team with the worst record gets the No. 1 pick, can’t a team try to compete once it knows it will finish with the worst record? I really think the lottery does nothing to prevent teams from tanking, even encourages them to do so. More often than not, it only further hurts than bad teams and rewards middling teams out of sheer dumb luck. Am the “drama” it creates is more overrated than Super Bowl commercials. Shoot it in the head, Barbaro-style. And yes, I love saying that.

But back to the No. 1 pick: say whoever it is, either Durant or Oden, winds up in Boston. They are going to be charged with nearly single-handedly reviving arguably the most storied franchise in professional basketball. Being a rookie in the Lig Is head enough; having the entire city of Boston breathlessly awaiting your ascendance into the rafters is nearly unbearable pressure.

From what we’ve seen, who is more likely to be able to handle that? Oden, who has contributed to an already very good team who was a top 10 team with out (they were competitive on the road at UNC while The Bearded One was still wrapping towels around his neck)? Or Durant, who has carried a solid Texas team since the second he arrived on campus? Durant has thrived in the pressure, demanding the ball relentlessly, scoring over double-teams, hitting huge shots down the stretch of close game, helping Texas win games it should lose and stay close in games it should be getting routed in.

You really have to factor that in, I think. Cripes, Kwame was supremely talented, but he wilted with all the hype a No. 1 pick brings, and he isn’t the only one. I’m not saying either Oden or Durant will pull a Kwame – I think both will flourish in the L actually – but from what we’ve seen, I think there is no question Durant is more equipped to handle that type of pressure.

The Weekly All-American Selections: Two of these guys you can pencil in for the rest of the year: Oden and Durant. No brainers. But who are the other three?

  1. Durant (POY, too). The best player, right now, in college hoops. Period.
  2. Greg Oden. The reason Ohio St. went from really good to “Man, they could win it all.”
  3. Alando Tucker. If Wisconsin’s PG wasn’t a dead ringer for Chris Rock, no one would be able to name two players on Wisconsin. And they’ve lost twice. Well done, Mr. Tucker. (Hey, his last name is Tucker…like Chris Tucker! Rock and Tucker! These two need to film a cop buddy movie.)
  4. AL4. Cajones, man. Cajones.
  5. Tyler Hansbrough, Some one from UNC has to make it, right? He’s been the rock of the best offense if college hoops. That should mean something, right? (Ed. Note: This is a complete homer’s pick. But you knew that.)

One last thing: tournament week is a like college football’s bowl season, only it is meaningful and doesn’t suck. Just terrific game after terrific game. And they start at like, 8 am. Let’s bet on it.

I know it is still a little while away, but is that something you would be interested in? A little Point 23 Championship Week Challenge? We’d keep it simple: just pick the tourney champ from every conference, one point for each conference, and we’ll see who has the most at the end. I’ll set up a spreadsheet over at Google Docs to keep track of it.

What does the winner get? Well, I don’t know. How about a post about anything they want to write about? Is that appealing? I would say everyone throw in five bucks, but you can never get everyone to pay for their poll during March Madness and that is when everyone sees each other every day. So, it is either pride or a free post, or suggest something else.

Let me know if you’re interested…leave a comment, send an e-mail, instant message. I’m nothing if not accessible. You sleep on it, and let me know.

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