TWO DUKIES PICK THE ACC
Volume VIII, Number LI - April 2, 2005
Welcome to this edition of the eighth (yes, eighth - - it's gotten absolutely ridiculous now and can almost be measured in geologic time) season of Two Dukies Pick the ACC. Rob and Matt invite you to sit back, enjoy bonus coverage of the opener in tonight's pair of national semifinals, wonder why Congress didn’t pass a law mandating that the Pope, may he rest in peace, be put on a feeding tube, then invade the Vatican with the U.S. military if anyone objected, hope that the papal selection process turns out a little more smoothly than it did in “DaVinci Code” predecessor (and trial run) “Angels and Demons,” and don’t let us distract you from the Final Four. We knew there was no real danger.
The TWO DUKIES name and material are, for some outrageous reason, affiliated with http://www.dukies.com, and for even more abstruse motivations, copyright 2005 Rigel Enterprises, Ltd. All rights reserved, sort of like a table at an inexplicably popular trend restaurant with obnoxious servers and tiny portions.
Matt's comments in blue.
Rob Mac K's picks in green.
Guest Duke Al White's comments in red.
#4 LOUISVILLE (29-4, 14-2 C-USA) (4W) v. #1 ILLINOIS-URBANA-CHAMPAIGN (32-1, 15-1 Big Ten) (1M)
First off, here’s something to make you feel a bit better if you’re a Duke fan and still a little bit bummed at the outcome of the Blue Devils’ season. (Remember, I don’t happen to share that view, because I thought it was a great ride on a train that just ran out of fuel, but I know there are some who are disappointed.) UIUC, which earned the directional school designation in the official Dukies.com game header, above, due to the loathsomeness of its fan base, was last in the Final Four in 1989. Louisville, whose fan base has never bothered me, was last in the Final Four in 1986.
We all know what happened to Louisville in 1986, and most readers probably remember Illinois’ amazing game with Michigan in the 1989 national semifinals, which featured two rosters jammed with future Association players (this was back in the days when the Association actually meant something), an incredible back-and-forth scoring exhibition, and an eventual win for the Wolverines behind Glen Rice, whose stat line that season as a senior is one of the greatest in the history of college basketball. I view this game as probably the third or fourth-best in NCAA Division I history, behind Duke/UNLV 1991, Duke/Kentucky 1992 (the latter is not the best game ever, even though it features The Shot, because Duke’s defense was horrible throughout, so I view it as the second-best), and North Carolina State/Houston 1983. There have been other great ones, of course, but that Illinois/Michigan matchup was really something to behold, and it seems to me that it rarely gets mentioned as a true standout gem. (Surprisingly, though, Bristol runs it on their Classic channel fairly often, so they realize what a fantastic game it was.)
Here’s the point. In 1986, Duke was in the Final Four, as Lousiville and their sleeper agent Jay Bilas probably remember. In 1989, Duke was also in the Final Four. Since Louisville’s last appearance, Duke has returned nine times. Since Illinois’ last appearance, Duke has returned seven times. Now, if you start talking about UIUC or Louisville, you’re thinking of them as college basketball powers - - perhaps not totally perennial ones, but certainly regular contenders. And yet, before now, neither had made the Final Four for 15 years. Duke, however, was there about half of those 15 years, a span that includes the Gaudet Protectorate, the Bridge Year, and the We Will Win or Lose Without This Headcase Year.
Not bad, is it? Sort of puts everything in perspective if you’re tempted to conclude that an injury-decimated team without a point guard or a second rebounder should have made the Final Four this season. The very fact that you even thought they had a chance - - and they did - - is a testament to the coaching job Mike Krzyzewski turned in this season. It’s also a testament to the fact that the Final Four is a floor for Duke to measure its own achievements, not a ceiling, while these two very good college basketball programs are there for the first time since The Real George Bush was still rearranging the contents of the drawers in the Oval Office he’d moved into about nine or ten weeks before.
Incidentally, the Associated Press COY voting was a surprise to me. I like Bruce Weber, and I think he can coach a very good floor game, but he shepherded a team this season that lost absolutely no one from its Sweet Sixteen appearance last year, and whose key players were recruited almost entirely by Bill Self. In this year’s Big Ten, I expected Illinois to lose about one game, maybe two (and not to Ohio State, but on the road in East Lansing and Madison). So - - is that “coach of the year” material? I really don’t think so, and yes, it does pain me to make this argument against a guy who just lost his mother in a genuine tragedy, and who seems to be a very charming and self-effacing man. I think he’s a very good coach and might someday be the best coach Illinois has ever had (sorry, Lou), but I don’t think that this year really tells us that much about his abilities. Krzyzewski’s coaching job, however, was shockingly skillful, even historic. Now, bear in mind that I did not expect a majority of the AP writers to agree with me on this, but the 54 votes for Weber was amazingly decisive. I’m glad that six of the pollsters saw it my way, and that Coach K was the runner-up. He deserved better, and that takes nothing away from the job that Weber did. I am very curious to see how Weber does next season, when two of his starters will be gone for sure, and two more might depart ahead of schedule.
However, given how dramatically I underestimated Louisville, there’s no reason for anyone to listen to me about anything. Uncle Ricky molded Dean and O’Bannon into much better players than they were a year ago, coached the hell out of Palacios in order to get him to adjust to the Cards’ relentless running style, saw Ellis Myles come back successfully from a shirt-causing knee injury, and relied on Garcia and a six-man supporting cast, plus ten minutes of Lorrenzo Wade, and here they are. Pretty impressive.
Myles, though, has a bad wheel for this one, Dean is cramping, and if there’s a team in the country that is ready to run and break the Louisville press, it’s Illinois. Both teams are similarly shallow, and both teams are among the best in Division I at perimeter shooting. Garcia is a matchup nightmare for Illinois, but Garcia will also be asked to guard Head, Deron Williams, or Dee Brown, and that might not work out too well for Pitino - - especially if Dean is slowed and has trouble containing his man. Add in Myles’ presumed problems inside against a very strong one-two post punch of Augustine and Powell, and this one will probably go Illinois’ way. Which, if you happen not to want to see a certain Julian-outfitted squad win the national championship, is probably a good thing. And yes, Illinois fans are possibly the most disgusting in basketball, just about on par with Maryland, College Park aficionados, but rooting for Weber isn’t hard, and scofflaw Head is the only Illini thug.
Illinois-Urbana-Champaign 76, Louisville 70.
Illinois-Urbana-Champaign 75, Louisville 72.
Thanks to Matt for giving me an outlet this season for some of my views and vents on ACC basketball. It was a very enjoyable season to reflect on Duke basketball, although it will hurt this weekend knowing that the Devils would be there if the Numbingly Boring Association hadn't taken Deng and Livingston. In fact, it's hard to see how this year wouldn't have yielded our 4th title even if everyone else had kept their guys away from the NBA circus.
The first semi-final tilt . . . [WAIT, the use of the term "tilt" contractually obligates us to run 20 minutes of trailers for the, gasp, upcoming second season of ESPN's critically disclaimed non-sports drama series called "Tilt". I understand that even though Matt loved those trailers, he actually never watched the show. In case any of the thousands reading this also missed it, the show was about how a D-list actor whose breakout role was as Harlan the parking lot rapist in "Thelma and Louise" became "The Matador," a poker super-shark who also runs a big Vegas casino, owns the police and can kill anyone with impunity. Imagine how Paul Tagliabozo would have reacted to this ESPN series if he had been more appropriately employed as the Mayor of Las Vegas. ("What Mob?")]
Where was I? Oh, yeah, Illinois and Louisville. The Fighting Illini had more lives last week than Jack Bauer on an episode of "24". Isn't it curious how every time Jack is in a real jam and is sure to be plugged, the killer decides to recite The Gettysburg Address, or whatever, and takes just long enough so that the CTU swat clowns can finally do something right and save Jack? Apparently, Flute Folson, Arizona coach and whiner extraordinaire, must watch "24," because he wasn't about to give the swat team time to come to Illinois' rescue, eschewing his 3 unused timeouts as his team blew a 15-point lead in the last 4 minutes.
Other than taking a shot at America's whiniest septuagenarian, who gets paid millions a year to do a job many would kill for, the point of the above was that Illinois was a badly beaten club if Arizona had had a coach on the floor down the stretch. Louisville had to come back from a 20-point deficit to defeat West Virginia, but the Cardinals patiently earned their comeback and were about even by the middle of the second half. In Illinois' defense, Arizona is a more talented team by far than the Morgantown Moonshiners.
The matchups in this game are hard to read. Neither team is deep at this level of competition, so the way the starters will match up will probably be determinative of the outcome. The Ville will have trouble staying with the three Illini guards, but none of them is likely to be able to guard 6-7 Francisco Garcia very effectively. [Good call, Al, but when you sent this in for editing, you referred to someone named Fernando Garcia. Fernando plays on the same team as DeMarcus Johnson - - incidentally, a squad coached by Norv Turner malaprop stand-in Irv Norbert. Get out of the kiddie pool and start making moves! --Matt]
The hunch here is that the Illini will be able to stop Garcia and his teammates well enough to be in it at the end, where their greater toughness will give the Other Orange a close win. Here is hoping that hunch comes true, because this fan would much rather see nice guy Bruce Weber than Suitcase Ricky in the championship game.
Illinois-Urbana-Champaign 74, Louisville 72.
#15 MICHIGAN STATE (22-6, 13-3 Big Ten)(5S) v. #2 NORTH CAROLINA-CHAPEL HILL (27-4, 14-2)(1E)
There was a really weird story in one of the Florida Rags this week about Steve Robinson, you know, the roly-poly bald man who used to coach ineffectively at Florida State until he was replaced by material witness Len Hamilton. The article's title is "Robinson Able to Seduce Success at UNC," and I don't think I'm alone when I state categorically that I have no desire to think about Robison seducing anyone or anything. Not only that, but the article itself does not carry the weird sexual theme the headline connotes, so I have no idea where it came from. Finally, Steve is glad to be surgically attached to Horseface's hip now, not surprisingly, and instead of being humble about his experiences when he was on his own dime, mentions the fact that FSU only has one retired jersey (that of Dave Cowens), while the Tools have three rows of retired jerseys on the ceiling of the DumpDome.
First off, no, the Tools don't have that many retired jerseys - - in fact, they only have a small handful (two guys from the old days, Cobb and Glamack, Rosenbluth, Ford, Worthy, Jordan, and Jamison. The rest are part of this "honored jerseys" nonsense, the standards for which are so rigorous that they include stiffs like Mike O'Koren and Mitch Kupchak. Second, FSU is pretty damn stingy about its jersey retirements - - Bob Sura, anyone? Doug Edwards? Anyway. Third, while no one is going to disagree that UNC-CH has a superior basketball program to that of FSU, why would Robinson just take some gratuitous swipe at the Sortanoles like this? I mean, listen, Sweater Gut (Deputy Dawg sensibly made him change to a suit, but you remember the sweaters) - - maybe you should have deployed your fearsome coaching skills and actually tried to improve things in Tee Hee. Wasn't that the idea? I mean, did you just walk into the TLCCC on your first day and go, "Oh, man, Dave Cowens is the only retired jersey? I think I'm done here!" Ridiculous. Coaches succeed all the time at programs that don't have much of a previous tradition - - just because you couldn't hack it in the ACC and have to be an assistant now doesn't mean that Florida State is perpetually doomed, even if Hamilton is. It just means that you (and Hamilton) were lousy hires. Now go whine somewhere else.
I would next like to extend my shocked appreciation to CDG, whom you will remember as a supporter of this site and a Guest Dukie this year, as well as three other readers with whom I was not previously acquainted, all of whom wrote in to tell me that the movie quote I put in the last edition came from 1992's "Last of the Mohicans," in a scene between French commander General Marquis de Montcalm (brilliantly played by French actor Patrice Chereau) and evil Huron war chief Magua (an intense Wes Studi). If you've never seen this movie, which was filmed, incidentally, in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, get it on VHS (but not DVD - - Michael Mann butchered his own film with a director's cut, and the DVD doesn't feature the far superior theatrical release) and enjoy a fantastic period drama with about six or seven superior battle scenes, stunningly good dialogue, and fabulous ensemble acting. Anyway, I didn't expect anyone to get that, so a hearty nod to CDG and the other readers - - Pat, Robinson, and "bulldog," who I think is a Mississippi State fan that we might have picked up after I praised their program in this space, or at least, I hope so - - who caught this. Nice job!
Ah, the Tools. Let's go back, in the style of the superb recurring Conan O'Brien skit, to "The Year 2000."
In 2000, Duke returned to the court following a Final Four appearance, but severely hurt by Association defections and the graduation loss of a longtime mainstay in the backcourt. Over the course of the year, a player battled mono, other injuries cropped up here and there, and the team suffered with a short bench. Nevertheless, Krzyzewski responded to this "down year" and captained the team to the ACC championship and a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. In the NCAAs, Duke, playing in North Carolina for the first two rounds, posted an unimpressive win over the #16 seed, then struggled mightily with the #9 seed, a severely underplaced team (which just happened to have been coached by a Swannanoa-hailing encyclopedia salesman), and barely prevailing. Duke then took on its five seed, possibly the most underseeded five in NCAA history, and was trounced as the tired Blue Devil squad ran out of gas down the stretch.
UNC-CH, meanwhile, made the Final Four by playing crappy competition as their bracket fell apart, unless you consider Missouri, a ridiculously overrated Stanford team, Tennessee and Tulsa (getting no effort whatsoever from its best player) stiff challengers. Eventually, UNC-CH squared off in the national final against Duke's #5 seed, which had also made the Final Four.
Sound familiar? It should.
Let's hope the parallel continues, especially the part where Duke's #5 seed beats the Tools, and where Duke comes back and wins it all in the following season.
As Al says, below, I keep hearing and hearing from the mediots this week that if Paul Davis gets in foul trouble, this game is a blowout. Huh? I mean, sure, that wouldn't be good for the Spartans, but Davis has been pretty skilled at not fouling out this year. I would say rather that it is Michigan State's athletic wing players who present more of a problem for the Tools - - the ESPN preview announces that Anderson will have trouble guarding the Williams sisters, but won't they have trouble guarding him too? I don't think anyone in the Association is really all that impressed with Marvin's defense.
Anyway. I think that Michigan State is going to stand a very serious chance of winning this game, particularly since we know that Izzo is going to coach Horseface into the hardwood, much like Jay Wright did in the third round. That foul-shooting won't hurt either - - Michigan State only lost most of the games it did this season (including the first try against Duke in Cameron) because the Spartans shot poorly from the stripe. When they shoot in conformance with their very high overall percentage from the stripe, they win just about every time. Michigan State is also very adept at collecting fouls, and there are some people, like Sugar, that UNC-CH simply cannot afford to lose for any stretch of significant time. Why isn't anyone hypothesizing that May might get in foul trouble? If so, that could be a huuuuuuuuge problem!
Finally, there's the defensive picture. While UNC-CH grad Shilas was on ESPN this week desperately trying to claim that the Tools have a good defense, we all know that statement is more bizarre than your average ad where a guy is looking for someone to go to the post office, when an agent of the United States Postal Service, who is known to the gentleman by name, immediately shows up and solves the problem. Um, so, like, why didn't the guy know the mailman was coming? Dumb. Claiming UNC-CH plays good defense? Dumb. Ask Bo Ryan, who would probably admit that the scoreboard at the Kohl Center in Madison would break if the Badgers put up 82 points in a regular season game, but whose club had no trouble reaching that total against Jay's alma mater. Michigan State, however, does play pretty good defense, and has ratcheted up their containment efforts in the NCAA Tournament.
Logically, you'd have to believe that UNC could repel this challenge, preventing an All-Big Ten title contest. However, you would have thought that the Tar Heel machine would have crushed tiny, Sumpterless Villanova and silly Bucky Badger too, and . . . not so much.
I'm going to pick the opposite way to split the benefit, but I believe Michigan State can and will indeed win this game. If so, look for a meltdown of cataclysmic proportions on InsideCryolina as Roy chokes again. And then watch the vapor trail as everyone leaves town, leaving Bobby Frasor to lead the team next year in many offensive categories, including bricked shots, turnovers per game, and serial killer resemblances. Here's the anti-pick from both me and my esteemed partner!
North Carolina-Chapel Hill 76, Michigan State 75.
North Carolina-Chapel Hill 79, Michigan State 77.
To hear the many so-called experts who are still on the UNC-CH bandwagon, it's only a question of how the Tools win the National Championship, not whether they win. If this game were down the river in Nawlins, site of Dean's Tainted Two Titles, then the Dirtpeds would no doubt be saved in the final by an Illinois or Louisville wrong-basket dunk at the buzzer. For some reason, this "incredibly talented" Tool team needed a lot of luck to advance from Syracuse -- Curtis Sumpter's injury, the horrible traveling call against Allan Ray, and the luxury of facing an overachieving 6th seed in the regional final instead of a hot 2nd or 3rd seed.
The Syracuse Regional, like the Tools' talent, was vastly overrated. (Has UNC-CH A.D. Dick Badodor hired the RNC spin machine?) As flat as Duke played against Michigan State, it likely would have had no trouble beating Villanova and Wisconsin.
Whether the Twinks would have made it to the regional final in Austin if they had been placed there will of course be known on Saturday night. The superficial analysis of this game is to say that if Paul Davis has significant foul trouble, the Tools will win, and, if he doesn't, then the Spartans will still need to play at their best to win. I prefer to start by asking how UNC-CH only beat a crippled Villanova team on a questionable call and how a team that is supposed to be so good could give up 82 points to a Wisconsin team that usually has trouble breaking 60? If MSU plays tough defense and is patient on offense, then it won't need to have a great offensive night to win.
The concerns for Michigan State are that they choked down the stretch several times this year and they may be content just to have gotten to the Frontiere Dome. Their big advantages in this game are that they are better defensively and they have a much better game coach than old Horseface.
Since 1997, the team that has beaten Duke in the Big Madness has always gotten to the Final Two. There is a reason for that. Anybody that is good enough and determined enough to take the Devils out of the March Dance should win until it runs into better talent. Tom Izzo saw the other side of that in 2000, when a game Florida Gator squad ran through the Dirtpeds before succumbing to the Cleaves Spartans.
Keep that mike warm, CBS. Old Horseface is fixin' ready to uncork another memorable outburst after losing a tough one. ("I don't give a rat's *** how well Michigan State played and whether you say I can't win the big one; I just care about these overrated, ungrateful, selfish punks I inherited from that chilling ghoul.")
Michigan State 85, North Carolina-Chapel Hill 81.
Last Edition: Rob 1-0 (1.000) Matt 1-0 (1.000) Guest 0-0 (0.000) This Season: Rob 95-33 (0.742) Matt 95-33 (0.742) Guests 44-23 (0.657) TD in Guest Editions: 100-36 (0.735)