Tag Archives: Coach K

Virginia’s Win over Duke is a Big Win for College Basketball

The scoreboard in Durham read:

Virginia 65

Duke      63

But the bigger story was this:

Real College Basketball – 1

NBA Minor League – 0

The University of Virginia scored a big win for college basketball on Saturday. Virginia, notched an improbable, but not shocking win against the NBA’s minor league franchise-in-residence at Durham, otherwise known as the Duke Blue Devils.

Let’s be clear about one irrefutable truth – Duke has the most talent of any team in college basketball. I am not sure there is a close second. Kentucky maybe, but no other team has the wealth of talent that a Coach K has assembled at Duke. Duke has multiple NBA lottery draft picks on their roster. So how did UVa, who has zero NBA lottery draft picks on their roster, beat Duke at Cameron Indoor?

I am not sure it’s that hard to understand. Virginia is a tightly knit team of college basketball players who are completely vested and committed to the University of Virginia and the success of UVa basketball. Duke is a confederation of future NBA basketball players, none of whom give two rips about Duke, Durham, or college basketball unless it impacts their route to the NBA. In real world terms, the Virginia players are home owners with a vested interest in the success of their program. Duke’s players are renters, looking to move out as soon as they can. Which one of those is better for the long term prospects of the neighborhood? Which is better for college basketball?

I was awed by some of the jaw-dropping plays Duke made on Saturday. They are an impressive collection of massively talented basketball players. To their credit, the Duke one-and-dones seem like good kids in addition to being ridiculously talented athletes. They are not dirty cheap-shot artists, like Grayson Allen. They are not foul-mouthed cry babies…like Greyson Allen. The fab Freshmen at Duke have not emulated Grayson Allen, primarily because they don’t care about Grayson Allen or anything else about Duke basketball…and that’s why Virginia won on Saturday.

I think the one-and-done kids play hard. I think they would much rather win than lose. I am sure they work hard in practice. However, there is no doubt that the success of Duke basketball is not at the top of their list of priorities. Duke is a holding bin, a way station on the way to the NBA for all of Duke’s contributing players. While I am sure they like Duke and respect Coach K, if VCU could convince these kids that VCU was a better conduit to the NBA than Duke, there is no question these kids would punt the Devils and embrace the Rams. This is why Duke lost today. This is also why Duke lost to Boston College and NC State. When your NBA highlight reel is your highest priority, winning is nice, but it’s not the ultimate goal.

By contrast, Virginia’s players are fully vested in their university, their coach, and their program. Several of Virginia’s players will certainly have professional basketball careers and one or two might have long careers in the NBA. However none of Virginia’s starting 5 will be NBA lottery picks, but they will all be Virginia basketball legends and adored by Virginia fans for the rest of their lives.

There is no question that Virginia’s players love UVa. They love their coach. They love Charlottesville. By the time they graduate they will have spent 4 or more of their most formative years immersed in the culture of UVa, Charlottesville, and the Virginia basketball program. They are part of the fabric of UVa. They bleed for UVa. Duke’s current crop of fab-freshmen will spend the obligatory 8 months in Durham before moving on to the NBA. While I am sure they would like to win the ACC championship and the NCAA tournament, the Virginia players would given their first born to bring championships home to Charlottesville. That’s why the Bad News Bears won today. It is why Virginia will remain relevant on the national stage as long as Tony Bennett is leading the program.

I have no illusions that Virginia is the favorite to win the NCAA tournament this year.  I will be thrilled if they can win the ACC regular season. It is a long road ahead and Virginia has to clear many high hurdles to win the ACC much less win the NCAA championship. By the time March rolls around, less talented legs are tired and the Duke thoroughbreds might be in a better physical condition to make a tournament run. However, if the winner of the Big Dance comes down to heart and determination, a real college team like Virginia will be tough to beat and fab-freshmen can move on to the NBA, making room for next year’s mercenaries.

Grayson Allen is Trippin’ (Again)

If you were watching Duke beat Elon last night, or if you turned on Sports Center in the last day, you will see Grayson Allen decided it was a wise decision to trip Elon’s Steven Santa Ana. This is the third time Allen has tripped an opposing player in the last year and it has since been announced that Allen will be suspended indefinitely. This is a change of pace as he was not suspended the first two times he tripped an opposing player.

Grayson Allen is a damn good basketball player and he is the face of one of the best programs in the country. He also needs help. Allen showed last night that he clearly has a hard time dealing with the stress of competition. After he was assessed a technical foul for the trip and was consequently benched, Allen threw a temper tantrum on the bench as if he was a toddler and his favorite toy was taken away.  Then after the game he proceeded to break down and cry through his whole media session. This behavior is what is expected of a 12-year-old playing 6th grade basketball and dealing with having a bad game for the first time. It should not be the behavior of one of the top 20 college basketball players in the country.

Allen was suspended indefinitely by Duke and most would assume this will be a few games until they play a good team.( See #21 Florida State Jan 10) I think Allen needs to be out for a way longer period. This tripping incident is a symptom of a bigger issue and Allen needs to get his head on straight before he seriously injures someone or has an episode like this off the basketball court.

Allen is not the only one that is to blame. Coach K and the Duke basketball staff are also at fault. Forget for a second he has done this twice before in a game. He has to have acted out like this in practice before. There is a behavior pattern with Allen and it looks like whatever, if anything, was done to prevent the behavior is not working. For whatever reason, winning was put ahead of discipline and respect for the game. Allen was not reprimanded enough the first two times he behaved this way and the person who is hurt the most is Allen.

Don’t worry about Duke. They have a roster loaded with talent and could probably win a national title without Allen. That doesn’t change the fact that Allen needs to get himself under control. If he doesn’t, there will be a headline with his name in it, but it will be for something far worse than tripping.

 

Photo Via Wikipedia

Best and Worst: Final Four and Championship Monday

Duke bball picture

It’s all over. Nothing left to debate, ok, wait. Nothing left to debate? Nah, there is plenty to talk about after the Final Four weekend and the National Championship on Monday night. There were plenty of great things that occurred with the Final Four and a just a few things that were not so great. Overall, I thought the championship round was a good one to watch in 2015.

Best: Michigan State making the Final Four as a number seven seed. Do we even doubt the coaching brilliance of Tom Izzo anymore? I won’t. I didn’t really doubt him at the beginning of this tournament anyways, but he put together a run that was fun to watch. It did help that Villanova bowed out early to help pave the way for Sparty’s run to the Final Four. Watching Trice, Valentine, and Dawson play hard, tough nosed basketball was a thing of beauty. However, watching Izzo get his troops ready for battle was fun to watch as well. He made them believe that they could compete with anybody, that anything was possible. They say a team takes on the personality of its coach and it was very apparent that this is what happened with this year’s version of Michigan State. The players bought in. How can you not buy in? Coach Izzo is a proven commodity. It was his seventh Final Four appearance, but certainly not his last. It would not surprise me to see him back in the Final Four or cutting the nets down on a Monday night next year.

Wisconsin ruining Kentucky’s chance at history. If there was EVER a team that people got behind as the tournament progressed, it was Wisconsin. You had a team that had a perception of playing hard nosed defense, being very deliberate on offense, playing as a team, and having a coach that was about as no-nonsense as a coach can be. It provided for some great drama. They got a second chance at a Kentucky team that had beat them in a close game the year before, but this year they also got to crush the Wildcats dreams of being undefeated. Kentucky was certainly the bigger hyped team, they had height, talent, and a coach that was known for getting one-and-done players to sacrifice their own game for the good of the team. Wisconsin played disciplined, Sam Dekker made some more timely buckets, Frank “the tank” pulled players away from the basket and used his considerable skills to keep the Wildcats off balance enough to pull off the upset. Bottom line is that Wisconsin made plays, Kentucky did not.

The amount of NBA type of talent on the floor was another thing I enjoyed watching. I say “type” of talent simply because you never know how some of these players and their “game” translate to the next level. Watching Towns of Kentucky dominate in the middle during the tourney was amazing to watch, seeing Frank Kaminsky use his footwork to create shots and to watch him pop shots from the 3-point arc made me wonder how he would be at the next level. Willie Cauley-Stein was blocking shots and running down the court stride for stride with a guard showed me that he could possibly be a player on the NBA level. Jahlil Okafor of Duke, who, for me is the best big prospect in college this year showed how he could dominate in the blocks. Okafor has immense hands, a big lower body which will help him bang with NBA big men, he has to improve his footwork and develop some more low post moves, but he has all the basics that an NBA GM wants to see. Now, he had some problems with fouling in the championship game, and that affected his output for the game, but I would take Okafor in a heartbeat. Question I have about some of the Kentucky talent is this. Do you draft either one of the Harrison twins? What about Dawson from Michigan State? Did Sam Dekker convince people that he’s a lottery pick? This will all play itself out in the next couple months.

Worst: Now there are not many things I would consider bad from the weekend and from Monday night, but they do revolve around game behavior and post-game comments. I realize that things get said in the heat of battle during a game and most of it is not PG variety. I’m fine with it, trash talking is part of the game, but complaining about call after call after call is not something I like seeing. Wisconsin was yapping after every call in the title game. It almost took away from my enjoyment of the game. They acted like NBA guys who are shocked that they fouled anybody, anytime. Hey Badgers, you do foul, it’s not the refs fault. There was talk that the refs had it in for Wisconsin and purposely were calling fouls on the Badgers and not as much on Duke. What? I agree that the officiating in the title game was a little sketchy, and everybody points to out-of-bounds call that the refs used replay with as an example. Ok, I got you there, but EVEN if the Badgers get the ball there they had not shown anything to suggest that they were going to score. Just because you have the ball, does not automatically mean that you will score the next basket. Fans want to make to make that leap with that particular call, but if they settle down and realize how the team was playing in the last 10 minutes of that game they would see that scoring in that situation was going to be a difficult proposition for them.

Bo Ryan showed that he can get a little sour when things don’t go his way. Ryan is a guy that needs to control things, he’s not what I would call a guy that evolves with the game of basketball. He didn’t like the physicality of the game and let that be known in post-game comments. “There was more body contact in this game than any game we played this year, and I felt sorry for my guys…” Ryan said. Let’s try and keep classy next time Bo. I know you’re disappointed in losing the title game, but there were other things that caused your teams defeat. How about an offense that isn’t really a come from behind type of offense or how about your teams inability to knock down shots? The Bo let it be known his feeling on the one and done type of player. He called them “rent-a-player”. Is this true? In a sense, yes, but it is the state of the game right now. Many coaches, including Coach K of Duke have come to terms with this state of the game. The players in college basketball have a certain amount of control right now, Bo Ryan, a man who likes control, can’t control a one and done player. As much Bo Ryan would want that type of talented player, that player doesn’t want Bo Ryan. He will either figure out how to evolve with this state of the game or the times just may pass him by.

Overall, it was a great weekend of Final Four action. The good certainly outweighed the bad and in the end, we were given a truly worthy champion in the Duke Blue Devils. Here’s to hoping that 2015-2016 is just as good.

 

 

College Basketball: The Top 4 are primed for top seeds in the Big Dance

Finally, March is here and we’re just a couple of weeks away from Selection Sunday.  Although things have settled down a bit at the top of the AP poll, the teams occupying those spots have been far from perfect.

Indiana and Duke each had multiple losses over the last few weeks.  They’ve been able to maintain their status in the Top 4 based on some timely losses by some of the previous occupants of those slots.  The Miami Hurricanes and Michigan State Spartans made brief appearances in the Top 4, but have scuffled a bit in the meantime to drop out of the pack. 

Barring any inexcusable losses to finish the regular season, or during Conference Tournament play, the current Top 4 should each earn high seeds, if not #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.  As March Madness begins to appear on the horizon, here’s a look at the current Top 4 teams in the land.

 

Gonzaga Bulldogs (29-2) – For the first time in school history, Gonzaga University is the #1 team in college basketball.  For the first time in school history, the Bulldogs may also grab a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. 

In previous seasons, deserving Gonzaga teams have been knocked down a few slots based on their perception as a glorified mid-major.  Assuming they don’t lose in the West Coast Conference Tournament, nothing will keep them from claiming a #1 seed this season.

Mark Few has consistently sought out tough non-conference opponents, and this season was no different.  The Zags haven’t lost since a buzzer-beating heartbreaker against Butler back in January at Hinkle Field House.  This team has a solid core, and the right make up to go far in the Tournament.  Kevin Pangos is a steady lead guard, and they have a powerful frontcourt led by Elias Harris and seven-footer Kelly Olynyk. 

It’ll be interesting to see how Gonzaga reacts to being the hunted rather than the hunter.  In a season that lacks a dominant team, the Bulldogs could achieve another first, a Final Four appearance.

 

Indiana Hoosiers (25-4) – The Hoosiers have outstanding players.  They have a pretty solid coach in Tom Crean.  They have a really strong record at 25-4.  What I don’t understand though, is how a team this good could lose four games they really had no business losing.

After an impressive win over Michigan in early February, the Hoosiers blew an eight point lead with under four minutes to play against an average Illinois squad.  Weeks later, Indiana followed up a statement win at Michigan State, with an inexplicable loss at Minnesota a week later. 

Indiana has to close out against the Ohio State Buckeyes at home, and then visit Michigan.  If they were to lose one or both of those games; and then not take home the Big Ten Tournament title, the Hoosiers would be the most likely candidate to get knocked down a seed in the big dance.

Based on how much talent they have, I’ll assume at this point that they can put it all together, and make a run to the Final Four.  However, a team that has proven to have lapses in effort or focus cannot afford one of those once the tournament starts. 

 

Duke Blue Devils (25-4) – As expected, the Blue Devils suffered very little damage while Ryan Kelly sat out with his injury.  Kelly came back in a big way this past Saturday, and led Duke to a huge win over Miami.  With a healthy roster at his disposal, it’s hard to bet against Mike Kryzewski and the Devils making a run.

Yes, they did pick up a couple of road losses.  However, losing at Maryland and Virginia is completely acceptable without all hands on deck.  The return of Ryan Kelly will relieve a lot of pressure that was placed upon some of the supporting cast during his absence. 

Miami has shown they can be considered a legit ACC contender, and North Carolina is starting to play better.  However, the ACC Tournament title is Duke’s to win or lose.  I’m betting on Coach K having his team laser focused on taking the tournament crown, and locking up a top seed in the NCAA’s.

 

Kansas Jayhawks (26-4) – The Jayhawks started off February looking like a complete fraud.  A three game skid to start off the month, which included an atrocious loss to TCU, put them in a bit of a tale spin. 

Bill Self and crew have quietly gotten themselves back on track, and have run off seven straight victories.  This version of the Jayhawks doesn’t feel as strong as the Final Four team from 2012.  However, there’s plenty of talent to make a similar march to the final weekend.

There’s plenty of experience with guys like Jeff Withey, Kevin Young, and Elijah Johnson.  Blend that with stud freshman Ben Mclemore and you’re good to go.  Coach Self is one of the best in the game, and he knows how to make the proper moves to get his teams going at this time of the year. 

 

It’s no foregone conclusion that any of the current teams in the Top 4 will get a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.  Gonzaga is a virtual lock for a #1, as they have no regular season games left, and should be able to win the WCC Tournament.  Duke finishes with North Carolina, but again, the Blue Devils will be favorites to win the ACC Tournament, which would put them in a top line.  Kansas doesn’t face a challenging schedule to end the year.  The Jayhawks should cruise at least to the Big 12 Finals.

There aren’t too many candidates to snatch a top seed away from the current Top 4, but there are a couple of teams that could pounce if anyone stumbles.  Michigan is still in prime position as they can still get a statement win against Indiana, and potentially win the Big 10 Tournament. 

Even though the Big East is considered down this season, 5th ranked Georgetown, and 8th ranked Louisville may still factor into the top seeds.  If either one of those teams wins the Big East Tournament; it will be difficult for the Selection Committee to keep them off the top line.

The madness is upon us!  It’s going to be a fun couple of weeks leading up to Selection Sunday.