Crunch Time

Sorry for my relative silence so far this week. It’s not like me in such a fun and important time of the college hoops season, but I’ve been swamped with work. You see, an old college friend decided to put together a ski trip for a group of us, and wouldn’t you know it, he picked this week. At the time, I didn’t realize that his days coincided with the best four-day stretch on the sports calendar, but so it is. Unfortunately, if the threat of missing a bunch of games isn’t enough, I had to squeeze a whole bunch of work into my two days this week.
But now that’s done. Now I have to try to convince my brain that it’s not really spring, that it hasn’t really been 80+ degrees for days now and that tomorrow I will be in the snowy mountains. It doesn’t seem real.
But enough about that. On to the tournament, and the ACC teams in particular.

Is it just me, or did Duke get a particularly brutal bracket? Ostensibly, they got a #1 seed, but they (likely) play the team with the best record in the country in the second round and to get all the way to Indy, they’ll have to make it through the Big Ten, Big Twelve and Big East champions! Has one bracket ever had the league champions from four of the six power leagues before? And don’t forget that Cal was the runner-up in the Pac Ten.
As for Duke themselves, I like the way that they shook off their late-season malaise and got progressively better in each ACC Tournament game. J.J. Redick got back (nearly) to his season-long form and more importantly, the two key freshmen Greg Paulus and Josh McRoberts both played very well. If Duke is going to make a deep run, they are going to need strong play from Paulus in particular. He needs to tone down the antics several notches though. He was positively Melchionnic last week. Wojciechowski-ish, if you will.
On the flip side, does anyone know where Sean Dockery went? Send out an APB, the senior is missing. And he might have taken DeMarcus Nelson with him. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, they only play seven guys, so they need all of them to contribute in some way. Not everyone has to score 15 points, but you can’t have guys disappearing, not on this team. It’s a good team, but not that good.
For that reason, I don’t think the Dukies are going to make it to the Final Four this year. This team just doesn’t have any more upside. I’m not so sure they can get better, but all it takes is one bad game from Redick or Shelden Williams and they are much, much worse. Also, they have been playing tight for weeks now. It’s like they feel like they are Duke and they should win championships, especially with the great J.J. Redick on their side. Then, when teams don’t roll over, the Devils appear frazzled. They aren’t the first Duke squad to play tight late in the season, and like those other Duke teams, this one’s gonna falter.
North Carolina
It’s hard not to like this Tar Heel squad. Well, hard if you aren’t a Duke fan, that is. The Heels are deep and talented, but yet still find minutes for guys like Wes Miller and Byron Sanders. They are young, yet the best player is one of the most focused and poised players in the nation.
Not only do I like this team, but I like the way they are playing. They are the opposite of Duke. They appear to be having fun on the court, but not in loosy-goosey, play-time kind of way, but in a we’re-going-to-kick-your-ass-and-smile-while-we-do-it kind of way. That’s a great tournament attitude.
Unfortunately for the Heels, I’m just not convinced they are a Final Four team. They could be of course, they are good enough, but I really think this tournament is UConn’s to lose. The Huskies can match Carolina’s talent, and then some, and have much more big game experience. But then, UConn has played some sloppy and dispassionate ball at times this year. If Connecticut gets upset early on, the Heels could dance their way to Indianapolis.
Boston College
Before the ACC Tournament, I didn’t like this BC team at all. Sure, they were a good team with good players, but their attitude was obnoxious and their playing style was not only boring, but it lent itself to close games. Play too many close games and you get upset.
But then something happened. They started running out after missed (and made) baskets and turnovers and picked up some easy buckets. The Eagles got a few freebies against both Maryland and UNC. Get four or five of those a game and the whole complexion changes. But that wasn’t all, they also picked up the pace in their half-court sets a bit, still utilizing their excellent interior passing, but finding good looks throughout the shot clock, not just at the end. It made all the difference. Not only were they a more aesthetically pleasing team, but they took better advantage of their talent and became much more dangerous.
A week ago, I was sure that the Eagles were primed for a first or second-round upset, but not now. They could win four tourney games, easy. Well, easy if Villanova weren’t on their side of the bracket. I really like that Wildcat team, but I would not be shocked if BC put together a run to Indy.
But then, I wouldn’t be shocked by an early loss either.
NC State
Man. What to say. I can’t recall a more disappointing late-season slump in recent memory (Maryland is exempt from this category, as they invented it.) It’s not just that they have lost four in a row, including two to the last-place team in the league, but they looked like crap doing it. Very erratic effort, no production from Engin Atsur, Ilian Evtimov and Cedric Simmons and they look unhappy.
What makes things tougher is that this slump also signifies a serious dent in Herb Sendek’s standing in the State family. Over ten years, he very, VERY slowly built up a decent foundation of support in the Wolfpack community. He never won over all of the fans (far from it), but everyone had to acknowledge that things had been pretty good in recent years. No, they still aren’t a comparable program to UNC or Duke, which is what State fans expect, but at least they have become a consistent upper-tier ACC team. But if this team continues its flame-out, I think fans will turn on Sendek with an heretofore unseen fury. It will be like he betrayed them. Those who jumped on his bandwagon while shrugging their shoulders over the past two or three years, will leap off, pitchforks and torches in hand. You can just see it coming. Caulton Tudor all but called for Sendek to be fired today.
So, what’s going to happen? Sometimes in sports when you think for sure a team will lose in the tourney because they ended the season on a skid, they go and win two or three games. Could that happen here? Sure, it could. But I don’t think it will. I hate to pick any ACC team to lose in the first round, but I think State will have problems with Cal’s Leon Powe and they will be one and done. They will not survive and advance.
And it might be Herb Sendek’s last game on the bench for NC State.
Well, that’s about it for me for the rest of the week. Enjoy the games!
Oh, and don’t miss the NIT! The ACC may have only gotten four teams in the NCAA (and that’s all that was deserved), but six got NIT bids. I wonder if that’s a record? In fact, Virginia tips off in less than an hour … at Stanford! Can you believe that? The NIT put out their brackets at 9:30 on Sunday night and had Virginia scheduled to play at Stanford exactly 48 hours later. Dean Smith is on the NIT’s selection panel. Think he’s still mad that Terry Holland named his dog Dean because it whined a lot as a puppy?

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