There Is No “D” In Wake Forest

It was supposed to be the night when Tar Heels and Blue Devils joined hands. From what I read in the paper, Carolina fans (and players) everywhere would be cheering as hard they could for their beloved Dukies to knock off Wake Forest last night. You see, Carolina and Wake were tied at the top of the conference and don’t play again. Duke was already two losses behind so a win from them didn’t really hurt Carolina.
The thing is, I don’t think that happened at all. No Carolina fan I know would admit to cheering for Duke. Most seemed to think that they’d rather Duke lose no matter who they were playing. They’d instead hope that Wake faltered elsewhere.
Fortunately for those stubborn Heels, Duke won anyway. They showed more physical toughness and defensive intensity than Wake and knocked them off. Some, including Skip Prosser evidently, believe that Duke won in large part because it played dirty last night. I find that kind of funny considering that many of those same people rip on Duke for being a bunch of soft pretty boys who don’t like mixing it up.

No, Duke didn’t win because it was dirty (and Wake got their shots in as well. Chris Paul has showed more than his share of punk attitude this year.), it won because it played better defense. Early in the game, I was impressed by the Deacons’ defensive tenacity. When Shelden Williams caught the ball, he was immediately jumped and like Al Gore would say, put into a lock box. He had trouble passing out of the double teams, either turning the ball over or wasting a good hunk of Duke’s possession trying to get rid of it. Duke adjusted though, spacing the floor much better in the second half. Wake either couldn’t or wouldn’t double team any more, because they were too far away. That seemed to end their effort.
One play in particular (excluding J.J. Redick’s 27 made three pointers) that exemplified the game was when Daniel Ewing “beat” his man (Justin Gray I think, and I’m putting “beat” in quotes because that implies that Gray made an effort to stop Ewing and frankly that’s not clear.) just outside the three point line. Ewing drove to the hoop, about 20 feet and went up for the layup. Eric Williams was just to the side of the rim when Ewing started in, but never moved an inch closer while Ewing dribbled twice, took his two steps and rose up. Instead Williams waved at Ewing going by – hey you, I know you, I know you (you’re not angry – you’re just pointing)! Ewing actually looked a bit surprised as he changed plans and dunked the ball vigorously at Williams’ feet.
I said it earlier in the year and I’ll say it again. Wake Forest will NOT make the Final Four. They just won’t. They can’t be bothered to play good defense for 40 minutes. If they don’t blow a good team out early, they’ll give up too many points. Their only hope is to buy some defensive toughness on eBay.
Actually, you know what else might help? Another consistent scorer to help Chris Paul in the backcourt. A guy that could get his own shot when he needs to – someone like that guy Justin Gray who used to play for the Deacs. Wouldn’t it be great if they still had that guy on their team?
Bonus coverage: Redick put on quite a show last night, huh? It was downright poetic.
A quick rundown of the other games of the weekend:
Clemson at Carolina – Death and Taxes.
Maryland at Virginia – The Terps pretty much cemented their NCAA bid, but just barely. They survived game-tying three pointers at the end of both regulation and the first overtime to win in double overtime. If Virginia’s Elton Brown could hit a free throw, the Cavs probably would have won. Brown was 3-13 from the line and missed several key freebies late. He actually airballed one of two he missed with 18 seconds left in the second overtime when down two points. What’s the opposite of clutch?
For Pete Gillen, it was another tough loss but also another where his team played hard. You can’t help but feel bad for the guy. This John Feinstein article does a great job of showing just how heartbreaking the situation is. Gillen knows his fate. He’s resigned to it, but he can’t quit yet. It really is a good piece. Usually these types of article try to blame the fans, but Feinstein doesn’t do that.
Miami at Virginia Tech – Just like in football, the Hokies knocked off the Canes in a key late-season battle. Virginia Tech is now 7-6 in the conference. They still have a ways to go to get an NCAA bid, but their stock is rising like a 1999 dot com. More on this below.
Georgia Tech at Florida State – I didn’t see this game, but it sounds like the Seminoles got screwed at the end. The Yellow Jackets blew a sizable second-half lead and only won when B.J. Elder was fouled with 0.4 seconds left and down one. He hit both for the win. Conspiracy theorists will point out that the conference had nothing to gain with an FSU win and everything to lose if the Jackets wrecked. If that had anything to do with the outcome, then well done ACC bigwigs! The conference really needs Tech to hold on to their tenuous high bubble standing and frankly the Noles have done nothing this year to earn any luck.
The win in Tally keeps hope alive that Georgia Tech will find whatever magic they had last year and put together another strong late run. It doesn’t look too likely to happen, but a loss to lowly FSU would have made it even more difficult.
So, now on to my weekly ratings update. I read on a message board recently (I think it was at the Duke Basketball Report) that some poster had looked back at previous NCAA tournaments and found that a combined rating of several computer ratings, the media polls and the RPI did a better job of predicting bids than just the RPI itself. If that’s true, and it makes some sense, then my little table is even more useful than I thought.
There are 34 at-large bids. You have to figure that a bunch of the automatic bids will go to highly-rated teams, so you need your composite ranking to be somewhere under 50 to feel like you have a good chance. That means that five teams are pretty solid right now, UNC, Wake, Duke, Maryland and GT. NC State is knocking on the door now with a ranking of 51.5.
The Wolfpack had their second strong week in a row, picking up nearly 9 spots after climbing 15 last week. The big question is are State fans happy? Do they want to squeak in or would they rather go ahead and tank with the hope that it will spell the end of Sendek’s tenure?
Miami’s two losses have knocked them off the bubble for now and although they are making a strong move, Virginia Tech is still not in play. The Hokies could end up being a curious case though. They are only win away from an 8-8 (at least) conference record. They now have a marquee win and they’ve been hot lately. Those are all things the committee considers. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Hokies get a bid despite relatively poor computer ratings. They still have time to move up, but their composite ranking is still just 83.5. That is 27 points better than last week, but over 30 points away from where they presumably need to be. It’ll be very interesting to see what happens if they keep winning.
Ratings as of 02/21/2005:

Team prev/cur Pomeroy Sagarin Greenfield RPI


Carolina (22-3, 10-2) prev 71.18 (2) 95.18 (1) 96.361 (2) .6488 (8)


cur 71.44 (2) 95.18 (1) 96.334 (2).6480 (8)


Wake Forest (22-4, 10-3) prev 68.27 (3) 92.80 (6) 94.963 (4) .6684 (2)


cur 67.66 (4) 92.54 (4) 94.341 (3) .6694 (2)


Duke (19-4, 9-4) prev 66.77 (5) 92.94 (5) 92.866 (8) .6541 (6)


cur 66.71 (6) 92.47 (5) 92.272 (7) .6555 (6)


Maryland (16-8, 7-6) prev 61.11 (25) 85.72 (23) 86.368 (25) .6030 (21)


cur 60.35 (31) 85.62 (25) 86.275 (28) .6034 (22)


Georgia Tech (15-8, 6-6) prev 60.44 (28) 85.51 (25) 85.211 (36) .5806 (39)


cur 60.42 (28) 85.72 (24) 85.554 (30) .5777 (43)


NC State (15-10, 5-7) prev 58.43 (45) 82.47 (42) 82.818 (55) .5416 (99)


cur 59.50 (37) 83.03 (39) 83.867 (48) .5513 (82)


Miami (15-9, 6-7) prev 56.10 (75) 82.41 (43) 83.285 (51) .5746 (48)


cur 55.55 (80) 81.88 (51) 82.611 (59) .5681 (53)


Virginia (13-11, 4-9) prev 54.94 (94) 80.21 (70) 82.514 (58) .5765 (44)


cur 54.73 (91) 80.44 (67) 81.907 (65) .5666 (57)


Clemson (12-13, 2-10) prev 56.56 (69) 80.14 (71) 80.385 (92) .5365 (103)


cur 56.70 (68) 80.18 (71) 80.712 (85) .5371 (95)


VA Tech (14-10, 7-6) prev 53.86 (106) 77.88 (100) 79.800 (99) .5189 (135)


cur 55.19 (87) 79.35 (79) 81.762 (68) .5349 (100)


FSU (11-15, 3-9) prev 56.39 (71) 79.14 (86) 80.643 (86) .5301 (115)


cur 55.71 (76) 78.46 (93) 79.586 (97) .5183 (135)


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