Dear Lord Wojo, slap me in my face because I might be delusional. I actually think Duke can make the Final Four. Please wait while I go vomit as I recall how many seasons I’ve felt that way and then taken a groin punch two rounds in.
Let me reiterate: I think that Duke has a legitimate shot to make it to the Final Four. However, they can’t possibly beat any of the #1 seeds … so they need some help. Pitt is the ultimate matchup nightmare for Duke (what we refer to sometimes as “dry anal”).If someone goes Tanya Harding on Pitt’s DeJuan Blair, that would probably work. Fortunately, Florida State and Xavier both match up well against Pitt too, and since the Scheyerfaces have clobbered both FSU and Xavier this year I’m not too stressed about playing either one of them.
Now on to the reasons why I’ve pathetically talked myself into the Post-Paulus Era, and think this can break Coach K’s 5 year Final Four drought:
- Defense. Defense. Defense. The defense that Duke has been playing the last 2 weeks has been stifling, handling top guards Toney Douglas and Greivis Vasquez in back to back games. It defies all logic when you look at the lineup, but the team defense they play is undeniable. And when you’re the one shutting down the acne-ridden guard instead of cheering for him, college ball is a lot more fun to watch.
- Gerald Henderson can create his own shot and loves crunch time. He’s the first player they’ve had that can consistently create for Duke since Jay Williams (follow the link, you won’t regret it), and in key moments in the tournament, a guy who can create his own shot is essential.
- The team seems to be peaking right now with Singler and Scheyer (since his move to the point) as consistent scorers. If Duke’s big 3 is hitting when they need to, Duke is damn hard to beat. I cannot fucking believe I just referred to Jon Scheyer as part of a Big 3.
- They’re hot and the tournament is all about two things: guard play and momentum. The momentum they have, and the switch to Scheyer at the point might be the thing to actually produce good guard play. The switch changes up the matchups because Duke goes bigger with Elliot Williams and can bring Nolan Smith in at the 2 guard off the bench his natural position. By the way, Duke has won 8 of 9 since the switch for Scheyer to the point.
Now I wouldn’t be a homer fan pretending to be objective if I didn’t pay lip service to what could hold Duke back. There are a few reasons, but the big one comes in Coach K’s favorite dumb coaching move: putting in the stall offense. When it comes to Duke, there are two different strains of this virus, calling the stall offense and putting in Dave McClure.
Dave “35 second possession” McClure will be responsible for the end of Duke’s season — calling it now. When the offense runs, he gets about 3 open looks a possession, none of which he takes, so the offense has to keep running long enough to get someone else open because of the double teaming they’re doing off of McClure. Now don’t get me wrong, he’s an excellent decision maker – he knows he can’t shoot particularly well, and actually makes most of the shots he ends up taking. He is an oddly good defender for his size and athletic ability, but I don’t know that it warrants his presence in the game over Lance Thomas, who can play the 5 instead of Singler.
The stall offense is a disaster in general and it deserves discussion. Often Duke will get a good run going and have the momentum and yet choose to run in circles and take a bad shot after 33 seconds. This is a great way to let a team back in the game (Duke-UConn in the Final Four anybody?).
Oh yeah, Duke’s lack of a big man could hurt them too. We’re still waiting, Brian Zoubek.
The bottom line is that momentum and a real team identity (thanx Mike D’Antoni!) can carry this squad to the Elite 8, and if they don’t have to face DeJuan Blair’s Biceps, then the Final Four could actually happen (gun in mouth when Duke is down 8 to Binghamton with 4 minutes left).