Thursday, February 10, 2005

WARNING: Explicit College Hoops Banter To Follow. If you don't like basketball or are pro-ACC, avoid this.

Its official: I can’t watch a college basketball game being called by Dick Vitale and have the sound on.

The guy who showed me how much you can love the game of basketball has turned into such an ACC shill I can’t even stand to hear him. Shelden Williams and JJ Redick for Player of the Year? Are you serious? Duke as a legitimate national championship threat? Let’s look at this a second:

If you want to know who this Duke team reminds me of the most, you just have to look back at the 2001-2002 season, where Coach K’s merry band lost Shane Battier but still looked like they had a good shot at a repeat with the terrific threesome of Jason “Before He Was Jay And Tried Riding Motorcycles” Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy, Jr. But that was really all they had, besides a young Dahntay Jones, young Daniel Ewing and young Chris Duhon.

Inside you’ve got Shelden Williams, a poor man’s, less-clutch Boozer. From behind the arc you have Redick, a smaller, less muscular, less versatile and much less clutch Dunleavy. At the point, you’ve got Daniel Ewing, a slightly-slower, but perhaps more consistent Williams, taking over that “I’m a winner” Duke guard spot occupied by a solid cast over the years. Their two big non-conference wins? Again, at home over an overrated Michigan State team that almost pulled it out and against an Oklahoma team that hadn’t yet learned how to win, in which the Dukies needed a big comeback in the second half.

Now if you’d like to join Vitale is Levitra-ing yourself over JJ Redick, I just ask you to look at how JJ performs at the end of close games. Take the Final Four loss against UConn, in which Redick was so frazzled he couldn’t hit a shot, or simply not turn the ball over, for that matter. In tonight’s game against the Tar Heels, he managed to finish the game 1-6 from the field, 4-12 overall. And then Dickie V unleashed this fantastic quote, which may have been the most retarded thing I’ve ever heard, if not for my countless sports arguments with Dill and having lived with Brendan Donahue for the last seven months:

"JJ Redick is the best shooter in America....I don't care what the percentages are!! He just takes a lot of bad shots!!"

That’s like saying someone is the best quarterback in the NFL, despite the fact they throw a lot of interceptions, because they always throw the ball into quadruple coverage. People may point to that amazing comeback Duke had to almost win the game against Wake, and I bring up this interesting query for you: When’s the last time Wake freaking guarded anybody? Did you see the shots Ewing and Redick were taking? Not a hand in their face to be seen. Duke doesn’t make it past the Sweet Sixteen, just like they didn’t do in 2002 when they fell to Chad’s beloved Indiana Hoosiers, one round after they were almost upset by the Fighting Irish, had it not been for the heroics of one Daniel Ewing, the only current Dukie I’d take on my team.

On the matter of the Tar Heels, I have to admit they certainly have a lot of talent. Ni was bragging about how they have five NBA lottery picks playing right now, and I can’t argue that point with him. They’re loaded to the tilt with talent, just like the Kansas team Roy Williams had during the 1996-1997 season that featured future NBA players Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz, Jacque Vaughn and Scott Pollard. That team only had one loss coming into the tournament, and that was in double-overtime at Mizzou on a night where Pierce only played seventeen minutes due to foul trouble.

Sadly, just like many a Roy Williams team, they fell earlier than expected, losing in the Sweet Sixteen to eventual champ Arizona. (I think Pete may just fell upon the ground and began crying after reading that. I’m sorry, buddy, you’re still my sunshine, but it had to be said.)

This is a UNC core that has been notorious for their lack of heart and defensive intensity. Tonight, Duke came out, pushed them around and UNC played a sloppy game with 23 turnovers, with 8 by junior point guard Raymond Felton (I’m sure you’ve heard Dickie V’s incredibly clever “Everybody loves Raymond in Chapel Hill, baby!” line he’s been using for two and a half years now.) Sure, Duke plays some pressure defense, but half the time, UNC would just throw it right into the Blue Devils’ hands.

I don’t know what happened on the last play of the game, where Felton shook Ewing and had a wide open lane in front of him. Maybe he was trying to run the play called in the huddle, but when the paint parts like a big Blue Sea you simply have to drive in there and either get a shot up, get fouled or get the ball into Sean May’s hands. Instead, they fumbled it around until the ball was out of bounds and the game was over.

Do I think UNC will win the national championship? No sir, I do not. I believe Kansas or Illinois could easily take them, and that OK State or Syracuse could give them trouble as well. I haven’t seen enough of Washington to know anything about them except they run hard and run smooth, but it seems that if you wanted to outgun the Heels, it would be best to use Nate Robinson’s crew.

The fact of the matter is that the Heels haven’t shown that heart yet. If anything, tonight was Exhibit A that they’re the same soft team as last year. UNC’s big non-conference win came against Kentucky at home, but that was a young Kentucky team with two freshmen playing a lot of minutes and facing their first truly hostile environment. They play in Storrs, Connecticut on Sunday in what is not only a huge game for the Heels and Huskies, but also a big game for those trying to compare the Big East and the ACC. UConn will be without sharpshooter Rashad Anderson, out indefinitely with an abscess on his leg (?!), so they’ll have to beat up on the Heels inside, something they failed to do against Notre Dame but were successful in against Villanova and at Syracuse on Monday night.

So I’m firmly in the boat that if you want to talk about the ACC sending three teams to the Final Four, you better look at the bad qualities as well as the good ones. Like the fact UNC lost to Santa Clara. Or that Wake Forest lost to Illinois by 30. Or that Duke is winning with smoke, mirrors and getting the calls at home. I still believe in Georgia Tech when they get healthy and I’d never bet against Maryland, even though the Terps lost consecutive games to Clemson and Miami (FL) after knocking off the Dukies, but if you want me to say I feel really strongly about an ACC team winning six straight games against hard-nosed, defensive teams on neutral courts, then you’ll have to come back to me come Selection Sunday to see if anybody impresses me over the next few weeks.

Until then, just be sure and keep your TV’s on mute the next time Dickie V’s on, or the next thing you’ll be hearing is that strong case for underachieving, super unfortunate and uber-awkward Blue Devil Shavlik Randolph as an All-American Forward. But if you should happen to have your basketball ideologies vexed, do not worry, for the Blog O’ Fun is here to keep you straight until March.

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