clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Notes On Friday's Games

After UCLA's opened that mighty can of whoopass for the Terps, everyone tuned
in to see if they could do it again. Nope. Actually it was more the
opposite, as Iowa State took it to them in a huge way. So brilliant in a
running game, when the court clogged up the Bruins couldn't puzzle through it
and the Cyclones dismantled the West Coast pretenders to the throne, setting up
a truly huge regional final with Michigan State.

The Spartans won by coming back against Syracuse, who looked early like they
were primed for an upset, but who ran into two big problems: 1) MSU got hotter
than a firecracker offensively, and 2) their defense dismantled Syracuse by the
end of the game. Nice run this season by the 'Cuse, but the last two Big East
teams standing are Miami and Seton Hall.

We gave up, a long time ago, on advancing Purdue through our brackets,
because they are an eternal NCAA disappointment. The Boilermaker fans have
a lot to be proud of though, and suddenly Purdue is staring a Final Four right
in the face. Perhaps we underestimated Purdue's experience, a key factor
in an era when an experienced player is a guy with three semesters under his

On the other side of Purdue's bracket is Wisconsin, a team which would
normally terrify most people with their style, but Purdue, having great
familiarity with their conference rival, won't be surprised by much Wisconsin
does, though they are suddenly playing like Princeton with a ton more
talent. They pretty thoroughly confused LSU, after having also confused
Arizona and before them Fresno State. Wisconsin is a confusing team to a lot of
people, but not to Wake, which must be a bit sick now, seeing a team they
controlled advance this far, not to mention the praise Temple got before being
upset, another team they trounced early.

Wisconsin is winning ugly - really ugly, actually - unless you value defense
above all, and then they are ugly the way the French sometimes describe Sandra
Bernhard. We can't remember the word, but it means ugly-beautiful. That's
Wisconsin in a nutshell.

Today of course we see Duke take on Florida, a game we're all presumably
familiar with, and Oklahoma State take on Seton Hall. Eddie Sutton, who
once said he'd crawl from Arkansas to Lexington for the Kentucky job, was lucky
to crawl out of the wreckage with his hide intact, but what has happened in
Stillwater has nothing to do with luck. A disciple of Hank Iba, Sutton has made
Oklahoma State a power, made a backwater a major hoops stop. Whatever
happened at Kentucky, he has at the very least redeemed his coaching
reputation. That will always be a bit of an asterisk in his career, but
Sutton is muttering about writing a book and telling the truth about what
happened. We'd buy that one.

In his twilight years as a coach, the grizzled veteran faces perhaps the
rising star among young coaches, Tommy Amaker. Amaker has done a
sensational job building Seton Hall back, and his team's performance last
weekend probably cemented his standing as THE hot young coach.

Half Sutton's age, Amaker brings a startling presence to the sideline with
his calm and lack of histrionics. His team is performing brilliantly, and
he has a truly gifted point guard on the way, and, presumably, Eddie Griffin as
well, barring the NBA's unwelcome presence, so the future at Seton Hall is
bright, you might say it shines. But the present is nice as well.

In the South, UNC gets a woof-happy Tennessee squad, one coached by a
disciple of Dean Smith and Roy Williams, but a guy who is seemingly lighter on
the reins than anyone else out of the UNC family tree. He lets his players
play more loosely and with less inhibitions than any UNC guy we can remember
(this is a good time to say that Curtis Hunter's team impressed us immensely
this season, playing with the poise of a Top 20 team despite having their heads
handed to them).

In the bottom of that bracket we get the battle of the Hurricanes - Miami,
which picked the nickname quite logically, and Tulsa, where the next hurricane
will be the first and where they think they are golden to boot. We've got
some land Down East we'd like to sell them.

Miami we haven't seen that much of, but obviously Hamilton has built a strong
program in the Big East where it was previously a joke. Bill Self's job at
Tulsa speaks, well, for itself: only two teams have beaten Tulsa this year
(Fresno did it three times).

Bill Self tutored under Steve Robinson, but also under Leonard Hamilton at
Oklahoma State. Small world. That puts him, if you accept
cross-pollination or maybe genetic mutation, in the UNC family tree, or at least
in the same orchard.

So who have we left out? Well, Duke-Florida, but dessert is best eaten after
the meal anyway. This should be a fascinating matchup, on the one side a
brilliant coach with a Hall of Fame resume and a lust for March which is
unmatched by anyone in coaching in the past 25 years. On the other hand we have
young Billy Donovan, aka Billy The Kid, a guy with a lust for hard work and
recruiting and with an increasing eye towards March and April glory. He
comes in with a team deep and talented and determined to press and turn the ball
over as much as humanly possible. He faces Chris Carrawell and Shane Battier,
leaders of the Devils, who have taken Jason Williams under their wing and
periodically coaxed greatness from the precocious rookie, and Nate James,
healthy at last and contributing in a big, big way, and Carlos Boozer, who has
thrown up some huge stats since Charlotte, and Mike Dunleavy, and the team has
gelled into a group with an amazing heart. Is it enough to defeat the
Gators? This is a program on the way up, without question. Against
Illinois, 9 players got double figure minutes, meaning they aim to be fresh at
game's end. But they only forced 15 turnovers against Illinois, less than
usual, and also only 15 against Butler.

Against Butler, Teddy Dupay only got 6 points, and Brett Nelson only got 4,
and the points combined for 3 assists and 6 turnovers. Weaks, who starts
at the other guard spot, got 13. Mike Miller, generally regarded as their star,
got 16 points, but only shot 6-17. But he also got 13 rebounds.
Rookie Donnell Harvey grabbed 7 boards in 21 minutes. The team shot .406; no one
but Dupay and Bonner shot over 50%.

Butler had held the score down and had a chance to win but lost, 69-68.

Against the Illini, Florida got to run and won going away, 93-76.
Miller had 19 points on 6-12 shooting, 9 boards. Harvey had 8 boards in 20
minutes. Dupay hit for 16 and Nelson also for 16. Weaks got 7.
Florida got to the line 41 times and hit 32, more than double the winning

Pretty clearly, Duke can't afford to let anyone get to the line 41 times,
because that will mean serious foul trouble, and Duke can't afford that.

Here's our scenario for a Duke win: first, defend better, harder, and longer
than Florida. If they have trouble getting shots, they can't set up their
press, and taking 30 seconds to get a shot off kind of takes the edge off of

Second, when Florida does press, as Duke has said all week, they intend to
attack it aggressively.

Third, while Duke has said all week they aren't backing down from Florida and
will run with them, on defense they can slow Florida's advance upcourt..
By no means have we studied Florida carefully, but if you look at their record,
you see scores like 131-72, and 109-60, and 113-68, and 90-73. You also see
70-85, 69-68, 60-58, 75-71, and 77-73.

What this suggests to us, from a distance and with little intimate knowledge
of Florida other than second hand Pitino-inspired assumptions, is that they play
best when the game is out of control, and that when it's a question of
possession by possession, they may not be as good as they are when they cause
chaos. We could be dead wrong on that, too, not knowing them that well.

From Duke's point of view, this suggests two necessities: 1) a strong,
disciplined floor game from Jason Williams, with minimal turnovers, and 2) that
his teammates come to the ball when he does get in trouble. This didn't happen
in the first half against Kansas, so you can expect it's a point of emphasis
this week in practice.

If Duke can control these factors, they have an excellent chance of winning
this game.

Also, Rick Pitino said, about the legendary '92 game, that sometimes a great
point guard will work against his team when a press is employed. This
could certainly happen to Duke. The flipside is also often true as well:
when a pressing team is stripped of the primary means of intimidation, plan B
isn't always as formidable and flaws are exposed which a pressing, hectic game
covers up.

Like every team left in this tournament, though less true in the Midwest,
Duke and Florida have serious weaknesses. Who will exploit the others more
efficiently? That's the key. Florida is a tough team, and a rising power, but
they can be attacked.

One final comment: in an open court game, we like having Mike Dunleavy on our
side. He has had some brilliant moments in games like that, notably the
USC game, where he turned in one of the finest performances we've seen from a
Duke player, ever.