| N-R | Charlotte | Charlotte |
H-S | H-S | H-S | Fayetteville
Fayetteville | W-S
| W-S |
Okay, everyone who thought Duke-Maryland had surpassed Duke-UNC, you can go sit in the
corner. There's a reason this is the best rivalry in college basketball, and in a
nutshell, here it is: it's so intense that you just can't possibly predict what will
happen. If we had told you that a shoving match would erupt that almost turned into
a full-scale brawl, and that a head coach would be one of the shovers, and that UNC would
have the game all but locked up only to see a 30 footer by Duke go in just after the
buzzer, well, what would you say? Same thing we would most likely: that's got to be a
Duke-UNC game. Congratulations to the Heels for a tremendous win.
This was a game Duke could have won, but realistically, for most of the game, UNC
played harder and outhustled Duke, and although it only happens once or twice a year in
the geriatric gentrified atmosphere of the Dean Dome, the crowd was a huge asset for UNC.
As a matter of fact, it was a better crowd for UNC than Duke had for FSU.
That's a bit of a kick in the pants, huh? Still, it's the truth.
After the game, Coach K said that communication was the primary culprit, and that
Dunleavy and Battier were no longer around to provide that, and that this team has yet to
figure out those subtleties. Fair enough.
For Duke, the best news in this game was the continued metamorphosis of Shelden
Williams, who is becoming a dominant low-post player. Individual players had their
moments, but collectively, the team didn't get it done, which indicates that K's analysis
is probably spot-on (and who would know better? We're not about to sit in the stands and
second-guess a Hall of Fame coach about his team, and as a general rule of thumb, we don't
For Duke fans, it's good time for a reality check. Duke has a team with six
freshmen, one sophomore, two juniors, and two seniors, not counting the pugnacious Andre
Buckner, who rarely plays and probably had the most memorable moment of his career when he
shoved Matt Doherty Sunday afternoon.
There are a lot of good pieces, but the upperclassmen are, one could argue, essentially
specialists (Casey Sanders - shotblocker, rebounder; Dahntay Jones - shootist, defender;
Chris Duhon - passer, defender; Nick Horvath - solid but unspectacular player), and
none of them have been consistent leaders. Of the freshmen, Shelden Williams has
emerged as a regular contributor, and JJ Redick, who is periodically a brilliant all-round
player, sometimes seems to settle for being a shooter. Shavlik Randolph needs to
gain weight and defensive skills; Sean Dockery needs to get the wildness out of his game;
Michael Thompson is not yet contributing at the level of Sanders, Randolph, and Williams,
and Lee Melchionni just needs to mature.
For this team to finish the regular season 21-6 is a significant accomplishment.
And when you look a bit closer, they were very close to winning the Wake game in
Winston, the St. John's game, and of course the UNC game, which would have made them 24-3.
Reverse the Tallahasee loss, and it would have been 25-2.
The difference, as Krzyzewski notes, is likely not someone to specifically stop, say,
Raymond Felton or Josh Howard, but someone who can step into the huddle and take control.
That's no knock on the captains, but a Battier or Laettner figure is not there.
On the other hand, when Battier, Laettner, Dunleavy, Ferry, or whoever else you'd like
to point to were freshmen, no one knew they'd become what they became later. Maybe
the only Duke freshmen to be fully formed was Tommy Amaker, who came in as a very calm and
cerebral player, and who fit his team perfectly.
Even Grant Hill didn't really assert himself until well into his career, and even then
Coach K had to push him into doing it.
Our point is two-fold. First of all, we're finding out now, when some people
think 21-6 is a bad year, who's a Duke fan and who just likes to be associated with
teams that win. Chances are a lot of you who fall into that category used to pull
for the Celtics, the Cowboys, and the Dodgers. We know the people who showed up when
Neil McGeachy was the head coach, and who show up every year, regardless of the record or
the perceived success of the team.
For those of you who really do love Duke, and who will pull for them through thick and
thin, we'd just like to say - guys, come on. Your team is still young, and they try
damn hard. The criticism at times is irrational. What is noteworthy is this: a
team with six freshmen and some significant weaknesses has stayed in the Top Ten the
entire season. That's a tribute to tremendous effort by the players and tremendous
work by the coaching staff.
Whatever this group does with the potential nine games left in the season, well, we'll
see. Whoever jumps off the bandwagon, it's just more room for the rest of us.
We're going to pull like heck for our guys no matter what happens from here on out,
and as they lift weights and refine their games and incorporate Luol Deng and Kris
Humphries (assuming he and his father come to the realization that he's so unready for the
NBA that even guys like us know it) into the rotation, and as the young players step into
new roles, we'll be excited then too.
Heck, we're always excited to see Duke play. We pulled for Bill Suk, we pulled
for Terry Chili, we pulled for Jim Spanarkel, Scott Goetsch, and Steve Gray, we pulled for
Greg Wendt, we pulled for Johnny Dawkins, we pulled for Hurley, Hill, and Laettner, we pulled
for Jeff Capel, and we pulled for Chris Carrawell, Battier, Brand, Avery, Langdon,
Williams, Dunleavy, Boozer, just like we're pulling for this year's team.
If you are expecting perfection on a regular basis, boy are you a sucker. For our
part, we want passion. We want the players to play with passion, we know the coaches
coach with immense passion, and we want the Crazies to cheer with great passion.
When you ask yourself, has this team shown heart? The answer is yes.
Have they grown? Yes. Do they keep coming? Yes.
We always go into March with a lot of excitement, and this year is no different, even
though there are a lot of question marks. But win or lose, Duke's our team for life.
We hope that's true for you, too.