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Next Up - Holy Cross

Next up for Duke is Holy Cross, a school best known for producing one of the
all-time greats, Bob Cousy of the Celtics, who led them to the national
championship, despite feuding with his coach. Several years ago, they had
Ron Perry, who had a wonderful college career. Those are the highlights for Holy
Cross, though, and in recent times, they have joined the Patriot League, the
conference John Feinstein likes to champion as one which gets the right balance
between academics and athletics.

Holy Cross is 6-2, having lost to Syracuse by eight and Dayton by 16.
They have a certain amount of size, with Greg McCarthy at 6-11, Tim Clifford at
6-10, Andrew "get off my" Keister at 6-9, and Adam May and Alex Vander
Baan at 6-8.

Their best player, though, is probably senior guard Keith Simmons, who is
averaging 17.5 ppg. and also grabbing six boards a game. Backcourt mate
Torey Thomas is also averaging in double figures at 12.4 ppg.

The team goes nine deep, and scoring is pretty well distributed, other than
Simmons, who stands out point-wise.

You might expect a team like Holy Cross to try to slow the game down against
a team like Duke, and you never know, they might. But it's not Ralph
Willard's style.

We'd forgotten he'd ended up there, but Willard worked for Rick Pitino and
his earlier teams at Pitt and Western Kentucky showed the influence. He's a grad
of the school, though, and is probably pretty pleased to be there for that if no
other reason. At one point, he seemed like a sure bet to rise far in the
coaching profession, but things work out in funny ways sometimes. So was
Dick Vitale, once upon a time.

He's done a solid job at Holy Cross. Other than his first season, where
he came in at 10-18, the Crusaders have won every year except for one, where
they just barely finished under .500. He's made the NCAAs three times in
seven years.

So while there are a lot of reasons to doubt this team, at least from a
distance, you have to recognize they have an excellent coach, and they gave
Syracuse a tough game at Syracuse despite a disastrous first half. If they
can do it, they're going to run and press, and they have a solid
backcourt. Does any of this sound vaguely familiar? It reminds us a
bit of Marquette, a dangerous team with nice guards who can give you some
trouble.

For Duke, when we look back on the season, the Georgetown game may look like
a turning point. Duke still has a lot of issues to deal with, but they
came up against a tough situation and found leadership, and new sources of
offense, to match an already potent defense.

Think about this: we've all wondered where the offense will be in a few
months. But if this is the beginning of the season, with a very young
team, where will the defense go from here? The best defense we've seen at
Duke was in 1987, before injuries and academics took a toll. That team was
like the Chicago Bears during their Super Bowl year: the defense was so
good it scared the other teams. It was, briefly, Tysonesque, if you define
Tysonesque as unnerving an opponent before anything happens.

This team isn't as electric as that team was - that group just ran over you -
but it's pretty good and getting better.

Back to offense: so far the team has been able to rely on DeMarcus Nelson and
Josh McRoberts, although McRoberts has shot reluctantly, preferring to pass and
share the glory. A lot of people tend to focus on scoring, but consider what
McRoberts is doing:

He's leading the team in minutes and rebounding, He and Paulus lead in
assists. McRoberts also has the best assist/turnover ratio.

He's second in free throw attempts, and leads the team at 88%. He also leads the team in blocked shots and
has been a stalwart on defense.

He's been superb, in other words. The only guy at Duke who was
similarly versatile was maybe Grant Hill.

But as great as he's been, he can't do the things Greg Paulus brings to the
team. Or will as his health improves and allows it.

McRoberts is a brilliant talent, but while he can help out and be a sort of
point forward, he's not a point guard. Paulus brings a tremendous
competitive desire to the position, and where McRoberts sometimes lets other
guys step forward, Paulus, at his best, wants to throttle the game and bring it
under his control. His injury has limited his instinct to quarterback his
team, but it's still there.

McRoberts, Paulus, and Nelson were expected to be the leaders, and they are
taking those roles on pretty well. As they do, the roles of the other guys
- Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek, Dave McClure, Gerald Henderson, and
Marty Pocius - will get easier.

We heard a story a few years ago about a practice where Coach K said there
was a great role on the team for someone who would step up and do the dirty
work. That tends to be the way he works - identify the need and then fill
it, rather than pigeonhole a "4" into a "3" or
whatever. So you end up with Robert Brickey playing center and Josh
McRoberts running as a secondary point.

The needs are largely on offense, and as long as the defense stays at the
same high level, you can look for K to slide guys around until he finds someone
doing something useful which advances the team. The good news is that each guy
has something to offer. So putting the pieces together should continue to
be fun.