Put simply, you can play the best defense on the planet, but if you can't
hang on to the ball, odds are you aren't going to win. With 22 turnovers - six
each by Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus - Duke made a win much more difficult.
But that's not the only culprit. Had Josh McRoberts hit 75% from the line,
Duke might have won (but it's like time travel - you don't know how the game
would have turned out had Duke hit three more free throws. One can't assume
Virginia Tech would not have responded accordingly; they did a pretty good job
responding all afternoon).
And aside from Duke's shortcomings, the game was a cause game for Virginia
Tech: to a man, they were all determined to avenge last year's miracle shot by
Sean Dockery. Jim Valvano used to say he dreaded directional schools
(Northeastern or Southwestern whoever) and cause games.
Yet despite Duke's wretched control of the ball, and poor foul shooting, Duke
could have stolen the game.
DeMarcus Nelson hit a gutty three with 22 seconds left to tie the game and
force it into overtime. And Duke had chances in overtime, right up until
the last trip downcourt. But their problems with ballhandling and,
apparently, communication, popped up again as Josh McRoberts rebounded a missed
foul shot by Tech's A.D. Vassallo with eight seconds left and tossed a backcourt
pass to Greg Paulus, who for some reason didn't see it coming. He was on
the right side of the court; the ball bounced left, and he followed, losing
precious time. By the time he got into the frontcourt, he was looking for
someone to pass to and had to settle for a desperate three point attempt over
6-7 Deron Washington, who earlier had avoided a charge by simply leaping right
over Paulus in one of the great plays we've seen in recent years.
It summed the game up pretty well, at least offensively: Duke's two most
critical players had a lousy day with the ball and couldn't manage to advance
the ball across the halfcourt line with the game in the balance.
The obvious question is why Duke had such a poor offensive day. The
answer certainly isn't talent. It's certainly not effort, since the effort
is definitely there.
It may well be youth, although Coach K says he won't entertain that thought,
since he views it as a crutch and an irrelevant crutch at that ("this is
who we are").
Whatever it is, we'd love to be in the team meetings over the next couple of
days. The immediate suspicion anyone would have is that he's going to rip
them apart bit by bit. But our experience, following Duke very closely, is
that is possible but not necessarily inevitable.
More than almost any coach we know of, Krzyzewski understands the importance
of failure and the ways a leader can use it to, well, lead. No one likes
to get screamed at all the time, and right about now, it might not be a good
idea to scream at Greg Paulus, who obviously struggled and whose confidence
might not be as high as one would like.
We remember in about, oh, 1987 or so, Duke had a three game losing streak (in
conference no less). Rather than shrieking at everyone, Coach K stopped
everything and asked them why they were losing. Everyone had to explain
how they were failing, individually and collectively.
Duke is great for a lot of reasons, not least of all great players, as Seth
Greenberg pointed out the other day, but also because communication and trust
are seen as critical components of the program (in many programs, both coaches
and players are profoundly cynical about each other).
After a game like this, at times, the coaching staff has in fact really
ripped into their charges, ordering midnight practices and the like. And
certainly individual players are challenged and their buttons
But at other times, it's seeking the quiet center within, a chance to push
away the negative (including, unfortunately, far too many fans) and to focus on
Commentators talk a lot about Coach K's military background, but it's fairly
rare to hear one who understands how he uses it as a coach. It's not the
Patton thing; it's the group. It's understanding the individuals and
helping them to understand one another and how to succeed. In his former career,
it's how to keep as many of you alive as possible, so trust is obviously
absolutely critical. Nothing like getting shot in the ass because you
can't count on one guy to do his job.
No one gets shot in college basketball, at least not on the court. But
the value of the idea is the same: know what your teammate can do and help
him to do it, and he helps you to do what you can do.
That, we suspect, will be the emphasis this week, and not the need to rub
anyone's nose in it. Everyone already knows what the problems are; it's a
question of minimizing or resolving them.
For Tech, it was a tremendous performance. They really, really took
care of the ball, they picked Duke's pocket on a regular basis, and they played
a smart, disciplined game. Aside from Deron Washington's rather
spectacular move, either Dowdell or Gordon (we forget which one) hit a shot
while falling on his butt. You can say Duke could have won, and yes, it's
true, but when shots are falling in when you are almost on your butt and
shooting near a heavily defended basket, and when you can play Superman and
clear a 6-1 player, well, at the least it's leaning towards being your
For Coach K and the team, the challenges are clear; for the fans, they should
be as well.
After the game, Krzyzewski obliquely criticized Cameron, saying this:
âIâm not going to use [youth] as an excuse; thatâs who we are. We all need
to be hungry again. In this decade we have won about 85 percent of our games, a
lot more than anybody. We are not those teams or that Duke and we are not that
Fair enough, and true enough, too.
Winning is addictive. Everyone loves it, and it gets pretty comfortable,
especially when other people are the ones who sweat and bleed. Those who are
lucky enough to go to Cameron have had a fairly easy ride for years: show
up, make fun of the opponent, game's in the bag by the 30 minute mark. You
can even beat traffic!
But it's an illusion: some people work hard as hell to keep things
going as well as they have, and while it's been fun to watch, not much has been
demanded of the sixth man for a while, but now, we're truly needed, downstairs
and up. We're all part of the same thing, and drawing distinctions is
So think it over: if you can't make a game because of class or family
obligations, no one has a right to criticize you. But there seems to be an
increasing tendency to show up for the big games and to dismiss the lesser
We should take Coach K's challenge to heart, and all of us should show up and
be one loud, somewhat surly colonial animal, to borrow Tom Wolfe's
phrase. Cameron needs to be surly once in a while, and demanding,
and now is one of those times.
This team will continue to improve and has some significant potential,
despite the obstacles that youth presents. So do the fans and particularly
the current crop of Crazies. It's not where it can be, but if we work at
it, we can improve ourselves and help the team along in the bargain.