Growing up a teenager in the mid-1960s, I had to be a Beatles fan.
John and Paul (not so much George or Ringo) were third in my personal pantheon in that era - behind Heyman/Mullins and Mantle/Ford. Looking back, I think they are still the greatest rock group in history. Their only competition is the Rolling Stones and my feeling on the Beatles-Stone debate is the same as my feeling on the Mantle-Mays debate - at their peak, both the Beatles and Mantle were significantly better than the Stones and Mays, but the later two had much longer peaks (for those who will question this, Mantle had six OPS-plus seasons better than Mays' best single season; his career OPS-plus was 10 percent higher … but Mays played in 20 percent more games).
But as much as I loved the Beatles, I never liked their hit "Eight Days a Week."
Ooh I need your love babe,
Guess you know it's true.
Hope you need my love babe,
Just like I need you.
Hold me, love me, hold me, love me.
Ain't got nothin' but love babe,
Eight days a week.
Lame - hey, even Mickey struck out 1,710 times.
Yet, that song came back to me this weekend, when I looked at the schedule facing Duke in the next week … or the next eight days to be exact.
It starts tonight with a 9 p.m. game in Atlanta against Georgia Tech.
Exactly 48 hours later, Duke plays UNC at 9 p.m. in Chapel Hill.
Less than 48 hours after that, Duke faces No. 1 and unbeaten Syracuse in a 7 p.m. game in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
` And 72 hours after that, Duke plays Virginia Tech in Cameron.
Then the Blue Devils get a break.
However you want to spin it - four games in eight days; three games in five days (leaving out next week's Virginia Tech game) or five games in 11 days (counting last Saturday's home game with Maryland) - it's about as daunting a task as any team has ever faced in the regular season.
This stretch will go a long way towards positioning Duke for the offseason - at the end of it, the Devils could be strong contenders for a No. 1 seed or fighting for a 2-3 placement. It could go a long way towards determining whether Syracuse goes 18-0 in the ACC (beating Duke's 1999 record of 16-0). And as far as the Duke-Carolina rivalry, it will give UNC a chance to regain a little footage after four years of Duke domination (a 7-2 Duke edge in that span).
Mike Krzyzewski is usually very candid when asked about the tasks facing his team, but Saturday after the Maryland win, he dodged a question about the upcoming week.
"We trying not to look at it that way," he said. "Because each game is the same. If you start looking at it as a series, there's a tendency to rationalize during the sequence. Over the years, [I've found that] one of the great enemies of success is rationalization. You can get to the Final Four and rationalize, 'Boy, we made it" and not be as on edge as you need to be.
"So we're just going to talk about the next game."
Monday, a reporter asked Coach K if his approach was different than normal - pointing out that he often talked about "segments" of the season.
"Because it's an unusual situation - I mean really unusual because of the postponement [of the UNC game]," Krzyzewski answered. "The other thing is, I think you can get ahead of yourself for the buildup for the Thursday night game and the Saturday game. If we started that before Maryland … we were in a fight, a great game against Maryland. And I think we'll be in a great game against Georgia Tech.
"You could have a tendency of not giving each game the value of emotion - the mental and physical preparation each game deserves."
Duke was not at its best in the Maryland game. The Blue Devils shot a season-low 20.8 percent (5 of 24) from 3-point range. That one failure for a team hitting over 42 percent on the season, turned what should have been a comfortable game into a thriller.
In a way, it was reminiscent of the Virginia win that kicked off Duke's revival after a poor stretch of games in early January. In both cases, Duke blew comfortable leads, yet gritted out the plays to win the game.
The Devils followed the narrow Virginia win with seven strong games in a row - six lopsided wins and that remarkable overtime loss at Syracuse.
Duke will need to recapture that level of play if the Devils hope to survive the next eight days. Certainly, Duke won't beat Syracuse or North Carolina by shooting 20.8 percent from 3-point range. They may not survive Georgia Tech with that kind of shooting.
Start with that game, because nothing great can happen this week unless the Devils take care of business in Atlanta.
This is a tough game to project because both teams were so different when they met on Jan. 7 in Cameron. Duke was not playing well at the time - that game came between the loss at Notre Dame and the loss at Clemson. Jabari Parker was still mired in his mini-slump. He had just 12 points (on 4-of-12 shooting) and six rebounds. Rasheed Sulaimon was still trying to find his game, although he did have 11 points and two assists in 25 minutes. Duke had no answer for 6-11 senior Daniel Miller down low and Marcus Georges-Hunt was effective getting to the basket.
Duke, which led by just one at the half, pulled away for a 79-57 victory, thanks to a 27-point performance by Rodney Hood. But it wasn't as easy as the final score indicates.
Obviously, Duke is a much better team today (or at least it was before the Maryland squeaker). Parker has re-emerged as a dominant player, while Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson have stepped up their games. The team's defense is significantly better.
However, Georgia Tech presents a different challenge too. Sophomore power forward Robert Carter - a player very similar to Maryland soph Charles Mitchell, who hurt Duke so badly Saturday -- missed the first Duke-Tech game with a foot injury. He has returned to the lineup and while he's not 100 percent, he had 10 points and five boards in Tech's win over Boston College.
On the other hand, guard Trae Golden - Tech's leading scorer -- is nursing a pulled groin and has missed two of the last three games. Coach Brian Gregory said Golden's status will be a game-time decision.
Actually, this is a game Duke should win whether Golden plays or not - providing the Devils are anywhere near the level they've been at for most of the last month.
If Duke can put this one behind them, then they can focus on the UNC-Syracuse games without worry of any emotional letdown. Krzyzewski compared the two games to a Final Four scenario. There's a bit of difference in that one game is away and the other at home … plus both opponents will have 24 hours more rest/preparation time than the Devils.
Still, it's not that farfetched that Duke could see a pair of games like UNC-Syracuse in the Final Four. That will be fun to look at late Tuesday night, providing the Blue Devils get out of Atlanta with a win.
Keep in mind that old Beatles' single - Eight Days a Week.
Anybody remember the flip side?
It was: "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party."
That's why Krzyzewski is so reluctant to talk about the UNC-Syracuse games … he doesn't want to see the Yellow Jackets spoil the party.
THE ACC'S BUBBLE SHRINKING
A couple of weeks ago, it seemed like half the ACC was on the NCAA bubble.
As of today, just three teams could even remotely be considered bubble teams - and at the moment, they are all on the wrong side of the bubble.
As it stands, five ACC teams seem NCAA bound - No. 1 Syracuse, No. 5 Duke, No. 13 Virginia, No. 26 (unofficially) UNC and unranked Pitt. The surging Tar Heels have solidified their standing in the last two weeks and have put the bubble far in their rear view window.
On the other hand, seven ACC schools have played their way out of consideration. The only way Maryland, Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Miami, Boston College or Virginia Tech will sniff the NCAA is to win the ACC Tournament.
That leaves three teams still trying to make a claim to an NCAA bid:
N.C. State (16-9, 6-6 ACC, No. 51 RPI) has climbed eight spots in the RPI in the last week. The Pack might have climbed higher - from just outside the bubble to just inside - without that disastrous last minute loss at Syracuse.
Just one word about the officiating at the end. A lot of Wolfpack fans are outraged over the call when T.J. Warren was fouled with 14 seconds left on his way to a game-clinching basket. They thought he was shooting when hacked by Trevor Cooney. The call that he was still on the floor has been portrayed as an outrage propagated by ACC commissioner Johnny Swofford and the powers-that-be in the league office.
Let me say, that's ridiculous. If Swofford or his minions could have made the call for their selfish purposes, Warren would have gotten the basket and the free throw. The point is, it would have been in the ACC's best interest for N.C. State to win that game. A victory over the 'Cuse would have made State a likely NCAA team rather than a longshot. That would have brought significant money into the conference coffers (the NCAA money is split according to the number of NCAA teams each conference produces). The loss would not have hurt Syracuse's NCAA chances.
If the ACC was crooked, they'd be doing everything possible to get N.C. State (and Clemson AND Florida State) into the field.
That doesn't mean I necessarily think the right call was made in the closing seconds of the State-Syracuse game. Watching the play over and over on replay, I think that technically the right call was made, but that most often in the ACC this season, Warren would have gotten continuation. Just go back to the Duke-Maryland game - with 8:50 left in the second half, Dez Wells drives into the lane and collides with Quinn Cook … Wells bounces off Cook and as he gathers himself and a he's falling away, he launches a shot that goes it. It's well after the collision, but he gets the shot and one free throw.
That's normal in the ACC this season.
Of course, State can only blame itself for the two turnovers in the last 40 seconds that allowed Syracuse to rally … and to deny the Pack the signature win it needs on its resume.
There aren't many chances left for N.C. State to get that win. Tonight's game at Clemson would be big (since the Tigers are also fighting to get on the bubble). State could add a significant win Feb 26 when North Carolina (now up to No. 31 in the RPI - before the FSU win Monday night) and Mar. 3 at Pitt (No. 32 RPI).
N.C. State still has a lot of work to do, but the Pack is the strongest of the ACC's three bubble teams.
Clemson (15-9, 6-6 ACC, RPI No. 78): Last week was disastrous for the Tiger hopes. They fell 14 points in the RPI after losing a double overtime game at Notre Dame and a thriller in Littlejohn against Virginia.
The Tigers are hanging by a thread - a home loss to N.C. State tonight could be a knockout blow. Clemson does have a home win over Duke and will finish with a home game against Pitt, so a recovery is possible.
But they also have the nation's 268th strongest non-conference strength of schedule, so that's going to make it tough.
Florida State (15-11, 6-8 ACC, No. 61 RPI) I'm probably being too generous here. FSU's NCAA hopes almost certainly died with their late collapse against UNC Monday night. Leonard Hamilton's team was in great shape after beating Notre Dame on Jan. 18 (13-5 with top 50 RPI wins over VCU, UMass and Clemson, which was top 50 at that time).
But a 22-point loss at Duke started the team's downward spiral. The 'Noles have lost six of eight games since.
This team has two more chances for a big win - at Pitt Sunday and Syracuse in Tallahassee to end the regular season. They almost have to win both (as well as games with Georgia Tech and Boston College) to get back in the at-large conversation.
If today was Selection Sunday, the ACC would get five bids. There's time to change that. But it would be a lot easier if the ACC refs would forget honesty and call the games as crookedly as many fans think they do.
THE BATTLE FOR RALEIGH
The Duke-North Carolina game Thursday night could have an added dimension - it could impact which team gets to start its NCAA path in Raleigh.
If the Selection Committee follows its guidelines (and they don't always do that), then it's likely that the two highest seeded ACC teams (after Syracuse, which will play in Buffalo) will head the two pods in Raleigh.
Right now, Duke (No. 9 RPI), Virginia (No. 17 RPI) and North Carolina (No. 31 RPI) would all like to play in Raleigh - it's the closest geographic subregional for all three teams. But just two of the three can be at the same site (no two teams from the same conference can be in the same pod, except for some very special circumstances, which won't apply in this instance).
If the selection were today, then Duke and Virginia would probably head the two Raleigh pods.
But if North Carolina were to beat Duke Thursday, the Tar Heels would put themselves in contention to finish ahead of Duke in the NCAA's eyes. Just beating Duke in Chapel Hill would probably not be enough in itself, but if the Heels finish stronger than the Devils, they could steal a spot in Raleigh and force Duke and Virginia to compete head to head for the other spot. If the Cavaliers win the ACC regular season (as they will likely do it they can upset Syracuse in Charlottesville), it would be hard to deny them a spot close to home.
That could mean a distant NCAA opener for the Blue Devils.