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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hoop Cheese: Wolfpacking heat for Heels, plus what's up with lagging Duke student attendance?

Posted by on Thu, Jan 26, 2012 at 4:52 PM

Hungry wolf, there may be food in Chapel Hill.
  • wikipedia commons
  • Hungry wolf, there may be food in Chapel Hill.
What have we learned in ACC basketball this week? Perhaps that neither Duke nor UNC is as good as we'd like to think they are. No—that's something we'll never learn. But N.C. State is sniffing upset through their little wolfy nostrils. Game is on in Chapel Hill, 7 p.m. on ESPN.

Mike Potter (@MikePotterRDU) tells us that contrary to a certain 51-point loss, UNC Tar Heels women are back in their groove. However, the architects of that 51-point squeaker, the slavering, fang-filled Huskies of UConn, are mushing their way to Durham! For a game at (nearly) sold-out Cameron Indoor Stadium, coming up Monday, Jan. 30. Put on your upset goggles for this nationally televised-on-ESPN2 tilt.

Wait, a sold-out Cameron Indoor Stadium? Don't tell anyone, but nobody goes to Cameron Indoor Stadium anymore. It's too crowded. Adam Sobsey (@sobsey) said that, below.

And Rob Harrington (@Rob_Harrington) has a thought or two involving the director of the movie Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Dexter Disco. No, that's Whit Stillman. Anyway, what have we learned? What do we know?

Stilman White may have to play tonight. Wait, who's Stilman White?
The only story in Chapel Hill (give or take a jejune, trite act of vandalism —ed.) since the Virginia Tech game has been the point guard conundrum. After Dexter Strickland tore his ACL and was ruled out for the season, everyone has wondered who will back up Kendall Marshall at point guard. Because while Strickland started at shooting guard, the Heels carry enough depth on the wing to replace him—and some have clamored all season for Reggie Bullock to play a heavier role.

But at point guard, UNC's options are limited. Roy Williams said this week that he believes Marshall can play approximately 35 minutes per game, so the issue is what happens during that brief, but very fragile
time when he's not on the court. The only other true point guard on the roster is Stilman White, a lightly recruited freshman who simply may not have the physical ability to handle the ball against ACC-level
pressure or defend big-time athletes. He played poorly against the Hokies last week but has enjoyed better moments on other occasions—typically against an opponent's reserves—this season.

Williams also discussed the possibility of playing without a point guard during Marshall's rest minutes. Both Harrison Barnes and Justin Watts received a few reps this week, but clearly neither man is what
UNC wants in terms of a playmaker, ball-handler or primary defender. My guess is Williams hopes White can win those minutes but wants to create the appearance of several viable options, in order to suppress
pressure from enveloping his freshman and in case White simply isn't ready for such a crucial responsibility. —Rob Harrington

UNC is going to be OK, but Duke is just that good.
1. UNC is going to be OK. The No. 25 Tar Heels (15-5, 3-2) could have dug a big hole and stuck all their heads in it after a couple of embarrassing losses, an inexplicable one to otherwise hapless Clemson at home and a the worst defeat in school history at No. 3 Connecticut. But that didn’t happen. They got a solid road win over a weak Virginia Tech team and then a hard-fought, noisy road win over a nice N.C. State team before demolishing cellar-dwelling Boston College on Wednesday. With 11 healthy players who can contribute including 6-6 center Waltiea Rolle who is running off the pregnancy weight gain, the Tar Heels will comfortably get a 20-win season and host NCAA Tournament games March 18 and 20 if they just win the games they’re “supposed” to win.

2. Duke is just that good. The No. 5 Blue Devils (16-2, 7-0) got a huge win over No. 8 Maryland on Sunday, never allowing the imposing Terps to get the lead in the second half. They’re looking for their third straight ACC title, and with the addition of superstar freshman center Elizabeth Williams and all the sophomores improving, they may be better equipped for a run at greatness than last season’s senior-led club. If they want a 1-seed and a certain assignment to the Raleigh Regional in the NCAA Tournament, the Blue Devils need to beat No. 3 Connecticut Monday night at nearly sold-out Cameron. The Huskies walloped Duke by over 30 twice last season, but neither game was in Durham. If we can say Duke is 10 points better than last season’s team and UConn is 10 points below last season’s team, throw in a little home-court magic and the upset possibility is there. But the first eight minutes will be absolutely crucial.

3. State is pushing for an NCAA spot. The Wolfpack (13-7, 3-4) has won three of four and is headed in the right direction. The principal scorers—Marissa Kastanek, Bonae Holston and Kody Burke—have a lot more help this time including major contributions from freshman guards Krystal Barrett and Erica Donovan. The schedule is “manageable” as the new cliché goes. The most likely scenario would have the Wolfpack winning its 20th game in a blowout in the first round of the ACC Tournament and heading to parts unknown for the two NCAA games and a chance to suit up at the RBC Center for the regional. Friday’s televised home game against Florida State is one the Pack needs to put in the left column to make sure that happens. —Mike Potter

Nobody goes to Cameron anymore...
After watching Duke's inside game evaporate against Florida State (in a loss on Saturday), I saw big man Mason Plumlee totally own Maryland in the paint on Wednesday night: 23 points (more than Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins and Austin Rivers combined) on 9-13 from the floor, plus 12 rebounds and four assists. Brother Miles added seven points (3-4 from the floor) and four boards. It's starting to seem, despite Duke's guard-heavy composition, that the key to the team's success may lie in the paint. So many good things happened for the Blue Devils against the Terps when the offense ran through (or at least by way of) Mason, it's hard to imagine Krzyzewski and his staff omitting him from the game plan from here on out.

It was *very* weird to see a coach other than Gary Williams pacing the sideline on the Maryland bench. There was a pregame ceremony to rename the court for Williams, but seeing him come out with fists pumping, emeritus-style, only made me miss him more.

On the subject of recommended reading, an extracurricular issue at Cameron surfaced thanks to the loss at home against the Seminoles last weekend: Student attendance has been dwindling. A front-page Duke Chronicle story has the bad news: a 33 percent decline, apparently, over the last few years, in undergraduate attendance.

Numerous factors play into it, but among them is what seems to me to be a buried lead: “The rumor we’ve had to deal with over the past couple years is that it’s hard to get into games, and if you show up half an hour before tipoff you won’t get in,” Ellie Garrett told the Chronicle. (Garrett is co-head line monitor at Krzyzewskiville, where the ticket-hopeful tents are pitched.) Ah, that old Yogi-ism still applies: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

One more piece of tangentially related recommended reading. Mary Semans, scion of the Duke family, passed away yesterday. She was 91 years old. I happened to know Mary a little, and she was not only a great benefactress but a truly wonderful human being: warm, down to earth, kind, intelligent and absolutely authentic. As the university itself continues to move beyond its family origins, yesterday was a solemn reminder that its ancestry is receding into the past. Mary Semans was, more than anyone else at Duke—including Mike Krzyzewski—the heart and soul of what Duke's service to the world was all about. Both regal and humble, elegant and casual, she was a peerless doyenne. —Adam Sobsey

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