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Friday, February 10, 2012

Hoop Cheese: The Duke-UNC fallout, and why did NC State get left out of the realignment fun?

Posted by on Fri, Feb 10, 2012 at 2:24 PM

Did someone in Durham get news about the Facebook IPO?
This week's Hoop Cheese edition has so many words in it, not even Austin Rivers could say them while scoring 29 points in a hostile gym.

You may have heard there was a Duke-UNC basketball game in Chapel Hill. That one came down to a buzzer-beater. There was one in Durham, too, on Monday. There was no need to beat the buzzer in that one, as the Duke women hammered Sylvia Hatchell's Tar Heels 96-56. Mike Potter gives us the lay of the land, the high ground of which we're sure is in Durham these days.

Neil Morris and Mike Potter take distinct views on the appalling (or just appallingly unimaginative) realigning of NC State out of the ACC spotlight. (Now they know how all those soon-to-be-retired state Democratic politicians feel.)

Rob Harrington was on hand in Chapel Hill Wednesday night. He saw a dangerously inflexible, lumbering team.

Adam Sobsey, who writes more words than Tolstoy, watched the game on his television and sent us his rolls of parchment.

(Sobsey, by the way, is shipping some of his words to Baseball Prospectus these days. It's a pay site, but allow yourself to be teased out of your money when you click over to his piece on the Durham Bulls of his salad days. But not before you read what we have to say below.)

N.C. State and Wake Forest, Part 1: Not lovers, not rivals. Just partners.
In the waning seconds of N.C. State’s lopsided win over Wake Forest last Saturday, the Wolfpack student section began chanting, “Not our rival!” It was witty exercise in verbal jujitsu, absorbing the identical invective hurled at the Wolfpack during their ill-fated visit to Chapel Hill the week before and not only lobbing it at the hapless Demon Deacons but simultaneously protesting the designation of Wake Forest as N.C. State’s “rival” under a new ACC basketball scheduling scheme set to launch beginning in the 2012-13 season when the conference schedule expands to 18 games.

As you may have heard, the 14 conference teams (including Big East escapees Syracuse and Pittsburgh) were paired off into seven sets of designated “primary partners,” teams that will play each other twice every season. Teams will play each of the other ACC schools once every two out of three seasons; they will face each other twice during the third season.

There are three ACC schools in the Triangle, and one would have to be left out of the dance. The demise of an annual home-and-away set between the Wolfpack and Tar Heels (and Duke, too, for that matter) is a loss for anyone who cut his or her teeth on Holly Farms Players of the Game, and the glorious likes of Tommy LaGarde, Mike Gminski and Hawkeye Whitney.

But once you concede that we're living in an ESPN-driven, basketball-everywhere-all-the-time reality, two points stand out. First, North Carolina and Duke cannot and should not be relegated to just one game in any season. It is the most intense rivalry in college basketball and one of the best in all sports. The rest of these “partners” are largely interchangeable—UNC and Duke is the only indispensable one.

Moreover, N.C. State and Wake Forest IS a traditional rivalry, beginning when the Demon Deacons were located in the Wake County woodlands north of Raleigh that gave the school its name. At 235 games and counting, it is the second-most frequent matchup in the ACC behind Wake Forest-Duke. Once upon a time, the “Big Four” of UNC, Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest competed in the Dixie Classic tournament from 1949 to 1961 and the Big Four Tournament in Greensboro from 1971 to 1981.

While Wake Forest may not be the prettiest dance partner left in the gym, Wolfpackers should bow and extend a hand. After all, the lyrics to N.C State’s “Red and White Song” include this passage: “Come over the hill, Caroline / Devils and Deacs stand in line / The Red and White from N.C. State, Go State!” —Neil Morris

N.C. State and Wake Forest, Part 2: What history-deficient tyro is running things here?
Am I reading this right?

The ACC’s new 18-game basketball schedule will actually spit out fixtures in which not only does Duke play N.C. State and Wake Forest only once each but the same happens with the Wolfpack and UNC?

Who comes up with something so goofy?

Oh, there will be one “permanent opponent” that a team plays twice every season—the UNC-Duke “Battle of the Blues” is the headliner on that and several of the rest are pretty obvious — but the other four doubles each season will be on a rotating basis. Something about “competitive balance,” they say.

Like UNC-Pittsburgh or Duke-Florida State is supposed to have any chance to generate the same interest as UNC-N.C. State or State-Duke or even UNC-Wake.

Ridiculous.

I wouldn’t want to be the first guy on the phone answering questions when the Wolfpack men’s season tickets go on sale with neither Duke nor Carolina visiting the RBC Center.

The conference, which is North Carolina born and bred and has been around longer than I have, was going strong many, many years before some of the people insisting on these calls were on the scene. It ignores, at its own peril, its deep Old North State tradition, which was popular before our senior citizen friends had heard of rock ’n’ roll or color TV. —Mike Potter

Women's basketball: Mike Potter has been right all year about Duke
Didn’t I tell you Duke was that good last week? The Blue Devils began a rough week for their archrivals from Chapel Hill with a 96-56 rout over UNC that once again said more about Duke than the Tar Heels.

Duke played one of its best offensive games in a very long time, and when this season’s Blue Devils are firing on all cylinders like that even a decent team like UNC is not going to be able to keep pace in Cameron.

If the No. 5 Blue Devils (20-3, 11-0) were to finish with an unbeaten conference record and win the ACC Tournament, there’s a sneaking suspicion here that they would get the No. 1 seed in the Raleigh Regional and thus a favored spot to get to the Final Four.

And even if that doesn’t quite happen, the NCAA’s “S-curve”—which means the No. 5 overall seed in the field is paired with No. 4 in a regional bracket and No. 6 with No. 3, etc.—would under that scenario probably make Duke the No. 2 seed and deliver the Blue Devils to a court about 20 miles from home.

They got an interesting challenge at last-place Boston College Thursday night, but even a weak ACC team isn’t necessarily a bad Division I basketball team. And the last three regular-season games are at Maryland, at home against Miami and then at UNC.

Now, about the Tar Heels. Yes, they got an Armageddon whipping in Durham and then lost 61-37 at Miami — where the Hurricanes under Duke alumna Katie Meier have won 38 straight home games — and those were losses to the No. 5 and No. 6 teams in the country.

So is UNC (17-7, 7-4) falling apart? Well, the No. 23 Tar Heels have five times had to win a specific game to walk the tightrope to stay in the Top 25. If they don’t beat No. 22 Georgia Tech Sunday at Carmichael, then it might be time to fire up the worry machine.

Sylvia Hatchell’s club won’t be an easy favorite against any of the remaining teams on the schedule—the Heels will be slight favorites on the road at Florida State and at home against N.C. State and solid underdogs at Maryland at home against Duke—unless it plays a Thursday game in the ACC Tournament that might rack up win No. 20.

Don’t forget the Tar Heels will host first- and second-round games in the NCAA Tournament, so when you look at their raw record go ahead and pretend there are two more marks in the left column for selection committee purposes.

Now for N.C. State. The Wolfpack (15-10, 4-7) needs just one win to assure itself at least a WNIT bid following Thursday night’s romp over Longwood.

Twenty wins would seem to be the magic number for an NCAA spot, and if the Wolfpack gets to that number it will have five very nice wins after Lincoln’s birthday. State should be a slight favorite in its sold-out “Hoops 4 Hope” game against Wake Forest and should get a comfortable win at Boston College the Duke game notwithstanding.

Home contests with Miami and Maryland and the trip to Chapel Hill are what you’d call “opportunities.” If State plays up to its potential, as it did in a similar situation two seasons ago, it has a shot at an NCAA spot. If not, the Pack will get to see how many home games it can get in the WNIT. —MP

The UNC-Duke fallout, Part 1: It's the 3s, stupid!
From the UNC perspective and viewing the situation more broadly, treble damage has become a consistent drain.

Excluding the Kentucky game this past December in which the Wildcats owned the front court, Carolina's four other most recent defeats all bear a similar look. Those losses include Duke, Florida State, UNLV and Kentucky last spring in the Elite Eight.

The numbers are ugly: Those opponents shot a combined 51-117 on threes, good for 44 percent. In those same games Carolina made just 12-52 for 23 percent. Teams that specialize in three-point shooting have created open looks against a UNC defense that continues to focus on two-pointers—where it excels—and has been acquiescent in allowing threes. Meanwhile, Carolina has failed to achieve the kind of offensive balance enjoyed by the 2009 squad that boasted terrific inside-outside play.

You could point out that all defenses have vulnerabilities, but why have most of Carolina's conquerors smacked their lips and trampled UNC from deep? The Heels simply haven't demonstrated a solid contingency plan, and this season they're just 3-4 against top-25 teams in Ken Pomeroy's empirical rankings. That's an extremely disappointing mark for the preseason national favorite, and three-pointers have played a critical role. —Rob Harrington

The Duke-UNC fallout, Part 2: "In order for a plane to crash, multiple things have to go wrong"
I watched this game with Eric Martin, my alternate on press row at Cameron. As the action started, Duke ran out to a quick early lead with help from UNC's defense, which was virtually nonexistent. I said that the reason Duke had a chance to win had to do with a fundamental element of the traditional Tar Heel/Roy Williams modus operandi: Carolina is basically going to do the thing it has been doing all year (indeed all of Williams's coaching tenure in Chapel Hill), and thinks that its thing is going to be better than your thing, whoever you are and whatever it is.

Over the last few years, that thing has generally worked well as long as Williams has had sufficiently good and mature players whom he can rely on to do their work, and there is every reason to think that UNC has Final Four potential again this year, although they look to me more like an Elite Eight team, especially with a now alarmingly thin bench. But basically: go ahead and score, we're going to score more, and we can make up for our defensive deficiencies with these tall, long-armed people who can get pretty much every rebound.

Still, I thought Duke could win because they had enough three-point weapons—but also, more importantly, because they had desperation, and desperation leads to occasional magic. Duke *had* to have that game, and in order to win it, they needed magic. I think it was actually good for Duke that the game was at the Dean Dome, because the Blue Devils were freed from the pressure of proving themselves again, following their loss at Cameron against Miami, to their by now deeply distressed home crowd—and, more broadly, relieved from having to think about and play under this season's ongoing (and frankly way overblown) melodrama about the supposedly shameful shortcomings of the Crazies.

And Duke, i.e. Mike Krzyzewski, *loves* the underdog/villain role. (Even after the game, he made sure to say that UNC was the better team, in order to start setting up his squad as an underdog in the March 3 rematch.) Ranked lower than UNC, and playing in a hostile arena, this was a favorable setup for them. They've played better away from home this year, anyway, for the most part, with more edge and 40-minute focus.

So all they had to do was to scrap and scramble out from under the 8-13-point deficit they were in for much of the second half—and Duke's M.O. has usually been scrap-and-scramble, piece-it-together, do-it-with-guts (Rivers is the only Blue Devil you'd choose over UNC's counterpart if you were choosing a pickup team).

Because UNC never *quite* put the game away, the Blue Devils could see a light there in the distance at the 40:00 mark. I kept thinking of those first few minutes of the first half, when Duke looked strong and was having its way with Carolina's indifferent defense. Yes, UNC proceeded to outplay Duke for much of the rest of the game—they did their thing, and it was better than Duke's thing—but some of that had to do simply with Duke missing three-pointers more often as the game wore on. Probably the Devils were getting a little tired, but one little boost was all they needed to get the adrenaline going again. That was Seth Curry's transition three-pointer that cut the lead (if memory serves) to four points—biggest shot of the game, even bigger than Rivers's buzzer-beater for my money. That was the moment when UNC's defense really came unraveled again.

From there... well, in order for a plane to crash, multiple things have to go wrong, compounded by luck and pilot error. Carolina missed free throws. There was Tyler Zeller's bizarre, accidental, deus-ex-machina tip-in of a Duke airball three-pointer. There was a turnover by Kendall Marshall, if I recall rightly. And as Krzyzewski noted, his team simply got hot again: three three-pointers over the last couple of minutes.

And then there was that last play, and here is where UNC's tried-and-true way lost them the game. Mason Plumlee set a screen for Rivers, which caused Reggie Bullock and Zeller to switch defensive assignments. Well, it didn't *cause* the switch; the Tar Heels chose to make it, probably as a result of drilling in practice. It may have been strategically sound to make that choice in most situations, all things being equal, but the game was no longer operating from strategy, from my-thing-vs.-your-thing; it had moved into a deeply unequal, freewheeling, pitch-and-roll desperation mode and emergency tactics were required, of the sort Duke had resorted to in order to cut the lead down to two points. Bullock should have pursued Rivers, hounding him along with Zeller in a double-team. If Rivers should have the wherewithal to find the open Plumlee at that point, the worst outcome (probably) is a layup, a tie, and overtime.

But I think:

a) it's been established that Austin Rivers isn't going to pass the ball in that situation;

b) even if he does, he'll have to get the pass over and through two long, long defenders if Bullock and Zeller are both on him;

c) duh, you can't let an open three-pointer go up when you're leading by two with seconds to play; and

d) you *especially* can't let an Austin Rivers three-pointer go up. He was already 5-9 from deep to that point, I think, and I do mean deep: He had hit some bombs from well out beyond the line. It's not Zeller's fault, exactly, that he did what he did. He was essentially conceding that he couldn't guard Rivers, probably didn't know exactly how much time was left on the clock (which Rivers could see clearly), and so he hung back. Carolina did its thing, Rivers did his thing, and 85-84, Duke. Seeya March 3 at Cameron.

It'll be interesting to see how the two teams respond going forward. Duke gets Maryland at home on Saturday, and they took care of the Terrapins without a whole lot of trouble on the road earlier this season. The crowd is going to be in an absolute frenzy, still agog from the thrilling comeback over Carolina—just what Cameron needed to get back to its Crazie ways again (and they love to hate Maryland, too). Those last two minutes, powered by faith and fire and furor, are the kind that can get a listing team sailing again.

Or Duke could just as easily, as Eric offered, come out slack and sleepy again and lose at home to Maryland—you just never know with this team. The question is whether Krzyzewski is able to capitalize on Wednesday's windfall—and, I think, more importantly, whether it finally turned lightning-rod Rivers into the leader this team has not had, and which Eric was looking for in his assessment of the Miami loss. Rivers's famous dad's nickname is "Doc." If that makes Austin Baby Doc, well, apologies for the unkind and insensitive comparison, but perhaps Duke needs a selfish and tyrannical dictator to keep its ranks united. —Adam Sobsey

Let's look at it again, shall we? Replays start at :40. —ed.

*** Oh, and you want some recommended reading? Check out Mark Titus's current Top 12 College Basketball Rankings piece, because it starts with more of Titus's pitiless rasping at UNC's defense and it was written *before* UNC lost to Duke. Later, he's got some choice words about Duke's erratic offense, which he thinks is one-dimensional. —AS

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This week's Hoop Cheese edition has so many words in it, not even Austin Rivers could say them while scoring 29 points in a hostile gym.

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