In between Duke’s back-to-back blow-outs over Cornell and Elon this week, the national spotlight wasn’t focused on how the Blue Devils fantastically worked through its 11-day rust in the first game or overcame mental fatigue in the next. It barely touched on Jim Boeheim recently joining Coach Krzyzewski in the 900-win club, or the news from the previous day that Coach K was the co-recipient (along with Geno Auriemma) and five-time winner of the Team USA Coach of the Year Award.
Instead, everyone eagerly awaited for one of the country’s top college basketball prospects, Jabari Parker, to announce which school he would sign with for the 2012-2013 season. Well, he’s coming to Durham to play for Coach Krzyzewski.
The No. 1-ranked Blue Devils moved to an 11-0 record for the 14th time under Coach K this week and in the middle of back-to-back wins against Cornell and Elon, Duke also garnered a verbal commitment from one of the most coveted high school players in the nation—for the third year in a row. Some basketball analysts have the 6-foot-8 Ubermensch and Illinois’ "Mr. Basketball" as the missing piece Duke needs to make another run for the national championship.
By that logic, we might as well forget about Duke making a run for the championship this year or aiming for an undefeated season—which is not as far-fetched as it sounds, even if you’re willing to admit that Quinn Cook and Mason Plumlee are college basketball’s most effective twosome, and Rasheed Sulaimon is prematurely and freakishly composed for a freshman.
Parker’s reserved demeanor and religious background seem to have everyone fooled into thinking that he’ll be discerning enough to choose the high road and lend his talents to Duke for at least two years. Now, let’s make a farther projection into the 2014-2015 season. If Parker does forego the one-and-done scheme, stays for an extra year, and another Duke prospect from Chicago, dominant center Jahlil Okafor, decides to come to the university, then we have the missing pieces.
Call it a “good problem” if you want to, but next year’s Duke roster is full of shooting guards (Andre Dawkins, Matt Jones, Rasheed Sulaimon, Tyler Thornton), wingmen (Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Alex Murphy, Amile Jefferson, Semi Ojeleye) and one big man (Marshall Plumlee) who, so far, has had more injuries than any other statistic in his Blue Devil career. There won't be any missing pieces in that lineup. There'll be too many pieces and not enough puzzle glue.
This won’t force Coach K to abandon the current seven-man rotation that he loves today. Instead, Duke’s team might end up looking like this year’s Tar Heel team—a bunch of kids running around and, as Rob Harrington put it in his recent piece on an NIT-bound UNC team, “freelancing” on offense.
The frustrating looks on both Coach K's and point guard Quinn Cook’s face during next year’s season are almost inevitable, even with a freshman phenom like Jabari Parker chucking up shots from his predestined spots on Cameron’s floor.
That’s why when the country’s No. 2 high school basketball recruit held up a Duke t-shirt and gave the camera a shoulder-to-shoulder smile as he announced that he’d be playing here in 2013-2014, I didn’t see a championship in the near future. I saw the mechanics of an overheated offense exploding before my eyes. I saw Kyrie Irving dragging Duke fans down in his own race to the pros, and I saw Lehigh shove Austin River’s attitude down his throat in last year’s first round of the NCAA tournament play. They were great players, but not college champions.
But now that the Jabari Parker distraction is over, the Blue Devils can get back to being the best team in the country, starting with next Saturday’s home game against Santa Clara. The December 29th game airs at 12 p.m. on ESPN2.
UPDATE 3:50 p.m.: The NASL has now released an official statement confirming this announcement.
According to high-ranking league sources, the North American Soccer League (NASL) will announce today that the Puerto Rico Islanders will not participate in the Spring Season under the new split regular season format being instituted by the league in 2013. The official decision was finalized during a teleconference of the NASL’s Board of Governors late yesterday afternoon.
The Islanders’ ownership group has long been a confederation of investors with varying stakes in the club, led team spokesman Andrés (Andy) Guillemard-Noble. However, without a primary majority owner supplying the club’s funding, the principal source of financing for the Islanders continues to be the Puerto Rican government, which last year spearheaded the multi-million dollar renovation of Juan Ramón Loubriel Stadium, the Islanders’ home ground, into a soccer-specific facility. Delays in completing those renovations required the Islanders to play 10 of their 14 NASL homes matches last season at the tiny Bayamon Soccer Complex. As a result, the Islanders’ average home attendance was 1,864, the second-lowest in the league.
However, the government’s ongoing financial backing was thrown into doubt after an upheaval in the Puerto Rican government following last November’s general elections. Alejandro García Padilla narrowly defeated incumbent governor Luis Fortuño, and Padilla’s Popular Democratic Party (PPD) wrested majorities in both Puerto Rico’s Senate and House of Representatives away from Fortuño’s New Progressive Party (NPP).
Padilla and his party do not assume power until January. As a result, uncertainty persists over whether the new government will continue financial backing of the Islanders in time for the start of the 2013 season, if at all. Even if financial support continues, it’s unlikely those allocations would be in place before the NASL must finalize scheduling and other logistics for the upcoming spring season, which is tentatively scheduled to begin the first weekend in April.
The NASL anticipates the Islanders will be able to participate in the fall championship, which will begin around early August and run through early November. It remains unclear at this time what La Tropa Naranja’s status will be regarding participation in regional cup competitions, including the CFU Club Championship and potentially the CONCACAF Champions League.
This news comes on the heels of the recent announcement by the New York Cosmos, the NASL’s newest expansion franchise, that it also will not begin play until the 2013 Fall Season. As a result, seven teams—including the Carolina RailHawks—will now compete in the NASL’s Apertura and either eight or nine clubs will compete in the Clausura.
Well, we would have liked this last pre-Christmas blog posting to focus solely on the question of last-minute gifts for the ACC fan in your life. Unfortunately, the Martin Report came out yesterday, and, having actually read it, we are obliged to say something about it.
If the idea of the Martin Report—at least this version of it—was to close the book on the UNC academic scandal, clearly it has failed. Internal campus critics such as history professor Jay Smith as well as the News & Observer editorialists have been quick to point out that the report simply doesn't investigate in any detail the question of whether athletes benefitted primarily or disproportionately from the suspect courses in the African and Afro-American Studies departments. Because this iteration of the report (a folllow-up is promised for next month) didn't dig into all the hard questions, it's hard to see why we should accept former Gov. Martin's conclusion that this is simply an academic scandal.
To be sure, cooperation from the key individuals involved is probably necessary to understand why these academic irregularities took place. There well could be plausible non-athletic reasons underlying the irregular practices. But with the data at Martin's disposal, he should be able to answer with precision a) how many athletes took irregularly organized classes b) how many grade changes (especially "permanent grade changes," in which one final grade is assigned but is later changed) were for athletes c) whether those grade changes benefited athletes and potentially impacted specific athletes' eligibility for competition. At this point in proceedings, the public has a right to know the answers to those questions.
The report does indicate part of the answer to c). First, it states that the percentage of grade changes for student-athletes corresponded to the proportion of student-athletes taking courses in the department. How many might that be? The report found a total of 28 unauthorized permanent grade changes and 78 "suspect unauthorized" permanent grade changes, 80 of which (combining "unauthorized" and "suspect unauthorized" categories) took place in three school years (2003-04, 2005-06, and 2006-07). So that's a maximum of 106 students, some number of which—perhaps 15 to 25?—were athletes. Oddly, the number of unauthorized or suspect unauthorized changes fell off from 30 in 2003-04 to just 3 in 2004-05 before rising again in 2005-06, then dropping off again sharply after 2006-07. In addition to grade changes in regular courses, there are 53 unaccounted grade changes in independent studies offered by the department, 37 of which were in the 2000-2003 period. There may be a rational explanation for those patterns, but the public has a right to know the extent to which student-athletes benefited from those grade changes.
But this is not the only line of critical questioning about the report. Martin and his investigators found that the problems of unauthorized grade changes and suspect course sections that no one can remember teaching started in the late 90s, largely ended after 2009, were limited to the African and Afro-American Studies departments, and that only the department faculty chair and the department administrator knew of the suspect practices. Martin's report tries to establish that responsibility for the problems is limited to two persons no longer at UNC.
Insofar as Martin aimed to vindicate the reputation of other faculty members in African and Afro-American Studies whose reputation has been unfairly varnished by association with events they had no role in, this emphasis is understandable and even laudable. But Martin should have raised tough questions for the higher-ranking academic officials charged with overseeing the Department (i.e. Dean of Arts and Sciences and Provost, as well as the Registrar). Why was one person allowed to remain as Department chair for such a long period? Why didn't the administrative capacity of the Department evolve as it grew? Why didn't anyone notice a pattern of disproportionately high grade change requests coming out of the Department and ask tough questions about it? Why didn't anyone question how Julius Nyang'oro, well known for his ambitious international consulting schedule, could also be teaching as many as 24 courses in a single year?
Questions like that strike higher up the chain of authority in Chapel Hill, but they need to be asked.
And now, Santa Claus time. Here's your last-minute gift guide for naughty and nice ACC fans in the Triangle.
FOR N.C. STATE FANS
Naughty: A DVD of the NCSU-Virginia football game in Carter-Finley, personally signed by Tom O'Brien
Nice: Bound copy of the NCAA's report on violations in the UNC football program issued March 2012
FOR DUKE FANS
Naughty: DVD of 2012 Senior Night game against Carolina
Very Naughty: Lehigh basketball t-shirt
Nice: Tickets to a once-in-a-generation event, Duke's appearance in the Belk Bowl v. Cincinnati
Very Nice: DVD of Jabari Parker praising coach K in announcing his commitment to the Blue Devils
FOR CAROLINA FANS
Naughty: DVD of Carolina's basketball game at FSU in January, interspersed with clips from games this season against Butler, Indiana, and Texas
Very Naughty: DVD of Austin Rivers's shot in Chapel Hill (as well as entire last two minutes of that game)
Nice: DVD of Gio Bernard's punt return vs. N.C. State
Very Nice: Soccer ball signed by the 2012 national championship women's soccer team. After all, despite the attention to given to some of the other sports at Carolina, at the end of the day it's a women's soccer school.
This North Carolina roster doesn’t possess championship quality, but certainly the Heels should not find themselves situated on the NCAA Tournament bubble for the second time in four seasons.
That 2009-10 campaign proved shocking because it occurred the season after Carolina’s glorious, Tyler Hansbrough-led national title run. Williams penned a book as something of a victory lap, and even with multiple player exits everyone expected him to assemble a crew that would rank among the nation’s top 25 the following year.
But a season that opened to mixed outcomes grew dire after several players suffered injures, while despised point guard Larry Drew failed to generate any confidence and the team careened into the postseason NIT.
So here we are in 2012-13. The Heels advanced to the Elite Eight the previous two seasons and suffered heavy personnel losses — including Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall — that most admitted limited the club’s ceiling to perhaps a Sweet 16 run, at best.
After 11 games, however, the Heels have yet to defeat a quality opponent in compiling a misleading 8-3 record. They’ll fall out of the top 25 rankings next week and don’t have the overall strength of schedule to offset dreadful outings versus the Longhorns, Butler and Indiana.
North Carolina needed to beat this horrible Texas team. The Tar Heels were supposed to beat this horrible Texas team.
But they performed miserably in Austin tonight, losing 87-65 while shooting just 32 percent from the field with 18 turnovers. Texas, which has labored throughout the season to produce offense, hung 46 points on UNC in the first half and fended off a second half rally before pulling away for good.
The comparisons between this Carolina squad and the NIT-doomed 2010 team have sharpened. A lack of offensive identity, defensive focus and plain self-belief have led to resounding defeats against the only three quality clubs the Heels have faced. What could be written off as November jitters versus Butler and Indiana now borders on crisis. What can Roy Williams do to intervene?
I'll have more on this tomorrow and what we can expect going forward. Here's a look at the UNC/Texas box score.
While Wood would only add two more points after halftime, point guard Lorenzo Brown scored 18 of his game- and career-high 24 points in the second half. The ever-improving Richard Howell kept up his torrid play, contributing 17 points and 12 rebounds, his sixth double-double this season. After the Wolfpack saw its lead cut from 17 to seven over a four-minute period in the second half, Howell’s determined drive and basket with five minutes remaining stopped the hemorrhaging, and he converted five of six free throws over the final 1:33 to stave off one last Stanford push.
Saturday night, however, the Spartans limped into PNC Arena with a 6-6 record that included early season losses to Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State and the University of Missouri...at Kansas City. And while Norfolk State would battle gamely for much of the contest, the size and speed of the Wolfpack inevitable won out to the tune of a 84-62 victory.
REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH N.C. State returns to action following its exam break, hoping to establish momentum before a very tough streak of upcoming games.
The Blue Hose are already very familiar with Triangle-area opposition this season, having lost 84-45 at Duke on Nov. 17 in the undefeated Blue Devils’ opener and won 49-37 over winless N.C. Central seven days later.
State (6-4) won the teams’ only previous meeting 74-27 two years ago.
And some things never change, as the Wolfpack rolls to a 76-30 rout.
As you know doubt already know, the buzz and anticipation surrounding this game has the entire state on the edge of their seats. Office holiday party talk has been dominated by little else than position-by-position analysis of matchups for this once-in-a-lifetime encounter.
Or. . . not.
OK, on its merits there's little reason to think the actual game will be much different from the other December blowouts in the Smith Center that have become a holiday tradition.
Still, it's worth recognizing that UNC and ECU do have basketball history, and one that is more significant than you might remember.
In spring 1993, I happened to have a chance to ask Bill Guthridge, assistant coach on the 1993 national champion Tar Heels, which game during the tournament run had made him nervous. I guessed he might answer with the name of the Sweet Sixteen opponent, but instead he said "East Carolina," the Tar Heels' first-round opponent.
Why would that be? The Pirates, after all, were, at 10-17, a surprise entry to the tournament field, having upset the field in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.
Guthridge gave two reasons: First, Carolina was coming off a loss in the ACC Tournament final to Georgia Tech, and he didn't know how the team would respond. Second, point guard Derrick Phelps, who had suffered a bruised tailbone in the ACC Tournament semifinal against Virginia and missed the Georgia Tech game, would be returning to action, and they weren't sure how well he'd be able to play in the national tournament.
Guthridge might have added that the game was played in Winston-Salem—where the Tar Heels earlier that year had been humiliated in a 26-point loss to Wake Forest.
Carolina ended up winning the game in fairly ho-hum manner, 85-65. Carolina led by just 11 points at halftime, and the game never got out of hand. Phelps came off the bench to play 14 minutes, registering six points and two steals. More impressively, he took a charge and also converted a dunk despite playing with several protective pads.
It wasn't a memorable game, but it was a win. Carolina then looked much more impressive in blowing out Rhode Island by 45 points in the second round game two days later, with Phelps returned to the starting lineup. Carolina went on to play championship-caliber basketball the rest of the tournament.
And with that, your short history of the UNC-ECU basketball rivalry is a wrap.
There is of course a longer history about why (apart from a one-off in 1953) Carolina has not scheduled ECU before in the regular season. It dates back to Dean Smith's long-standing philosophy of not playing out-of-conference in-state opponents. Why not? First, because Carolina would have nothing to gain from such games in terms of prestige and reputation of the program. Second, because Smith thought that if he started playing one in-state opponent, he'd be under pressure to play all of them and the basketball matchups would turn into a political hot potato—as has been the case historically in the UNC-ECU football series.
In 2006-07, Bobby Frasor began the season starting ahead of rookie Ty Lawson, who was obviously the superior player. In 2010-11, and despite howls from nearly everyone invested in the program, Williams opted to start Larry Drew ahead of freshman Kendall Marshall even after that team began the year so terribly.
But this season opened with a different dynamic. Most believed that senior Dexter Strickland would receive the starting nod over the 6-1, 157-pound Paige, but Williams ended the competition before it could begin by preemptively stating that Paige would occupy the spot.
Strickland could have made a case for himself. He started at shooting guard for the Elite Eight squads of 2011 and 2012, and he had accumulated substantial experience sharing point guard duties with Drew in 2010 and backing up Marshall in 2011 and 2012. Prior to the season-ending knee injury he suffered last January, Strickland had been enjoying his finest season as a Tar Heel.
Despite Strickland’s extensive experience, Williams asserted that he never had been a true point guard. What Williams didn’t say was that Paige represents the team’s future at that position and that Strickland, in his final season, would not be around to quarterback stronger teams than the 2012-13 edition.