Elite 8 Recap: Hate On Duke, But They’re Still Dancing For A Reason
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Everyone knew this would be an odd NCAA Tournament. It was universally stated that anything could happen because the best teams weren’t that dominant and the second-rate teams weren’t that much better than the higher seeded teams. Yet all the pundits (myself included) lumped the proverbial favorites in our Final Four predictions. Now Duke stands as the only #1 seed remaining after two weeks of carnage despite being the #1 seed most likely to get upset. The odd thing out of Durham is that next year was supposed to be their year to return to the Final Four. Scheyer was graduating along with Thomas and Zoubek, but Seth Curry (Steph’s brother) was to be eligible after a transfer from Liberty, Kyrie Irving (a five-star PG recruit) and Josh Hairston (a four-star PF recruit) were committed to Duke, and Coach K had gone as far as bringing in his first juco transfer (6’6″ Carrick Felix). Yet here they stand as a Final Four team.
Rebounding has been the difference between this Duke team and models of previous seasons and it couldn’t have been more evident on Sunday. Duke dominated Baylor on the glass with a 41/35 rebounding advantage, including a ridiculous 22 offensive rebounds, and the margin was even greater before the final minute. They put the dagger into the Bears on back-to-back possessions where offensive rebounds turned into three-pointers. Rebounding has given them the ability to overcome poor shooting days like the one Kyle Singler had yesterday when he failed to make a single field goal for the first time in his college career. Duke may have had things fall their way, but they took advantage of it, which isn’t what we can say for other “elite teams” like Syracuse or Kansas State.
The turning point in the game was the incorrect charging call on Quincy Acy. Had it been called correctly, Zoubek would have fouled out and Baylor would’ve had a chance to take a five-point lead. From there, Duke excelled and Baylor wilted. Don’t blame the refs though. As Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh stated after the game, his team had plenty of chances to get stops after that incorrect call, but they didn’t get them. LaceDarius Dunn lost his offensive composure and started forcing shots. The rest of the Baylor squad just didn’t exert the same effort Duke did on the glass and Baylor paid for it. Now the Blue Devils get to cash in on their first Final Four since 2004.
Ewing Theory in Progress?
Michigan State is another team that has had the luck of not facing the toughest possible schedule, but they’re finally living up to the expectations set on them before the season. They’ve won three straight close games despite playing without their best player Kalin Lucas. Draymon Green has really impressed me with his point-forward ability and Durrell Summers has finally started playing up to his potential. The Spartans won the battle against Tennessee because of better coaching and half-court offense, a testament to the ridiculous resume of Coach Izzo. Tennessee should’ve thrown a harder full-court press at them to take advantage of Lucas’ injury. I’m still amazed that Michigan State is just one game away from a return to the Finals.
Down Goes Another Favorite
Kentucky was anointed the favorite once Kansas went down, but they came up short in Saturday night’s contest against West Virginia. The usually impressive offense of Kentucky was rendered useless against a recently stifling Mountaineers defense. Kentucky dealt with WVU’s 1-3-1 zone by settling for outside shots. The issue was not that they weren’t shooting well, but how they continued to take the shots despite shooting poorly. This wasn’t the only situation where Calipari fell asleep at the wheel on making an adjustment. WVU continued to run curl plays around the paint and Kentucky didn’t adjust defensively. Additionally, Wildcat defenders didn’t pick up the ball-handler on many WVU fast breaks and Calipari never addressed that. It’s possible the patients were running the asylum as Demarcus Cousins could be seeing calling Calipari a “motherf*cker” on the sideline, which led to Cailpari asking Cousins if he wanted to coach the team. The moral of the story is always go with your first instinct.
Home Sweet Home
Everyone thought that next year would be Butler’s best shot at a Final Four, but they reached it a year early, in their home state no less. Their luck continued on Saturday when Kansas State’s Denis Clemente injured himself in the opening minutes, rendering himself rather useless offensively. Jacob Pullen didn’t pick up the slack, as every Wildcat other than Curtis Kelly looked flat. It’s worth noting the last 10 teams who played in an OT game in the NCAA Tournament have lost the following game, but that continues to build into Butler’s lucky profile. Gordon Hayward really impressed me by taking the ball to the basket on a scattered offensive play with about a minute to go. Other players (cough Wes Johnson cough) have not been as assertive in the tournament, but Hayward showed intelligence by not settling for a jump shot. Now with everyone’s bracket officially busted, we face the reality of Michigan State or Butler playing for the National Championship. “