Tuesday, January 08, 2002

The CourtMaster Is Surprised

Originally posted on DukeBasketballReport.com

Hear ye, Hear Ye! Court is now in session for 2002!

I was sitting at home Sunday night, minding my own business (that's when I usually get into serious trouble) when I flipped the TV channel over to Fox Sports Net. I was putting the finishing touches on a column that I thought would be Pulitzer Prize material when I noticed that the massacre of Florida State by Duke was not proceeding as scheduled. Those silly Seminoles did not read the script apparently, and had moved out to an eight-point lead when I first checked.

I spontaneously yelled "Holy Guacamole!" (loosely translated). Mrs. CourtMaster became alarmed, as did the cat. When I told them both that no, another plane did not crash into a building, it was merely a basketball upset in the making; they both returned to their previous activities--reading and working on her next hairball respectively.

This news did disrupt our scheduled television viewing for the evening, not to mention have me
looking down the barrel at a major rewrite of my soon-to-be award winning work. I held off on the rewrite, fully expecting the Blue Devils to pull yet another game out of their posterior. I kept waiting until the final Duke shot spun out of the basket and all hell broke loose at the Leon County Civic Center.

Surprise, surprise, surprise!

Well, back to the word processor.

What an amazing weekend of ACC basketball! Saturday was fascinating enough, when #4 Virginia lost at home to NC State and five other top 12 teams also went down to defeat.
So what do the Virginia and Florida State upsets mean? How, if at all, do they change the landscape of ACC basketball? That's why I'm here, to answer the tough questions.
First, let's look at the NC State-Virginia result.

For NC State, it is an announcement that they must be taken seriously. I discounted their win at Syracuse as a hot shooting night against a team missing its coach (Jim Boeheim was still out following his prostate surgery). They received a lot of attention for giving Maryland so much trouble, but it was a game they would have won with a decent night on the offensive end.

Saturday at Charlottesville may have begun a new and much happier chapter in Herb Sendek's tumultuous career as the Wolfpack coach. He watched his team, in particular his two best players, Anthony Grundy and Julius Hodge, make plays at critical junctures in the game. When State needed a hoop, a rebound, or a steal, Grundy and Hodge got it for them.

To win a big game on the road, a team often needs production from an unexpected source. The Wolfpack receive that from Ilian Evtimov, who knocked down four 3-pointers. State has played strong defense all season, but if they continue to make shots, they will be a team to reckon with.

For the first time since 1990, I think an NCAA bid is within their reach. I remember after their loss to Duke in early January two years ago, I wrote that the Wolfpack was clearly the second best team in the ACC. They collapsed shortly after that and didn't receive an NCAA bid. Herb, I'm giving your guys another shot. Please don't make me look like a moron again, OK?

As for Virginia, their problems are what I anticipated before the season began; they have a wing guard playing point and don't have much perimeter shooting. Roger Mason is an outstanding player and a very dangerous scorer. He is not nearly as effective when he has to run the offense and distribute the ball. His first inclination is to look for his own shot, not in a selfish way, but simply with the mentality of a scorer.

The entire Virginia squad has not handled the ball well in the face of defensive pressure. This was painfully obvious in the Georgetown game which they won despite having trouble getting the ball past mid-court. Ball-handling, or lack thereof, kept Rutgers in the game a couple of weeks ago, and hurt the Cavaliers' comeback attempts against State. Also hindering Virginia's attempt to hold off the Wolfpack was the three-point shooting. Simply, State hit theirs; the Cavaliers did not. It is much harder to make up a deficit if your opponent is scoring three points and you are only scoring either two or zero.

Virginia is going to be vulnerable against any team that can play effective three-quarter or full-court defense. How many steals could Juan Dixon come up with against this team? The Duke games in particular could be nightmares if they don't take care of the ball better.

Now, what are the implications of the Florida State-Duke shocker?

Two things shocked me about this game. First, the Seminole players took the game right to the Blue Devils. They were aggressive from the opening tip to the final buzzer. Monte Cummings, who hit the game winner for Florida State, was particularly assertive. Time and again he effectively attacked the Duke defense and earned good looks at the basket. It did seem that they caught the Blue Devils flatfooted.

The second shocking thing about this game was the fact that Mike Dunleavy and Jason Williams both missed a pair of free throws that probably would have iced the game. Both are proven money players several times over, but they are human. I would have liked the odds on BOTH of them missing in the last minute.

This has not been a smooth season for coach Steve Robinson. He has watched his team lose to the likes of Western Carolina, Northwestern, and American. He has already suspended three different players, although he has been fortunate enough not to need any of the football team's bail bonds fund.

The Seminoles had been playing better recently, beating a solid South Florida team on the road for their third win in a row last week, but had done nothing to lead anyone except themselves to expect what happened Sunday night.

Now, for the first time in several years, there is hope and possibly some excitement in Tallahassee. Did you think we would live long enough to see a Florida State crowd, and a large one at that, rush the floor after a game? I like the chances of at least some of those fans being impressed enough to come back and catch another game.

With Cummings beginning to emerge as a big time player, the steady Delvon Arrington manning the point, and talented young players like Michael Joyner and Anthony Richardson, the 'Noles should be worth watching the rest of the season. An NIT bid would be a major accomplishment for this program, and that is a realistic possibility.

As for Duke, this year's team does not play the same level of defense that last year's did. This is where they miss Shane Battier. On nights where the three point shots don't fall, the Devils are vulnerable. They also have not received consistent offensive production from Dahntay Jones.
Without that, Duke's offense is often down to either bombing a three or punching the ball inside to Carlos Boozer. This will get them by most nights, but not in games where they are out-rebounded and do not hold a significant advantage in turnovers, as was the case Sunday night. They are not good enough to phone it in for most games against most ACC opponents this season.

It's not time for Blue Devil fans to panic, but it is time to forget about the undefeated season and just worry about winning the ACC. At this early juncture, Wake Forest and Maryland are now the only teams undefeated in conference play.

Oh yeah, Maryland. I'll talk about their upcoming game against Duke next week.

That's what I think. Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail at thecourtmaster@aol.com.

Until next week, court is adjourned.


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