Thursday, March 23, 2006

Can I complain now?

Back in January I said:

I hereby issue my expectation that Duke will end their season with nothing short of an NCAA title. Great teams answer that call.

I guess no one picked up the phone tonight. And I am pissed.

I saw most of the game, but needed to consult the box score to confirm a few things:

1. Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas never fouled out, despite having 4 fouls each for a good chunk of the second half. Those guys played like fouling machines at times; why doesn't Duke ever indulge them? (Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus did foul out for Duke.)

2. J.J. Redick played 39 minutes. What was the point of that? To create more shots for him to miss? He isn't accomplishing much on either end; why leave him in?

3. LSU outscored Duke 31-27 in both halves. I know each half tells a story, but this one seemed a bit redundant. It was clear from the first half that Duke's standard lobs inside were getting deflected by LSU's incredible leapers. In fact, the only shots Duke got inside were iffy. I was watching some of the Bradley-Memphis game and noticed how open the half court looked in comparison. I know that LSU only had 5 players defending, so what happened? They seemed to know what Duke was up to. Why couldn't Duke adjust?

The problem with this game, and the season in general, is Mike Krzyzewski. For whatever reason -- stubbornness, pressure on behalf of the seniors, being stretched too thin -- he never adjusted. Last year's loss to Michigan State was understandable; they just didn't have the personnel. This year they did. They had depth. They had capable athletes on scholarship who were eligible to play.

I know the standard Duke fan rationalizations and defenses, so save it. Yes, he's won 3 titles and I've won none. Yes, he runs a clean program and complicated system. Yes, not every freshman is expected to contribute immediately. So what? The reserves have had an entire season of practice to learn some basics and not look like fools out there. Besides, they know what to do with a basketball in their hands. Would it be polished Duke-caliber basketball? No. But the starters, save Shelden Williams, didn't play at that level tonight either. Throw them in, invite LSU's big men to pick up their fifth fouls, and we'd have a game. But no, Duke ran out of gas. Which is pathetic, since they had a spare tank.

Look, Mike Krzyzewski is a great coach, probably the best in the sport. But he's not infallible, and Duke fans need to stop treating him like he is. It's time for the kid gloves to come off.

Last week I suggested to a fellow alum that, if I were advising this team, I would set aside one assistant coach (say, Chris Collins) and have him spend a little extra time with raw freshmen Martynas Pocius, Jamal Boykin, and Eric Boateng with the sole purpose of training them to play against Connecticut. That's it. If we played the Huskies for the title, they'd step up. If not, no harm done.

As it turned out, Duke was the team that slipped up early. I knew LSU was capable of outhustling and outplaying the Blue Devils. Though the Tigers played like sloppy underclassmen at times, that fear materialized. But a deeper, darker fear also came to pass: Mike Krzyzewski was outcoached. By John Brady.

Let that sink in over the offseason.


bdure said...

You've given all the reasons why I knew Duke would NOT win the national title this year and why the Final Four itself was a long shot. (That said, I think they would've had an easier time with Texas than they did with LSU.)

K blew it by making the whole season about Redick and Williams. As a result, while every other team improved from December to March, Duke did not. McRoberts got a bit better, Paulus got slightly better, Dockery disappeared and Melchionni ... I don't know.

You're right that they should've developed Boykin, Pocius and maybe Boateng. They'll have to do it next year, or Duke will be in the NIT at best.

UConn would've wiped the floor with this team. Just as well that we didn't see that.

This was a missed opportunity. If Pocius and Boykin had been developed, and if Redick hadn't spent the last four months either on the court or in the public eye, this team could've done it. I was so optimistic in November. But even as they were winning, I could see it unraveling. And K didn't. Great coach -- not his best year.

Neel Mehta said...

Good points. You're right about the lack of improvement. It's a little sad when Memphis and Gonzaga show more team development in their conference seasons than Duke did.

Coach K's head/heart must not have been into this season. At all. And I don't understand why Duke fans don't call him on it. He's a better coach when he has something to prove, and that's no longer the case in Durham.

I'm tired of the excuses. Other teams have problems with mono, injury, and emotional exhaustion. They adapt and get over it. Duke doesn't, and won't, as long as the fans continue pampering the team.

This is one reason why the rest of the nation hates Duke.

pDub said...

I have to say, it's a sad day when I realize that I really did not expect us to win, and haven't since about January. I fully agree with what's been written here: given the talent pool we had, given a conference with solid competition, given a wealth of experience, we should have been at least within striking distance.

What bothers me, more than anything, is not the pure fact that we had undeveloped talent that could have strengthened the team (bad enough in and of itself). Instead, it's the fact that this issue has been blazingly obvious for a long time this season, and yet no solution was found. It's inexcusable that we were so reliant on two players and never developed our game beyond that dependency. Everyone out there had a roadmap on "How to Beat Duke" and yet we did nothing to counter this. We know everyone's aiming at us, so why do we sit in plain view on the shooting range?

It's one thing to ride on your own reputational coat-tails during a challenging year. This should not have qualified as a challenging year. But I seem to recall very few blowouts and a lot of nailbiters against low or unranked teams.

I feel sorry for JJ and Sheldon. They had their weaker moments too, but they deserve far better than to be viewed as the reason Duke didn't win it all. They're not. There's a reason team rosters contain more than 2 names.

Neel Mehta said...

Thanks, pDub. I'm not sure if Duke fans are blaming the loss on Redick's poor scoring performance. (Part of their whole unconditional love problem is that they're afraid to criticize.)

Personally, I thought Redick and Williams did the best they could. It will always be unclear to me why Coach K felt the need to keep the team's focus on the only two players who could produce for themselves. Bottom line is that this was a 2 man team, and that truth got us as far as can be expected.

bdure said...

Now if only we could pass this along to the folks at DBR.

Normally, I'm inclined to agree with the notion that we laymen can't raise much of an argument against a coach as successful as K. But you don't have to be a tactical wizard to see that the unrelenting focus on one or two players -- both on the court and off -- has harmed the team. And is K distracted by his Olympic duties (in which he's already made some puzzling decisions), his academic role and his career as a celebrity endorser? It's worth asking.

On the whole, a step backward may be OK. Duke won't be in anyone's preseason top 10. If McRoberts doesn't come back, they won't be ranked, period. It'd be great for them if they have the kind of season North Carolina had this year, getting solid contributions from the freshmen and finding that the people who didn't play much this year aren't so bad.

Of course, the people who played little at UNC last year were stuck behind four first-round draft picks. Who was keeping Boykin on the bench on the nights DeMarcus Nelson was struggling?

Neel Mehta said...

Who was keeping Boykin on the bench on the nights DeMarcus Nelson was struggling?

That would be Coach K.

I agree that next year's team should be fun. Even before the tournament, I asked someone if this year's squad was fun to watch. Because, for me, they weren't. In past championship years they were a glorious sight. Even the 1999 and 2004 squads were fun because they were mostly young. But this year? It was all about last chances, and the need to be near perfect to have a shot at the title. It was all too stressful.

Ugh, the DBR people annoy me. They walk on eggshells all the time, so afraid of disagreement, almost mocking the naysayers. Though I'll admit that I skimmed their boards so I could get pissed off enough to write my entry.