Sunday, January 21, 2007

The myth of Greg Paulus

Greg Paulus is the point guard of Duke's men's basketball team. I should emphasize the word "the". For whatever reason, Coach K has not recruited or even pursued a backup or second natural point guard, seemingly content with the playmaking ability of his power forward and shooting guards.

Through 19 games, he has averaged 8.7 points, 3.5 assists, and 2.9 turnovers. (Josh McRoberts, who's nine inches taller, averages 4.1 assists.) Statistically, he's actually regressed in comparison to last year. As a result, fairly or not, he's become the poster child of Duke's uncharacteristically anemic offense. (I realize that Duke graduated two of the league's top scorers last year, but averaging under 70 team points a game this season is still bizarre.)

The play of Greg Paulus remains a polarizing topic in the forums of Duke Basketball Report: attackers lament his penchant for making mistakes, and defenders raise issues of his inexperience and recent injury, in conflicting efforts to quell a collective anxiety.

As usual, I am unconcerned with the arguments of the many; my thoughts are elsewhere. This post is not about how our emotional investment in Greg Paulus has yielded diminishing returns, but about why we made that emotional investment in the first place.

What sold us all on Paulus two years ago? I have two theories.

First, consider the unique circumstances of his recruiting. In high school, he was a two-sport star who chose to play Duke basketball full-time instead of becoming the next Notre Dame quarterback. Perhaps unfairly, his decision indicated a stronger commitment to a program than that of the average incoming freshman.

My second theory is even more base. We had no facts as to how Paulus would perform in a Duke uniform. But we took one look at him and decided that he had just enough of a gym rat appearance to remind us fondly of Coach K's past (white) point guards, Bobby Hurley and Steve Wojciechowski. Of course he'll be good, we thought. He looks the part.

Either way, we've built up a myth of Greg Paulus in our minds, and now our anguish stems from evidence that the young man hasn't stacked up to this myth. This is not Paulus' fault. This is our fault, and also possibly Coach K's fault for considering the point guard position filled for four years. (I continue my one-man crusade to point out Duke's legendary coach is not infallible.)

Almost halfway into his college eligibility, Paulus has given us a lot of reason to doubt him, but still has a lot of time to come through. (I recall Wojo being much better as an upperclassman.) I have no clue if he'll ever get better, and I think there's some wisdom in not knowing. It's time that Duke's fans looked inward a little more rather than churning out the clich├ęs and propaganda. As always, a Duke team's fate will rest with its point guard. Adjust accordingly.

This week's seeds. Goodbye for now, Air Force, Notre Dame, and Arizona: all of you suffered bad conference losses. Hello for now, Indiana, Washington State, and Marquette.

San Jose Regional
1. UCLA: Oregon rematch looms, but Bay Area trip comes first.
2. Texas A&M: Can they win in Lubbock? Kansas didn't.
3. Indiana: Off the radar, but better than you'd think.
4. Nevada: Suffered first WAC loss to co-leader NMSU.

St. Louis Regional
1. Wisconsin: One 3-pointer from being undefeated.
2. Kansas: Not nearly as dominant in true road games.
3. Butler: Guess who's looming in the Horizon.
4. Marquette: Should be favored in next 8 games.

East Rutherford Regional
1. North Carolina: Big challenge this week at angry Arizona.
2. Ohio State: Uh oh. Oden's starting to look good.
3. Pittsburgh: Conference schedule is pretty favorable.
4. Washington State: Crushed the Huskies last weekend.

San Antonio Regional
1. Florida: Only consistent winner in SEC so far.
2. Oregon: Can't overlook U-Dub and Wazzu next week.
3. Memphis: Coasting through Conference USA.
4. Clemson: Good thing they don't visit Chapel Hill.


Neel Mehta said...

Anyone who read this entry Sunday night will notice I've removed Syracuse from my top 16 seeds. I wasn't aware that they played St. John's on Sunday and lost.

Last year I posted these entries after the games on Thursday. It made sense because most Division I teams don't play on Friday, giving my choices more permanence. I may have to do that again.

BlueDevilyn said...

Excellent job, as usual, Neel.

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