Mailbag: NCAA Tournament Edition

We had to much fun with our last mailbag, we figured we’d just have to do it again. The NCAA Tournament is our favorite time of the year, so we’re here to answer all your questions about Duke and March Madness.

The Blue Devils prepare for their first round game with an open practice in Greensboro (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

First, let’s take a look at a couple questions about Duke’s chances in the tournament this year.

Q: How far can Duke go this year?@jameezy9
Q: After now seeing the brackets, what’s CT’s honest expectations of the Duke team?@mrgoodvar

Our most honest assessment is that this is going to be a very tough road for Duke this year. The selection committee was not kind to the South region this year, which is by far the hardest of the four. This is particularly perplexing because the top seed in this year’s tournament, Kentucky, resides in the South. Typically the selection committee would seek to reward the top overall seed with the easiest road to the Final Four, but apparently this year that is not the case. The South region is stacked full of talented teams- other than Kentucky teams like Baylor and Indiana appear to be particularly dangerous. Luckily for Duke and Kentucky, two of the other biggest threats in this region, Wichita St. and UNLV both went down on Thursday.

As for Duke, this is a team that came off of a difficult stretch late in the season. After the first round none of these games will be easy, regardless of their opponent. Our predictions for the South region had Duke advancing to the Elite 8 before falling to Kentucky, but to even get there will be a challenge. We hope that Duke will find its form and be able to accomplish this. Luckily for us, Duke has proven all year that it will play up or down to its competition, so having other tough teams in the region could actually be beneficial for the Blue Devils. Our predictions have Duke defeating #10 seed Xavier in the second round and #6 seed UNLV in the Sweet 16. We already know the latter will not be happening. There simply isn’t another team in this region that will be able to compete with Kentucky, unfortunately. They are too talented and Anthony Davis will give this team fits inside.

We received quite a few questions about Duke forward Ryan Kelly and his availability.

Q: So what’s the update on Ryan Kelly? I feel we need him to make a deep run.@dukesjayash
Q: Will Ryan be back for the NCAA Tournament?@bryan_williams2
Q: Is Ryan Kelly going to play Friday? And if he does at 100%?@Dukeallday24

Losing Ryan Kelly will hurt Duke for sure. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

We learned yesterday that Ryan Kelly would not be available to play in Duke’s first round contest against Lehigh. His availability beyond then remains to be seen. Rumblings around campus have been that Kelly’s sprain was fairly severe, and it appears the team has been rushing to try and get him back on the court as soon as possible. I would say they will probably be cautious in doing so as to not jeopardize his ability to play later in the tournament and train during the offseason. At the moment, I would say that it is doubtful that you see very much of him this weekend, and if you do he will be far from 100%.

As for Kelly’s importance to this Duke team, it is unquestionable. When Ryan Kelly plays well, this team wins basketball games. Duke is 17-1 in games where Ryan scores 10 points or more. It was clear that this team was missing something while playing without him in the ACC Tournament. Not only do they lack a big body that eats up space in the paint, they lose one of their better shooters and most versatile matchup problems. Let’s all hope for a speedy recovery, because it will be hard for Duke to be successful beyond the first weekend without Ryan Kelly.

Q: If Duke & UK meet in the Elite 8, we’ll all start having 1992 flashbacks. What does Duke need to make it happen?@jstorm64

First thing’s first- Duke is going to have to make it to the Elite 8 to face Kentucky. But in order to make it to the Elite 8 and to knock off Kentucky, the Blue Devils will have to follow the same gameplan. First and foremost, they’ll need to shoot the lights out. They cannot afford to have a game where they don’t knock down their long range shots against any opponent in this region, let alone Kentucky. They will need to get the Plumlee brothers involved early and often inside. Throughout the season, the Miles and Mason have been Duke’s two most efficient options on the offensive end. But more than anything, this team will need to defend the hell out of any team they face, especially on the inside. They’ll need to lock down the opposing team’s big men- for Kentucky this would mean Anthony Davis- and crash the board relentlessly. If these two meet in the Elite 8 we’ll have many flashbacks about the greatest college basketball game ever played 20 years ago. But fact of the matter is, Duke was the more talented team in that game. This year, they won’t be, so there is a much slimmer margin for error when going up against a power like Kentucky. Unfortunately, to make a long story short, they will need to be nothing short of perfect.

Q: Heard anything on Amile Jefferson and what are our chances in your mind on Shabazz?@dukefan6190

Amile Jefferson’s situation continues to be a mystery to us. It was our understanding that Amile would be prepared to make a decision this past weekend, but it appears he has chosen to wait a bit longer and weigh his options. This indicates that the competition for Amile between Duke and NC State is a bit closer than we originally thought. Our best guess is that he is waiting until the offseason to see whether certain players from Duke or NC State will decide to leave early and go pro before making his decision. It is unclear, however, whether that decision will be motivated by playing time or whether he is waiting to see if certain players he wants to play with will have left school before he arrives. Hopefully more on this situation becomes clear to us soon.

As for Shabazz Muhammad, he continues to weigh his options. My gut feeling is that Duke’s chances to land Shabazz are fairly good, but only time will tell at this point. If this season has showed us anything, it’s that we need a player like him to come here.

Q: How could anyone pick Missouri to get past the Elite 8 with Frank Haith as their head coach?@Mark_Jessup

Well, it’s pretty easy. We picked Missouri to get to the Final Four in our preview of the West region. Although Haith’s reputation as a head coach is suspect due to his past endeavors, you’ve have to hand it to him and his team because Missouri is playing some fantastic basketball right now. Other than Michigan State, who many consider to be the weakest and most vulnerable of the #1 seeds, there isn’t much other competition in the West region for them to face. Other than that, it’s just a case of a hot team playing great ball. They’ve proven to be an offensive juggernaut, and we believe that will at least get them through one of the weaker regions in this year’s tournament.

Q: Most memorable tourney game prior to being in college?@Caroline12White

Great question. As for my most memorable Duke game, it would have to be Duke coming back from 22 points down in the Final Four against Maryland in 2001. I remember staying up late and watching that game with my parents when I was just nine years old. That was probably one of the most exciting basketball games of my childhood and really got me hooked on the NCAA Tournament.

As for my most memorable non-Duke game, I’m going to have to go with the 2008 national championship game: Kansas 75, Memphis 68 in OT. That’s definitely one of the most underrated tournament games of the past decade, and Mario Chalmers’ 3-pointer to send the game into overtime is definitely one of the most underrated clutch shots ever hit. Derrick Rose showed glimpses of the brilliance we would watch in the NBA for years to come, but good triumphed over evil as John Calipari’s Memphis Tigers choked the game away with poor free throw shooting and ineligible SAT scores.

Thanks to everyone for submitting some great questions. Hope you enjoyed the mailbag, and enjoy the basketball this weekend. This is the best weekend in sports.

March Madness: Breaking Down The East Region

With the NCAA Tournament just over 24 hours away, we continue our breakdown of the entire field. After looking at the South and West regions in the last two days, it’s time to examine the East region, where top-ranked Syracuse was not given an easy road to New Orleans.

The East region.

Best First Round Matchup: #5 Vanderbilt vs. #12 Harvard

Come on…how could we not pick this game? This should present a classic 5-12 matchup between a Vanderbilt team fresh off a victory over Kentucky in the SEC Tournament and Tommy Amaker’s squad from Harvard. Vanderbilt’s had the epitome of an up and down season this year. After being ranked in the preseason top-10 and falling completely off the radar, they turned it on again late in the season and are now being considered one of the contenders in the East regional. Their run to an SEC Tournament championship boosted their seeding up to a #5, despite having not been ranked higher than 25th in the AP poll since November. While some believe that Vanderbilt may be overseeded, just as many believe Harvard was victimized by the selection committee. Despite being nationally ranked for five weeks throughout the season, the Crimson could only muster a 12-seed while many believed they were deserving of a 10 or 11. All in all, this should be a great basketball game. Vanderbilt has proved throughout the season that they are capable of beating any team in the country, but they are also capable of losing to any team in the country. Harvard has played consistently throughout the season and are an extremely well coached team, but other than matchups against Florida State and Connecticut early in the season they haven’t faced an opponent this good in a long time. Expect for this game to be close into the game’s final five minutes, but ultimately Vanderbilt’s athleticism will prove too much for Harvard.

Player To Watch: John Jenkins, #5 Vanderbilt

Jenkins, a 6-foot-4 guard from Hendersonville, Tennessee, is the key to the Commodores’ offense. They have a great opportunity to advanced deep into the East region, but if they are going to do so Jenkins will need to be on his game. He averaged 19.9 points per game for Vanderbilt on the season, shooting a 44.8% clip from 3-point range. Not only has he proven that he’s able to knock down crucial shots from deep, he will be especially important for the Commodores late in games, shooting 84.3% from the free throw line on the year. With a tough first round matchup against a defensively-minded Harvard team and a potential second round tilt with Wisconsin, Jenkins is a huge piece to how this region will play out.

Player To Not Watch: Fab Melo, #1 Syracuse

It was announced yesterday that Syracuse’s pursuit of a trip to New Orleans would be one that did not include its starting center, Fab Melo. The Orange released on their website Tuesday afternoon that Melo would be ineligible to play due to what they considered an “eligibility issue”. Although they were nondescript in the reason for his absence, this is a huge blow to Syracuse and a major shake-up in the East region. Syracuse is a different team without Melo, especially on the defensive end of the floor, where Melo averaged 2.9 blocks per game. Although 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game is not that much offensive production to lose, you have to think that the Orange might have been shaken mentally by losing one of their team’s key members just two days before the tournament begins.

Dark Horse: #4 Wisconsin

Although Vanderbilt has been getting most of the attention in this region after knocking off top-ranked Kentucky, we see Wisconsin as a team poised for a run. They play a great brand of postseason basketball- they are big, physical, experienced, and play lockdown defense for 40 minutes. Their road through the East regional just got a lot easier when Syracuse announced they would be playing without Fab Melo. They’ll have a tough second round test against Vanderbilt, but if they can get through there they should be able to overpower a depleted Syracuse team and make a run to the Elite 8.

Our Picks: Ohio State to the Final Four

Remember that Ohio State team that absolutely trounced Duke back in November? They haven’t gone anywhere. With Syracuse appearing weakened, the East region just completely opened up for Ohio State. They could have a tough Sweet 16 matchup with Florida State, but should they survive it looks like they’ll be going to New Orleans. Jared Sullinger is one of the top talents in the country, but what makes the Buckeyes particularly dangerous is their physicality and their guard play. Aaron Craft is a floor general that can pick apart an opponent from the inside out, while I think Duke fans remember the fits that William Buford gave us from beyond the arc. They are a very experienced team and that should serve them well in a deep tournament run. There just isn’t a team in this region well-equipped enough to stop them, and if Sullinger somehow is able to elevate his game further for tournament time, the top teams in other regions will start to take notice as well.

Below are our complete picks. Let us know what you think in the comment box!

Our picks for the East region. Looks like Ohio State will be dancing down to Bourbon Street.

March Madness: Breaking Down the West Region

Welcome to the Madness, folks. To follow up on our preview of the South Region (Duke’s region) from yesterday, I’m here with a few thoughts on the West Region, which stars Michigan State as the #1 seed and a host of interesting players. Read on…

The West Region. (via ESPN.com's Bracket)

Best First Round Matchup: #8 Memphis vs. #9 Saint Louis

Obviously, the 8/9 game is intended to be between teams with parity; due to the closeness in seeding, victory in this game is less impressive than the potential of knocking off the #1 seed in the next round. I’m particularly intrigued  by this game, though, because of the coaching matchup. Memphis is led by Josh Pastner, a young ingenue/madman who succeeded John Calipari when he left for Kentucky. Saint Louis, on the other hand, is led by Rick Majerus, an old hand who has won 70% of his games, whose sweaters are the stuff of legend and whose Utah Utes took down UNC in the 1998 Final Four. It’s crazed fervor versus vintage stoicism, and the teams seem to be evenly matched. On paper, Memphis looks loads better: several 5 star recruits, including local legend Joe Jackson and star swing guard Will Barton. But the Tigers have struggled against big competition all year, losing early season matchups against Georgetown, Louisville and Murray State and dropping 3 games in the generally atrocious Conference USA. Saint Louis, though lacking the supposed star power of the Tigers, has balance and consistency–three players averaging in double figures–as well as defense, with the seventh best defensive rating in the NCAA allowing just 57.5 points per game. Ken Pomeroy has the Billikens at 15th in the country in his mathematically generated rankings (Memphis is 9th, though). Saint Louis finished second in the Atlantic 10, a vastly superior conference than the C-USA. It’s a clash of generations and a battle for Interstate 55 supremacy. Something tells me the youth and athleticism of Memphis will seize the day, but expect an exciting contest for the right to play (presumably) Michigan State.

Dark Horse: #6 Murray State

If I were Murray State, I’d be pissed with my seed. The Racers, one of four Kentucky universities to make the Dance (along with UK, Louisville and Western Kentucky), are 30-1 and beat tournament teams Memphis, St. Mary’s and the aforementioned WKU Hilltoppers during the season. Don’t fault their iffy strength of schedule, which is 239th out of 344 teams. Murray State’s top 5 scorers are upperclassmen with tournament experience, and they will come to the tourney with something to prove. We think they’re Sweet 16 bound and could present a problem for Missouri if they get there.

Player to Watch: Drew Gordon, #5 New Mexico

Gordon is a former big name recruit, somewhat pursued by Duke, who has had a strange journey to stardom for the Lobos and Coach Steve Alford. He transferred from UCLA after two seasons, apparently due to discipline problems and disagreements with Coach Ben Howland (who apparently has had many personnel problems in the past few years). Gordon has thrived at New Mexico, averaging a double-double for his final two seasons. He averaged 15.3 points and 10.6 rebounds in the Mountain West tournament and led the Lobos to the title with big victories over UNLV and San Diego State, both of whom are dancing. Gordon–mature, poised and 6’9” 245 lbs.–could provide a spark for the Lobos. If they get past Long Beach State, the potential matchup with big, physical Louisville is tantalizing.

Our Picks: Mizzou to the Final Four

I don’t foresee too many upsets in this region–in the first round, anyway. Some surprises might include Murray State to the Sweet 16 with a victory over Marquette and, if all goes well for Billy Donovan, Florida could ostensibly beat Mizzou. But it’s not likely–Missouri is primed to go to the Final Four. Having been snubbed by the selection committee after winning the Big XII title over Baylor, the Tigers got a favorable draw with this bracket. Michigan State is the weakest of the #1 seeds to me, although they are much better coached by Tom Izzo than Mizzou, who hired former Miami coach Frank Haith (how did he get that job?). The Tigers are loaded with seniors and physical guards. Ricardo Ratliffe matches up well with Spartan star forward Draymond Green. Kim English, a 6’6” guard who shoots nearly 50% from 3, is a matchup nightmare for anyone. The Tigers went 30-4; expect them to be 34-4 when the Final Four rolls around.

Below are our complete picks. Let us know what you think in the comment box!

Crazie-Talk's picks for the West Region. Don't hold us to 'em.


Also, if you’re interesting in competing in our version of the Bracket Challenge, Gothic Madness, and competing against the fans of three other Duke sites, join Team Crazie Talk (#TeamCT). E-mail us at crazietalk@gmail.com or tweet at us @crazietalker to join. More details here. Thanks!

March Madness: Breaking Down The South Region

It’s that time of year! The NCAA Tournament is upon us, which means it’s time to make our picks for the three most exciting weeks of the basketball season. In the next few days, we’ll be breaking the tournament region by region in our efforts to turn the Average Joe into a regular Joey Brackets. Let’s start with the South region.

The South region

Best First Round Matchup: #5 Wichita St. vs. #12 VCU

It won't be another run to the Final Four for VCU, but should be a great second round game.

This is a matchup between two mid-majors that are both very, very hot right now. Wichita State has lost twice since January 4 while Virginia Commonwealth has lost just once since January 8. They are set to collide Thursday in Portland in a matchup between two teams that could both easily make a run to the Sweet 16. Wichita St. sports a balanced offensive attack, with three players averaging more than 12 points per game. While they love to run and gun on offense, they also crash the boards relentlessly, pulling down 38 rebounds per game. Senior Garrett Stutz paces the Shockers’ offense. The 7-foot center records 13.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, shooting 82.1% from the free throw line. Meanwhile, VCU operates at a significantly slower pace. This is not the same team you saw make a run to the Final Four last year- the only starter remaining from last year’s team is senior Bradford Burgess, who leads the Rams with 13.3 points per game. But the Rams prefer to earn their stripes on the defensive end of the floor. Although they lost many key pieces from their tournament run last season, they haven’t lost the “havoc” defense that got them there. They’ll be all over the floor trying to slow Wichita State down and force as many turnovers as possible. Expect this game to be a chess match between two great coaches, VCU’s Shaka Smart and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall will be struggling throughout the game to control the pace. Marshall previously led Winthrop to seven NCAA Tournament appearances in nine seasons before being hired by Wichita State in 2007. Ultimately, the Shockers should prove too strong for the Rams, but this should be a great basketball game.

Dark Horse: #6 UNLV
Look out for the Runnin’ Rebels. UNLV’s successes this season didn’t end when they knocked off previously top-ranked North Carolina in November. They went on to defeat then-ranked Illinois and split matchups with a talented San Diego State team. This is a team that is fully loaded with offensive firepower, and other teams might not be able to keep up. Sophomore Mike Moser is a force inside, averaging a double-double at 14.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. Chace Stanback is the type of player that can take a stake and absolutely drive it into another team’s heart. Shooting a 46.4% clip from beyond the arc, Stanback is the sixth-ranked long-range shooter in the nation. When he gets going- watch out. Chace led the way with 28 points and 10 rebounds in UNLV’s victory over North Carolina and shot 8-for-9 from beyond the arc en route to 29 points in a win over Louisiana-Monroe. This is the type of team that is very capable of catching fire and making a run to the Elite 8, but could face a very tough third round matchup with an equally athletic Baylor team. These teams will make for a great matchup, and if UNLV can survive they could be big trouble for Duke in the Sweet 16.

Our Picks:

Don’t expect too many surprises in this region. The first round will be dominated by the higher seeds, as the two most dangerous lower seeded teams–Wichita State and VCU–have been matched up with one another. Iowa State and Connecticut will be close, but expect UConn’s talent should prevail. Xavier is far and away the best 10-seed in the tournament, and will be a tough test for Duke in the next round. Duke fans, be warned: Lehigh will also be a tough opponent for the Blue Devils. Lehigh hasn’t lost a game by double digits all season, and is the highest Pomeroy-rated 15 seed in the field. That said, here’s how our bracket shaped up:

Crazie Talk's picks for the South region. Yes, we hope to have a rematch of the greatest game ever played. But chances are that UK will come out on top.

The Final Four Pick: Kentucky. There’s a reason why they are the top overall seed in this year’s tournament: Kentucky is far and away the most talented team in the country. They ran away with the SEC this season, finishing with a perfect 16-0 record. Anthony Davis is the odds on favorite to win both National Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year in the NCAA. They are simply too deep, too athletic, too talented for anyone in arguably this tournament’s toughest region to contend with. Whether or not they’ll be able to win a national championship with a bunch of one-and-dones and questionable team chemistry remains to be seen, but they should be able to make a run to New Orleans without more than a slight scare.

We’ll be back to preview the West region tomorrow. Let us know what you think about our analysis and picks in the comments below.

2011: A Year In Review

2011 held a little bit of everything in store for the Duke Blue Devils. There were triumphs and defeats, comings and goings, and a record that will stand the test of time. As the year winds to a close let’s take a look at Duke’s 2011–the good, the bad, and the Crazie.

Unsure when Kyrie would return, Duke fans remained op-toe-mistic. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

January 1: 2011 kicked off for the Blue Devils without freshman sensation Kyrie Irving, who was sidelined with turf toe after suffering the injury in Duke’s victory over Butler on December 4, 2010. Irving, the team’s leading scorer after Duke’s first eight games, would miss the Blue Devils’ next 26 games with the injury. The Blue Devils were forced to carry on without Irving, and in some ways the results were positive. Kyrie’s absence allowed for the emergence of Nolan Smith as the leader of this team. Smith elevated his play to average 20.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 5.1 assists for his senior season.

St. Johns had its way with the Blue Devils inside in a blowout victory. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

January 30: Duke suffered its worst loss of the season, falling 93-78 to St. John’s at Cameron North Madison Square Garden. The Blue Devils seemed lost from the start, as St. John’s dominated Duke and used the normally Duke-friendly Garden crowd to their advantage. The Red Storm led by as many as 24 points in the second half before Duke made a small run late to keep the score somewhat respectable. Nolan Smith led the Blue Devils with 32 points in a losing effort, but Duke was doomed from the start by its long-range shooting, converting five of their 26 shots from deep. The Blue Devils had not lost to St. John’s since March 2, 2003- at that time Austin Rivers was just 10 years old. Duke would recover and win its next seven contests.

Curry's incredible second half is now stuff of Duke legend. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

February 9: The fifth-ranked Blue Devils knocked off the 21st-ranked Tar Heels 79-73 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Smith led the way with a career-high 34 points, but this was Seth Curry’s coming out party. Curry added 35 quality minutes off the bench in which he scored 22 points–his highest scoring output since he transfered to Duke. Carolina was in complete control of this game in the first half, taking a commanding 43-29 lead going into halftime. Duke came out with a different energy in the second half. They had not one, but two “Patented Duke Runs” of 18-6 and 13-1 in them to erase the 14-point halftime deficit. The second of these runs was nearly all Seth. He posted seven points in just over a minute before Ryan Kelly’s huge three-pointer gave Duke its first lead of the game. Smith added a three-point play to extend the Duke lead to five on the next possession. Curry also posted six rebounds and five assists on the night. UNC would get the best of Duke at the Dean Dome on March 5 with a convincing 75-58 win.

Duke celebrates in style after a second victory over Carolina. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

March 13: Duke wins its 19th ACC tournament championship in school history with a satisfying 75-58 victory over North Carolina at the Greensboro Coliseum. Smith led the team with 20 points and 10 assists and earned tournament MVP honors. This was just the eleventh time in school history that a Duke player had posted 20 points and 10 assists in the same game. The victory gave Duke its 10th championship in the last 13 ACC tournaments. The victory over North Carolina was Duke’s 30th in the 2010-2011 season, and would ultimately earn the Blue Devils a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament’s West Regional.

After three full months without him, Kyrie Irving returned just in time for the tournament. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

March 19: Possibly the most talked about appendage in Duke history had finally been mended. After 26 games on the bench and becoming a Twitter and internet sensation, Kyrie Irving’s toe had finally healed and he was ready to play once again, just in time for the NCAA tournament. Irving played 20 minutes in Duke’s first NCAA tournament game, an 87-45 victory over 16th-seeded Hampton. He had 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting as Duke took a large step toward a deep tournament run, playing with a full roster for the first time since December. Irving would contribute 11 points off the bench in Duke’s 73-71 win over Michigan in the next round. He struggled from the floor, shooting just 1-of-4 from the field in 21 minutes.

Irving was out-dueled by Arizona's Derrick Williams in Duke's Sweet 16 loss. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

March 24: Duke falls 93-78 to 5th-seeded Arizona in the Sweet 16, bringing the Blue Devils’ 2010-2011 season to a close. It was a matchup of the two players who would eventually become the NBA’s top two draft picks. Future #2 overall pick Derrick Williams led the Wildcats with 32 points and 13 rebounds, dominating Duke on the inside. Future #1 overall pick Kyrie Irving led the Blue Devils with 28 points of his own, coming off the bench in his final Duke game. The Blue Devils held a 44-38 lead going into the half, but Arizona came out firing after the break. It seemed as though they couldn’t miss in the second half, shooting 58.3% from the field. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils cooled down significantly, shooting just 9-of-24 in the second half.

Though he only played 11 games for Duke, it was enough to make Kyrie Irving the NBA's #1 pick. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

June 23: Three members of Duke’s 2010-2011 team are drafted into the NBA. Despite a short college career and injury-plagued season, Kyrie Irving was selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Nolan Smith was also selected in the first round, 21st overall, joining former Duke guard Elliot Williams as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. Kyle Singler was drafted with the third pick of the second round, number 33 overall, by the Detroit Pistons. Irving and Smith have both begun their NBA careers, but spent a lot of time in Durham the following fall during the NBA lockout. Singler, who played for Alicante in Spain during the NBA lockout, elected to remain in Spain for this season. He now plays for Real Madrid. They were not the only Duke players to start their careers in the NBA, however. Lance Thomas, who went undrafted after he graduated in 2010, played his way into a training camp invite from the New Orleans Hornets after a strong showing in the 2011 Pan American Games. He made the Hornets roster on December 24 and appeared in two games before he was waivedon December 31.

Duke basketball's class of 2015: Quinn Cook, Alex Murphy, Austin Rivers, Michael Gbinije, and Marshall Plumlee. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

July 10: It didn’t take very long for the Blue Devils to get back at it, opening practice less than four months after the 2010-2011 season ended. For a year where “Duke Basketball Never Stops” has been the motto, the early start was quite fitting. The first practices brought much change for the Blue Devils, as they said goodbye to their three NBA draft picks and welcomed five new freshmen to the Duke family. This year’s freshman class included silent-but-deadly Michael Gbinije, prep-school star Alex Murphy, the youngest and goofiest of Perky Plumlee’s children, Marshall Plumlee, Nolan Smith’s god-brother Quinn Cook, and Austin Rivers, son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. Duke’s newest players were welcomed to the fold with open arms, and received a fairly large gift when they entered the ranks–a trip overseas.

Only thing that's bigger than the Plumlee brothers? The Great Wall of China. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

August 15:The Blue Devils embarked on a 12-day tour, playing two games in China and one game in Dubai. The team visited Beijing and Shanghai, saw the sites in China, and made a trip to Kunshan with university officials to promote Duke’s new Kunshan campus that is currently under construction. The team used the trip as a bonding experience, and an opportunity for this young team to get some extra practice and playing time. The Blue Devils then traveled to Dubai to promote Duke’s new Dubai campus and face the UAE’s national team. They won all three games they played, and the trip concluded with a trek to the top of Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building. The trip spanned seven countries and 21,188 miles.

The end of an impressive introduction at Countdown To Craziness. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

October 14:The 2011 Blue Devils make their Cameron Indoor Stadium debut at Countdown to Craziness. The energy in the building was electric as the Cameron Crazies welcomed the team home from their trip abroad and got their first glimpse at all five freshmen. The game was competitive, as Austin Rivers’ White squad came out firing and held a 13 point lead at halftime. The Blue team made a run in the second half behind the play of Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins. Curry had a game-high 28 points as Rivers struggled down the stretch and the experience of the Blue team was the difference maker in a 56-53 win. Miles Plumlee defeated younger brother Marshall in the final of the postgame slam dunk contest, sealing the victory when he jumped over 6-foot-11 Marshall and slammed it home.

The two winningest basketball coaches in Division I history, as Coach K passes Bob Knight. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

November 15:The Blue Devils defeat Michigan State 74-69 at Madison Square Garden for Mike Krzyzewski’s 903rd career victory, passing his mentor Bobby Knight for most all-time in Division I basketball. Knight was in attendance at the game, and the two shared a long embrace immediately following the win. Andre Dawkins scored a career-high 26 points on 6-of-10 from three-point range. Coach K now has 911 career victories.

Duke celebrates its fifth Maui Invitational championship. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

November 23:Duke wins its fifth Maui Invitational championship, defeating Kansas in the final 68-61. Duke improved to 15-0 at the Maui Invitational all-time as it faced the most competitive field in the history of the tournament. Duke defeated Tennessee in the quarterfinal and Michigan in the semifinal in tight contests. Tyler Thornton came up clutch in the tournament’s final game, knocking down two three-pointers in the last two minutes of the game to give Duke the championship. Ryan Kelly earned tournament MVP honors with 17 points in the final.

A happy and healthy 2012 to our readers from all of us here at Crazie-Talk. 2011 was a fantastic year, and hopefully 2012 will be better (and hopefully the world doesn’t end, that would be nice). As always, stay Crazie, my friends.

March Madness Second Round: Winners and Losers

 

Ted Turner finally found a way to make people care about truTV. (Photo via Creative Commons)
The technical terms may have changed, but you get the gist of it: the NCAA “Second Round” is the real first two days of March Madness. Some people take these days off from work, citing “late-winter cough” or “early summer Avian Flu.” Jim Rome decries this annual ritual of the American workforce. Hooter’s celebrates it, offering coupons to those who come in with a desire for boobs Basketball Fever. It’s become an American tradition, like Andy Griffith, apple pie and Reverend Lovejoy.
What matters more than the bracket standings is the teams and players that make their mark on March. Here are some of the major winners and losers from the opening two days.
 
WINNERS!
 
VCU, George Mason, and the CAA
 
VCU showed that they deserved their controversial spot in the First Four, downing Nikola Vucevic and USC 59-46 before stomping the lights out of a convalescent Georgetown team last night. The last time VCU reached the round of 32, it was at our expense, as Eric Maynor dropped a dagger and was immortalized in March Madness lore. Luckily, those wounds were healed by last year’s national championship, and I’m ready to cheer for VCU against a powerful Purdue squad on Sunday.
George Mason lived up to their awesome shirts by downing Villanova with some late game heroics that thrilled Gus Johnson to no end. Their reward is a date with Ohio State–who looked pretty dominating in their win over UTSA–but the George Mason program has some experience shocking the world, having knocked off prohibitive favorite UConn en route to the 2006 Final Four. There are no players left over from that team, and Coach Jim Larranaga has earned his salt, proving ’06 was no fluke. With a combined record of 3-1 in the Tournament (with Old Dominion falling to Butler in the final seconds) the Colonial Athletic Association is setting itself up for more attention from the Selection Committee in coming years. They are definitely winners.
 
The ACC
 
Our beloved east coast conference has been a punching bag for the national media this year. Who’s laughing now? HUH, PUNKS?! Duke, UNC and Florida State all advanced to the round of 32, with the Seminoles being the biggest surprise in a 57-50 win over previously top-20 Texas A&M. Our Blue Devils and the Heels were expected to advance, of course. But it’s heartening to see Leonard Hamilton (probably the ACC’s fourth best coach) break through to the next round. They’ll face off with Notre Dame, and I think with their length and athleticism they stand a chance at beating the Irish, a team that depends on craftiness and finesse.
 
Morehead State’s national recognition
 
Giggle all you want at the irony of Rick Pitino’s vanquishers, Morehead State is for real. DeMonte Harper’s last second three was as pure as glacial melt, and Kenneth Faried probably raised his NBA draft stock by leading his team over the Big East finalist Cardinals. It’s always particularly meaningful when a little known school defeats a in-state powerhouse. Morehead State has the opportunity to advance even further today against Richmond…methinks the Eagles can body up the Spiders and advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
 
LOSERS…
 
Tennessee and Bruce Pearl
 
Blue Devil fans had a particular interest in yesterday’s Tennessee-Michigan game, but after halftime, the game wasn’t all that interesting. Michigan thoroughly blasted the Volunteers, winning by 30 in what must be a record for an 8-9 game. Michigan was a bubble team before the Tournament, and now coach John Beilein looks like some kind of mad genius heading in to the Wolverines matchup against Duke. On the otherhand, Bruce Pearl has the NCAA breathing down his neck for repeated recruiting violations, and is probably going to lose his job in the offseason. Sad…I was hoping to see if he ever douse himself in orange paint again.
 
Kalin Lucas and Michigan State
 
UCLA finally mercy-killed Michigan State’s disappointing season, holding on 78-76 after giving up most of a 23 point lead. The Spartans never really coalesced this year, completely disappointing the predictions of many analysts that they would challenge for the NCAA title. Tom Izzo was snakebitten by the defections of lead guards Chris Allen and Korie Lucious, and Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers and Draymond Green struggled to take the reins as senior stars. Lucas’ storied career ended on a Langdon-esque note, traveling as he tried to race up the court for a final shot. I always liked Lucas, even if the comparisons to Kyrie were always a little generous on his side…
 
St. John’s
 
Steve Lavin brought St. John’s back from the brink of obscurity this year, defeating a number of top teams in Madison Square Garden including top seeds Duke and Pittsburgh. But the Red Storm and its 9 (?!) seniors struggled all year away from home. Cue Thursday night’s 86-71 defeat at the hands of Gonzaga, far from midtown Manhattan in Denver. The Zags stumbled out of the gate this year, hardly impressing anyone after Len Elmore infamously picked them to win the national championship. But the Bulldogs owned the boards and dished out 20 assists to put this one out of reach. I was pretty impressed with the Big East’s performance in the first round, but St. John’s proved it still has some work to do to rejoin the elite of its monstrous conference.
 
That’s all for now, folks. Enjoy the second round, and follow us on Twitter for the latest jokes about John Calipari’s hair gel and stuff like that. Thanks to many of our tweeps for suggesting winners and losers! Here’s your moment of zen…remember the days when we were still worried about Kyrie coming to Duke?
 
 
 
 

March Madness Day 1: Winners and Losers

Before we turn our attention to Arkansas Pine-Bluff, why don’t we recap the first 16 games of the tournament slate with the day’s winners and losers. Filled with upsets, overtimes and plenty of late-game dramatics, the past 15 hours have been one of the more memorable NCAA tournament first days in several years. Find out who the big winners and losers were before you watch another 12 hours of college basketball. THIS… IS… MADNESS!!!

WINNER: 1 KENTUCKY WILDCATS

Kentucky didn’t just “land the plane” on Thursday. The Wildcats did 360s in midair, nosedives and put the plane on autopilot before touching down safely. They did the one thing everyone said was their weakness: hit their shots. “If we’re hitting our shots, we bury people,” said Coach Cal. Exactly. Led by Eric Bledsoe, who went 8-9 from three, Kentucky connected on 15 of 33 shots from long range and assisted on 27 of their 31 made field goals. This was a thorough burial of a vastly inferior team by the Wildcats, who were not bitten by the upset bug that seemed to be the theme of the day. Kentucky turned in the best performance of the day, dropping 100 on hapless East Tennessee State.

LOSER: Damion James and Dexter Pittman, 8 TEXAS LONGHORNS

Remember when these two seniors, James, the ferocious rebounder, and Pittman, fatboy-turned-unstoppable-load in the paint, were thought to be the best low-post tandem in the country. Well, they have finally been put out of their misery, not having much say in their 81-80 overtime loss to Wake Forest. A sense of urgency didn’t seem to be in the upperclassmen’s vocabulary, as Texas’ three dynamic freshmen combined to score 48 points. James shot a miserable 4-14 in his last game in burnt orange and clanked a go-ahead free throw at the end of regulation. Actually, don’t blame Damion James…Blame this guy…

WINNER: Ishmael Smith, 9 WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS

Talk about a senior who did not want to play his last game. Smith, he of the 17 assists and 23 turnovers in 5 career games against Duke, was incredible with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists and the game-winning fadeaway 18-footer with 1.3 seconds left. Smith began his career as an out-of-control freshman burdened with the unenviable task of replacing Chris Paul. Four years later, he has became a gutsy, tough, calm and clutch leader for the Demon Deacons. We don’t get a stacked round-of-32 matchup between UT and UK, but we do get another matchup to watch: Smith and John Wall going head to head. Speed vs. Speed.

LOSER: Anthony Johnson, 14 MONTANA GRIZZLIES

A bit harsh to pick on someone from a mid-major, especially given Johnson’s incredible made-for-TV-movie story to get to where he is today. But Johnson provided some bulletin-board material for New Mexico earlier in the week by suggesting that the Grizzlies got off easing by drawing the Lobos instead of possibly a Big East team. Maybe he wished he got the Big East team instead. Against New Mexico, he wound up eating his words, going 1-12 from the field and negating an inspired effort by his teammates to become the second 14-seed to win on the day. And isn’t it ironic that the Big East (1-3) performed worse in the day than the Lobos’ conference, the Mountain West (2-2).

WINNER: Quincy Pondexter, 11 WASHINGTON HUSKIES

So the Pac-10 has, and rightfully so, been the punching bag of the Big Six conferences all season. So of course a Pac-10 team beats a team from the former “best conference” in America. In another example of a senior who did not want to play his last game, Pondexter showed those Pac-10 media members and coaches who did not vote him Player of the Year just how much intestinal fortitude he has. After hitting a tough hanging bank shot from the left wing with 1.7 seconds, Pondexter put another dagger into the Big East’s day by sending Marquette back to Milwaukee. Let’s see what response Pac-10 Player of the Year Jerome Randle has against Louisville later tonight.

LOSER: 3 GEORGETOWN HOYAS

Well, this was obvious, wasn’t it? I do remember saying during our annihilation at the hands of Georgetown, “This team ain’t SHIT.” Prophetic words, I know. Especially after losses to South Florida, Rutgers and Notre Dame. But OHIO? People hopped back on the Hoya bandwagon after their run to the Big East finals (this writer included, who had them in the Elite Eight), but they completely forgot how to defend. Now Georgetown makes dubious history by becoming the first team seeded 3 or higher to lose by double digits in the first round. Greg Monroe, SHOULD HAVE COME TO DUKE. Maybe you can transfer here so you can learn what it feels like to win in the tournament. Let me know how those workouts for the Wizards go.

WINNER: Armon Bassett and D.J. Cooper, 14 OHIO BOBCATS

And this was just as obvious. These two small dynamos combined for 55 points and 10 three-pointers made, as they consistently shredded Georgetown’s defense. Bassett, a 6’0 sparkplug who transferred from Indiana after the Kelvin Sampson debacle, hit big shot after big shot to answer Hoya runs. And Cooper, a 5’11 freshman southpaw weighing no more than 170 pounds, drove fearlessly into the lane time after time and was able to finish creatively at the rim against the Hoyas size. No one could have predicted this as we all thought Georgetown had cured its mercurial habits.

LOSER: 1 KANSAS JAYHAWKS

Kansas did not really lose anything, and they were never in danger, as they still remain the odds on favorite to make it to the Final Four from the Midwest Regional. However, Lehigh was able to cover the spread, which makes the Jayhawks a loser. Lehigh bust out of the gate, leading 12-4 with 13:25 left in the 1st half. The Jayhawks only recovered to lead by six at the half. Perhaps the pressure of everyone and Obama picking Kansas to win the championship has worn on them. Kansas’ uninspiring performance paled in comparison to the thorough domination by the other 1-seed in action, Kentucky.

WINNER: Danero Roberts, 13 MURRAY STATE RACERS

Roberts’ buzzer-beater is easily the feel good story of the day and has made his Murray State team the early Cinderella darling of the tournament. You know he’ll be in this year’s “One Shining Moment” montage. Receiving a pass with about three seconds left, Roberts dribbled to a spot and pulled up for a fadeaway 19-footer, hitting nothing but net. Watching the second-half of this game, I heard so many audible “Let’s Go Racers” chants. And their fans had good reason to be so confident in their team. The Racers are probably the most balanced team in the tournament, with six players averaging between 9.7 and 10.6 points. Watch out Butler.

LOSER: A.J. Ogilvy and Jeffery Taylor, 4 VANDERBILT COMMODORES

Ogilvy now has the dubious distinction as someone who has been upset twice at the hands of a 13 seed, having lost to upstart Siena two years ago in the first round. Against a team that had one rotation player taller than 6’7, Vanderbilt’s big men came up small. Ogilvy had only 12 points and 6 rebounds in just 20 minutes while Taylor spent most of the second half on the bench in foul trouble. You had to feel for Ogilvy after he dropped to his knees, devastated. But then again, if you don’t want to get upset, assert yourself and take care of business.

WINNER: 2 KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

K-State’s win over North Texas meant that Wildcat teams turned in the two best performances of the day by a top 4 seed. Personally, I didn’t care about this game as I was so immersed in the Vanderbilt-Murray State classic. But it was good to see that parity hadn’t completely gobbled up the tournament by seeing a 2 seed take care of business with ease, something that wasn’t done earlier in the day (more on that later). Syracuse should watch out for K-State, who have the shooters (Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente) and size (Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels) to give them fits.

LOSER: 12 UTEP MINERS

The team that breezed through Conference USA instead ends the season with two consecutive losses. At least this one was to a team worthy of being in the tournament (unlike Houston). However, with a couple of strong 5 seeds in the field (Michigan State and Temple), UTEP was a trendy pick to pull the common 12-5 upset. And that would have led to the ultimate Cinderella 12 vs. 13 matchup against Murray State, a favorite of mine. Yeah, I’m just ticked because I picked UTEP to be in the Sweet 16, but I’m writing this column. Instead, Butler extended its winning streak to 21 games, as its three point shooting completely overwhelmed the Miners.

WINNER: Michael Loyd Jr., 7 BYU COUGARS

Some people know about Jimmer Fredette, the 6-2 gunner on BYU who dropped 37 to finally drop Florida in double OT. But there’s no way anyway outside of Provo, Utah knows who Michael Loyd is. Michael Loyd, who averages 4.6 points on the season? As much as Fredette did to help the Cougars win, I’m sure he’d tell you this victory would not have come without Loyd’s coming-out party. Loyd actually got some experience against New Mexico earlier this season when Fredette sat out the second half due to sickness. Against the Gators, the 6’1 sophomore guard poured in a career-high 26 points to help his team advance to play Kansas State.

WINNER: Omar Samhan, 10 SAINT MARY’S GAELS

This Samhan is a man. The 6’11, 260-pound beast completely dominated Richmond on the interior. Thanks to his 29 points and 12 rebounds, the Gaels outrebounded the Spiders 39-16. That is a ridiculous number, as in Samhan grabbed almost as many boards as the entire opposing team. He not only forced the issue all day in the paint but also got open looks for St. Mary’s shooters such as Mickey McConnell, who contributed 23 points. You will be seeing Samhan on an NBA team in the near future. He is that damn good.

LOSER: Luke Harangody, 6 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH

Digger Phelps must be sick to his stomach right now. Who had Notre Dame in the Sweet 16? Not me. I called those Patties ridiculously overseeded and they were; this wasn’t an upset either.. Old Dominion did beat Georgetown earlier in the season (not as impressive anymore), but they were also a statistically better team than the Fighting Irish. Nothing epitomizes the bad luck of the Irish more than Harangody, the former Big East Player of the Year who ended his career with just 4 points and 7 rebounds. What’s interesting is that Notre Dame played its best basketball of the year without big ol’ Luke. His NBA stock is looking reeeeal good right now.

WINNER: Ekpe Udoh, 3 BAYLOR BEARS

Who the hell said there were no NBA lottery picks in the South region? Although Baylor wasn’t really impressive at all in its win, Udoh certainly was. And I cut Baylor some slack because this was its first tournament win in about a half-century. So it has been a while. Udoh went for 20 points, 13 boards, 2 blocks and even threw in 5 dimes. Baylor looks like a team that can certainly give Villanova fits in the Elite Eight. Maybe St. Mary’s upsets Nova and we get Udoh vs. Samhan in the Sweet 16? What a matchup that would be.

LOSER: Scottie Reynolds, 2 VILLANOVA WILDCATS

I’ve been taking as many potshots as I can on the Big East. Case in point: it took Scottie Reynolds and his army of zebras to turn away Robert Morris’ upset bid and save the Big East from utter humiliation. Reynolds shot an atrocious 2-15 from the field (although one three was big at the end of OT), but took 16 free throws on the day. These Wildcats, unlike Kentucky and Kansas State, limped to the finish and Villanova did nothing in this game to change the perception that it was the weakest 2 seed in the field. Which takes me to one final winner on the day…

WINNER: 1 DUKE BLUE DEVILS

How, you say, do we win by not even playing? Because of the complete carnage that you see on the battlefield that is the South Regional. So originally everyone had the South as the weakest bracket in the field, let by the crummiest 2 seed in Villanova. Then the trendy Final Four pick Baylor has trouble putting away Sam Houston State and both 6 and 7 seeded teams, who many thought were already overseeded, fell. 4 seed Purdue is still smarting from injuries, I believe, and remains a popular choice to be upset by Siena. I hope karma doesn’t bite me in the ass from all the shots I took at the Big East if we have to play Louisville in the round of 32. Everyone may be cowering right now, but they won’t be when they play Duke. Nonetheless, like I said before, there are NO excuses if we do not make the Final Four this year.

Same time tomorrow, folks.

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