Tuesday, April 06, 2010
Room Service: Devils Deny Butler, 61-59
Butler's Gordon Hayward let fly from half court with the clock running down to zero. The ball banged of the backboard and the front of the rim, his desperation heave just inches from being the most stunning buzzer beater of all time.
But it was not to be for the Butler Bulldogs, who growled and wrestled all the way to the final seconds of the final game. The Duke Blue Devils would be crowned the NCAA men's basketball champions - for the 4th time in school history - with a thrilling, 61-59, final game win.
All four of Duke's titles have come under the tutelage of coach Mike Krzyzewski, who joins Adolph Rupp and John Wooden as the only coaches ever to win four or more national championships. It was Krzyzewski's first championship since 2001. The others were in 1991 and 1992. Rupp guided the Kentucky Wildcats to four, in 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958. John Wooden, the legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins has 10, a record which may never be broken. He took the championship with UCLA 10 times from 1964 to 1975, including an amazing 7 straight seasons from 1967 to 1973.
The game is being hailed as an "instant classic," a title it well deserves. Neither team gave an inch in a contest that saw multiple lead-changes, death-defying drives into the lane, extreme defense and enough drama to make Broadway critics cry. The biggest lead of the game was 6 points, by Duke, and Butler actually had a chance to take the last shot when they recovered the ball when Brian Zoubek inadvertently kicked it out of bounds in one of the many on-the-floor scrambles under the Duke basket.
Butler had the ball in hand with 33 seconds left, down a point, but Hayward's ten-foot baseline floater banged off the rim into Zoubek's hands. He was fouled with 3.3 seconds left, hit the first free throw and purposely missed the second, allowing Hayward to streak to mid-court for the final shot.
Give credit to the Bulldogs, who were painted as the David in the David vs. Goliath presentation, but in reality are a high-quality program from a mid-major conference. The Bulldogs had been ranked in the top 15 all season and entered the final with a 25-game win streak. No opponent during their five tournament wins - including victories over some of the best teams in the country: Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan St. - scored as many as 60 points. Duke broke the mold with the win.
Butler deserves the final ranking of #2, with their 33-5 record and 18-0 Horizon League total. Duke will finish the season #1, with a record of 35-5 (13-3 in the ACC) and a memorable final game victory, the closest since 1989, when Michigan beat Seton Hall, 80-79.
Duke will sport a whole new look next season, as three starters - Zoubek, Jon Scheyer and Lance Thomas - are all seniors. Juniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith could easily jump to the NBA, foregoing their senior seasons.
Butler, on the other hand, may come back ranked #1 preseason. They will lose only Willie Veasley to graduation. Star forward, Gordon Hayward, is only a sophomore, and Matt Howard, who was Horizon League Player of the Year in 2008-09, is a junior. Guards Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored are also sophomores, so the Bulldogs very likely will return four of their starting five, and an upgrade at one forward position - where Veasley departs - is likely.
Game highlights can be found in numerous places on the internet: here and here, and can be seen in its entirety when it is added to the NCAA Video Vault, along with a decade's worth of games from the Sweet 16 through tourney finals.
College Hoops Player of the Day for Monday, April 5, 2010
Duke's win would not have been possible with the Herculean effort from Kyle Singler, who played all of the 40 minutes and was the game's high-scorer with 19 points. Singler hit 7 of 13 shots from the field, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range, all of them seeming to come at crucial moments. He went to the foul line just twice, canning both of his free throws, and added 9 boards, 2 assists, a steal and 2 blocked shots.
While Singler's stats exemplify his extraordinary all-around effort, what may be the bast part of his game may be overlooked. He defended Butler's Gordon Hayward man-to-man almost all night, limiting the Bulldog star to a sub-par 12 points on 2-for-11 shooting (0-3 on treys). Hayward notched 8 of those 12 at the foul line, where he was perfect. Singler's defensive effort kept Hayward away from the lane for much of the night, contesting every pass to him and every shot he took.
Singler was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, an award he most decidedly earned.
A few final notes: Ohio state's Evan Turner was handed the Naismith Award as NCAA Player of the Year, at half time of Monday's game. Turner had already notched the AP Player of the Year and similar awards from the Sporting News and US Basketball Writers Association. Turner led Ohio State to a 29-8 record and a share of the Big Ten title. A junior, Turner is expected to forego his senior season and jump to the NBA.
Coach Jim Boeheim of Syracuse was named AP coach of the year.
The Big Ten and Big 12 tied for the best record in the tournament at 9-5, though one could make the case that the Horizon League (Butler being the sole entrant) topped all conferences with a 5-1 record.
NCAA Conference Scoreboard FINAL (through games of April 5)
Big East (8-8)
Big Ten (9-5)
Big 12 (9-5)
Mountain West (2-4)
West Coast (3-2)
Western Athletic (0-2)
*Conferences with only one tournament team listed as "Other."
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Singler Leads Blue Devils to ACC Final; All In on Selection Sunday
The Duke Blue Devils can wrap up the ACC tournament with a win over Georgia Tech on Sunday, after surviving a scare from upset-minded Miami in their semi-final, eventually coming out on top of a 77-74 score.
As is often the case, when his team needed him to step up, Kyle Singler did just that, hitting 5 of 9 3-pointers (8 of 15 overall), to go with 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Singler led all scorers and will have a shot at being named the tournament's MVP when he and his Duke teammates square off with Georgia Tech on Sunday in the tourney final.
Having already captured the outright regular season ACC crown, the Blue Devils have little to prove in their match-up with the Yellow Jackets, a team they lost to in January, but soundly trounced in early February, 86-67, though that win was on Duke's home court. A win by Duke would ensure a #1 seeding, most likely in the West Region. A loss could send that seed to Ohio State, if the Buckeyes handle Minnesota in their final.
Notable: There are just four games on Sunday to determine automatic bids. The ACC, A-10 and SEC tourney finals all begin at 1;00 EDT, while the Big Ten final is set for a 3:30 pm tip. In each case, the conference #1 seed is facing a team ostensibly on the bubble, though, in all likelihood, the four "bubble" teams - Richmond (A-10), Georgia Tech (ACC), Mississippi St. (SEC) and Minnesota (Big Ten) - have, by virtue of solid play to reach their conference final, already earned enough respect from the selection committee to make the field of 65 even if they lose.
It should be interesting to watch what happens especially to Minnesota and Mississippi State. Both have solid enough resumes to get them into the tourney, though some experts are calling them "first teams out."
We'll find out soon enough, as the selections are scheduled to be announced at 6:00 pm ET. Get your brackets ready!
Monday, February 22, 2010
Blue Devils Cruising Towards ACC Title
At the start of the season, not much was made about Duke's chances other than they'd likely be a high seed when March came around. Now, it appears that the Blue Devils may be able to nab a #1 seed in the NCCA tourney, as they've plowed through their ACC opponents with relative ease.
Sunday's ho-hum, 67-55 win over Virginia Tech offered a glimpse of what to expect when Duke comes calling. Their "big three" of Kyle Singler, Nick Smith and Jon Scheyer combined for all but four of Duke's points, with Singler leading the charge with 25 points on 7-for-15 shooting, which included 4 of 9 3-pointers and a perfect 7-for-7 from the foul line. Singler also added 10 boards for his 5th double-double of the season.
Scheyer scored 15 and Smith tallied 24. The other players to score were center Brian Zoubek, who had 3 points but held sway in the lane with 16 rebounds. Miles Plumlee had a single point from the foul line.
Duke, leading the ACC at 11-2, is being chased by 9-3 Maryland. The Terrapins may have their opportunity for at least a share of the conference title March 3rd, when Duke visits.Duke has already bombed Maryland once, 77-56, and their Sunday win sent the Hokies back to 8-4 in the ACC standings. In the meantime, the Blue Devils continue to make strides towards a top NCAA seeding and possibly a very deep run in the winner-take-all tournament.
Notable: The Pitt Panthers suffered through one of their worst shooting performances of the season, but bailed themselves out by hitting 26 of 34 free throws (76%) as they upset #3 Villanova, 70-65. Ranked #19 before their game, the Panthers will move up considerably in the national rankings due out Monday.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Duke's Scheyer, Singler Stomp Tar Heels
They weren't exactly sharpshooters from inside the 3-point line, but Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler shot well enough from outside the arc to bury North Carolina right in the Tar Heels' back yard at Chapel Hill, 64-54.
The guard-forward combo combined for 2/3rds of the Blue Devil scoring, 43 in all, sending North Carolina to their 4th straight conference loss, 4th straight home loss, and dropped them to a 2-7 record in the ACC, just 1/2 game ahead of last place NC State (2-8). 8-2 Duke expanded their ACC lead to a full game over idle Maryland (6-2) and Wake Forest (7-3). Maryland's scheduled home game with Virginia was cancelled due to the fierce storm which dumped nearly 4 feet of snow on College Park over the past 4 days.
Singler was the man in the first half for Duke, while Scheyer scored most of his game-high 24 points in the second half. Singler was 7-for-18 overall, but 4 of 5 from 3-point range as the Tar Heels allowed him open looks in the early going. He finished with 19 points and 9 boards. Scheyer was 7-for-20, but 5 of 9 from outside the arc, adding 4 assists and 5 rebounds. As a team, the Blue Devils had one of their worst shooting nights of the season, hitting just 31% from the field, though they managed 50% (9-18) from 3-point land. The dynamic duo had all of the treys.
North Carolina didn't fare much better, hitting 35% from the floor and a woeful 5 of 18 (28%) on threes. Carolina's overall record now stands at a mediocre 13-11, nearly assuring that they will not be invited to the Big Dance in March. It's a sorry state of affairs in Chapel Hill, less than a year removed from cutting down the nets as national champions. Of course, losing players like Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Danny Green did put a very large dent in Carolina's overall game.
Friday, February 05, 2010
Singler Guides Duke Past Georgia Tech; Devils Top ACC
With Georgia Tech's big men - Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors - both in foul trouble from just about the very start of the game (Lawal picked up 2 personals in the first 33 seconds and Favors had three before the game was even 7 minutes old), one would have thought the Blue Devils would take the ball in deep for scoring opportunities. Instead, just the opposite occurred as Kyle Singler roamed free on the perimeter, hitting 8 of 10 3-pointers for a career-high 30 points. As Singler was pouring them in from long range, and the Yellow jacket insiders on the bench, #10 Duke (18-4, 6-2) easily sped past #21 Georgia Tech (16-6, 4-4), 86-67, to remain 1/2 game ahead of 5-2 maryland and Virginia in the ACC.
Singler hit only one of seven shots that wasn't from three-point range, but he added 4-of-5 from the foul line and pulled down 5 rebounds. The game was decided within the first ten minutes of play, as Duke took a lead and went ahead to stay. Singler canned one of his threes just before intermission, giving the Blue Devils a 45-33 lead. After that they were never threatened.
NOTABLE: Keep an eye on the Butler Bulldogs, who are about to wrap up the Horizon league regular season title. They are 12-0 in the conference, on Thursday knocking off Detroit, 63-58, following four consecutive wins on the road. Gordon Hayward scored 18 points and had 10 rebounds, continuing to lead Butler in both departments. The Bulldogs are a perennial upset-maker in the NCAA tourney and appear poised for a deep run this year. 19-4 Butler is ranked #23 in the most-recent AP poll.