First Take: Blue Devils Bounce Back
And your Super Bowl weekend primer.
Well it’s Super Bowl weekend, or at least we’re a few hours away from the start of it. There may not be a single more meaningless 48 hours for the college basketball world than this one, not because the games aren’t important, but because the entire sports world will be wrapped up in the little event that will be taking place in Miami on Sunday. Even I will be taking a break from my usual night of ACC hoops on FSN in order to watch Peyton Manning and Drew Brees put up audacious passing numbers while Dwight Freeney attempts to mangle offensive lineman on one leg. But for the time being, let’s talk some hoops.
I have to give Duke credit, they had every reason to struggle against Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils had just been handed a beat down by Georgetown on national TV and they were facing a team built to take advantage of their lack of frontcourt toughness. I was already anticipating a pair of double-doubles for Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors. Instead, Lawal was a non-factor and Favors was saddled by foul trouble, leaving Coach K’s kids to control the glass (be honest you never thought you’d see the day Lance Thomas grab 11 rebounds) and the big three to dominate the scoring column. Kyle Singler scored a career-high 30 points, connecting on eight three pointers, while Jon Scheyer added 21 of his own. So this begs the question, are the Blue Devils good enough to overcome their frontcourt deficiency? Do they have a frontcourt deficiency? Were the NC State and Georgetown games flukes? OK, so really it begs three questions, but you get the point. There may not be a top ten team with more question marks about its ability to perform in March than Duke right now.
Elsewhere in the top 25, Purdue and Tennessee had close calls on the road at Indiana and LSU. I give the Boilermakers credit, they showed a lot of toughness in Bloomington, not an easy place to play when it’s rocking, and won in Indiana for the first time in 11 years. In the ACC the rich got richer and the poor got poorer as Maryland knocked off Florida State on the road and North Carolina fell at Virginia Tech. I know there’s been bubble talk for the Tar Heels, but in my mind it popped last night. They stand at 13-9 overall with a 2-5 record in conference, which leaves them just a half game out of last place. To really stand any chance of dancing, especially with only one impressive win (Ohio State) Carolina is going to have to pretty much run the table the rest of the season, which would include two wins over Duke, at Maryland, at Georgia Tech and at Wake Forest. In short, the Tar Heels are looking NIT bound unless they win the ACC Tournament.
I’m keeping the recap of last night’s action short so we can look ahead to the buffet of games lined up for the weekend.
The marquee matchup on Saturday’s docket is Villanova’s visit to our nation’s capital to take on Georgetown. As much as I criticize the Hoyas and their game plan at times – and I do it quite a bit – they keep winning basketball games. The big test for G-town will be if their starters are conditioned enough to hang with a ‘Nova team that features a lot of depth, particularly in the backcourt. Chris Wright and Austin Freeman can hang with any guard pairing in the Big East, but this will be one of their tougher tests. Greg Monroe, as is so often the case, will be the key to the entire game. Antonio Pena is going to be physical with him on the block, but if Monroe gets some space to face up and operate from mid-range, it could be a long day for the Villanova big man. Give the manner in which they dismantled Duke last weekend and the fact that it’s a home game, I have to give Georgetown a slight edge in this match up, yes, even after the South Florida debacle.
Plenty of ranked teams are going to be challenged this weekend by teams still looking to work their way into the polls, or that have absolutely no chance of doing so. Texas visits Oklahoma and this could be a tougher game for the Longhorns than they expect. The Sooners still have a tremendous talent in Willie Warren, but Tommy Mason-Griffin has been on a tear as of late, scoring 21, 26 and 38 points in a three game stretch of Big 12 action last week. Tiny Gallon has been up and down this year, but physically he may be the only player in the conference outside of Cole Aldrich who can physically hand with Dexter Pittman. I still think Texas gets a win here, but it won’t be an easy one.
In the A-10, Temple hits the road for Virginia to take on Richmond in a game that has major implications for the conference race. The Owls have handled each of their last two opponents since falling to Charlotte, but the Spiders have a very balanced offensive attack that will be tough to handle. Butler has its traditional late season matchup with Wright State that always proves to be a great game out in the Horizon League. The Raiders aren’t as much of a threat for a conference title this season as they have been in past years, but regardless of record, this is always a heated contest. Of course in the CAA, a race that has been of infinite fascination to me, Old Dominion visits VCU for a pivotal game, especially after the Monarchs fell to Northeastern in their recent meeting.
On Sunday if you want a little basketball before settling down for overstuffed subs, beer and football, I recommend the aforementioned North Carolina at Maryland game. This one is of major importance for the Tar Heels to win and as for the Terps, it’s a chance to see how they fair against a talented frontcourt.
That’s all for me today, I’ll be hitting the road for Boston this weekend to take in Super Sunday with some friends, but will of course be catching as much action as I possibly can for Monday. Enjoy the hoops!