I don't want to be a conspiracy theorist, but WTF? How do you not call that?
Duke had the best first half of basketball I’ve seen them play all year. They came out of the gate and put incredible defensive pressure on Georgia Tech and it had them rattled. They extended the defense right out to beyond the three-point arc, double-teamed guards when the shot clock got down, and even in the paint Zoubek seemed to envelop anybody who got in front of him. The result was a series of off-balance and ill-advised shots and a bunch of give-aways from Tech.
But strangely, they let off on the pressure in the second half and that opened the door for the Jackets. Georgia Tech turned the tables and put the defensive pressure on Duke and suddenly it was Duke’s shots that wouldn’t fall. As Duke went 3-for-10 from the field in the first five minutes of the half, Georgia Tech went on a 17-2 and they tied the game. But it was only a temporary drought and Duke climbed back on top with solid shooting when Tech gambled too much on defense.
In the end, Duke covered by a measly half-point to make my picks 0-3 for the day (sorry everybody) but it stings a little bit more when it’s a close as that. Ah well.
Some interesting notes from the game: Brian Zoubek played 16 minutes, the second most he’s played since coming back from injury. He wasn’t a factor in the box score but his 7-foot-1 frame takes up a lot of space in the post and makes opponents nervous. They’ll need him against Clemson and their big man, Sykes (assuming Clemson beats BC). Duke had great balance in the game with scoring form nine different players and five in double-figures.
The only word to describe V-Tech’s defense is “ubiquitous.” As Miami tried every which way to score, they ran into Hokies everywhere they went. I’ve never seen a defense extend so far out to the perimeter, but their guards fearlessly pressed out beyond the three-point line and harassed the Miami backcourt. McClinton looked particularly thrown off by the tight defense which was evident in the way he hesitated even when he did have a good look, like he was almost surprised there wasn’t a hand in his face.
The compelling thing about this team (aside from their swarming defense) is that you can see all their young players maturing after a fairly disappointing season. The Hokies only put up 69 points a game this year, but with two freshmen guards on the floor, it’s tough to get things rolling. But today, even though they put up only 63, their guards did an admirable job running the offense. Malcolm Delaney was obviously red-hot and even though he shot 22 percent from three-point range over the course of the season, he was a lethal weapon against Miami, nailing four of five treys. Hank Thorns was impressive at the point too. He made good decisions with the ball, did a good job of penetrating and opening up shots for his teammates.
Obviously, things will be different against North Carolina, a team with a strong inside presence. If they try to extend their defense to the perimeter against the Tar Heels, Hansbrough will make them pay. They are more likely to focus their attention on Hansbrough and in turn give UNC’s guards a little more breathing room. Whatever they do, hopefully for them, it won’t end in a 39-point loss as it did in Chapel Hill a month ago.
It’s hard to say what oddsmakers will come up with for this game, but from what I saw of Virginia Tech today, I’m impressed.
I'm all over the ACC tournament, so I'll be posting my thoughts on the advancing teams, along with my previews and picks on Covers.com.
My thoughts on North Carolina immediately after watching their game is that this is a team that is going beat you with straight-up toughness and grit. It sounds like a cliché but this really is a team that beats you up, particularly from the inside with Hansbrough.
He’s a unique player in that he’s not exceptionally big, athletic or skillful. He’s got fairly generous blessings in all those departments, but nothing that makes your mouth drop open in awe. His biggest attribute is tenacity. He fights in the paint and you can see how that pays off as the game goes on.
Florida State was doing a great job fronting Hansbrough in the post in the first half. By the end of the half, Hansbrough didn’t have any offensive rebounds and had not gone to the foul line. But as the game wore on, he was grabbing every rebound and he must have gone to the line at least five times in the last five minutes. He has amazing strength and endurance and that is something that mentally destroys an opponent.
Despite all he did, it’s like FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said at halftime, “There’s more to this team than just Hansbrough.”
They’re very deep and they got important contributions from role players like Quinton Thomas and Alex Stephenson. All told, the UNC bench 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. That bench will be a huge advantage as this tournament goes on. The deeper they go, the more I like Carolina.
I know that they didn’t quite cover in this game, but if you consider they were double-digit favorites and FSU (usually not a good shooting team) shot 49 percent from the field and 47 percent from three-point range (including a rushed trey at the end of the game that sealed the pointspread), that’s an impressive margin of victory.
Despite everything they did right, they were a little sloppy on defense, which makes me think I’ll be eyeing the over in their next game.