Friday, March 27, 2009

Duke : College Basketball :: __________ : College Football

Let's review Duke's NCAA Tournament performances since making the Final Four in 2004:

2009 - #2 seed, lost in Sweet Sixteen by 23 to #3 seed Villanova

2008 - #2 seed, lost in second round by six to #7 seed West Virginia

2007 - #6 seed, lost in first round by two to #11 seed Virginia Commonwealth

2006 - #1 seed, lost in Sweet Sixteen by six to #4 seed LSU

2005 - #1 seed, lost in Sweet Sixteen by ten to #5 seed Michigan State

Here are some stats for your consideration:

  • Duke has won one tournament game played outside of the State of North Carolina since winning the 2004 Atlanta Regional as a #1 seed against #5 seed Illinois and #7 seed Xavier. [Thank you to an anonymous commenter for pointing out a mistake in my original stat here. I had overlooked a one-point win over Belmont in Washington, D.C.]

  • Duke has not won a tournament game against a team seeded #4 or higher since winning the 2001 national title game against Arizona.

  • Based on their seeds over the past five years, Duke would be expected to have won 15 tournament games. (This assumes that they would lose their opening game at the Final Four.) Instead, Duke has won seven.

Leave aside the fact that Coach K was once a great tournament coach and this resume ought to cause Duke to be branded as world class chokers. My understanding is that Duke still hauls in McDonald's All-Americans. Has Coach K turned into a talent waster? Is he Guy Lewis? Bill Frieder? Is Duke's status as the emperor with no clothes common knowledge in college basketball circles and I just think this is an underreported story because I follow the sport very casually? As someone who just gets his content from major national sources - ESPN, Sports Illustrated, etc. - I still hear Duke discussed as a college basketball royalty even though they haven't played like it for years. Is the ACC currently sitting on declining coaching legends in both football and basketball?

Come to think of it, I wonder what changed in the ACC after the 2004 season that might cause Duke to go downhill...

Speaking of football parallels, there are two obvious comparisons: Ohio State and Oklahoma. The Buckeyes and Sooners regularly lose big postseason games, although they are not in the same position as Duke for two reasons. First, the college football regular season is a much bigger deal than the college basketball regular season, so Ohio State's and Oklahoma's success before January matters more. Second, there's no shame for the Bucks or Sooners in losing national title games to Florida, LSU, and USC. If Duke were getting to the Final Four and losing to UConn, UNC, and Kansas, then that would be one thing. It's quite another that they are losing to VCU and West Virginia. Duke could counter by saying that talent is more evenly distributed in college basketball and the post-season is longer, so it's more likely that a college hoops program would get upset in March.

The Ohio State-Duke comparison works better for a few reasons:

  1. They both get criticized for lacking athleticism (read: too white).

  2. They both get criticized for being media darlings with high-profile backers on ESPN. Thankfully for Ohio State fans, Kirk Herbstreit is better looking and far less annoying than Dick Vitale. Herbstreit also makes a pretense of not openly rooting for Ohio State.

  3. They both play in overrated conferences. I know the ACC is supposed to be the bees' knees in hoops, but are there any major programs in the league other than Duke and UNC? The middle class of the conference - Georgia Tech, Virginia, N.C. State, Wake Forest, and Maryland - have all been down since 2005.

  4. I hate them both and prefer that they end up in the same flaming ship.


peacedog said...

Setting aside the talent issue - you know the one about some Duke recruits being "all-Americans" (or highly rated) because they are duke recruits - I think there's some truth to the idea that scheduling is costing them.

It's true Duke's RPI remains good if not great for most years. But someone - and I can't remember who anymore, alas - noted that Duke wasn't playing high profile teams outside of the region anymore. This is the same coach and institution that used to approach the off season with a play-anyone mentality, and they usually played 2-3 quality/high-profile opponents a year on the road.

That's by no means a complete explanation, but I think it may be a contributing factor. I don't think there's any question a resurgent Carolina has upset Duke's environment, but it doesn't explain the sudden lack of tournament prowess (I still think making the sweet 16 is an accomplishment in most years, even as a high seed, even for the Dukes of the world. Not going past the Sweet 16 in the last 5 years would worry me greatly, though, as Duke ought to expect to do that frequently).

Anonymous said...

That stat about Duke not winning outside of North Carolina is incorrect, albeit just barely. Duke beat Belmont in Washington in the 2008 first round. (By one.)

Ed said...

I hate basketball, so, I can’t believe I’m going to attempt to discuss it with you. Here goes:

Your Roy Williams explanation for the decline of Duke basketball makes perfect sense to me. After all, who was the nitwit coaching NC, when Duke won its first two national titles and went to 8 final fours in 10 years? Tommy Amaker?

Kidding aside, here’s my theory. What was the reason that Duke was superior to North Carolina during the majority of Dean Smith’s final years despite comparable – at times inferior – talent? Continuity. Duke was the last major program to be hurt by the trend of basketball stars leaving early. In other words, while Stackhouse and Wallace each left after two years in Chapel Hill, Laettner and Grant Hill stayed for four in Durham.

But eventually, Duke was hurt (Brand left after two years; Maggette one year etc.), and I wonder if Coach K decided to focus on getting guys he felt would stay for four years, as opposed to getting the best talent available? That would explain the sudden lack of real talent in Durham.

Anyway, there seems little question that the talent level is nowhere near where it used to be. Greg Paulus started his freshman year and, as a senior, didn’t play a single minute against Texas. Maybe he was hurt somewhere along the line (I don’t follow the game well enough), but that’s a pretty good indication that something has gone horribly awry.

I think the best football analogy for Duke is Notre Dame, by the way. Not only do people hate the two schools for strikingly similar reasons (over-rated athletes cheered on by pretentious rich kids kissed up to by a slavish media….you know the dance), but if Duke has shied away from great athletes because of one-and-done issues, Notre Dame shied away from some of the best during the late 1990s through tightened admissions because of some problem-kids at the end of the Holtz era.

Of course the one major difference is coaching. Coach K still reigns at Duke, while ND has scoured the trash heap for its last three coaches....but I think the analogy holds up to a point.

robhostetter said...

As someone who loves Liverpool and Ohio State and went to Duke, I'm nevertheless a fan of your blog, and I'm sadly aware of the analogy here.

It's obviously impossible to be a Duke fan and take too much issue with Coach K, but there is no question that Duke's teams right now get done in by quicker, bigger teams like Nova. K has also refused to develop a bench in recent years (he almost refused to play Elliott Williams this year until things got desperate), and his teams have looked tired in the end. Duke supposedly gets all the recruits, and yet Duke is normally relying on seven man rotations in the tournament.

It's also inarguably true that Duke recruiting suffers from Irishitis (I like the fact that there's shit in that word). I wonder how much K's Olympic duties and subsequent pawning off of recruiting duties to Collins and Wojo (ugh) have hurt the program. You can say that K is wasting talent, but where is this talent? It seems to me that Shavlik Randolph and Josh McRoberts are hardly misunderstood geniuses.

As for Carolina, Roy's success has exposed Duke a bit, but I don't think there's causation there. Duke ends up highly rated (top of the RPI this year I believe) because it doesn't lose many regular season games (drilled Xavier and Purdue in regular season games this year; has never lost in the ACC-Big 10 series). Unfortunately, Duke has not recently been aided by its insistence in scheduling St. Johns and Michigan. But you're also right that, outside of UNC and Duke, the ACC has been garbage ever since Maryland's run a few years back.

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