Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Just Plain Weird

Just in case you needed further proof that the Duke University Men's Basketball team is more cult than, well, basketball team, consider Sunday night's game against Wake Forest. For the record, I was actually pulling for Wake in this game even though a loss would give Carolina sole possession (at least for now) of first place in the ACC. And even if Wake had won the game, it probably wouldn't have made much difference in terms of the ACC tournament bracket, so I figured it was a win-win from my perspective.

Well, the Demon Deacons never really had a chance and from where I was sitting there were several reasons. First, before I even start complaining about the officiating, the Crazies, or Coach K, I must mention Wake Forest. Specifically, their choice to avoid playing perimeter defense. This decision directly resulted in J.J. Redick going bonkers to the tune of 38 points on 9-15 shooting (6-10 3-pointers) from the floor. Any other complaints would have to be secondary to this little fact.

Were the officials awful? Yeah, but aren't they always really bad? And don't they take their ineptitude to another level at Cameron? Of course, it is hard to play perimeter defense when Wake players are being called for phantom fouls seemingly every few seconds (but that's not really an excuse). And there is definitely something curious about the fact that Redick has fewer fouls this season than games played; and that Shelden "I played Frankenstein in every school production since kindergarten" Williams, one of the most physical players in the country, had only 3 fouls Sunday while lightweights like Jamal Levy and Justin Gray fouled out with plenty of time to spare.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. It wasn't Wake's lack of perimeter defense, the really crappy officiating, or even Redick's 38-point performance that is the most memorable (or maybe egregious is a better word) thing to come out of Sunday night's game. Instead it was the weird fact that Coach K started the game with Daniel Ewing, Shavlik Randolph and Sean Dockery on the bench in favor of names that aren't even familiar in their own household: Reggie Love, Patrick Davidson and Patrick Johnson.

Upon seeing the starting lineups, my first thought was, "It must be senior day in Cameron, because why else would these scrubs be starting?" Then it was brought to my attention that Davidson was a sophomore and a walk-on which led to my next thought, "Is it walk-on day at Cameron?" Well, it turned out that I was wrong on both counts, but the purpose of starting these guys became abundantly clear once the game started.

When Patrick Davidson walked on at Duke, he probably was content with the fact that he'd spend the majority of his four years on the bench, would get a chance to play in the waning seconds of the blow-out games, and could use his local celebrity to dupe unsuspecting coeds into thinking that he was actually a real college basketball player. Well, Sunday night Davidson went into the record books as the goofiest guy to foul a future lottery pick in the opening seconds of an NCAA sanctioned game, so he can add that to his resume. As Chris Paul brought the ball up the court after Wake won the opening tip, Davidson did his best "Doug and Steve Butabi at the club" impression. To say that he tried to tackle Paul would be an understatement.

And that would've been all well and good if Davidson blamed his over-exuberance on nerves, but Coach K had other ideas:
Krzyzewski, who told the players Friday about the switch [starting the scrubs], could have bought prime ad time on a national network and the message would not have come more loudly or clearly: He wanted toughness and he wanted it now.

Davidson, a walk-on who had played 20 minutes all season prior to his first career start, played just two minutes, but he set the tone the Devils carried the rest of the way when guarding all-everything guard Chris Paul.

Ewing said the team told Davidson to "go out there and fight, not literally get in a fight with [Paul] but be a pest to him and see how he reacted."
Fine. I guess there's nothing wrong with sending the goons in to set the tone. But what struck me as weird, and a bit troubling, was that after Davidson's first foul five seconds in, Coach K used the stoppage in play as an opportunity to berate the refs for calling touch fouls (let's be realistic here, Davidson's foul was as much a touch foul as Rashad McCant's throat slash was intended for "one of his friends in the stands"; the stoppage gave Coach K time to work over the refs and set the tone for the rest of the game). And, as the game progressed, Coach K widened his lead as the most argumentative coach in the history of college basketball as he yelled, screamed, and kicked no fewer than 84 times by my count, over the next 39 minutes.

But back to Davidson and Coach K's gameplan. While it's not illegal to tackle commit a foul, it certainly stretches the spirit of the rules to send in the 12th man to hack-a-shaq the opposing teams best player. And especially when you consider than Duke has been hailed as the "premiere program" in the country by a lot of bobble-headed pundits, and shouldn't have to resort to such tactics to win a game. Anyway, none of this stuff was fooling Chris Paul, who had this to say after the fact:
Paul, who scored 27 points with seven assists and six rebounds, wasn't pleased.

"It was obvious what they were trying to do," Paul said. "They were trying to put somebody different on me, and one time I was trying to walk through the elbow [of the lane] and [Davidson] basically just grabbed me. He wanted me to smack him back, so we'd both get a double foul or something like that, but been there, done that."

Asked if that had gotten into Paul's head, Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser responded, "Would it have irritated you? You saw what was going on in there. I'm not going to comment on that. It's curious."

Paul did seem to get more frustrated as the game went on, exchanging words with Ewing, Sean Dockery and Lee Melchionni at different points during the game.

Paul reached a boiling point when he reacted after being fouled by Melchionni. Paul received a technical foul for that.
The last paragraph doesn't begin to do justice to what happened on the Paul technical foul. After blowing past a Duke defender to get in the lane, he was fouled as he went to the basket by Melchionni. Harmless enough, except for the hilarious fact that as Paul was being fouled, he had the wherewithal to boink Melchionni on the head with the ball a la Hot Sauce. To me, it was worth the technical foul.

I give both Paul and Skip Prosser a lot of credit for taking the high road here (although Prosser really might want to reconsider Wake's approach to perimeter defense, but I've got to let that go), while it's more than a little weird to see Coach K send in the scrubs to set the tone and then sub in the actual starters after roughing up the opposition's best player. I can only hope and pray that Davidson starts against UNC and that Duke employs similar tactics against Rashad McCants. If I'm Roy Williams I explain to Rashad the idea of "taking one for the team."

Specifically, I tell McCants that if Davidson tackles you in the opening seconds of the game, you are well within your rights to pick him up and throw him at Coach K. And you get bonus points for taking out Steve Wojciechowski, Johnny Dawkins or Chris Collins.