On Saturday, I had the thought that despite the unseasonable weather, this is a pretty good time of year — the Final Four, the Masters, playoff runs in the NBA and NHL, and of course the beginning of baseball season. And then Duke lost to UConn.
How did Duke lose?
I’d start with the horrific 3-point shooting and missed layups, especially in the first half. Shelden Williams’s foul trouble was obviously a factor. The guy had to know that his one mission in life was to stay in the game, and then he goes out and picks up four dumb touch fouls that had nothing to do with defense. Free-throw shooting (14-23) was a killer, but the possessions in the final three minutes sealed it. If Duke took shot-clock violations instead of shooting during the final three minutes in which the Blue Devils didn’t score (except for Duhon’s meaningless 30-footer at the buzzer), they probably would have won. Instead, wild jumpers turned into easy transition points for UConn. I want to kill myself.
For some people, sports are games watched for entertainment. For me, they’re a matter of life and death, and I feel terrible right now. Why does this happen? You might suggest that I have no life, and maybe you have a valid point. But I just can’t help it.
So where do I go from here? Do I realize that there are more important things than sporting events that I have only marginal (actually no) control over? No, not really. That’s right: baseball season. Don’t try to dissuade me; your views are as foreign to me as the Christian Right’s. Yikes.
Anyway, here’s a preview of the championship game. I’d write a column on the ten most painful sports losses in my life, but I need at least a week for reflection and recovery.
A few keys to the game:
1) Battle of Defenses: UConn and Georgia Tech both play great defense, each limiting opponents to about 38 percent shooting. But, while the Yellow Jackets really locked down on Oklahoma State, UConn’s defense was lax against Duke. The big guys altered a ton of shots in the paint, but the guards gave Duke a surprising advantage with points in the paint by getting beat again and again. Chris Duhon and Daniel Ewing exploited Ben Gordon, Taliek Brown, and Rashaad Anderson in the middle of the second half. It makes me wonder why Duke didn’t keep taking the ball to the basket, especially when Gordon and Anderson each had four fouls. Okay, deep breath. Anyway, the Yellow Jackets have a bunch of players — Will Bynum, Jarrett Jack, Isma’il Muhammad — who will take it to the goal and possibly put UConn on the ropes again.
2) Luke Schenscher vs. Emeka Okafor: Moments before the tip-off of the first semifinal game, I regretted picking Oklahoma State. I started to realize that there was no way that Schenscher, with a six inch advantage on all defenders, could be contained. Now, the goofy Australian is going to face the best defender in the country. Who is going to get in foul trouble first? Both of these teams need their big guys on the court. I think the advantage goes to Okafor because he is a superior athlete, and he has Josh Boone and Charlie Villaneuva to bail him out on defense if Schenscher gets something going.
3) Where is B.J. Elder?: It has been said over and over, but it’s worth repeating how amazing it is that Georgia Tech could get so far, winning squeakers without contributions from the Yellow Jackets’ leading scorer. Elder seemed more mobile against Oklahoma State than he did last weekend, but he only managed two points on Saturday. Elder could ignite his team (Willis Reed, anyone?) if he could hit just a few shots. Obviously, Tech is playing so well at this point that they are still a threat without Elder.
4) Depth, Turnovers, and Foul Trouble: Although both squads can lock down on defense, these teams love to run out in transition. In a track meet, Georgia Tech has the advantage because they have a deep bench and UConn doesn’t.
UConn was sloppy with 18 turnovers against Duke. If they repeat that performance, Tech will capitalize on transition points. On the other hand, UConn is capable of taking advantage of a team that has averaged almost 16 turnovers a game. Who is going to take care of the ball?
The referees ruined the marquee semifinal between Duke and UConn. Although both teams were nervous at the outset, touch fouls ensured that the game wouldn’t develop a flow. Then, when crunch time came around, the refs put their whistles away and let J.J. Redick get hacked on a drive with 11 seconds left. I’m all for letting the kids play, but please be consistent. If the fouls pile up on Monday, the Yellow Jackets’ bench gives them the upper hand.
5) Confidence and the Competitive Edge: UConn has more experience, but Georgia Tech has faced more challenges in this Tournament. After winning four blowouts to reach the Final Four, UConn was nervous when the game got close against Duke. Having finally played a close game will certainly help the Huskies, but the Yellow Jackets have the experience of winning five straight games decided in the final minute. As the anointed favorites, UConn is more likely to crack under the pressure.
I think the fact that Georgia Tech dominated UConn 77-61 in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT will give the Yellow Jackets confidence to help overcome the jitters of playing in prime-time on Monday night.
Keep in mind that I’ve obviously biased by my current dislike of UConn, but I’ve got Georgia Tech cutting the nets down in an upset.