Addressing an onslaught of ACC questions and more of your mail (cont.)
What's with Coach K benching Andre Dawkins for the entire game against Georgia Tech? This was inexcusable since the game was well in hand (up by 20) in the last ten minutes. Given the fact that Dawkins sacrificed his senior year in high school to "help" out Duke, don't you think that Coach K has some ethical right to play him more? And how about the fact that he lost his sister a couple months ago? Don't you think that Coach K also needs to show some more compassion to this poor kid instead of being so stringent? And lastly, given how many recent former Duke freshmen that have transferred due to lack of playing time, don't you think he needs to start playing freshmen more period?
Lotta questions there, John, so I'll take 'em one at a time. Regarding the Georgia Tech game, my understanding is that the Duke coaches had not been happy with Dawkins' work ethic so they were trying to send him a message. He played 10 minutes against North Carolina and Maryland, so he may have gotten it. None of us can know for sure the extent to which the death of Dawkins' sister is affecting him, but it must be a terribly heavy burden. I think it would be na´ve to think that his performance on the court wouldn't be affected by that. I have also written that I believe Coach K has been too tentative this season to play his freshmen, especially Mason Plumlee. In my view, it's worth losing a game or two in January and February to give your younger guys a chance to play through their mistakes, which will make them more ready to help you win games in March.
As for your other two questions -- rewarding Dawkins for skipping his senior year of high school and giving him more minutes so he won't transfer -- I very much disagree. The one thing I've long admired about Mike Krzyzewski is he allocates playing time purely on the basis of performance. Remember last year when he benched Greg Paulus, who was a senior, in favor of Nolan Smith and, later, Elliott Williams? Coach K has never hesitated to give a younger player more run than a veteran if that youngster has earned it, so there's no reason for him to give special treatment to Dawkins for either of those reasons. Dawkins didn't skip his senior year of high school as a favor to Duke. He did it because he saw an opportunity for playing time that might not be there next year when Kyrie Irving arrives and Seth Curry becomes eligible. Duke will need his outside shooting at some point if it is going to get to a Final Four, but if there's one thing the last few weeks have demonstrated, it's that Dawkins, like every other player in college basketball, will have to earn his way onto the court.
And now for a few non-ACC-related emails.
I cover Butler for the Indy Star. My question: If you believe Butler is over-seeded at No. 6, why did you submit an AP ballot with Butler 20th? Also, Butler has improved since its difficult nonleague schedule, but my sense is that minds were made up about Butler before Jan. 1 and nothing that has happened since then matters. Is that the case?
First of all, it is totally unfair of David to use actual facts to rebut my arguments. Typical sleazy media guy.
That said, I'm not sure we should be drawing too close of a correlation between the polls and the seeds. It was only because of the coverage of last week's mock selection that I learned that, along with the writers and coaches polls, the NCAA also provides its committee members a third poll featuring regional rankings by so-called "basketball people" to help them with their voting. I'm not surprised that none of the members of the mock committee even consulted those polls, and I doubt the actual committee will spend much time on them as well.
As for Butler, I do like this team, and I am not one to pooh-pooh the accomplishment of going undefeated (so far) in the Horizon. Looking at the teams the media seeded in the West, Illinois at No. 8 was probably a more egregious example of overseeding. (I did include the Illini in that category.) I guess my only hesitancy regarding Butler is that both of its top-50 wins came at home. The first was by one point against Xavier and the other was against an Ohio State that was not only missing Evan Turner but was also playing its first game since Turner got injured. That meant they were as unprepared as they could be to figure out how to play without him. Even so, I don't want this to come off that I am down on Butler because I'm not. I still think this team will be a very tough out in the tournament and should be seeded no lower than eighth.
Watching the pathetic Longhorns shoot 10-for-27 from the free throw line against OU just solidified my fears that they are either a second-round exit or a first-round upset this year. How can such highly recruited players tank so badly at the line? It's sad because they have the talent to play with anyone.
I guess it depends on what the definition of "talent" is. I mean, isn't making free throws a talent? Just because a player can run, jump and dunk doesn't make him talented, at least not in a basketball sense.
In the end, this is Texas' problem. It has a lot of good athletes, but the Longhorns simply do not make jump shots. They don't make three-pointers, they don't make midrange shots, and they sure as heck don't make free throws. As I've pointed out before, it is astonishing that Texas is ranked 330th in the nation in foul shooting (62.1 percent), yet still have one player, point guard J'Covan Brown, who is ranked fourth in the U.S. at 91.3 percent. Imagine how bad the rest of the team must be from the stripe.
Brown, of course, is just a freshman, as are two of the other key parts of Texas's rotation, Avery Bradley and Jordan Hamilton. I still think this team has some very good pieces, and if Rick Barnes can figure out how they should all fit together, there is plenty of time for Texas to get on a roll and make a run in the tourney. Having spoken with Barnes a few times, I sense he is frustrated but not panicked and still believes that is possible. But until we see it, the frustration will continue to pile up.
Incidentally, you can click here to see my interview of Barnes on Monday for my Courtside show on CBS College Sports.
In your opinion, is a 20-win season good enough for South Florida to enter into the NCAA Tournament? What would USF have to achieve (other than win the conference tourney) to get an opportunity to play in the Big Dance? How do you see USF's recruiting following this obviously improved season in the Big East?
It used to be that 20 was some kind of magic number, but we know it's not anymore. South Florida has 16 wins, so looking at the Bulls' schedule they could beat St. John's and Providence at home as well as DePaul on the road, then win their first-round game in the Big East tournament. That would still give them just two wins against teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI and six losses against teams ranked lower than 50. That, plus their nonconference strength of schedule ranking of 214, would probably leave them on the outside looking in. The other problem South Florida has is its performance against other bubble teams with whom they will be compared in that committee room. The Bulls lost to Louisville, Cincinnati and Marquette on the road and to South Carolina on a neutral court. Worst of all, they got swept by Notre Dame.
These things never come down to one game, but South Florida's make-or-break game will come in the regular season finale against UConn in Tampa. If the Bulls can win those games I mentioned plus add that one, it will leave them with a pretty strong case. But this is one example where there is nothing magic about getting to 20 wins.