Questions surrounding Duke, race for No. 1 overall seed and more
It's highly unlikely Kyrie Irving will ever play another game for Duke
Does the fact that Jimmer Fredette is white alter public perception? I don't think so
A banked-in three-pointer could cause one team to miss the NCAA tournament
Since Duke was the latest team to lose its No. 1 ranking, it's only fitting that we begin this week's mailbag with a pair of e-mails from Blue Devil Nation, one searching for hope, the other expressing concern.
What are the chances that Kyrie Irving will suit up for Duke? I have heard rumors that he could be ready to go when the ACC Tourney starts.
-- Jason, Waterloo, Ill.
It isn't easy getting concrete answers about Irving. The program is keeping a tight lid on any information regarding his progress (or lack thereof). Second, Mike Krzyzewski has flatly declared that Irving will not come back because the coach doesn't want his team looking over its collective shoulders waiting for the savior to return. Coach K wants his guys to assume that Irving is done. If the comes back, that's an unexpected bonus.
Still, based on everything I'm hearing, I would be shocked if Irving ever played another game for Duke. And yes, that includes next season. Part of the reason Kyrie is being so conservative in his rehab is that he wants to make sure he is in the best possible health for the NBA draft. If he comes back too early, it could jeopardize his options in June.
I know Irving had his heart set on playing for Duke in the NCAA tournament, but the team has grown less optimistic, not more, in the last couple of weeks. I can't completely discount the possibility of a miracle comeback, but like I said, I'll be really, really shocked if it happens. It's a bad break for the Blue Devils, but I'm guessing there aren't a lot of people shedding tears over Duke's misfortune.
Can we file a missing-person report on Andre Dawkins? I know Seth Curry has played some great ball in the last few weeks, but Dawkins is barely getting more court time than the long-injured Kyrie Irving. Is Dawkins being punished for some unknown reason? Seems like Duke could really use his outside shooting.
-- Ken Young, Old Bethpage, N.Y.
We've seen this movie before. Coach K tends to reach a tipping point where he loses confidence in a player and buries him on the bench. I remember back in 1997 when midway through the season he gave up on 6-foot-10 forward Greg Newton, even though Newton was a senior and one of the few legit big men on the roster. Krzyzewski kept Newton on the bench for almost the entire game in the second round of the NCAA tournament as the Blue Devils were being pummeled on the boards by Providence. Newton stayed on the pine, and Duke lost the game.
It's unfortunate that Dawkins' regression has coincided with Curry's promotion to the starting lineup following his explosion in the win over North Carolina. I see no reason why the two can't coexist. Plus, with Irving out of the lineup, freshman Tyler Thornton, who is a true point guard and a much better on-ball defender than Dawkins, has been getting more minutes.
Like Ken, I can't help but wonder whether Coach K is making a mistake by squelching Dawkins' confidence. When Curry fouled out without scoring in Saturday night's loss to Virginia Tech, Duke could have used a few pops from Dawkins off the bench, but he could only muster six points in 18 minutes. I agree that at some point Duke is going to need a good game from Dawkins to advance in the NCAA tournament. I'm just not sure they'll get it.
If one were to take the names off the résumés and only look at RPI, strength of schedule and wins versus the top teams, who should be the No. 1 overall seed at this point?
-- Robert Crandall, Idaho Falls, Idaho
I'm glad Robert asked me this question the way he did because it allows me to make a couple of points. First, the name of the school has nothing to do with where it gets placed in the bracket. Nothing. I realize some people prefer to peddle conspiracy theories, but that's the truth. If the so-called big names are the ones who end up on the top seed lines, maybe it's because they have the best players and won the most games.
Second, I am really not a fan of those TV gimmicks where you put up two "résumés" and ask the announcers to choose which one should go to the NCAA tournament. It may be a fun little exercise for viewers, but you can never make those decisions based on three or four pieces of information. You have to look much, much deeper.
That's especially true if one of those pieces of info is the team's overall RPI ranking. That number might be the least relevant piece of data on the résumé. The RPI is used to organize a team's "sheet" so the committee members can get a good look at how that team fared against the top 50 of the RPI, the bottom 150, and so forth. When I participated in the NCAA's mock selection seminar in Indianapolis, my partner and I literally never once checked on where a team was ranked in the RPI.
As to the question of which team is the No. 1 overall seed, right now it's a two-horse race between Kansas and Ohio State. It doesn't much matter which team finishes first because either way Ohio State would be sent to the East (Newark) and Kansas would go to the Southwest (San Antonio). Both teams are 6-2 against the top 50 of the RPI. Kansas is 16-2 against the top 100 while Ohio State is 14-2. Right now my choice would be Ohio State because one of Kansas' losses came at home, and Ohio State has three true road wins against the top 50 while Kansas has none. But it's close.
My beloved Bruins haven't cracked your top 25! You said they have the best chance of any Pac-10 team to get to the Sweet 16. Their last two top-25 wins are over St John's and Arizona, but still no love. Plus they are one of only two teams to have tamed the BYU Cougars this year. I am not claiming Final Four here, but what do they need to do get in that top 25?
-- John O, La Jolla, Calif.
I did give the Bruins strong consideration for the final spot on my ballot but went with George Mason instead. Still, even John would have to admit that I've been more bullish on UCLA than many of my peers. I even went so far as to write on Twitter that this team could be ranked in the preseason top five next year if everyone comes back. (And by "everyone," I'm basically referring to Tyler Honeycutt. I think he's going to enter the draft.) The Bruins have no seniors, and next year they will be joined by the Wear twins, who transferred in last summer from North Carolina. So things are looking up in Westwood.
The main reason UCLA hasn't cracked the top 25 yet is that the Pac-10 is once again having a down year. So all those wins over league teams don't help as much as a loss at Cal hurts (even though it was in overtime). John makes a good point about those wins over BYU and Arizona, and that will help the Bruins' seeding. And if UCLA sweeps the Washington schools on the road this weekend, I can promise you that they will be on my ballot next Sunday.
It's clear you have been skeptical of Purdue this year, but could you see the Boilers sneaking in as a 1 seed if they win their remaining regular season games and the Big Ten tourney in Indy? Texas is struggling, BYU is facing another San Diego State game in the Mountain West tourney, and Pittsburgh deals with the no-guarantees Big East tournament.
-- Josh, Indianapolis
It's always humorous to me when fan bases argue that I have been skeptical of their team, and I have been hearing a lot of that from Boiler Nation this season. So I looked up a few of my ballots on pollspeak.com, and what do you know -- it's true! I was actually less skeptical than most voters at the outset of the season. My name appears toward the top of the Purdue voters list the first few weeks, but for most of the middle weeks I brought up the rear. This week, I am smack dab in the middle: The highest Purdue was ranked on any ballot was second, and the lowest was ninth; I ranked them sixth, which is where they ended up in the poll.
To be sure, Purdue gave me reason to be skeptical at times. The Boilermakers lost to Richmond by 11 points on Nov. 27, and they dropped four consecutive road games (albeit to good teams) in January and early February. Despite my so-called skepticism, I did pick the Boilermakers to beat Ohio State at home two weeks ago, but to me their more impressive wins came at Illinois and Michigan State. We all know how hard it is to win on the road, especially inside the conference.
The bottom line is that this team has a very real chance to claim a No. 1 seed -- that is, assuming that all of Josh's "ifs" come to pass. IF they win the Big Ten tournament, and IF BYU loses to San Diego State, and IF either Pittsburgh, Kansas or Duke loses in their respective conference tournaments, then Purdue would indeed be a 1 seed. That sounds to me like a few too many ifs, but maybe that's just silly me being skeptical again.