Countdown to tip-off
Duke, UConn, fans eagerly await championship game
CNN/SI producer Dan Shanoff filed reports from Tropicana Field starting three hours before the start of the national championship game.
Time: 9:05 p.m.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Section 307, Row X: Duke's student section -- Duke student fans are pissed. While their UConn counterparts get a huge section in the lower bowl of Tropicana Field, Duke put its students in the upper deck behind the basket. Instead, Duke put its VIPs and season-ticket holders in the lower section.
Nevertheless, the students are fired up and on their feet. Before the game, they went through their playbook, trying to come up with creative plays on the word UConn. They came up with U Suck, U Can't and U-Haul (as in you'll need one when we send you packing). The trademark Duke student section cheer is said to the tune of "Rock and Roll Part Two" and ends in "We're going to beat the hell out of you." For this game, it's been modified: "We're going to beat the hell out of UConn!"
Setting up the defense
Time: 8:15 p.m.
Inside Tropicana Field -- Ricky Moore is going to start in man-to-man against Duke point guard William Avery. Khalid El-Amin, UConn's 5-10 point guard, will draw Duke's 6-3 shooting guard Trajan Langdon, who suffered a rare case of the misses on Saturday night. The coaching staff will wait and see how El-Amin does with Langdon before making any adjustments.
On a high note
I spent some time with the UConn band, stationed behind one of the baskets. These guys are in a certifiable state right now. In a season of televised games, this is they say, the most exciting event they've ever been a part of.
As for their musical selection, band members said the UConn fight song really fires up the crowd. For those who don't know that fight song, their best mainstream song is "Gimme Some Loving."
Who needs tickets?
Time: 7:45 p.m.
Inside Tropicana Field -- Here's how empty the scene is for scalpers. I took a lap around the arena and noticed the same poor guy in a UConn T-shirt holding a single finger weakly in the air three times. On Saturday, it was so overwhelmed with people looking for tickets, they seemed to outnumber ticket holders.
Are we in St. Pete or Maui?
Speaking of scalpers, the Tropicana Field staff is outfitted in the garish Hawaiian-style shirts with a fish pattern. This ain't the Rainbow Classic. One staffer -- Tom from Largo, Fla. -- told me when they first showed them the shirts, they said, "You aren't going to make us wear that, are you?" But after three days, the staff has grown to like them.
Tom said, "You can't miss the people if you can't miss the shirt." He was offered $500 for the shirt. He was shocked but turned it down.
Where are the frat guys?
College students and youngish alumni have made way for enough seniors to remind you that you're in Florida.
Wait a second, here's one. He's wearing a shirt that says "Duck Fuke" ... How clever.
Not so sneaky
Some fans will do anything to try to sneak into the arena. One ticket taker related this story: A guy came up to him with a ticket stub and said he went to the restroom, went out the wrong door and ended up outside. Unfortunately for the would-be sneaker, the ticket taker informed him that the restrooms have no doors.
So you wanna be a TV star?
Memo to future Final Four attendees: Wanna be on TV? Here's a rule of thumb: Face paint is good, body paint is better.
Buckeyes bring in the bucks
At one of the more central merchandise tents, a staffer lamented the Ohio State loss, but he couldn't care less about basketball. Buckeye fans were purchasing items at a 3-to-1 rate over the other three schools.
A national liquor representative also misses the Buckeyes' fans. On Saturday, she said Ohio State people were the ones who were out earliest and stayed latest at the local makeshift bars outside the arena.
So it's not the puffy shirt
The same merchandising staffer told me that behind the merchandise tent, both teams' title shirts are already done and in boxes. What do you do with the shirt of the team that loses? He said he gives the shirts to charity. So will you see a bunch of homeless people walking around in Duke championship shirts next month? No, they pull the championship label off.
A quiet entrance
Time: 7:20 p.m.
Tropicana Field parking lot -- T-minus two hours and change until tip-off here at Tropicana Field between Duke and UConn.
The doors have finally opened to let in the crowd. However, it is a much more subdued crowd than it was Saturday night. People already have their tickets and have no interest in selling them. Plus, there are two fewer teams -- and their rabid fans in tow.
You hear it from the waitresses, merchandise vendors, newspaper guys: Duke has no presence. Their fans are here, certainly, but not in nearly the same numbers as Connecticut. That was also evident on Saturday, where it was even more distinct with lots of everyone else (Michigan State, Ohio State, Connecticut) and little of Duke.
Storylines to watchTime: 6:30 p.m.
There are a few storylines buzzing around the arena right now, first and foremost, against whom UConn will deploy defensive specialist Ricky Moore -- will it be lightning bug point guard (and high school teammate) William Avery? Or cool senior three-point threat Trajan Langdon, who had an off game against Michigan State (1 of 4 from 3-point range)?
Moore had this reply on Sunday: "Whoever is hot at the time, whoever is making shots, I am going to have to switch up on them. Right now, we don't know who we will be guarding. It doesn't matter who I am guarding, I am just going to go out and cause havoc."
William Avery's response, on how to beat Moore: "I think you definitely have to drive. He's a guy that really gets good elevation up on people's jump shot. Me and him being the same height, I think you definitely have to drive and maybe try to draw some fouls on him."
Another storyline to look for will be the battle in the paint. UConn center Jake Voskuhl, who attracts foul calls like garbage attracts foul smells, will have his hands full with Elton Brand. UConn will have to double at times with Kevin Freeman or reserve Edmund Saunders. But who will that leave open, and how will that player respond? Shane Battier may be the guy, and it may be his game in which to shine.
Duke, the best ever?
Is this Duke team the best of all time? People around the arena are reserving judgment until after the game. If the Blue Devils win big, look out.
And what about next year? Elton Brand was bombarded with questions about his NBA future. (His answer? "Right now I am not even considering what I am going to do. I am just worried about the championship game.")
William Avery has been rated one of the top point guard prospects, even higher than Utah's Andre Miller. And freshman Corey Maggette? Forget about it -- the buzz is that if he decided to jump to the NBA, he'd be a top five draft pick.
Looking for past as precedent? Duke is 3-0 against UConn in NCAA Tournament games, the last victory coming in the 1990 East Regional championship, 79-78 in OT. Calling Christian Laettner ...
With a win tonight, Coach K will move into a second-place tie with Kentucky's Adolph Rupp for most NCAA Final Four wins (9). Both sit far behind UCLA's John Wooden (21) ...
Looking for some numbers to give some indicator of what it will take for Duke to win? The Blue Devils are 34-0 when ahead at the half, 25-0 when they shoot better than 50 percent from the field, 33-0 when they score more than 80 points. Of course, they've only lost once, so most any number has resulted in a Duke win. If this game goes into high digits -- 80s and 90s -- expect a Duke victory. The Blue Devils scored 75 in their only loss this season.
Major Duke player stats during the tournament: Elton Brand (17.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg) ... Trajan Langdon (16.5 ppg, 54 percent 3-pt) ... William Avery (14.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg) ... Corey Maggette (8.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
Pregame quote book:
"I think that the key match up in this game is the Battier-Freeman matchup. Whoever wins that will win the game." -- Chris Carrawell"These are the tightest rims I've ever played on. It's not the atmosphere of the building. It's a combination of defense and tight rims." -- Trajan Langdon on his 1-4 3-point shooting against Michigan State
"I would think the best thing to do would be to double team because when I see a man-to-man match up, my eyes light up. I think I can either score or get fouled or find someone open. So maybe double-team would be the best situation." -- Brand, on how to defend himself
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