What We Learned
Duke is more than Shane Battier and Jason Williams
Updated: Sunday April 01, 2001 8:28 AM
By Albert Lin, CNNSI.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- The members of the Blue Devils' supporting cast are not stars by any means, but each fills his role with aplomb. Saturday night:
"[The Blue Devils] didn't shoot the ball particularly well, but they were able to counter that by going inside," Maryland head coach Gary Williams said. "I'm not sure they could have done that before Boozer came back and healthy."
"Chris' ability to put ball pressure is probably better than anybody on our team," Williams said. "Why not have Chris pressure the ball when I play well off the ball?"
"Probably the biggest spark we had the whole game was Nate," Krzyzewski said.
Although it's amazing how far this team has come largely on the backs of its two superstars, it's time to give the other Blue Devils credit. Whenever Battier or Williams is struggling, their teammates find a way to bide time. It's not always the same guy, but someone knocks down a big shot, draws a charge, grabs a rebound. And before you know it, the stars are back on track and Duke is on its way to another 'W'.
"We have confidence in all our players," Williams said. "We have seven McDonald's All-Americans, so anyone can step up at any time."
Michigan State never found the right chemistry
Freshman Marcus Taylor is a lot of things, but he wasn't ready for the responsibility of directing a national-championship contender. The Spartans sorely missed the leadership of Mateen Cleaves. Taylor is praised for his poise and shooting touch, both of which are admirable, but he has a quiet persona and is not a take-charge floor general. Taylor, a Lansing native, also rarely showed the ability to penetrate. His m.o. was to dribble the ball at the top of the key, kick to the either wing and then spot up for a return pass.
Taylor's shortcomings and head coach Tom Izzo's desire not to put too big a burden on his freshman's shoulders forced senior Charlie Bell into spending more time at the point than was productive. Bell is a jack-of-all-trades, but having to handle the ball takes away from his scoring (he spent the latter half of a season mired in a horrendous slump) -- something Michigan State desperately needed.
Why? Because without Morris Peterson, the Spartans lacked a true point producer. Let's face it, Jason Richardson is overrated. Yes, he is a phenomenal athlete, but that's all he is at this point. He generally can hit an open jump shot, but he is not a threat off the dribble. Most of his points come from his athleticism (fast breaks, offensive rebounds) rather than his skills.
Despite its gaudy record, Michigan State always seemed to lack something, failing to mix returning players with newcomers Taylor and Zach Randolph. Roles were ambiguous, and Spartans were not always put in a position to succeed. This was never more evident than during the second half Saturday, when the Spartans turned the ball over 11 times and Arizona pulled away for the win.
"You're talking to a guy who's totally confused on what happened to us today as far as the turnovers we had, how we had them, and what we did," Izzo said. "Maybe [the Wildcats] were even better than I thought. I thought they were very good, but we just did some things tonight that we haven't done. I don't really have a good answer why."
Maybe Cleaves would have made a difference, maybe not. But when the head coach has no answers, how can he expect his players to?
Monday night will be a dream final
The debate at the beginning of the season was: Arizona or Duke? Which team is better? Which deserves to be preseason No. 1? The polls both went with the Wildcats, but there were enough dissenting views for the Blue Devils.
Well, after a long and wondrous journey, the teams will settle the issue on the court.
The clubs match up quite well in terms of size, quickness and athleticism. Arizona has a little more depth, but Duke now can counter with a fast-rising Casey Sanders. Both sides have experience at this level, playing in Final Fours and winning national titles. Neither program is new to this atmosphere.
"I think it has the makings, if both teams are rested, of being one of the truly great games for a national championship," Krzyzewski said.
We certainly hope so.