With its gothic facade and Wood-Paneled interior, Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium looks enough like a university lecture hall that you might have thought the Michigan Wolverines had sauntered in for a class last Saturday night. Only to encounter a team of John Housemans. Without having done the reading.
Mr. King, could you explain the rudiments of stopping Bobby Hurley? Michigan guard Jimmy King had failed to stop Hurley, the Blue Devils' point guard, twice before, first at home in Ann Arbor last Dec. 14 when Duke beat the Wolverines 88-85 and again in last April's NCAA championship game when the Blue Devils triumphed 71-51. Yet even after Hurley's Most Outstanding Player performance at the Final Four, where Duke won its second straight national title, King pronounced Hurley's play "average." With 20 points, five assists and a single turnover in 40 minutes on Saturday, Hurley was superbly "average" once again. He handled the 79-68 victory as if it were in his pocket on a watch fob.
Who, Mr. Rose, is that unlikely fellow who keeps posting you up? He's Thomas (not to be confused with teammate Grant) Hill, who on Saturday literally sprang for 21 points, most of them over Michigan guard Jalen Rose. Speak up, Mr. Rose! "Hurley's not underrated," said Rose after the game. "How can a first-team All-America be underrated? If you want to know who doesn't get enough credit on that team, it's Thomas Hill."
Gentlemen, quiet please. Such—ahem—sophomoric behavior! If you have something to say, please share it with the rest of the class. Michigan's Fabulous Five freshmen of a year ago are indeed sophomores now, and they have never not had something to say. As the two teams crossed paths in a tunnel at the Metrodome in Minneapolis before last spring's NCAA championship game, a number of Wolverines taunted their counterparts from Duke with cries of "It's payback time." Again last week Michigan players Juwan Howard ("I pity Duke," he said), Chris Webber ("Jalen Rose is a better point guard than Bobby Hurley," he said) and Ray Jackson ("Payback," he said once more) sounded the same promissory notes about a Wolverine victory. In the space of a year, however, the Blue Devils have now beaten Michigan in Ann Arbor, in Durham and on a neutral court, as well as both with Christian Laettner and without him. All this talk of "paybacks" is beginning to sound a lot like "the check's in the mail."
Not since 1982, when Ted Turner persuaded Georgetown and Virginia to showcase their respective stars, Patrick Ewing and Ralph Sampson, in front of his WTBS television cameras, had a regular-season game not carried by one of the major networks been quite so anticipated. But Raycom, the Charlotte-based syndicator that owned the rights to this contest, didn't feel it had gotten a strong enough bid from CBS for the game and in May decided instead to telecast it through its own lineup of independent stations. Only one possible glitch arose. In September, Michigan declared Webber, Rose and reserve center Eric Riley ineligible shortly after discovering that they had accepted money for making an appearance in late August at a charity event where they judged a slam-dunk contest. It seemed possible that all three might be suspended for several games at the start of this season, including the date with Duke. That possibility spooked Raycom even more than it did Wolverine coach Steve Fisher; some of the Raycom stations said they would carry the game only if Michigan was at full strength.
As it happened, the NCAA reinstated Webber, Rose and Riley on Nov. 11. Michigan escaped sanctions because its athletic administration had misinterpreted a vaguely worded rule and had erroneously assured the players that the payments were O.K. The NCAA's unusually compassionate ruling—that since the players had made restitution, they were free to play again—meant the hype could begin again. Duke students began camping outside Cameron eight days before the game to lay claim to the approximately 2,500 standing room positions, and by game time more than 200 tents had sprouted, a campus record. (Students were reportedly selling the rights to a spot in a tent for as much as $100 each, proving that while the greedy 1980s may be over elsewhere, they persist at Duke.) All told, the game attracted 220 print and broadcast journalists, 50 photographers, eight NBA scouts and a Raycom network covering every media market from New York to Ottumwa, Iowa. "This game is at the magnitude of Virginia-Georgetown not because of two players," said Blue Devil coach Mike Krzyzewski, "but because of two teams. And that's better."
In the second half of its victory in Minneapolis, Duke had held the Wolverines to 20 points while scoring on its final dozen possessions. And even with Laettner and the redoubtable Brian Davis lost to graduation, this year's Blue Devils still start two seniors and two juniors, which makes them a model of maturity compared to callow Michigan. "But just because you're older doesn't mean you're better," Webber said last Thursday. "I think it's good if a sophomore like David Falk wins the Heisman Trophy." Of course Webber meant Marshall Faulk, the second-year San Diego State running back, and not Michael Jordan's agent, David Falk—but his Freudian slip suggests that not every one of the Wolverines' super sophs will stay around to become a jazzy junior.
The Fab Five figured to push the Blue Devils to the limit, though, even at Duke's arena. But all of Michigan's pregame loquacity seemed only to put more pressure on the Wolverines, while the Blue Devils were slyly deflecting it. "The one thing I like about this game is it's the first time since when we played UNLV in '91 [at the Final Four in Indianapolis] that we're supposed to lose," said Grant Hill beforehand. "They haven't already beaten us twice. We've beaten them twice."
In beating the Fab Five for the third time, the Blue Devils gave hints of how they will go about trying to win a third straight NCAA crown. This season there will be no single offensive focus, no Laettner who can score both inside and out. No, this Duke team will look equally to four sources to score. It can post up such radically different inside players as the sinuous T. Hill, who stands 6'5", or sophomore Cherokee Parks, the 6'11" son of Huntington Beach, Calif., flower children, who's beginning to blossom as the first classic back-to-the-basket center that Krzyzewski has had in Durham. Parks is newly confident after undergoing a sort of hazing process as Laettner's understudy last season. His postgame comments were nearly as caustic as the Wolverines' pregame rap: "There's a difference between confidence and arrogance. That's the stuff that bites you in the butt, right there. They talked a lot of trash before the game. We get to talk it after. Now they just look foolish."
The transcendently talented G. Hill shot a woeful 6 for 15 on Saturday, but he did cheer his coaches by showing none of the reluctance to assert himself that had characterized his game during stretches of last season. As for Hurley, well, who-would have thought three years ago that he might turn out to be a better pro than his then fellow freshman Georgia Tech phenom Kenny Anderson (now with the New Jersey Nets)? So long as Hurley is in the lineup to start the break and the Hills are there to finish it, Duke promises to be the best transition team south of D.C. and cast of Little Rock.