As buzzards circled the carcasses of Kentucky, Stanford, Gonzaga and Mississippi State last week, two office-pool favorites breezed into the Sweet 16. One was Duke, which beat Alabama State 96-61 and Seton Hall 90-62. The other was Connecticut, which disposed of Vermont 70-53 and DePaul 72-55. Neither team was really tested. And the flaws of each—by which we mean more than just Huskies center Emeka Okafor's bum back and Blue Devils guard Chris Duhon's bruised rib—are there for the exploiting.
The Huskies' vulnerabilities begin at the free throw line, where they shoot 61.6%. On defense their perimeter guards sometimes go lax knowing that Okafor, one of four Huskies who stand 6'10", can erase a mistake with a blocked shot. And when UConn has the ball, one coach whose team beat the Huskies this season says, "Stop their transition game, because they hate to play half-court offense."
Moreover, neither of the team's two stars, Okafor and guard Ben Gordon, shows much emotion. It's an issue that seemed to trouble coach Jim Calhoun last Saturday. "They don't seem to understand all it means [if we have] one bad half or don't start out with intensity," said Calhoun of his team.
Duke plays with plenty of emotion; the Blue Devils' problem is balance. Shut down shooting guard J.J. Redick and you gum up the works. Duke hit a bump late in the ACC season when defenders started challenging Redick on the perimeter. As a result inside points became harder to come by, too. But against Seton Hall, Redick outscored the Pirates 10-9 in the first six minutes, mostly on long jump shots. That opened up opportunities inside for forwards Shelden Williams, Luol Deng and Shavlik Randolph. Alas, an outside-in offense isn't the most reliable basis for a march through the NCAA bracket.
And then there's Duhon's rib. And Okafor's back. On such body parts a title—as well as untold numbers of office pools—could hang.