What's Not to Like About Duke?

If there’s one thing it’s OK to hate, it’s Duke Men’s Basketball.  Most people can’t quite put it into words. It’s not exactly how they play; it’s how they look when they play.  The desperation on the face of Coach K, the annoying exclamations by overachievers like Greg Paulus after any made three pointer. Maybe it’s just Jay Bilas.

Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with the Blue Devils. Loved Jason Williams, hated Shane Battier; love Dawkins, hate WoJo; love Coach K, hate the Cameron Crazies and all fans that describe themselves as a “Dukie.”

You can find plenty of online chatter on whether some of the venom aimed at Duke is a result of the school’s country club atmosphere. It’s not hip, like laidback Stanford; it doesn’t represent a gritty city, like Georgetown does Washington, DC.

But take a look at this year’s Duke team and you’ll find there’s a lot to like.

What a bunch of lookers

If you can get past Kyle Singler’s face, WoJo occasionally coming onto the court, and John Sheyer’s neck—you might be surprised by who Duke really is.

You’ll see a hardnosed defensive team that looks, rebounds, and plays more like a Michigan State squad than any team from the ACC. You’ll see a team that loves to share the ball and has three players that can take over a game. You’ll see picture perfect defensive communication and rotations.

In fact, high scoring Baylor was the first team in the tournament to break 60 points against the Blue Devil’s stifling defense.

In years previous, the relative lack of quickness amongst Duke guards was exacerbated by a lack of enforcers down low. Duke would stubbornly attempt to execute its pressure man-to-man defense against quicker competition and get shredded for easy buckets.

Baylor

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Kentucky: Where Basketball=Politics

My friend Kiran sent me this ad from a United States Senate race between Trey Grayson and Rand Paul. I have no clue what either of their policies are, but one thing is for certain: basketball matters when it comes to Kentucky politics.

Check out this video of Grayson slamming Paul for being a Duke University graduate. Grayson  uses the possibility that Paul may root for Duke as proof of his legislative incompetence and inability to represent true Big Blue fans.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLpi7JOv7pQ&feature=player_embedded

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HoopSpeak Podcast 2: Kentucky Kiran

When I asked whether Kentucky was as good a team as any in the past ten years, Kentucky seemed ready to build a legacy of supreme talent and phenomenal athleticism. Instead they built a house of bricks, missing their first 20 three point attempts in their Elite 8 loss to West Virginia.

On Saturday night, the wave of expectations that rose from the Kentucky’s easy tournament victories crashed hard on the rugged shoulders of the Mountaineers.

In my second HoopSpeak podcast–now tentatively titled “HoopScoop” or “Hangin’ with Mr. Hooper”–I sat down with die hard Kentucky Wildcat fan Kiran Bhatraju, to sift through the foamy remains of Kentucky’s season.

Kiran, who grew up in Pikeville, Kentucky, explained the lore, passion, and expectations that a Kentucky basketball fan carries. Our topics wandered from why we can’t stand Bill Raftery to how we can capitalize on the new 3D TV market.

But don’t worry, there’s plenty of Kentucky basketball, NCAA Tournament, and NBA Draft talk in between.

HoopScoop/Hangin’ With Mr. Hooper #2: KY Kiran

KY Kiran

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From Russia with (lots of) Love

I just watched a great segment on 60 Minutes that profiled soon to be New Jersey Net’s owner Mikhail Prokhorov. I am going to hold off on any serious judgments, other than to say that I am very, very excited to have the 44 year old mining mogul in the league.

You can’t help but wonder if you are listening to a real life B-movie character: super tall (6’8’’), richest man in Russia, martial arts enthusiast, known carouser and party animal. Tell me he doesn’t sound ready for a role in a 1979 Bond film!

Here are some of my favorite quotations from the 60 Minutes interview with Steve Kroft:

On Life:

“Life, and business in particular, is a big game”

On women:

“Frankly speaking, I like women. In my heart I am still teenager. And I am very open and I don’t want to hide this.”

On single life:

“I’m not to blame. I think women, they’re making the same mistake with me all the time. The way to the man’s heart is through his stomach.”

On his incarceration for suspected promotion of prostitution (the dude brings a stable of models wherever he goes):

“It sounds strange, but it was real fun for me. It’s a good experience. I like even such challenges.”

On the French:

“The French elite is envious because they’re lagging behind in fashion, in life and in sex drive.”

Here’s how a prominent Russian business journalist described the deal that allowed Prokhorov to buy the company that made him millions:

“Yes, it was rigged. But it cannot be explained in normal economic terms to an outsider, especially an American.”

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As a fan of the NBA I can’t wait to have this guy around, ruffling feathers, ignoring convention, and spending big bucks. My only

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Is Kentucky 2010 More Talented Than Duke 2001?

As I discussed earlier, this year’s Wildcats team is absolutely filled to the brim with talent. Two lottery picks and at least one more player who will go in the first round (Wall, Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, respectively).  Not to mention the very effective Patrick Patterson.

A friend of mine who knows college hoops even wrote “Kentucky is the most talented college basketball team I have ever seen.” And he may be right.  But it got me thinking: who, in my lifetime, might have been even more talented?

I thought about the great UCLA teams with the O’Bannon brothers, the Vince Carter-Antwan Jamison-Ed Cota-Shammon Williams UNC squads of the 1990s. But for me, there is really only one team that enters the discussion, and that’s the 2000-2001 Duke Blue Devils.

OK, I know this one is from 2001-2002, but look at all the familiar faces!

Over the past 20 years, Duke has gotten a bad rap for being unathletic (read: “rich/white”?) and generally very fun to dislike. But do you remember that renaissance between Wojo and Redick? That golden time when Duke had the horses to implement that suffocating half court man-to-man defense? When the highest flying team in the ACC resided in Durham?

Let’s look at this line-up and where the players were drafted: the unguardable point guard formerly known as Jason Williams (2nd 2002), Mike Dunleavy Jr. (3rd 2002), Carlos Boozer (2nd Round 2002), Shane Battier (6th 2001), Chris Duhon (second round 2004), Dahntay Jones (2oth 2003). Woah.

That is an absolute squad. Jason Williams and Carlos Boozer may be a step below the tandem of Wall and Cousins (although as a sophomore Williams could do it all and would have been an NBA All-Star if not for his motorcycle accident), but I’ll take that supporting cast

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The East Regional semifinals: A Tale of (My) Two Teams

Well, I figure I gave Washington and Cornell, my home team and adopted team, the kiss of death by rooting for them.

Both teams lost by double digits in the East Regional semifinals. But one executed a well thought out offensive game plan while the other looked confused and disorganized.

Cornell can look back on their game against the most talent-loaded team in the tournament and think “maybe if a few more threes go down, things get tight at the end…maybe…”

After an inspired start in which four great shots flowed from their offense (Jeff Foote jump hook, two jumpers for Louis Dale, Ryan Wittman from deep), Kentucky’s defense stymied the Big Red Machine by forcing Cornell’s guards to over-dribble. Midway through the first half the Wildcats took over by creating turnovers and running out off of missed shots.

Cornell did everything they could to create conditions for victory against the hyper athletic Wildcats. More than a few things went their way: they kept the score low, Kentucky was shaky from the free throw line (61%), and the Big Red were in legitimate striking distance with five minutes left, down just six.

But Cornell was able to execute only half of their game plan. As starting guard Chris Wroblewski told me a few days ago “If we’re shooting the ball like [in the first two rounds], and running our offense, and taking care of the ball like that, I think it’s going to be a very competitive game.”

They certainly didn’t shoot it from deep like they had against Wisconsin and Temple (only 24% against UK), and Kentucky’s pressure produced 15 turnovers, including 12 steals. These rips often came from one-on-one battles that showcased the Wildcats’ quickness and talent.

One play was emblematic of the game. In the first

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A HoopSpeak.com Interview with Two of Cornell’s Sweet Sixteen Bound Ballers (Part 3)

Most people think that when Cornell takes the court tomorrow, they will have 40 minutes to pull off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the NCAA tournament, and maybe the universe. Watch out, MonStars!

The Slam Magazine cover says it all: Cornell is an outstanding college basketball team, but Kentucky will come loaded with four future NBA studs.  It will be the ultimate test of Cornell’s disciplined, the-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts style of basketball.

But don’t let the SATs fool you. Cornell was one of the only teams in the country that played multiple number 1 seeds heading into this year’s tournament. Trust me, Kentucky is going to have its hands full guarding the four shooters orbiting around Jeff Foote.

Just how brightly Foote shines may determine the winner.  Then again, is there a game plan for this guy?

We’ll find out Thursday night.

Without further ado, here is what Cornell’s players are expecting going into the biggest game of their lives.

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HoopSpeak: You guys are a senior loaded team. You’re going up against Kentucky, with of course the headline freshmen and then Patterson. How do you think that your experience as a group and as a group playing together will benefit you in this game?

Aaron Osgood: I think that with the senior group we have, I think we are going to stay real poised. A game against Kentucky can really get out of hand quick. We could start turning the ball over and they can get buckets in transition, and then we’re really, you know, playing from behind. And that’s what we don’t want to happen. I think with this experienced group we can stay poised and stick to our game plan and not fall into theirs.

HoopSpeak: Is there any team you’ve seen this year or maybe in the last couple years that kind of gives you an idea of what to expect? I think Kentucky is kind of the epitome of that high major school that is going to have the dribble drive and kick offense. They really want get after you on defense and get a lot of one-on-one out of their sets. Is there a team you’ve seen recently that you guys have talked about to kind of prepare?

A.O.: I guess off the top of my head the only team that really wanted to dribble drive against us was UMass who we played this fall [and beat 74-61], early in the season. And we did well because we really focused on team defense rather than just playing one-on-one, and I think that helped us. And obviously this Kentucky team is a step above UMass but I think our defensive plan is pretty solid. You really have to dig in against those guys.

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HoopSpeak: You are going to be matching up with one the very quickest backcourts in the country. What are your thoughts on that prospect and have you seen some players in AAU or coming out in high school that give you an idea of what to expect?

Chris Wroblewski: Definitely. Even with teams this year, and Syracuse who we played last year, we’ve played some really talented guards. We played Sherron Collins Continue reading “A HoopSpeak.com Interview with Two of Cornell’s Sweet Sixteen Bound Ballers (Part 3)” »

A HoopSpeak.com Interview with Two of Cornell’s Sweet Sixteen Bound Ballers (Part 2)

Here is part two of my interview with Cornell reserve forward Aaron Osgood and starting shooting guard Chris Wroblewski. In this excerpt we talked about how Cornell has been able to separate itself from the rest of the Ivy League over the past three years, and their formula for success against traditional powers like Temple and Wisconsin.

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HoopSpeak: This is your third year in a row playing in the tournament. When you guys had the Ivy League locked up and knew you were going to the tournament again, what sort of things did you talk about to ensure you would be ready mentally to play and not get knocked out in the first round?

A.O.: We had to realize there’s a big difference between the Ivy League opponents we had been playing the past seven weeks and the teams we’re going to face in the tournament. We had a real tough preseason schedule and we really started practicing more on different things, we would scout differently.

With the Ivy League you deal with a lot of smart basketball players who are kind of crafty, whereas with these high major teams we knew we would be playing there’s a lot more one-on-one, a lot more dependence on athletic ability, getting to the rim type of thing. It’s two different types of play and we definitely focused more on the preseason type of game rather than the Ivy League.

HoopSpeak: You guys got to play against Syracuse, and their coach Jim Boeheim was really complimentary of you guys. What was it like to see that 2-3 zone in person?

A.O.: It’s surprising. We’ve played Syracuse three times in a row, and this year they were definitely the best. Two years before this year they were a lot slower, but this year they are really quick, really quick to close out on the shooters.

You would think there would be a lot of open shots and stuff but really we didn’t get a lot of good looks from three. The threes that we made were highly contested and good shots, but [the zone] definitely moves really quick and they have a great front line with [Brandon] Triche and [Andy] Rautins and the backline of course with [Arinze] Onuaku holding down the middle, its real tough to get into.

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HoopSpeak: You guys are down 1, on Thursday, you’ve got the ball, 20 seconds lefts, shot clock is off. What play is Donahue drawing up in the huddle?

A.O.: It’s something for Wittman, for sure. Anything to get Wittman the ball. Probably run him off a couple staggered screens, maybe get a hand off from Jeff Foote. Something like that to get a good look. Jeff Foote is a great screener, he just swallows guys up, and I think definitely something like that for Wittman.

HoopSpeak: Is that how you see it going down?

C.W.: That definitely wouldn’t be a bad play. I think a luxury about this team is we have a few guys who you would trust with the ball in that situation. I think that we would maybe do a high pick-and-roll with [Jeff] Foote and Lou [Dale] up top and maybe some sort of down screen for Witt while that’s going on. So, you know, Lou if he can get something off the screen, he can take that, or if Foote winds up being open on the roll, or, you know, Witt coming up top, open for a shot. Anything that involves those three we would be fine in that situation.

HoopSpeak: So in that play are you just standing in the corner waiting to get the kick?

C.W.: In that situation I will act as a decoy (laughs). No really, the other two guys on the court would probably be shooters and I would probably be standing in the corner as the fourth of fifth option.

HoopSpeak: What makes Wittman such a difficult guy to cover?

A.O.: He’s real strong. He can get guys off him really well. In practice he’s always Continue reading “A HoopSpeak.com Interview with Two of Cornell’s Sweet Sixteen Bound Ballers (Part 2)” »

Ithaca locals hopping on the Big Red Bus!

This story cracked me up. I think Cornell Forward Aaron Osgood summed up his team’s experience with the line “things have been pretty crazy around here for the last week.” Here’s a great nugget from HoopSpeak’s interview with A-RO:

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HoopSpeak: Now that you are back in Ithaca, what is the funniest thing someone has said to you?

A.O.:  Here in Ithaca we have a lot of interesting people. Just like today, there was a guy with a big white beard, I would describe his as a hippie pretty much. And he told me that we should win the national championship because every time that he’s moved to a new city, that team has won the national championship.

He was saying that in 1999 he moved to Detroit and Michigan State won the national championship. Before that he had moved to Arizona and Arizona had won the national championship. So according to him and his methods, we’re on pace to win the national championship. So that’s going for us, I guess.

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Welcome to life on ESPN. Check back tomorrow morning for Part 2 of my interview with Osgood and Wroblewski in which we discuss what makes Cornell so tough to beat.

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A HoopSpeak.com Interview with Two of Cornell's Sweet Sixteen Bound Ballers (Part 1)

All aboard the Big Red bus!

As a Penn alum, seeing an Ivy League team make it to the sweet sixteen has me feeling both pride and envy. Cornell has owned the Ivy League for three straight years and replaced my Quakers atop the league.  But despite their dominance over the nerdlings, they hadn’t won a game in the NCAA tournament until this year. In fact, no Ivy League team had won one in more than a decade. Suffice it to say, this year is different.

Powered by ginormous Jeff Foote, speedy Louis Dale and can’t-stop-won’t-stop scoring from Ryan Wittman, the Big Red have become the first Ivy League team to advance to the Sweet 16 since Penn did it in 1979. This Thursday they will travel the short distance to Syracuse to face the lightning quick, tradition rich, Kentucky Wildcats. (They have this guy).

I remember the last time I played with Aaron Osgood, who now is a reserve Forward/Center for the Big Red. In my last high school game, Aaron, then a wild-limbed sophomore, broke his hand on the backboard while blocking a shot.  Seven years, a couple inches and about 80 pounds later he playing for a team heading to the Sweet 16.

I talked with Aaron and his teammate, sophomore shooting guard Chris Wroblewski, about being Ivy League ballers, taking down the big boys, and why the Big Red aren’t done yet.

I’ll be posting pieces of the interview over the next couple days leading up to Thursday’s match-up with KU.

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HoopSpeak:     So, how far did you have yourself going in your bracket?

Aaron Osgood:     Ha! Honestly I have not made a bracket in a few years, it just seems weird to put myself in there.

HoopSpeak:     You guys saw Kansas early in the year and almost beat them if not for some Sherron Collins heroics. Did you suspect that they might be vulnerable to upset?

AO:     No, not really. If I had made a bracket I definitely would have put Kansas or Syracuse as the #1 seed and put Kansas in that national title game, or at least playing Syracuse for it. We definitely think they are a great team and we played extremely well in those games. They’re both great teams. I don’t think they were vulnerable but with KU losing to UNI, it just shows you that anyone can lose.

HoopSpeak:     For people who haven’t seen your team play yet—I imagine that number is pretty small at this point—but for people who don’t know your team at all, how would you describe the way you play?

Aaron Osgood:     I would say that we have a ton of options. We’re not a team where you can just shut down a shooter, because we have three other guys who shoot just as well. We move the ball so well and we’re very, very unselfish. We’re going to work as hard as we can to get an open shot every time. And I think that it’s the cohesion that we have between all the guys that makes us play so well and get good looks and all that.

[….There was a noisy pause as some of Aaron’s teammates were distracting him…]

(Laughing) A big reason we are so good is because we get a long so well. I’m on the phone and four guys want to see what’s going on; we all live in the same house here.

HoopSpeak: Does living together have an effect on the way you guys share the ball and are unselfish on the court?

AO:     Ya, you know, I think that’s a big part of it, we all trust each other, we’re all like brothers. There’s no like competition between us, no guys going to be mad at another guy for taking his minutes type of thing. We all trust each other and know that if you pass the ball out, the other guy is going to make the right decision and I think that’s a big part of why we’re successful.

HoopSpeak:     So who cleans the Dog Pound? (Where Aaron and 12 of his teammates live)

AO:     Oh you know the Dog Pound?! (laughs) Well pretty much, uh, nobody cleans it. It gets pretty dirty, it gets pretty dirty to the point that we just Continue reading “A HoopSpeak.com Interview with Two of Cornell’s Sweet Sixteen Bound Ballers (Part 1)” »

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