Monday, April 5, 2010

A long day – USBWA brunch, Hall of Fame fiasco, Tiger Woods – filling time before what I expect to be a great game starting at 9:21

Monday is the longest day at The Final Four.

It is really all about waiting since the championship game doesn’t start until 9:21—why the heck it can’t just be 9:20 I’m not sure—but regardless there is a lot of time to kill.

The USBWA has its awards brunch in the morning and then the Hall of Fame announces its inductees right after that. I refuse to go to the Hall of Fame press conference (although I’m glad that long-time St. Anthony’s Coach Bob Hurley is going in) because I object to the secretive nature of the Hall’s voting system and the fact that the NBA has completely taken over the process and the Hall of Fame itself.

This year not a single college coach is going in. No Lefty Driesell, no Guy Lewis, no Jim Phelan—among others. It’s a joke and you can’t complain to the 24 voters because their identities are a deep, dark secret. The Hall says it is so they won’t be lobbied—which is garbage. If you have the privilege of voting you should be able to withstand any lobbying if you think someone isn’t worthy. And, under any circumstances, you should have to publicly stand behind your vote.

So, I have no interest in the Hall of Fame or its press conference. On the other hand I guess I could go and ask them embarrassing questions but I’ve already done that once this week in a press conference and that’s enough for me.

We can also kill some time today watching The Tiger Woods press conference. The only reason I’ll be watching is because I have to on ‘Golf Channel,’ afterwards and talk about it. I expect another lecture on Buddhism and meditation and someone in a green jacket to jump in and say, ‘golf questions only please,’ if someone strays into a question deemed ‘personal,’ in any way. (Maybe someone can ask Tiger if he thinks the NCAA Tournament is really about the ‘student-athletes,’ or if he’s as sick of that tired song as the rest of us. Heck, we might even agree on something for a change).

When the title game does finally begin tonight, I expect a great game. If people haven’t figured out yet how good Butler is then they’re missing the boat entirely. Was the Bulldogs win on Saturday over Michigan State pretty to watch? No. But this isn’t about style points and Butler, even with point guard Shelvin Mack and center Matt Howard both missing most of the last few minutes, managed to hang on and win. I’m hoping both are okay to play tonight. The last thing you want in a championship game is either team missing a key player.

The Butler kids are having fun and they ARE fun. Saturday night, when guard Ronald Nored—who made two critical free throws with six seconds left—was asked about the team’s tradition of patting the REAL Bulldog mascot on the head after being introduced he said this: “It’s part of what we do. Sometimes he barks, sometimes he bites but you gotta play through it.”

How good a line is that?

When Gordon Hayward, who plays the role of Jimmy Chitwood in this version of ‘Hoosiers,’ was asked if he had gotten a piece of the ball on Draymond Green’s last shot that came with Butler leading 52-49, he smiled the perfect ‘aw-shucks,’ grin and said. “I might have gotten a piece of the ball. Or I might have gotten a piece of his arm.”

The Duke kids aren’t nearly as fun or as funny—at least not in public—as the Butler kids. Combine that with their reputations as college basketball’s bad guys (which in most ways other than the fact that they win a lot isn’t deserved) and it is easy to understand why everyone in the country who doesn’t have a Duke affiliation will be pulling for Butler.

It also explains why CBS is over-the-moon about this matchup. It’s ‘Hoosiers,’; it’s a Cinderella story; it’s the white hats vs. the black hats; it’s the team you have to love against the team people love to hate. Ratings gold.

Duke is playing very well right now. It has gotten better, much better, since the start of the season. The Blue Devils play airtight defense—so does Butler—and if they have a night like Saturday when all of their so-called Big Three are on, they are very tough to beat. Saturday, Kyle Singler, whose shot was MIA against Baylor (zero-for-10) was eight-of-16, had nine rebounds and played superb defense on West Virginia’s Da’Sean Butler until Butler went down with a knee injury with 8:59 to go. Duke was up 15 at the time and Butler’s injury basically ended any thought that West Virginia might come back.

I just hate to see a kid end his college career like that. Butler, who is an absolute class act, sat in the locker room and answered questions after the game was over. Let me tell you something, if you didn’t like this West Virginia team, you were missing something.

That’s the nice thing about this Final Four: these are four very likeable teams. Oh sure, the Duke-haters have to do their thing and that’s par for the course. There was a lot of hoo-ha about a silly cartoon that appeared for one edition in The Indianapolis Star on Friday that depicted Mike Krzyzewski as ‘the devil,’ but that really wasn’t close to the dumbest thing said or written. That came from some guy in The Miami Herald who wrote a column claiming (among other things) that Krzyzewski, ‘faked,’ his back injury in 1995. No doubt he has access to the medical records that prove Krzyzewski ‘faked,’ the surgery he had for the back. I also know for a fact that the only thing that got him to go to the hospital and stop coaching was his wife Mickie telling him she was ready to leave him because he was killing himself by not getting medical help.

You see, it’s fine to criticize Krzyzewski. I wrote a column in The Post Saturday kind of lampooning his one-time animus for Dean Smith and how that’s changed over the years. Everyone knows I’m not exactly tight with my alma mater—in fact the Duke basketball website sometimes makes fun of me for being critical of Duke.

But the sometimes-crazed hatred of Krzyzewski makes no sense. It comes 99.99 percent of the time from people who’ve never met him. As Mickie once eloquently said, “I know the life my husband’s led and he doesn’t deserve the hatred that’s been aimed at him.”

She’s right. Tonight though, Duke will be wearing a black hat in a way it has perhaps never worn it before. Butler would be America’s Sweethearts regardless of the opponent tonight. They deserve to be in that role but let’s remember one thing: They aren’t here because they’re nice kids or because their 33-year-old coach (Brad Stevens) doesn’t look old enough to shave. They’re here because they’re a damn good basketball team that has already beaten Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State.

If the Bulldogs win it will be the best story we’ve seen in this tournament since Texas Western won in 1966—although for entirely different reasons. Those who shrug off the notion that Butler is Cinderella simply because it has been good for many years and was a No. 5 seed miss the point entirely.

Duke, like Michigan State and West Virginia, has all the advantages that schools from the power conferences have: money to recruit; money for top-notch facilities; money from TV; exposure from TV; a highly-thought of conference to pitch to players and the ability to buy eight-to-10 wins a year playing guarantee games at home.

Butler has none of that. It has a great old gym with an amazing history but that’s about it. The Bulldogs play in The Horizon League. Quick, name four Horizon League teams. They ARE Cinderella and if they win tonight you can throw every melodramatic cliché you can think of in their direction and you will be right.

I expect a very dramatic night. And to say I can’t wait for it to get started is a massive understatement.


Kaze said...

John, this blog's for you.

Anonymous said...

My impression is that 60% of the Duke hate is a reaction to Vitale and Phelps and others being hyperbolic with their comments about Duke being the model program for the rest of the country.

Mr. X said...

I used to like Duke in the days of Johnny Dawkins, Jay Bilas, and Danny Ferry. But then K started recruiting the likes of Quin Snyder, Bobby Hurley and Laettner, who all could have played the sadistic and smug prison guard from The Green Mile.

90% of the reason I hate Duke is Vitale, 7% is Laettner and 3% is Hurley.

And yes, Snyder is a dead ringer for the actor who played the prison guard.

WES said...

I'm happy the game will start at 9:21. I'm sure to be asleep when the "tired song" is rolled out. If I'm especially lucky, I'll miss Nantz's well rehearsed ad lib when the final horn sounds, too.

Anonymous said...

Coach K and most of his players through the years are what college basketball should be about.

However, on the eight or so occasions I've had the distinct displeasure of encountering Duke fans in large numbers, they are horrible. Not one time have I had a positive experience with a Duke fan.

The Duke fans are why I hope Duke loses most times. They are the most obnoxious I've seen in college basketball.

Rich, Denver

OldGoat said...

Isn't the anti-Duke sentiment more about a since of entitlement? This is the same reason I HATE Notre Dame football. Charlie Weis was not the first ND football coach to act as if he was deserving of a BCS bowl game from the start. Yankees and Cowboys come off the same way.

Anonymous said...

John, why not just shorten the season and allow all teams to play for the title. Since the NCAA has made this stupid decision, we may as well just let the whole dog and pony show perform. ?

Anonymous said...

I agree about the Duke fans. They are really too much to take. They really make it tough, when you have so many real good fans around, and then they are just so obnoxious in large and small groups. There is an air of entitlement there. We all hope, here at the Univ. of North Carolina, that Butler prevails.
(add two Wake people here with us, too) (and one NC State grad)

qtlaw24 said...

Butler v. Duke is wonderful. My Duke animus arises from Coach K's screaming at the refs at every opportunity and his less than magnanimous nature when his teams fall short.

Someone above drew the parallel with Notre Dame and I agree in that while they graduate their students, how hard is it when you get not only the top recruits, but also the ones with the sterling 5.0 GPAs?

I'm rooting for Butler because their president, Bobby Fong, is from Oaktown, where I work. Go Bulldogs!!!

case said...

mr x
you've got a good point about laettner,possibly about snyder,but i totally disagree about bobby hurley--he doesn't belong with those 2 ,esp laettner
bobby never cheap-shotted anyone

LosGatosCA said...

Dick Vitale is the winner!

Yes, Dick's schtick is old, and his Duke love is just grating.

My guess is if the ESPN crew all retired, Coach K's favorability ratings would go through the roof.

John Wooden was well liked, Dean Smith was well liked. But the Cameron Crazies and Dickie V are just too cognitively dissonant with Coach K.

DukeMom75 said...

As a Duke alum and parent, I've been lucky to attend several tournament games over the years. I continue to not understand the general vitriol that comes our way in print, because I have never seen it in person. Duke fans travel to games, stay in hotels and are generally family based tourists. All kinds of little kids come with their parents. There was a 3 month old baby with a Duke mini-tatoo that slept behind me in the final game. Too young to leave behind, too big a game to blow off. Fans. Short for fanatic to be sure. And since Duke people are not all from North Carolina, they live all over the country -- so sometimes coming to tournaments is the only time they see the team since Cameron is obviously small and full. But obnoxious -- on what basis? When DaSean Butler went down, the Duke fans cheered his name and gave him the standing ovation his talent deserved. Police made a few arrests in the stadium -- none involved a Duke fan from my observation. Laettner was cocky -- how else could he have played that way. And Mr. X is wrong again -- Laettner was part of losing -- his freshman year he missed free throws at the Meadowlands that would have won the game. We watched that and knew he would never let it happen again. By the way -- he and Bobby Hurley hated each other back then, and I imagine still do -- Laettner made Hurley crazy by demanding more of him -- but he also made him better. But it's not likely anyone disliked laettner more than Hurley probably still does. He's also someone who operated completely on his own emotion -- and the only college student included on the Dream Team. Could that have anything to do with hating him? K didn't coach that team.
Hating Ooach K just makes no sense -- the man flew to Hurley's side in California after his career ending accident. His back problems in 95 absolutely were related to his emotional devastation at the Valvano cancer. Do folks around the country know about the foundation and community center he built in Durham, named after his mother? that his team volunteer there and it is a bridge to Durham's poverty. That he is connected to a major children's cancer fundraising program at Duke Hospital? Grant Hill stayed four years -- 3 final fours -- and has maintained a connection through his art collection coming to the Duke Art Museum.
Okay -- if John lets this through, I'm sure it will cause more acrimony. Duke fans don't like Vitale across the board by the way -- but go back 20 years and listen to him talk about The's about ratings for Vitale.