The No. 1-ranked Duke Blue Devils continue to dominate the discussion in college basketball. Only this week, it's for all the wrong reasons. An injury to Kyrie Irving's right big toe is threatening to end the freshman point guard's season.
Such a situation would clearly impact the Blue Devils. But would it prevent them from winning a national title? You'll find the answer to that and much more in this week's mailbag.
You've been saying for weeks now that Duke has a strong chance to finish the regular season undefeated. I'm assuming you've changed your stance in the wake of Kyrie Irving's toe injury.
Actually, Wally, I haven't. I'll stop short of predicting that the Blue Devils will enter the ACC tournament with a spotless record, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me if it happened. That says more about the ACC than it does about Duke – which has already completed the toughest portion of its non-conference schedule. With only one representative (Duke) in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll, the league is as down as it's been in years. I realize North Carolina has some talent and that Maryland is well coached. Miami, North Carolina State and floundering Virginia Tech could also be scary. Still, I'm just not sure there's an ACC team out there with enough pieces to defeat this Blue Devils squad. Even without Irving, there are three future first-round NBA draft picks in Duke's lineup, and a Hall of Fame coach on the bench. Duke is good enough – and the league is bad enough – for the Blue Devils to finish the regular season undefeated. Even without Kyrie Irving.
I've been watching the ACC too long to believe that Duke will go undefeated. Maryland always matches up well with Duke and Gary Williams understands that you have to attack the basket to beat them. Beating UNC twice will be very tough, regardless of what people think about Carolina. Then there will be a road game where some 3-point shooter gets ridiculously hot. It's just tough to go undefeated in any conference because teams know your tendencies and you have to win on the road. They have a better chance of going 6-0 in NCAA tournament play than 16-0 in the ACC. The NCAA tournament is played at all neutral site, although I'm sure Duke will have most people rooting against them.
Great points, Kevin. I believe Kansas was the last team from a Big Six conference to finish league play with an undefeated conference record. Drew Gooden, Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich led the Jayhawks to a 16-0 mark in 2001-02. Even then, there were some close calls against lower-rung teams such as Nebraska. Again, I'm not saying it will happen at Duke, but I think there's about a 50-50 chance. Even if Irving is out for the year, I still think Mike Krzyzewski's squad should be favored to win the NCAA tournament – but only if players such as Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry step up.
I think you're painting an overly positive picture of how Georgetown won against Missouri. They were fortunate that Michael Dixon missed his second free throw. After that Missouri proceeded to rush an ill-timed 3-pointer that a Tigers player (Kim English) rebounded and secured until being shoved from behind. The Hoyas were fortunate that English made a poor decision to try to save the ball under Georgetown's basket, which led to a turnover and an open 3-pointer to tie the game. Yes, Georgetown really asserted itself in overtime, but they were very lucky to get there. I'm not an irate fan claiming bias. I just think you gave a rather skewed interpretation of what happened.
San Mateo, Calif.
Everything you wrote is accurate. But if Missouri was the better team, the Tigers wouldn't have missed that crucial free throw, they wouldn't have rushed that “ill-timed” 3-pointer and English wouldn't have tried to save that ball under the basket. Plus, even though Georgetown benefitted from Missouri's mistakes, you still have to give the Hoyas (and particularly Chris Wright) credit for making that game-tying 3-pointer and for playing so well in overtime. The thing about their performance that impressed me the most was that it came in a raucous, deafening environment at Kansas City's Sprint Center that was unlike anything they'll encounter the rest of the season. For Georgetown to win that game in front of that crowd says a lot about John Thompson III's squad. I'm certainly not knocking Missouri, though. What an exciting team. And to think … the Tigers are only going to get better.
What are your thoughts on the call at the end of the UCLA-Kansas game? Just so you know, me and a buddy have 3-to-1 odds that you will defend the call. Not hating, though. I realize you have to pander to your base.
I've written plenty of less-than-flattering stories about the Jayhawks. Want me to send you some? This will obviously surprise you, but I felt bad for UCLA after an official basically handed the game to Kansas by calling a foul on Bruins guard Malcolm Lee with less than a second remaining and the score tied in regulation. Mario Little went to the line, split a pair of free throws and the game was over. Even if Lee did hack Little, it was a ticky-tack foul that shouldn't have been called in that situation. The game should've gone to overtime. It was unfair to the Bruins, who made so many great plays to even be in that situation. I'm still trying to figure out how that same team lost to Montana – at home, no less – only a few nights later.
I understand why people are upset about the foul call in the last moments of the KU-UCLA game. But some of us are wondering why the media isn't giving as much attention to the no-call after (Kansas') Tyrel Reed was pushed out-of-bounds on the earlier play. If that call had been made, the game would've been over anyway. Yet the media is overlooking it.
Good point. UCLA's foul on Reed was much more blatant and deserving of a whistle than the one at the end of the game. I don't think the media is overlooking it intentionally, though. There are almost always bad calls during the course of the game. It's tough to dissect each one, although in this particular instance some discussion may have been warranted. Perhaps it was ignored because Kansas ended up winning the game because of the foul that sent Mario Little to the free-throw line. So the call you mentioned ended up being irrelevant to the outcome. Just a guess.
Are you aware that Josh Selby's high school teams never amounted to much? Knowing that, it seems odd that people are saying he's going to be the key reason for Kansas' success. A loss in his final high school game prevented his team from making the Final Four in Maryland's 2A tournament.
No location given
Selby's high school career certainly didn't end on a positive note. He forced a lot of bad shots and seemed to be all about himself. If he does that at Kansas, he won't play. Selby's teammates won't want to be on the court with him if he shoots it every time he touches it, and Bill Self won't want him out there, either. It's not as if Kansas, which is 8-0 entering Saturday's game with Colorado State, has been bad without him. Still, I wouldn't bet against Selby. He's playing for one of America's best coaches. Self will make sure his head is in the right place. It is interesting, though, that amid all the hype surrounding Selby, no one has asked how good of a teammate he will be or what kind of example he will set in the locker room. Is he bull-headed, or easy to coach? We'll find out on Dec. 18.
Please understand that this question doesn't apply to just you. It's for every sportswriter on earth. What is the obsession with North Carolina? As an Illinois alum, why don't we (the Illini) get any respect nationally? This last week we took down North Carolina and Gonzaga (in Seattle) by double digits and I had to search to find just a basic recap of each game. North Carolina wins a game against a vastly overrated Kentucky team and suddenly the Tar Heels “are back” and Zeller is on top of the world and the stars have aligned to turn this 5-3 team into a champion. Please go against the grain and start writing some in-depth analysis on some under-looked teams such as Illinois, San Diego State or even Northwestern. I don't mean to rant, but I watched a great Illini team solidly beat a ranked Gonzaga team, but then I head to (the Internet) only to see the game mentioned off to the side while North Carolina is taking up the main page. Please give credit where credit is due and jump off the North Carolina bandwagon.
I think the reason North Carolina's victory over Kentucky got so much press was because almost every national writer was actually at the game, which was understandable considering you had two of the most tradition-rich programs in the history of college basketball going head-to-head at the Dean Dome. Websites are always going to display their original content more prominently than the stories they use from the Associated Press, which was probably the case with the Illinois-Gonzaga game. That's why you saw the North Carolina-Kentucky coverage plastered everywhere. Also, even though North Carolina is struggling a bit, please remember that this is a team with a Hall-of-Fame coach, the potential No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft and two national titles in the last six years. There are plenty of stories and angles there. Whether the Tar Heels are winning or losing is irrelevant. They're always going to be in the spotlight because of their high profile. Heck, sometimes the stories are more interesting when they're struggling than they are when they're dominating their opponents. Illinois, meanwhile, has won one NCAA tournament game since 2005. Yes, they have a solid team this year, but is it going to hold up when the Illini take on Ohio State and Michigan State? Or are they going to disappoint their fans like they have the past few seasons? We'll see. My guess is that the coverage of the Illini will increase. Either way, I appreciate your e-mail.
Beating Kentucky was sweet revenge for Tyler Zeller. You mentioned that he broke his wrist as a freshman. It happened in the Kentucky game when he went in for a layup and a Kentucky player undercut him.
Fort Mill, S.C.
Yes, the Kentucky player you're referring to was Ramon Harris. It was unfortunate incident, because Zeller may not be in college right now if he'd have stayed healthy as a freshman and sophomore. I'm not sure there's a more versatile post player in the game right now than Zeller. Maybe Marcus Morris at Kansas, who is more athletic and can shoot just as well as Zeller. The difference is that Zeller is a 7-footer. Perry Jones at Baylor can also do a lot of different things. The 6-foot-10 Jones, who is only a freshman, will probably be drafted ahead of both Zeller and Morris based on potential. But he's not close to playing up to their level yet.
- Duke Blue Devils