Dan's Road Trip: Balancing act
RICHMOND, Va. – A final thought on Sunday's Duke-North Carolina incident, where with 14.5 seconds remaining, the Blue Devils' Gerald Henderson broke the Tar Heels' Tyler Hansbrough's nose with a forceful forearm.
Mike Krzyzewski is one of the smartest people you'll ever meet, and his spin job after the game was more proof of it. They ought to teach this one – an almost instantaneously hatched plan – in college public relations classes.
Krzyzewski, without being asked, brought up in calm and measured tones that, "the game was over before [the foul]. That's unfortunate, too, that those people were in the game in that play.”
By throwing that out there, he flipped at least part of the post-incident debate away from his program and squarely on Carolina.
That he tried to do that was not surprising. While I was waiting for Krzyzewski to enter the pressroom after the game nearly every reporter was speculating what accusation the Duke coach would throw out there. There was no doubt in any of our minds that something was coming.
What surprised me was how well it worked, how many people took his point and ran with it Monday when it was, at best, an incidental argument.
How long you keep star players in a game was a completely separate debate to the controversy at hand – was Henderson's foul over the line? That debate simply had nothing to do with the incident.
Even if Carolina was up 40, Hansbrough didn't deserve to get whacked across the nose like that.
For his part, Hansbrough did absolutely nothing to provoke the incident. There was no escalating physical play, no aggressive move. He wasn't hot dogging or showing anyone up. He was just going up for a shot – while getting hammered, per usual – when Henderson delivered the blow.
Moreover Carolina was set to sub for Hansbrough had he made the free throw (which most people missed).
And yet people actually were arguing Monday that Carolina was not just perhaps a bit unsportsmanlike but also, somehow, actually to blame for the incident?
Roy Williams and his players tried to take the high road on this thing and got completely outspun. The Carolina players sounded scripted when they kept repeating that they saw nothing and had nothing to add to the incident. It seems likely they said exactly what Williams told them to. For his part Williams would say only that "Tyler got hit," which was fairly indisputable.
Williams probably figured as long as no one from his program ramped up the dialogue and said something stupid, Henderson, Krzyzewski and Duke would get raked over the coals for the incident.
I don't think Ol' Roy will be as naive next time.
Krzyzewski threw out some bait, a lot of media took it and somehow, someway Carolina got some of the blame. Somewhere I think Karl Rove and James Carville were impressed.
• And spare me the angry emails, Duke fans, about how Coach K is a man of complete and total honesty and never would try to spin the media and public debate in favor of his program. Please. I'm complimenting him. Getting his program painted in the best possible light is part of his job, and I was beyond impressed watching him pull off this sucker.
• With Virginia Commonwealth (27-6) securing the Colonial Athletic Association's automatic bid with a 64-59 victory over George Mason here Monday, the question went to how many other teams from the league will earn bids to the NCAA tournament.
Old Dominion, with its 24-8 record including a victory over Georgetown, appears to be in decent shape. Less certain are Drexel (23-8) and Hofstra (22-9). It seems unlikely both will get in. One may be pushing it.
But depending on how the rest of the tournaments shake out, Drexel certainly is good enough to be considered one of the top 34 at-large teams in the country. With road victories over Syracuse, Villanova, Creighton, Vermont, St. Joseph's and Temple, the Dragons were impressive in nonconference play. Their worst losses were way back in November, and their CAA tourney defeat was to VCU.
Interestingly, Drexel sits in almost the same position as George Mason did last year, squarely on the edge of being selected or left out. It turned out more than OK for that CAA team.
• Mason (18-15) was two minutes away from returning to the NCAA tournament, completing a remarkable postseason rebound. The regular season had been a back-and-forth plod, new faces and new expectations taking a toll. The Patriots had finished the regular season with a loss to Northeastern. By 23. It was their seventh defeat in 11 games.
So as disappointed as coach Jim Larranaga was when the dream all collapsed, there was plenty to build on. In many ways this CAA tournament performance was a reminder how solid this program was. Mason could go off as the league favorite next year.
"This week was a special week," he said. "I think it would have been very easy for our guys to question our ability to come down here and compete with anybody. Four of our top eight guys who played today didn't play in a George Mason uniform last year."
• Another sign of the growth of mid-major basketball is that the Colonial Athletic Association sold out both the semifinals and finals here at the 12,500-seat Richmond Coliseum. These things didn't happen even a half-decade ago.
* The Jerome enters its second week, which means the selections for the remaining conference tournaments – including the big boys. If you don't know what The Jerome is, go back and read the archives. Anyway, here are my selections.
ACC – Maryland
A-10 – Xavier
Big East – Louisville
Big 10 – Ohio State
Big 12 – Kansas
Big West – Long Beach St.
C-USA – Memphis
Mid-American – Akron
Mideastern – Delaware St.
Mountain West – UNLV
Pac-10 – UCLA
SEC – Florida
Southland – Texas A&M Corpus Christi
SWAC – Jackson State
Western Athletic – Nevada
• My Akron guys pulled off the MAC East Division regular-season title with a heated overtime victory at Kent State. In attendance to see his buddies and former coach was LeBron James, who brought along four other Cleveland Cavaliers for good measure.
• Campaign stops Tuesday: Dayton, Ohio