The Washington Post
| || || |
| ||Daniel Ewing, pictured, combines with J.J. Redick to give the Blue Devils one of the most potent back-court duos in the conference. (AP) |
Thursday, March 10, 2005; Page G9
How They Could Win It All
This isn't a vintage Duke team, but the Blue Devils are more than capable of winning three games in three days. Why? Duke has won five of the past six ACC tournaments; its players have experience on this stage.
Duke is healthy after battling injuries and an illness during the season. And Duke has three of the league's best players in Shelden Williams, J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing. Redick and Williams are particularly difficult for opponents to defend. Redick, a junior, is considered by many league coaches to be the best college basketball shooter in many years. Williams, when he avoids foul trouble, is difficult to contend with in the post because of his size (6 feet 9, 250 pounds).
Duke has talented players, just not many of them. Forward Shavlik Randolph had mononucleosis diagnosed and was limited for the bulk of the season. The junior is healthy now, and his absence allowed other reserves to blossom under pressure. At 6-3, DeMarcus Nelson has been impressive during his freshman season, playing down low at times and rebounding effectively. Lee Melchionni, meantime, said he has felt confident taking -- and making -- big shots from the perimeter.
Duke can't be discounted because of the program's unparalleled recent history: The last time the Blue Devils failed to make the ACC final was 1997.
How They Could Lose It All
By most accounts, this has been one of Coach Mike Krzyzewski's better coaching performances, pushing a thin team to victories in its first 15 games and into the hunt for the league title late into the regular season. Losing star freshman Luol Deng and talented recruit Shaun Livingston to the NBA draft in the offseason diminished Duke's depth and options. That will make three games in three days a tall order. The NCAA tournament, in which teams play twice in a three-day span, is more suited for these Blue Devils.
Fatigue will be a factor: J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing often play close to 40 minutes each game; Shelden Williams also will be tested to avoid foul trouble. The Blue Devils rank near the bottom of the ACC in defensive rebounding and assists. Redick's improved overall game has helped fill many of the team's offensive holes. The junior is more skilled this year at taking defenders off the dribble or pump-faking, taking one dribble and popping a jumper. "His shooting is so good," Maryland's Chris McCray said, "you have to respect the pump fake."
But a talented defender such as McCray is capable of containing Redick if he hounds him. Redick shot poorly in two losses against Maryland. In Duke's second loss to Maryland, the Blue Devils played well, but five players fouled out, leaving few players left to contend with the Terps in overtime.
There are probably close to 10 players in the ACC who receive more publicity than Duke's Daniel Ewing. He may rank fifth or sixth in a discussion of the conference's top point guards. He's not as fast as North Carolina's Raymond Felton or Wake Forest's Chris Paul. He's not as strong as Maryland's John Gilchrist or Georgia Tech's Jarrett Jack.
But few players are more valuable to their teams. Few college players have won more than the senior, who has been a key player on talented Duke teams the past four years. One of the ACC's leaders in steals and assists, Ewing also can score when needed. In a Feb. 12 loss at Maryland, Ewing attacked Gilchrist early in a head-to-head matchup, scoring 14 first-half points to keep Duke in the game. Coach Mike Krzyzewski said Ewing is one of the more mild-mannered point guards he has coached, which was why it was so surprising when Ewing tallied a string of technical fouls late in the season.
Like most of Krzyzewski's better point guards, Ewing logs plenty of minutes. The key is for Ewing to stay out of foul trouble. Duke does not possess the depth or experience at backup point guard to fill Ewing's shoes should the senior get into foul trouble.
One Shining ACC Moment
Top-ranked Duke's 68-67 victory over sixth-ranked Georgia Tech in the 1986 ACC final was the start of a remarkable run. Duke's ACC tournament title was its first under Coach Mike Krzyzewski and preceded the first of seven Final Four appearances in the next nine years.
The victory wasn't secured until the final seconds, when Georgia Tech's Craig Neal missed a deep corner jump shot, and Duke's Johnny Dawkins grabbed the rebound.
"I felt like I choked," Neal said afterward. "I was real low. I'd like to have swallowed my heart."
1980: In the final against top-seeded Maryland, sixth-seeded Duke, which had to win to get into the NCAA tournament, and never led by more than two points, shot 79 percent in the second half.
2003: Freshman J.J. Redick scored 23 of his 30 points in the final 10 minutes of an 84-77 victory over N.C. State in the final, Duke's fifth straight title.
ACC Tournament Section
• After 15 years, the Nation's Capital plays host to country's premier conference tournament.
• John Feinstein: In a glut of tournaments, this one still matters.
• Tournament info and records
© 2005 The Washington Post Company