Duke vs. West Virginia: the “Varsity Game” tonight



By Paul M. Banks

INDIANAPOLIS- It’s easy to look at the seedings, #1 vs. #2, and think that this game is the “varsity contest” (the fact that it’s the primetime, and not the early game only intensifies this idea) and Butler-Michigan State the J.V., but don’t make that mistake.

What has this tournament been if not unpredictable? As Disco Stu from “The Simpsons” once said, “If these trends continue…” we’ll end up with more underdog winners.

Country roads, take me home

The West Virginia Mountaineers are led by an alum, the seemingly always embattled Bob Huggins. The coach and his players take pride in their defense, especially their vaunted man-to-man, but they ousted #1 seed Kentucky because of a 1-3-1 zone that the Wildcats couldn’t shoot their way out of. The Mountaineers’ perimeter defense is good, but in that game UK was to three-point shooting what the British are to good cooking.

Senior wing Da’ Sean Butler is WV’s main weapon, and he’s been extremely clutch during the heightened atmosphere of March Madness. WEST VIRGINIA

Coach K describing Butler: “He’s a great player, and a clutch player.  I mean, there’s nobody who’s hit as many big shots as this kid.  You know, he loves the moment.  Having a guy like him on your team is what every coach would like.  Bob does a great job of positioning him properly and getting him the ball.”
Bob “Huggy Bear” Huggins gave a similar opinion. “I mean, I think everybody can see every time we need a basket who ends up with it.  But I think that’s team?oriented because he’s the guy with the best chance to make it.  We were struggling to score the other day, and we ran two sets for Da’, and he made two big threes for us.”

After Butler, a probable 2nd round NBA Draft pick, you must contain Devin Ebanks, the slashing 6-8 sophomore small forward, who’s a potential NBA lottery pick. He’s versatile, a great defender, and like the best of “point forwards,” he can jump out of the gym. He just needs to add strength, and get more consistent with his jump shot to make it at the next level.

And don’t forget Joe Mazzula, who had a career high 17 points in his last game and allegedly hung a triple double up on Duke the last time these two teams met in the tourney.
Huggie Bear or “Huggie Beer” as opposing fans often call him in reference to his DUI arrest, articulated what makes his team so good on the defensive end.

“Well, I think our length has something to do with it.  We didn’t get to the ball, I didn’t think, in the early part of the year.  I thought we became way too man?conscious and we really didn’t help each other as much as what we needed to.  I think in the last, I don’t know, probably three weeks, month, we’ve really gotten a lot better.

The Mountaineers (who have a really picturesque location surrounding their arena and a very pretty campus overall by the way) last made the Final Four in ’59, losing the title game by one to Cal. That unit was led by “the logo” Jerry West. This year, his son Johnny, is a member of the team.

Devil inside, Devil inside, every single one of us the Devil Inside

Although Duke isn’t the most fearsome front-court in the game, the Blue Devils are working it inside more effectively, and become much less reliant on three-point shooting this year than in tourneys of recent past.

Until this year, their senior class failed to get past a Sweet Sixteen (somewhat reminiscent of the MSU Spartans ’05 seniors that were highly touted, but never won anything until their last go-round to the ’05 Final Four). Duke has much better bigs than the last time they met WVU. SCHEYER SINGLER

But the Mountaineers will still have the decided advantage in the front court, and they’ll have to, because there is no way their starting point guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant is going to play tonight.
Duke’s third banana, Nolan Smith scored a career high 29 against Baylor and he’s been the most consistent scorer for the Blue Devils this postseason. He has an added motivation (or built-in storyline if you will) because 30 years ago his dad, Derek Smith, won a national title in this same town as a member fo the Lousiville Cardinals.

Of course, this team going any further depends on their two stars, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler, who have not shot very well lately.  And it would probably help out quite a bit if Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas do what they do (hit the boards hard and get some offensive put-backs and tip-ins).

And of course, don’t underestimate the value of Mike Kryzsewski. Only two coaches have been to more Final Fours than Coach K. And to quote the Coach K./Duke infomercial that aired incessantly during March madness a few years ago, “I’m not just a basketball coach, I’m a leader who happens to coach basketball.” (Meant to be uttered in his nasally Squidward from “Spongebob Squarepants” sounding voice.)


  1. David K. says

    Every time I read a Coach K quote, I read it in my head in Coach K voice… I do the same thing with Buzz Williams… it’s fun… GO West Virginia! Big East Pride!

  2. paulmbanks says

    Samwe thing w Bruce Weber too I assume?

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