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Posted on: March 25, 2009 10:40 pm
Edited on: March 25, 2009 10:40 pm
 

The Day Before Gameday

BOSTON, MA -- Today was open practice day for each of the four teams participating in the East Regional. Each had an hour of practice, free and open to the public, held at TD Banknorth Garden. I happened to catch the last half of Pitt's practice and all of Duke's.

Matt Beck put it best when he called it "a waste of time for the team".

Because it was an open to everyone, clearly the teams weren't going to run an actual practice and reveal any strategies for their upcoming games. In reality, this was a glorified shootaround, like what we watch our team do in the hour before tipoff of a game. They did run some drills that were pretty cool to watch; then again there were other parts that weren't so pretty (mainly, Brian Zoubek dribbling and sprinting baseline-to-baseline in an end of game scenario).

Even so, it was fun. It was obvious that the teams weren't taking this too seriously -- at the end of Pitt's practice, the players lined up at the halfcourt line and practiced "buzzer beaters". At the end of Duke's practice, the players turned to the 1,000-or-so fans in attendance and threw out free Duke Basketball t-shirts.

Good stuff. Tomorrow is a big day. Go Devils!!

 

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 24, 2009 6:27 pm
Edited on: March 25, 2009 10:41 pm
 

This is Gonna Be Sweet

RALEIGH, NC -- (If Parrish can do datelines so can I) I'm sitting on the charter flight from RDU to Boston right now, with my fellow Pep Band members, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Duke Blue Devils team on its way to their first Sweet 16 in 3 years. I can't wait.

Duke has been much maligned in the recent years as no longer being the dynasty it once was (two consecutive early exits from the Big Dance didn't help), Coach K's recruiting has been called into question, venomous Tar Hole fans have seen their team victorious against us in 3 of the last 4 contests...

None of that matters now. This team, this season, is different. In fact, this team is different than it was even a mere 6 weeks ago, before Coach K gave the starting lineup a facelift by inserting freshman Elliot Williams into the lineup and moving Jon Scheyer to point guard to provide an offensive spark. That lineup change has proven to be Coach K's best decision all year, as a team who had dropped 4 of their last 6 games prior to the change have since gone 10-1, earning an ACC Tournament title and a ticket to the Sweet 16 during that run.

The challenge awaiting this team in Boston is a Villanova squad who can match up extremely well with Duke, who plays a similar style of basketball, who is predicted by many experts to be the team to send Duke home...

Yesterday on the Dan Patrick Show, Coach K mentioned in an interview that the last two weeks have shown him that his team was a little tougher, mentally, and a little deeper than even he thought. We'll see if that toughness and depth can carry this team past the Sweet 16 for the first time since a Final Four appearance in 2004...

Here come the players onto the plane now -- Lance and Nolan are sitting a row behind me!! Coach K just came back to where we're sitting and gave us a hearty welcome -- wheels up soon!

Let's go Duke!!

 

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 26, 2009 1:11 am
 

I Love That I Had to Write This.

In the words of Jake Kaplan, it is time for me to "rescind that doomsday blog post."

After a loss at Boston College, Duke had dropped their last 3 conference road games, and 4 of their last 6 total games. Even against a very mediocre St. John's team, the Blue Devils seemed to struggle, as they won by a mere 7 points in an ugly game inside Madison Square Garden.

It was not until this past Sunday, when the Devils returned to Cameron to play Wake Forest, that my confidence in this Duke team was restored, and in fact, boosted. Before the game had even tipped off, it was already clear to everyone that the players and coaches were treating this game as a must-win situation. They could not accept a second loss to Wake Forest in 4 weeks, a second defeat in Cameron Indoor Stadium in as many games, nor the loss of second place in the ACC. And so, when players and coaches were introduced, Coach K was seen pumping his fist and waving his arms at the crowd, and screaming encouragement at his players with more emotion than he normally shows for the entire season. He repeated these gestures several times over the course of the game, and even removed his jacket for most of the night as well, another rarity.

Clearly, in the Blue Devils' minds, the season was on the line for this game. Would they be swept by Wake for the first time in over a decade, continue their late season swoon, and drop to the middle ranks of the ACC? Or would they come off with an important win, something they had experienced too little of recently, and take their first step towards a season-ending clash in Chapel Hill with a potential ACC title on the line?

The game was memorable for its lack of defense. Emotions ran high, as did the scoreboard, but ultimately Duke took control and won its biggest game of the season to avenge their heartbreaker in Winston-Salem.

The next test was potentially just as critical: tonight's showdown in College Park with a Maryland team that had just knocked off the ACC-leading Tar Heels in OT. The Devils desperately needed this victory to prove to themselves and all the doubters that they could, indeed, handle a tough ACC road challenge. It didn't come easily, the fact notwithstanding that this was the same Maryland team that had been brutalized by 41 points in Cameron, but no amount of obscenity from the Terps fans nor violence from the Terp players was enough to rattle Duke tonight.

Stepping off the court in College Park, freshman Elliot Williams must have felt proud of his newly-cemented role as a starter, and how well his presence has benefitted his team's performance. After a serviceable first start in New York City, Williams has since had 2 very impressive performances in 2 very crucial games as starting SG. This new roster shift, placing Jon Scheyer at point and Williams at 2, has proven to be an effective move; giving Scheyer control of the ball has allowed him to step up his game, and giving Williams the starting role has allowed for his athleticism to bolster the Devils' overall game.

After these two critical wins and a few timely losses by Florida State (to BC) and Clemson (to VT), Duke now commands sole possession of second place in the ACC, a week after finding itself in a 4-way tie. With a new roster and a new outlook on their success, it seems as though the Devils couldn't have timed this season revitalization any more perfectly. This newly-energized team could be poised to make their post-season campaign a memorable one.

What a difference 2 games makes. Go to hell Carolina.

 

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 16, 2009 4:36 am
Edited on: February 16, 2009 11:29 am
 

I Hate That I Had to Write This.

Jan 28: James Johnson muscles his way to a game-winning layup with under 1 second to go, and Wake Forest holds on to tackle #1 Duke, handing them their first ACC loss of the season. The students storm the floor in Winston-Salem as Duke's 10-game winning streak comes to a halt. Final score: Wake Forest 70, Duke 68.

Feb 4: In the worst blowout they've seen since 1990, #4 Duke shoots a paltry 30% and gets trampled by Clemson. With as many field goals as turnovers (16), this is a game that no Blue Devil will soon forget. The Clemson fans celebrate en masse on the court at Littlejohn Coliseum. Final score: Clemson 74, Duke 47.

Feb 15: #6 Duke blows another second-half lead in Chestnut Hill, MA. Hundreds of Boston College students flood the court to celebrate. The black and blue of the Devils' uniforms today matches their bruised and beaten egos, as the weight of their third straight ACC road loss begins to sink in. Final score: Boston College 80, Duke 74.

Duke has now lost 4 of their last 6 games, in an all-too-familiar late-season slump. Just like last season, what appeared to be a tremendously-talented and perhaps Final Four-caliber team through January has since gone soft, dropping consecutive road games in conference play and looking more vulnerable than ever. 

These Blue Devils could very well lose 5 of their final 6 games of the season. It sickens me to even consider the possibility, but it's true. There is at least one game left on the schedule that should be a given: If they go to Cameron Indoor Stadium North (aka Madison Square Garden) to play St. John's and lose there, then all hope is lost.

That being said, after St. John's, Duke has 3 more road ACC games. 2 are against opponents that the Devils throttled in impressive fashion in Cameron (Maryland, Virginia Tech), and the final game is, of course, up the road in Chapel Hill. Maryland and Virginia Tech will both be playing for redemption on their home courts, and the Tar Heels would love nothing more than a regular season sweep of Duke, to amend for their loss in the Dean Dome last February. The only remaining home games on Duke's schedule are Wake Forest and Florida State, and both teams are capable of putting up a real fight in Cameron.

It's a damn shame that Duke hardly plays any tough non-conference games on the road, because they obviously need the practice for conference play. Aside from a nice win at Purdue in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, their only true pre-ACC road game this season was a loss at Michigan. Sure, there were some neutral-site games away from Cameron, but playing in Madison Square Garden or the Izod Center (East Rutherford, NJ) is fully incomparable to playing on an opponent's campus.

The bottom line is that Duke needs to learn how to play on the road, in front of a hostile crowd. They feed off the energy of the Cameron Crazies when they are at home, but they must be able to win away from the comfort of Durham. If they can't, then this painstaking slide through the ACC will continue this season, and will likely  become a trend in the future.

Go to hell Carolina.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: December 3, 2008 6:04 pm
Edited on: December 4, 2008 3:00 am
 

A Season in Review

Year 1 of the David Cutcliffe era of Duke football has officially come to a close. Duke goes 4-8, while losing 7 of their last 8 games and dropping the UNC-Duke game for the 5th consecutive year. While this loss was especially disappointing,
overall, I think this was a tremendous season and a very large step in the right direction for Duke football.

4-8 is not a record to be excited about for a lot of football programs out there, but for Duke, that means the Devils equaled their win total from the past 4 seasons combined this year. We also saw Duke win their first home opener since 2003, secure a marquee victory by winning on the road at Vanderbilt, and end their 25-game ACC losing streak with a dominating win over Virginia. They were competitive against every team they faced, and lost a few heartbreakers (game-winning TD called back because of holding against Northwestern, missed game-winning FG against Wake). Had just a few more things gone Duke's way this season, we could easily have seen them in a bowl game.

David Cutcliffe revitalized a football program that desperately needed help. The average attendance at football games was up by over 8,000 per game this season, including an impressive student turnout at every game. Finally, Duke football is no longer a blemish to this great university. I couldn't be happier.

Cutcliffe promises that this offseason will be one of the most intense he has coached. With 25 seniors graduating this May, including ACC first- and second-team players Mike Tauiliili and Eron Riley (respectively), the returning players will definitely feel the loss of some of their best teammates, but that just means there are new opportunities for guys to step up and be team leaders. Thad Lewis will be back for what promises to be an exciting senior season after another 9 months of tutelage under Cutcliffe, and a lot of our talented freshmen players will be back with a year of experience under their belts. Redshirt QB Sean Renfree will be available, and incoming recruits like 4-star RB Desmond Scott will certainly have a presence as well.

I just can't wait to see what Cutcliffe will do for this team next year. The slate includes big games against Kansas, Maryland, and possibly Alabama (what a thrill it will be to see Duke competing against the current #1 team in the BCS!). So we didn't make a bowl in his debut season, but could next year be the year? Could next year be the year we bring the Victory Bell back to Durham? Could next year be the year we have our first winning season since 1994? We'll just have to wait and see.
Posted on: September 29, 2008 2:42 pm
Edited on: September 29, 2008 2:47 pm
 

David Cutcliffe is the man.

It was the great Jim Mora who said, "I don't care who you play, whether it's a high school team, a junior college team, a college team [...], when you turn the ball over 5 times (for UVA it was 6), 4 interceptions, one for a touchdown [...], you ain't gonna beat anybody I just mentioned. Anybody."

What an overpowering performance for Duke's defensive unit against UVA. The first half was pretty ugly, but the Devils were completely in control from the moment the ball was kicked off in the second half. The defense led to offensive production, which put the 'Hoos away. Every time UVA got any momentum going (including at least one trip inside the red zone), the D caused a big turnover or made a strong defensive stop and brought things to a halt.

Granted, UVA has been... awful recently, but still, this was a great showing for the Blue Devils and a very convincing way to end their 25-game ACC losing streak.

Like the announcer in Wally Wade said as the game came to a close, "This is the beginning of Duke's ACC win streak!" This is also the best start for a Duke football team since 1994, when they started 7-0.

The man behind this incredible turnaround? David Cutcliffe. I can't say enough about what a brilliant job Coach Cut has done in his short time as Duke's head coach. He has completely revitalized the football program, and perhaps just as important, he is drawing huge crowds to Wally Wade. People are excited and talking about Duke football for the first time in years. The Wade Wackos have resurfaced after having fully disappeared for quite some time. Duke football is no longer a disgrace to this university, but yet another thing that makes this place great. I couldn't be happier.

Keep it up, Devils! #43 in the coaches' poll this week!!
Posted on: September 2, 2008 10:25 pm
Edited on: September 29, 2008 2:43 pm
 

Duke! Football! YEAH!!!

Duke football is currently in first place in the ACC, ahead of former Top 25 teams Virginia Tech and Clemson.
(Did you ever think you'd actually hear that sentence?)

Okay, we're technically tied for first place, but it's no technicality that we have a better record than VT or Clemson. The Tigers played against a tough opponent from the SEC, but they got flattened by 24 points. Virginia Tech lost at their own game to lowly East Carolina, who blocked a punt and returned it for a TD with 3 minutes left in the game, which was the game-winning play and a signature play of VT's "Beamerball". Almost this year's App. State, if I may.

But it's not really valid to compare Duke football to those teams right now. What's important is that we won a game at Wally Wade Stadium for the first time since defeating VMI 3 years ago. What's important is that we equaled our combined win total for the last two seasons by stomping JMU 31-7 on Saturday night. What is important is that David Cutcliffe is undefeated as Duke's head coach. What's important is that we started our season off right.

David Cutcliffe is the best thing to happen to Duke football since Steve Spurrier left in 1989 for Florida. Firstly, he's a seasoned, respected, veteran leader, having coached both Super Bowl-winning Manning boys at UT and Ole Miss. Secondly, and almost as important, he's gotten Dukies excited about Duke football again. The Wally Wade Wackos were out in full force on Saturday night, filling 4 sections of the stadium... I'm pretty sure that's the most students to attend a game since we last won a bowl. Cutcliffe brought an air of success and change to the school, and so far he's made good on his promise.

Then again, we can't get ahead of ourselves here. It was just one game, against an FCS opponent. But regardless, I noticed marked improvement in our team Saturday night, and I hope it continues to shine through for the duration of the season. It's quite possible for us to win 4-6 games this year, but it's also quite possible for us to not win any more. It all depends on whether we continue improving as we have, and keep the momentum rolling. If we come into Navy 2-0, or Virginia 3-0, the snowball effect could build us up to bigger victories as the season rolls on...

So, how soon will we see Duke football in a bowl game? In the next three years, so that I could personally attend? I sure hope so...
Posted on: July 16, 2008 2:48 pm
Edited on: July 28, 2008 1:42 am
 

Just Walk Away, Brett...

I have always had a hell of a lot of respect for Brett Favre. He was loyal--the beloved Green Bay QB played all but one of his 17 NFL seasons in a Packers uniform--and even brought a Super Bowl victory home to the cozy Wisconsin town. Like all the TV announcers said, Favre played for his whole career like a little kid who had just made it to the big leagues. There was no one who loved his job more than Brett Favre.

But after a 17-year career, the time has come for Favre to retire...or so he thought.

The guy openly wept at his retirement press conference. He said, "I know I can play, but I don't think I want to." He walked away from a certainly Hall-of-Fame-worthy career, leaving a legacy of greatness and love of the game behind him. His #4 jersey will be retired in the Packers' 2008 home opener on September 8.

But then again, retirement from a career as a pro athlete certainly doesn't mean much these days. There are numerous athletes who "retire" to take a season off or even just a few months before changing their minds and returning, just like that. And though there are the classic examples in Michael Jordan, who returned to lead the Bulls to another few NBA championships, and Mario Lemieux, who returned to lead the NHL in points-per-game for the 2000 season, it is pretty rare that an athlete will return to a successful second-coming career.

So, just a few short months after he made his decision, Favre is having second thoughts. In April, he told ABC News that if the Packers were in an emergency situation and asked him to be their QB, that it would be "hard to pass up" that opportunity. More recently, he has in fact been in contact with the Packers organization about returning to football, because he "got the itch."

Favre has thus created quite the controversy in the sports world. The rumors and questions have begun to swirl. Will he once again be the Packers starting QB? What about Aaron Rodgers, Favre's faithful backup for 3 years, who had been promised the starting job? Is it possible that Favre could return to the NFL to sport another team's colors after being traded? How bizarre that would be...

I agree with Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z: Just walk away, Brett. You had a great career. You brought home a Super Bowl title and racked up NFL records and awards galore. Your illustrious career has come to an end, and it should stay that way. Sure you'll have second thoughts, but do you really want to come back to mixed feelings in Green Bay, or more oddly, to a different team? That would surely leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the Green Bay fans who dearly loved you for so long.

And you're causing an inordinate amount of undue stress to Aaron Rodgers and the whole Packers organization, who now have their hands tied about what to do with you. Don't do that to your fans and admirers. Be the role model you always have been and do the right thing. You made this decision yourself, and everyone understood and accepted it. You did great things with your NFL career, but all good things must come to an end.

So really, the only question in my mind is: We're all ready to move on, Brett, so why aren't you?
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com