Lacking athleticism, Duke falls in Sour 16 once again


One of the most consuming moments in an NCAA Tournament game is the tipping point of an upset special. The favorite absorbs a few blows and either maintains its balance and provides a wire-to-wire finish with the underdog, or squabbles to the mat as the upstart prizefighter feeds off the emotion of the moment. The “This is Actually Happening” crescendo created amongst the crowd and announcers is incredible.

We got that tonight with Duke-Arizona.

But if you’re not one for poetic analogies, you could also just classify this as men beating boys, as the Wildcats throttled the Blue Devils 93-77 with one of the most impressive second-half offensive performances in recent tournament memory. It was a lesson in effective emasculation; one that may propel Arizona’s basketball program back to the forefront of college basketball for years to come.

A recurring issue with Duke players is that their often times exceptional basketball players, but comparatively marginal athletes. Tonight, we saw that glaring deficiency in Coach K’s kids, as his team unraveled at the seams in the second half during a 19-2 Wildcats run, highlighted by a handful of dunks from Derrick Williams and Jamelle Horne, which will be YouTubed ad nauseum for years to come.

Duke has struggled mightily in the Sweet 16. Certainly it’s a problem few programs even have the opportunity to sniff, but for such a pristine program that measures success in Final Fours and national championships, we have a severely disconcerting issue at hand. Not only does Duke lose in the Sweet 16 on the regular, they get embarrassed in them. Surely leaving a sour taste in their fan’s mouths.

Consider that Duke has been eliminated in the Sweet 16 five times in nine years:

  • 2009: Villanova 77 – Duke 54
  • 2006: LSU 62 – Duke 54
  • 2005: Michigan State 78 – Duke 68
  • 2003: Kansas 69 – Duke 65
  • 2002: Indiana 74 – Duke 73

That is a lot. Even more bothersome if you’re a Cameron Crazie, is that the Blue Devils are only 2-5 in their last seven Sweet 16 games, a stat that reeks of everything that is not elite.

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For Arizona, they’re peaking at just the right time. Calling on a team that recently eliminated Duke in the true third round, the Wildcats are writing a similar arc to the 2005-2006 LSU Tigers. Young and ferocious, it took a few months for that Tigers team to find themselves, but they knocked off Duke and advanced to the Final Four because they were supremely athletic and had a pair of horses down low (Glen Davis, Tyrus Thomas) that could step out and pose significant match-up problems for opponents.

It’s pretty clear that the Sean Miller Era at Tucson is way ahead of schedule. I know hindsight is always 20/20, but this should have been everyone’s dark horse Final Four pick.

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.

No. 24 Cincinnati beats George Washington 61-56

Troy Caupain
AP Photo
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NEW YORK (AP) Troy Caupain scored 16 points, including the go-ahead three-point play with 1:38 to play, and No. 24 Cincinnati beat George Washington 61-56 on Saturday in the championship game of the Barclays Center Classic.

The fact the game came down to a three-point play was ironic as both teams took 22 3-point attempts and there were times it seemed a 3-point shooting broke out.

Caupain’s traditional three-point play gave the Bearcats (7-0) a 55-54 lead. After a missed 3 by the Colonials (6-1) Octavius Ellis, who chosen the tournament MVP, scored on a tip-in. Patricio Garino scored on a drive for George Washington with 29 seconds left.

The Colonials let the Bearcats pass the ball around and they finally fouled when Ellis touched the ball with 14 seconds to play. Ellis, a 56 percent free throw shooter, clinched his MVP award by making both for a 59-56 lead. Two free throws by Caupain with 6.1 seconds left capped the scoring.

Farad Cobb and Kevin Johnson both had 11 points for the Bearcats while Ellis had nine points and seven rebounds.

Garino had 15 points for George Washington, Tyler Cavanaugh had 13 and Joe McDonald 11.

The Colonials finished 11 of 22 from 3-point range, not bad for a team that came in shooting 27.9 percent (29 of 104) from there. The 50 percent doesn’t look so good when you consider the Colonials made five of their first six 3-point attempts and were 8 of 11 from beyond the arc in the first half. They went 16:42 between 2-point field goals but led 30-27 at halftime.

The Bearcats were 7 of 22 from 3-point range but their advantage came at the free throw line where they were 10 of 12 compared to George Washington’s 3 of 4.


George Washington: The Colonials beat Tennessee in the opening round and they were 3 of 15 on 3s. … George Washington was off to its best start since it was8-0 in 2005-06. … The Colonials finished 10 for 34 from 2-point range.

Cincinnati: The win gives the Bearcats a 13-1 all-time record against George Washington and this was their sixth straight. The last win came on Jan. 31, 1976. … Cincinnati is 7-0 for the fourth time in the last six seasons. … The Bearcats are 51-8 in and have won 24 of 25 in November under coach Mick Cronin. They have won 49 straight games when scoring over 60 points. The 60th point against the Colonials came with 6.1 seconds to play.


George Washington hosts Seton Hall on Wednesday.

Cincinnati hosts Butler on Wednesday.