In this week’s episode of the we get into everything that happened in the first weekend of the tournament, from Villanova and Duke losing and Michigan’s “miracle” run to Gonzaga’s chances of winning the title and Gregg Marshall’s wife’s sidelines antics.
Juan Dixon was one of those quintessential March stories, one that was just too good not to get beaten to death during the NCAA tournament.
Both of Dixon’s parents died when he was in high school. They were heroin addicts, and their deaths were a result of the complications that come with having AIDS. Even when Juan’s parents were still alive, he was, as the story went, raised by his older brother.
Juan made it out of Baltimore, he made it to the University of Maryland, he won a national title and he got himself into the NBA.
It really is a survivor story, but it’s not entirely accurate.
Juan Dixon’s father didn’t die when he was 17. Juan Dixon’s father, as it turns out, is an ex-boyfriend of Juanita Dixon named Bruce Flanigan. And while Flanigan always suspected that Juan was his son, particularly when he watched him play for the Terps, he kept that quiet until Bruce’s mother let it slip.
Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel sat down with Juan Dixon, Bruce Flanigan and the Dixon family to tell the story of their unlikely, and frankly overdue, reunion, and how a story that we all took as gospel for 15 years got turned on its head. (Airs Tuesday at 10 pm on HBO.)
Duke did not lose because the NCAA’s politics.
Let’s get that out of the way right now.
Duke lost because they were a flawed basketball team and South Carolina, who played put together a magnificent outlier performance during the first weekend of the tournament, was one of a handful of teams in the country that could exploit those flaws.
That could have happened in any arena that the two teams squared off in.
But Duke and South Carolina didn’t play in any old arena.
They played in Greenville, South Carolina, because the NCAA decided to move all of their events out of the state of North Carolina due to the discriminatory House Bill 2. And that, in turn, gave the Gamecocks a slight home court advantage, one that was exacerbated by the fact that every in Carolina Blue bled Garnet and Black for 40 minutes on Sunday night.
So no, I don’t think that Duke loss because they were forced to play a de facto road game instead of a home game in the second round of the tournament. It may have played a role — teams that play the way that South Carolina play feed off of the energy that comes with a raucous crowd — but it wasn’t the root cause.
That doesn’t mean, however, that this shouldn’t be a major talking point.
And I get it, no one will ever feel sorry for Duke, not when the entire nation was rooting for the Blue Devils, who were anointed by the media in October and who rostered the most hated player college basketball has ever seen, to lose. But the adults in the room can have a real discussion about this. No. 2 seed Duke played South Carolina in South Carolina in the second round of the tournament, a problem that could have very easily been solved by sending Michigan to the East and the Gamecocks to the Midwest.
But that isn’t what happened.
Instead, the Selection Committee opened themselves up for this kind of criticism, because there is not doubt that the home court advantage played some role in this.
I don’t think that role was all that large. I’m sure anyone associated with Duke would disagree.
But that is a major talking point as we move forward, because the decision on where tournament sites will be hosted through the year 2022 are coming soon.
After everything that Duke had been through this season, between the injuries and the trips and the back surgeries, what did the Blue Devils in, what sent them back to Durham after the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, were the issues we all knew they had back in October.
And we all should have seen it coming.
Sunday’s second round loss wasn’t the result of an internal power struggle over whose team this is. It wasn’t the result of a lack of leadership. It wasn’t due to slow starts or missed time or freshmen inexperience.
Duke lost, quite simply, because their roster is — was — flawed, and the individual talent amongst their ranks was not enough to overcome it.
Duke didn’t get the stops that they needed to get, and the lack of a natural point guard on their roster was never more evident than when facing the athleticism, physicality and pressure provided by South Carolina, one of the nation’s elite defensive teams. The No. 7 seed Gamecocks scored 65 second half points and second-seeded Duke committed 18 turnovers in an 88-81 loss in Greenville in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The lack of a true point guard on the roster is not something that really had hurt Duke all that often the season, and it reached the point where that issue no longer seemed like a talking point with this team. There were times where their offense would get bogged down, like in each of the final three ACC tournament games that they played, but eventually Duke’s talent would take over. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski, at times, would opt for the ‘Do Him!’ offense: Instead of calling a set play, he’d get the ball into Jayson Tatum’s hands, or Luke Kennard’s hands, or Grayson Allen’s hands, and just let them go.
When there are three guys on your roster that can create a good shot out of nothing, sometimes the best thing a coach can do is to get out of their way and let them work.
That’s how Duke made all those crazy second half comebacks last week.
But that didn’t work against South Carolina. For the first time all season, Duke ran into a team whose perimeter players were good enough defensively that this ‘offense’ was never going to be effective. Allen finished with 20 points, but he was 5-for-13 from the floor and, playing as the primary ball-handler, finished with two assists and three turnovers. Tatum had 15 points and shot 6-for-12 from the field, but he had five turnovers and never looked comfortable going one-on-one, where he may be the best isolation scorer in the country. Kennard made one shot before fouling out.
“[South Carolina] played a heck of a game,” Krzyzewski said after the game. “That was the toughest defense we’ve played all year. Very physical.”
And without the presence of a true point guard on the roster, Duke didn’t really have another option, because whether they were facing South Carolina’s man-to-man or their matchup zone, running sets wasn’t working.
The bigger issue, however, was probably on the defensive end of the floor, where South Carolina scored 65 second half points, a higher total than the Gamecocks managed in nine games this season. They shot 71.4 percent from the floor in the second half, hitting 4-for-5 from three and 21-for-23 from the foul line. They made 18 of their first 24 shots in the second half.
Duke’s defense, which has been much maligned all year long, lived up to the precedent.
It didn’t hurt, either, that South Carolina was playing in front of a raucous, partisan crowd. The game was in Greenville, S.C., meaning that there wasn’t a shortage of Gamecock fans in the building. Once it became clear that South Carolina was in this thing, the fans wearing Garnet and Black were joined by those in Carolina Blue in rooting for the Blue Devils to bow out early.
And once the tide started to turn, once the crowd in Greenville started to get behind South Carolina, everyone watching on TV could see them start to feed off of that energy.
If Krzyzewski wasn’t happy about the NCAA’s decision to move the first round out of North Carolina before the weekend, I can’t imagine the angry phone voice mails Dan Gavitt is going to get from him tonight.
But I digress.
This weekend was, in a way, a perfectly fitting ending for Duke’s season. Every time we thought they were back, they’d go and lose to N.C. State or Syracuse. When we thought it was time to pull the plug on the hype train, they’d find a way to win games they didn’t have any business winning.
And when we all thought the East Region opened up for Duke after No. 1 overall seed Villanova got dropped by Wisconsin, the Blue Devils got steamrolled by a team that lost six of their last nine games before the start of the tournament. They gave up 88 points to a team that scored 86 points in a four-overtime home loss in February. They gave up 65 second half points to a team that scored fewer than that in ten games this season, winning five of them.
They couldn’t get stops when they needed to get stops.
They couldn’t run offense when they needed to run offense.
So while the legacy this team is going to leave is one of ‘What could have been?’, that’s probably wrong, because this team was less of an enigma than we realized.
They were super-talented, but Coach K had himself a flawed roster, one that lacked a defensive backbone and a true point guard.
Because of that, they were a team that we — I — overrated all along.
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) A security guard asked the wife of Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall to leave the lower bowl of Bankers Life Fieldhouse after she started loudly cursing shortly after Sunday’s 65-62 loss to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.
A police officer was eventually called and followed Lynn Marshall up the steps. She later was taken back to the playing level on an elevator so she could attend her husband’s news conference.
NCAA spokesman David Worlock says it is standard procedure for the wife of a coach to be escorted to the press conference but it is usually done by school officials.
Lynn Marshall remained in the stands about 10 minutes after the final buzzer. She at first consoled fans and family members of the team’s players. But then she started shouting loudly about the calls made during the game. Eventually, the people around coaxed her to leave and the police officer followed.
Team spokesman Bryan Holmgren said the team was unaware of the situation and could not comment.
Duke is back … on campus.
The No. 2 seed Blue Devils became the second victim of No. 7 seed South Carolina’s home court advantage, losing 88-81 as the Gamecocks continued their insane offensive explosion during this tournament.
And I’m not exaggerating when I say that.
South Carolina’s issue throughout the season, particularly down the stretch, was that they just were not able to score. They ranked 136th nationally in offensive efficiency. Their effective field goal percentage this season, including Friday’s 93-point outburst against Marquette, was 47.1 percent, which was good for 307th nationally. The Gamecocks lost six of their last nine games prior to the start of the NCAA tournament, and in five of those six losses, South Carolina scored less than 1.00 points-per-possession, including a four-overtime loss against Alabama where they managed all of 86 points.
If those numbers are a lot for you, this is really: South Carolina is an elite defensive team that had their shot at an SEC regular season title done in by the fact that they, quite simply, could not score.
Then they put up 93 points on Marquette in the first round of the tournament.
Then they put up 88 points on Duke, including a ridiculous 65 points in the second half. There were ten games this season where South Carolina didn’t manage to score more 65 points, and they won five of them.
But that still doesn’t really tell the whole story. South Carolina shot 71.4 percent from the floor in the second half, making 18 of their first 24 shots. Their effective field goal percentage was 85.7 percent. They shot 21-for-23 from the free throw line, a crisp 91.3 percent for a team that made just 69.2 percent of their free throws on the season.
It was incredible, it was unpredictable and it’s exactly the kind of performance that the Gamecocks needed to make a statement.
Because here’s the truth: this team guards well enough to win a national title. They really do. And if they are going to score the way that they scored this weekend, South Carolina there’s no reason that Frank Martin’s club can’t find their way through what’s left of the East Region and get to a Final Four.