As buzzards circled the carcasses of Kentucky, Stanford, Gonzaga
and Mississippi State last week, two office-pool favorites
breezed into the Sweet 16. One was Duke, which beat Alabama State
96-61 and Seton Hall 90-62. The other was Connecticut, which
disposed of Vermont 70-53 and DePaul 72-55. Neither team was
really tested. And the flaws of each--by which we mean more than
just Huskies center Emeka Okafor's bum back and Blue Devils guard
Chris Duhon's bruised rib--are there for the exploiting.
The Huskies' vulnerabilities begin at the free throw line, where
they shoot 61.6%. On defense their perimeter guards sometimes go
lax knowing that Okafor, one of four Huskies who stand 6'10", can
erase a mistake with a blocked shot. And when UConn has the ball,
one coach whose team beat the Huskies this season says, "Stop
their transition game, because they hate to play half-court
Moreover, neither of the team's two stars, Okafor and guard Ben
Gordon, shows much emotion. It's an issue that seemed to trouble
coach Jim Calhoun last Saturday. "They don't seem to understand
all it means [if we have] one bad half or don't start out with
intensity," said Calhoun of his team.
Duke plays with plenty of emotion; the Blue Devils' problem is
balance. Shut down shooting guard J.J. Redick and you gum up the
works. Duke hit a bump late in the ACC season when defenders
started challenging Redick on the perimeter. As a result inside
points became harder to come by, too. But against Seton Hall,
Redick outscored the Pirates 10-9 in the first six minutes,
mostly on long jump shots. That opened up opportunities inside
for forwards Shelden Williams, Luol Deng and Shavlik Randolph.
Alas, an outside-in offense isn't the most reliable basis for a
march through the NCAA bracket.
March 29, 2004
And then there's Duhon's rib. And Okafor's back. On such body
parts a title--as well as untold numbers of office pools--could