What Is Going On In Basketball?
Teams coached by Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Bobby Knight, even Mike Krzyzewski, are several wins away from a surefire invite to participate in the March get-together. All four are in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, so we have to assume they can coach. Maybe Knight could be dismissed as old school, a coach who hasn't won anything big in years. But Boeheim, Calhoun and Krzyzewski have won NCAA titles this decade. Think about that. Syracuse, Connecticut, Duke -- three of the most successful college basketball programs in the country in recent years -- are in dire straits. Including Texas Tech, only Syracuse is above .500 in its conference. At home during the weekend, the Orangemen needed 37 points from Demetris Nichols to beat Rutgers 76-74 just to get to 6-5 in the Big East. Rutgers is an uninspiring 3-9 in the league. Syracuse is seventh in the conference and the next four teams have five conference wins each. In the 12th spot, at 4-6, is UConn. Just Sunday, the Huskies lost for the ninth time in their last 13 outings. They shot 31 percent from the field and made 12-of-21 from the free throw line in a 13-point loss to a Georgia Tech team that is 4-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Speaking of the ACC, Duke is sixth at 5-6. The Blue Devils lost to Maryland by 12 on Sunday, the first time Duke has lost four straight in 11 years. When was the last time that Duke lost to a team that is 4-6 in the league? On the road at Stillwater last week, Tech lost in double overtime -- the first time a Knight-coached team had lost five straight since his first year at Indiana in 1971-72. What in the world is going on? This month-old quote from Georgia Tech's Thaddeus Young might help explain: "Coming into this game, we were like, 'Man, we know we're the better team and we've got the better athletes. Duke ain't what it's been." Young made the remark right after Tech's 11-point victory. In June, Duke's Shelden Williams was the fifth player take in the NBA draft. No. 11 was his college teammate, J.J. Reddick. Duke had some players returning this year, but things came easier when Williams and Reddick were on the floor with them. At UConn, Rudy Gay (8), Hilton Armstrong (12), Marcus Williams (22) and Josh Boone (23) went in the first round. Only Duke (1999) and North Carolina (2005) have had four players taken in the first round. At Arkansas, it was a big deal when Ronnie Brewer was picked 14th. In basketball, it only takes a star player or two to make a difference, and there are good ones available even if they enroll only to pass the time until the NBA draft. In fact, two of the most talked-about players in the country are freshmen -- Greg Oden at Ohio State and Kevin Durant at Texas -- and there is a debate about which will be No. 1 in June. For sure, Oden has the best beard of any 19-year-old, 7-footer in the country. A shot-blocking demon, he also is skilled enough to shoot free throws with his left hand, a move mandated because of surgery on his right wrist last summer. At 6-foot-10, Durant has a splendid repertoire of shots and he's already made 52 3-pointers. Both benefit from the play of fellow freshmen point guards -- Mike Conley Jr. at OSU and D.J. Augustin at Texas. North Carolina has a half-dozen freshmen on its roster and Roy Williams' biggest problem is whittling his player rotation to eight. Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al Horford and Joakim Noah were sophomores when Florida won the whole thing last spring. Talented and unselfish players can do wondrous things. "I'll do whatever I can," Krzyzweski said after the loss to Maryland. "I'm not going to punt, let's put it that way." He'll hunker down, just like Boeheim, Calhoun, and Knight. It's just that other teams have more talent. Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media's Arkansas News Bureau. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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