NCAA BK

BURLISON notes: Devils dominance reestablished

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Frank Burlison

 
   
 
For the better part of a month now, since Maryland smacked Duke in College Park on Feb. 17 and while Kansas was running really roughshod over the rest of the Big 12, a theory evolved among those who follow college basketball. It went like this: The Blue Devils were no longer the team to beat for the national title in Atlanta — assuming, that is, that Mike Krzyzewski's team managed to get that deep into the tournament. Duke's frittering away of a double-digit advantage, and eventual loss at Virginia on Feb. 28, cemented the notion that the Terps and Jayhawks had much better inside/outside scoring balance than the Blue Devils and less reliance on long-range shooting in order to put teams away. They were not only "locks" to get to Atlanta on the final weekend of March but were also the 1-2 favorites — or vice versa — to cut down a couple of nets on April 1. Fast forward to last weekend. Now, what happened during a roughly 24-hour stretch in Charlotte and Kansas City shouldn't be looked upon as conclusive evidence that Duke should now be considered an overwhelming favorite to capture a second consecutive title — as Krzyzewski's team did in 1992. And it should not be looked upon as a foretelling of calamity that could befall Gary Williams' Terps and/or Roy Williams' Jayhawks in the next couple of weeks. But this is clear ¿ in Maryland's loss to North Carolina in the ACC semifinal Saturday, the Terps struggled defensively throughout and played well offensively only in spurts. Were they looking a bit beyond NCSU and to a third meeting with the Blue Devils on Sunday in Charlotte? Possibly — but we also shouldn't try to downplay the Wolfpack's performance, either. Remember, the Wolfpack, facing a Virginia team that desperately needed a victory to keep its slim at-large hopes afloat, rolled to a 20-point victory on Friday. Then, on Sunday, Duke blitzed NCSU by 30 points. Were the Wolfpack emotionally spent after back-to-back outstanding efforts just to get to Sunday's game? Probably. But, once again, don't lose sight of the fact that Duke got after NCSU hard on the defensive end, and played with much more focus offensively — pounding the ball inside to Carlos Boozer as the usual first option and doing a better job of getting great ball movement before launching any 3's — than it did in the losses to Maryland and Virginia. As for Kansas, it had sailed, for the most part, through the Big 12 regular-season, then handled Colorado and Texas Tech (by 40!) to get into the game with Oklahoma Sunday in Kansas City. But the Sooners played some of the best defense this season, totally disrupting the Kansas' half-court and transition offenses to capture the conference tourney championship for the second year in a row. Does what transpired over the weekend mean that Duke — which moved back to the top of the national ratings — is now the clear cut favorite to win that second consecutive national title after all? Nope — just as that shouldn't have been the case last season, even with Player of the Year Shane Battier in the lineup. What the weekend did illustrate was that despite Duke's losses to Maryland and Virginia, no "gap" had been created between Maryland, Kansas and the Blue Devils. What I think it did remind us of, though, is this: Maryland and Kansas — and maybe any of four or five other teams (Oklahoma? Cincinnati? Arizona, perhaps?) could win the national championship. But if someone other than Duke is doing a lot of celebrating on the Georgia Dome floor on April 1, they almost certainly would have beaten the Blue Devils — either that night or two days before in a semifinal — to earn the right to do so.

Coaching carousel begins to spin

As expected, Steve Robinson was dismissed as the Florida State coach Monday after four consecutive "losing" seasons and I use the "losing" adjective very cautiously. Robinson is a heck of a coach, a real gentleman, someone who held his players accountable — to themselves and the coaching staff, on and off the court — and refused to compromise, either in recruiting or in ways he dealt with his players, in order to win more games. You hear about role models for young athletes: Robinson should be held up as a role model to his fellow coaches. I'm sure he'll be back again very shortly, as will as another outstanding coach, Rod Jensen (released by Boise State), who refused to bend rules and otherwise compromise his integrity, in order to boost his record and get a few slaps on his back and maybe a contract extension. Among the names that some believe are on FSU athletic director Dave Hart's list to replace Robinson are former Bulls coach Tim Floyd (who took that job after leaving Iowa State) and former Wizards coach Leonard Hamilton (who was coming off a Sweet 16 season when he left the Miami Hurricanes for Washington). Others might be Tom Crean (Marquette), Dennis Felton (Western Kentucky) and Jeff Lebo (Tennessee Tech). Jon Pelfrey, who works for Billy Donovan at Florida, has been mentioned as a likely candidate but some believe that Hart will attempt to lure the most high-profile head coach he can. Lebo is a North Carolina graduate and, of course, he has a mighty impressive name (Dean Smith) on his list of references. Crean and Felton are, along with Ben Howland, among a handful of the "hottest names" in the profession right now. All three are expected to pique the interest of those doing the hiring at Arkansas, too. Bobby Lutz, who has had remarkable success at Charlotte, might also be considered by the Seminoles and Razorbacks.

Potential Fresno State successor?

UC Irvine plays at BYU in a Thursday night National Invitation Tournament first-round game. One might consider this part of the "Who will replace Jerry Tarkanian?" derby. Pat Douglass of UCI and Steve Cleveland (who grew up in the Fresno area) would be obvious — and, probably, leading — candidates to replace Tarkanian at Fresno State if the 72-year-old steps down at season's end, as he is giving strong consideration to doing. Tarkanian's Bulldogs — beset by eligibility issues and injuries that dampened what should have been an outstanding season for what had the makings of his best team at the school — play host to Temple (another team that had a very disappointing season) in an NIT game Wednesday night.

Newell Classic will highlight 2002-03 season

(The next Pete Newell Challenge in Oakland on Dec. 28 could rival the 2000 version (when Stanford upset Duke and California knocked off Georgia) for thrills and chills &3151; and entertaining basketball, too, come to think of it. Event director Jeff Fellenzer has lined up Stanford-Gonzaga and Cal-Kansas matchups. All four of those clubs should be highly ranked going into next season — despite the hits any of them take from the NBA. The Zags will lose FOXSports.com All-America guard Dan Dickau but — with incredible size, depth and skill up front — could be even stronger than their current club. Keep that note in mind, NCAA selection committee. It's all but etched in stone that another FOXSports.com All-America, 6-9 junior Drew Gooden, will be available in the June NBA draft (where he'll likely be a top three selection). Just exactly where Stanford should be placed in the preseason ratings won't be determined until Casey Jacobsen and Curtis Borchardt decide if they will return for their senior seasons. Both are expected to test the draft waters. Frank Burlison can be reached at his e-mail address: fburlison@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Cincinnati, Stanford, California, Iowa, North Carolina, Virginia, Duke, Florida State, Maryland, Boise State, Georgia, Florida, Temple, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Iowa State, Oakland, Gonzaga, Fresno State

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