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Crowd passes on hot shot of Curry
It’s after midnight, the enormous Lucas Oil dome is half empty, and Mike Krzyzewski is sitting on a stool while Tom Izzo is smirking over refs’ calls.
Two legendary coaches, two historic franchises in a marquee NCAA tournament game, and at least 20,000 people who paid March Madness prices have decided to leave a one-point game at halftime to go home and go to bed.
Or maybe to watch Florida Gulf Coast and a coach they’ve never heard of on TV.
I’m sorry, but something was missing from this moment, something more than Michigan State’s offense. Duke won, 71-61, Friday night to advance to the regional final against Louisville. And Krzyzewski, who had said he would hug Izzo when the game was over, gave him a meaningful handshake, instead.
It might be the NCAA took the fun out of the game by milking it for everything possible. When you put games in football stadiums, they lose something, even if more seats are for sale. Greed robbed intimacy.
It might be a willingness to put a game on so late at night to make TV happy. It might be that the officials couldn’t stop blowing the whistle.
Or maybe we’ve hit a bit of a Duke/Coach K-Izzo overdose, too. The big coaches of the day for college basketball actually were Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart for choosing to stay at Butler and Virginia Commonwealth, respectively, rather than go to UCLA.
I’m sure others will talk about Krzyzewski’s greatness out-greating Izzo’s greatness, and I’m sure that Jim Nantz — I know he was here because earlier in the day he was three elliptical machines over from me in the hotel fitness room — waxed poetic beautifully if he did that game.
But keep in mind: At least 20,000 people agreed with me on this. And that Florida Gulf Coast team, which was losing to Florida at the same time as K vs. Izzo, was much more fresh and compelling. It’s just not a good look when a game like this doesn’t come off.
The problem wasn’t the game, but the atmosphere. The truth is, Duke played well. It played excellent defense, and guard Seth Curry was out of his mind, making every shot. He had 29 points.
“I feel like every time I take a shot, it’s going to go down,’’ Curry said. “And nothing really felt different tonight.’’
Still, while Curry was scoring, Duke wasn’t exactly pulling away. Krzyzewski called a timeout to tell his players that Curry never was going to keep this up, and that this was the time to pick up the defense to build a lead.
So the Blue Devils did pick it up.
The knock on Duke is that it's not tough enough and doesn’t play enough defense. Forget about those things. Not true. The Blue Devils have been playing great defense, as Coach K will tell you, throughout the tournament. And they’ll have to again on Sunday against the rush that is Louisville’s offense.
Michigan State cut Duke’s lead to one by halftime, when the crowd was still around. But Curry made three 3-pointers to start the second half, and while that wasn’t the end of the game, it took all the momentum away from Michigan State.
That said, it wasn’t just the fluke of one guy hitting all of his shots. For some reason, Izzo never really adjusted. Heaven forbid he ever go into a zone, but he could have tried some sort of gimmick, or something, to stop Curry.
Twenty-three minutes into the game, Curry had 23 points. The rest of Duke's team had 18. When one guy is scoring all of the points, you try something different on defense. This might explain why Izzo is 1-7 against Krzyzewski.
“I felt we never got on track,’’ Izzo said. “We were in foul trouble the whole game, and it seemed like that wasn’t going to end. And they shoot 40 percent and we shoot 40 percent. They shot a little better than us from the 3.
“But the difference was in that one stretch, it was just free throw after free throw, and we can’t do anything about it.’’
Was there any one thing that decided the game?
“Curry did a great job of coming off those screens,’’ Izzo said. “He stops, he pops. They (officials) kept calling things I didn’t agree with. . .The foul thing bothered me a little bit, to be honest about it.’’
It didn’t help, either, that Michigan State went 8½ minutes without a field goal. In one stretch, it couldn’t get the ball inbounds in five seconds, then committed offensive fouls on the next two possessions.
This should have been a great moment for this tournament, not a lost one. I think the football domes are fine for Final Fours. You can’t help but to have excitement at that part of the tournament.
But the NCAA should play regionals in arenas. Even with large portions of seats in the dome blocked off by huge black curtains, too much is lost. And if playing regional finals in arenas means too many tickets lost, then sell tickets by the game instead of the two-game session.
Krzyzewski-Rick Pitino comes on Sunday, and that’s an afternoon game, which will help. There will be only one game, so fans likely will stick it out.
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