Category Archives: Duke Blue Devils

For the Duke haters…

Nolan Smith and the Blue Devils are on their way.

Editor’s Note: Here is Sunday’s column as it was written, before Duke continued its cruise to its fourth national title. This for all of those who were rooting against the inevitable.

It’s the Final Four, so anything can happen. We all know that much. Grainy highlights of Jimmy V and Ed Pinkney remind us of that often at this time of year. But given The Herald’s early-ish deadlines on Saturday night, this sports section — as you can clearly see — does not have the result of the national semifinal between Duke and West Virginia, which did not finish until after our presstime.

Chances are, faithful reader, you already know what happened. And you’ve probably heard the game broken down in myriad ways. And you’ve likely digested all of the postgame comments.

So what you find here in this space is obviously not an analysis of what transpired between the Blue Devils and Mountaineers, no dissection of Duke’s striking ability to snare offensive rebounds that went for second-chance 3-pointers or its towering inside presence and physical, tough-as-nails defense.

There won’t be anything in here about the Devils again finding a way to make an opponent’s best player rather ineffective, in this case, Da’Sean Butler. Or their vast experience taking control in the game’s final 7 minutes, where a close game gets stretched to a 7-10-point lead as Duke does every single little thing right down the stretch to close out the victory.

None of that is in here. Honestly, you don’t need it. It was readily apparent on the TV screen you watched last night.

But what you will find here is a completely unbiased portrait of a brilliant season by the Duke Blue Devils, a season in which a team without ready-made NBA talent used three go-to scorers, outstanding rebounding, a game-changing, legendary coach and a grinding style that belies their true nature — that of wily, cagey and deft precision basketball in the most important of moments.

It’s truly amazing how Duke does it, by…um…by…hold on a minute…I’ll get it out…

It’s truly amazing how Duke does it, by…um…by…

Oh, forget it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all know how good Duke is. We all know why they’re good. You don’t need to hear it again. And I don’t need to write it again.

Got that? Got it? Yeah, I respect Duke. Respect the heck out of them. They win the right way. Play a brand of basketball not at all unlike any of the other three teams in the Final Four. That’s why they’re there. That style of basketball won this year, and the last four standing are a testament to it.

And Duke’s the best of them.

And the Devils will win it all.

Doesn’t mean someone, possibly someone like me even, has to like it.

The questions is always out there: can a person report on his school’s rival, watch it and write about it in an unbiased, completely objective manner for his or her readers?

You bet he can. Some have been doing it for over a decade. Even longer. It’s out there, people, believe me. I did it, in fact, a little higher up in this here column. You know, just to prove a point.

But I ain’t doing it now. Not anymore.

Because I know what most North Carolina or N.C. State or Wake Forest fans are thinking this morning.

And this is for them.

Take it, leave it, ball it up or line the birdcage with it, I don’t really care right now.

Because I know they don’t want Duke to win the national championship. Not now.

Not ever.

Yeah, I said it.

And meant it.

Maybe that makes them bad people.

Tough. ’Cause they don’t mind.

I went to the University of North Carolina, and I’m a Tar Heels fan. Can’t lie. That’s my school. And that means some things to some of us.

And one of those things is to root against Duke.

Every time.

Especially now.

Not every Heels’ fan or UNC grad is like this. They wish well for the state of North Carolina, or for the added prestige of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

That’s fine.

But I ain’t talking about them.

You can, though. Criticize them all you want, Dukies. Rub your national title in their faces and wax poetic about the winning ways of Coach K, Singler, Scheyer and Smith.

Go ahead and dance on the Tar Heels’ grave and say they are sore losers.

You’re right.

And so were some of you last year.

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The PODcast — More Southern Lee Saga and Akeem Richmond’s NIT run

Sanford's Akeem Richmond is playing well at Rhode Island.″

Part 1

Sanford’s sports talk radio show, with Alex Podlogar and Ryan Sarda of The Sanford Herald, break down the problems with the posting of Southern Lee’s head football coaching job before going into Akeem Richmond’s run with Rhode Island in the NIT.

Part II″

The guys break down the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, take a look at the Bobcats’ improving playoff chances and finally, Ryan settles on his new favorite MLB team.

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Barack-etology 2010

In case you missed any of the 786,214 viewings of this on ESPN, here you go.

I post this only because I have nearly the same Final Four as the president. I went with Kentucky, Duke, Kansas — and Kansas State. Just don’t see Syracuse getting there, and I guess I’m going with the Big 12 to be as stout as everyone says.

My only real upsets? Utah State and Siena to meet in the second round to further grease Duke’s path to the Final Four.

I have Kansas beating Kentucky 74-71 in the final.

And now, back to my countdown until MLB’s Opening Day…

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The PODcast, March 12″″

Part 1 — Sanford’s best sports talk radio show breaks down the opening rounds of the ACC Tournament.

Part II — Sanford’s best sports talk show chats about Tiger Woods’ possible return to The Masters, some Bobcats basketball scheduling while continuing Ryan’s quest to find a new MLB team.

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Playing the percentages with the ACC Tournament

There are some who look at the 2010 ACC Tournament and see a flat-out free-for-all.

And there are others who see two teams at the top and a bunch of also-rans.

A year ago, I tried to break down the ACC Tournament by assigning percentages for the likelihood of each team winning the whole shebang. Maybe it didn’t take real foresight to pick Duke to win in 2009, but I also had Florida State with a real chance of winning (the Seminoles were runners-up) and made it clear that I didn’t think eventual national champion North Carolina would get past the second day.

So with a little bit of credibility still kicking around, let’s assess the prospects for each team in the Granddaddy of all conference tournaments.

The Single-Digit Club

Yes, it’s true that there is only one team in the entire conference with a losing record. One might even think that means any of these 12 teams is capable of ripping off four straight for a miraculous ACC run.

Careful there, Rameses. Step back from the ledge.

Has anyone seen Sylven in art class lately?

No. 9 seed Virginia Cavaliers

They have the worst record overall, but in this weird ACC season, they’re rank as a 9 seed.

That said, with Sylven Landesberg figuring college has little to do with class, the losers of 10 straight are clearly the most unlikely of teams to reverse their losing ways. 0 percent chance of winning

Miami basketball? Why bother?

No. 12 seed Miami Hurricanes

They have 18 wins, including over the likes of Nova, South Carolina and Minnesota. OK, so the Nova win looks impressive, until you realize the Nova is for Nova Southeastern, not Villanova. The Canes get Wake Forest in the opening round today, and it wouldn’t be out of the question for them to win the game. But they’re more likely to play well for 35 minutes and then fall apart at the end. 2 percent

Not the year Marcus Ginyard was looking for.

No. 10 seed North Carolina

Yes, Tar Heels, N.C. State has a better chance at winning this tournament than you do. Georgia Tech blasted UNC in their second meeting, the Heels are hurt and soft and Maryland would loom in the quarterfinals. Buh-bye. 5 percent

What happens if the Pack gets blown away in the opening round?

No. 11 seed N.C. State

OK, not much of a better chance there, Pack. Still, the draw isn’t that bad for State. The Pack opens with up-and-down Clemson, then would face Florida State in the quarters. Not likely, but not terrible either. 6 percent

Can Joe Trapani muscle BC on a run?

No. 8 Boston College

The Eagles should thump Virginia, and then would get a third crack at Duke. At home, BC played Duke tough, and with four guys who average in double figures, a bad shooting day and some foul trouble could get BC into the upset picture. 9 percent

Second-Class Citizens

Shouldn't Derrick Favors and Georgia Tech be a lot better than they are?

No. 7 seed Georgia Tech

Had UNC had a decent year, this would have been the conference’s clear choice for Underachiever of the Year. But man, they have talent. And lost only by two at Maryland, the quarterfinal opponent. 12 percent

Which Wake team will show up?

No. 5 seed Wake Forest

The Deacs should just be a lot better than they’ve played. That four-game skid before the win at home over Clemson in the finale leaves a bad taste in the mouth. But Ishmael Smith can be unguardable at times, and the frontcourt is solid — or at least should be. 14 percent

Solomon Alabi is supposed to be a big-time NBA prospect. OK then.

No. 3 seed Florida State

I don’t like the Clemson matchup at all in a potential quarterfinal meeting, and aside from beating Marquette in November and maybe Virginia Tech, who has FSU beaten? 15 percent

Can Malcolm Delaney go on a Randolph Childress-like run?

No. 4 seed Virginia Tech

One big concern for the Hokies? They don’t blow anybody out (unless you count N.C. State). Not UNC-G (59-46), not Campbell (71-60), and not even Delaware (74-66, OT) or Iowa (70-64). Their ACC wins have only come by an average of 8.4 points. By comparison, Duke has won by 16.1 points in its ACC wins. Remember, this isn’t a great conference this season. 16 percent

The Cream

Demontez Stitt and the Tigers could be primed for a run.

No. 6 seed Clemson

Don’t sleep on N.C. State, but after beating FSU twice this season, the Tigers should get to the semifinals without much trouble. They split with Maryland, even scoring 79 points on the Terps in College Park in a loss. Maybe the Tigers aren’t a great team. But this is a good draw to make a run. 19 percent

Greivis Vasquez may be the best player on the floor this weekend.

No. 2 seed Maryland

Perhaps the hottest team entering the tournament, the Terps have the confidence of having beaten Duke in a well-played game (though it was at home). Clemson looms as a tough test in the semifinals, though Georgia Tech could pose a problem as early as Friday. But the Terps are balanced and tend to have the best player on the floor in Greivis Vasquez. 25 percent

The Winner

Stay away from foul trouble, shoot at least 44 percent from the field, and another title is yours, Mr. Singler.



This is the Blue Devils’ annual, personal playground. And none of their potential matchups before the finals — BC, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest or Miami — pose any real threat. Unless one of the Big Three is in early foul trouble and they have a bad shooting day, the Blue Devils will win this tournament.

It’s just what they do. 50 percent.

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The PODcast Returns″″

With the show broken into two parts, the guys break down the Panthers’ recent moves, chat about the top seeds for the NCAA Tournament, run through the ACC standings, hit the Bobcats and begin the search for Ryan’s new baseball team.

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The UNC Tragedy

Sadly, this could go on a lot longer.

But the Feed John Henson line is funny.

But I must say this, or I’ll lose my General Alumni Association card:

“The Tar Heels won their second national championship in five years just last season.”

That makes me feel better — at least until Duke loses in the NCAA Tournament.

I hope.

I’m also hoping the Heels’ next line of recruits won’t so much resemble the “hype not matching actual talent” likes of players like Chris Burgess and Shavlik Randolph.

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Precise and patient, Duke may have enough this time

on Scheyer and Kyle Singler

You could almost hear the Cameron Crazies.

Dribble, dribble.


Dribble, dribble.


Jon Scheyer would hold the ball, maybe not going so far as to put it on his hip and stand there, but holding it nonetheless. Maybe make a jab step, and back out of it, keeping his dribble until he needed it to forge a better passing lane.

All of this happening some 35-40 feet from the basket.

North Carolina was playing with an intensity Tar Heels’ fans have been begging to see for three weeks, keeping the eighth-ranked and bitter rival Blue Devils close in front of them, and at times, behind them.

But really, the Dukies were closer in their rear view mirror than they actually appeared.

Because, really, that’s all any UNC lead in the first meeting between the two historic programs on Wednesday night really was — a slim little edge that Duke could probably wipe out anytime it needed to.

All it needed was time, and perhaps a bit of rest.

And so Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler would weave the ball around the backcourt between them, too distant even for them to attempt a shot. But that’s not what they were looking for. They were seeking a crease in the Heels’ defense, one they would wait on until the waning seconds of the shot clock to attack.

North Carolina fans may have felt like the game was, if not in their hands, at least attainable from about the 12-minute mark in the second half on to, say, 7 minutes to go in the game. The Heels even led 43-39 with 11:33 to go, and the Dome’s roof was perilously close to being blasted from its moldings.

But the Devils painstakingly meandered the ball up the floor and into their deliberate halfcourt set, choosing precision over panic and persistance over desperation.

And even in a game in which they did very little right, the Blue Devils were as calculated and smooth as any team in the Top 3 in the final 7 minutes of the game, outplaying North Carolina so handily that all the Heels had left was the bad taste of a nothing more than a measly moral victory.

Is Duke good enough to win the national title? The jury is still out on that, even though the Devils will likely either gather the ACC regular season championship or league tournament title — or both. They’ll be nothing less than a No. 2 seed in March and will probably have no more than six losses all season.

And yet questions will continue to follow a team that hasn’t, in recent years, enjoyed the kind of monumental success the program made look so routine two decades ago. It will be posited that the Devils will struggle through another poor shooting night in March, that at least once against a tournament team, they will have one of their Big 3 struggle, and then that will be the end of them, perhaps no further than the Sweet 16.

But watching the poise with which the Blue Devils played North Carolina, a team in desperation mode at home, trying to rekindle all the magic of the last five years in one night, and in front of the most decorated Tar Heel in history, it was clear that Duke may very well be good enough to grind its way back to the Final Four.

The Blue Devils won’t wow anybody with flash or raw athleticism. That’s obvious now.

But they just might outthink you, backing the ball up and slowing things down for a 5-minute stretch so that their best players can save their legs while staying on the floor. It’s a strategy fraught with danger, allowing a lesser team to remain close for long stretches, gambling that your execution at clutch time will far exceed that of the opponent’s.

But it worked on Wednesday night. And it worked well.

Is Duke flawed? Yes. But most teams are. Shoot 25 percent for 35 minutes against Kentucky or Kansas (and maybe even Maryland), and the Blue Devils will get slapped around.

But if it’s tied with 3 minutes to go, there may be no more frightening team in all the land.

That much we know.

Just ask the Tar Heels.


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The PODcast, Feb. 12″

The guys chat about local hoops, ponder the viability of the Coach K to the Nets rumor, take a hard look at Duke’s chances in March before hitting on the Daytona 500. Oh, and they trashed the Winter Olympics.

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Duke/Carolina — The not-so-heated rivalry

These were better days for Heels' fans.

It’s only fair.

When the North Carolina Tar Heels were at the top of their games the last few years, I always took the opportunity during the two annual meetings with bitter rival Duke to document the matchups with a running diary of the games.

But as a 1998 grad of UNC, I can honestly say I wasn’t planning on carrying that tradition forward tonight.

Taking into account that North Carolina’s season is all but over and far from relevant, and then adding Duke’s typical top-10 ranking, watching the game was nowhere near the top of my list of things to do today, let alone taking the time to break it all down in this space.

Does that make me a bad fan? A bad alum?

Well, yeah. And dribbling around between the circles when your team is down by two possessions and there are less than 30 seconds on the clock makes you a bad point guard, too.

How on earth are those two things connected? Easy — I know going in what kind of game this is going to be. I hold no hope that Larry Drew II and UNC are going to turn their seasons around, and I know good and well that Duke only being favored by six points is a flat-out joke.

But it wouldn’t be right for me to bail on the blog — or the Heels, for that matter — just because things are going badly for my alma mater. So I’m here, and will be throughout the night with notes and instant analysis from the game.

Let’s just get this over with.


One quick thing here before we start the bloodbath.

The Heels are retiring Tyler Hansbrough’s No. 50 tonight. No doubt the crowd will be really into it. And I’m not saying there isn’t at least a chance the Heels play well for a half and keep it close before Duke destroys them with a 23-2 run (If freaking UVA can do it in the Dome…), but if the Heels’ players don’t come out all jacked up for this game and play inspired basketball from tip to horn, it’s on them.

And if that happens — if the Heels are flat in this game — UNC fans should begin counting the days until the softies either graduate or take off for the NBA. Because that will have said everything every Carolina fan has wondered all year about this team.

As for the Blue Devils, they seem to be following the same kind of pattern as the last few years — depend heavily on two or three guys to carry the load. The trio of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are enough to get through the ACC and certainly North Carolina, but will they be enough in March?

Oh, and one other thing: Travis Wear, the Heels’ first frontcourt player off the bench, is out indefinitely now with a bad ankle. Just what in God’s name is going on with bad ankles and the Heels this year?

Somebody check the shoes, and quick.

All of that said, the Heels need some toughness, and need it in a hurry if they are even to compete in this game. Toughness like this:

First Half

20:00 Here’s the tip — and what’s left of North Carolina’s season.

15:30 Great start for Duke, with Scheyer and Singler combining for three 3-pointers. Heels have intensity — just not much game in the early going.

Really tough matchup for Will Graves on Singler. And Marcus Ginyard has two turnovers already. Ecchh. 9-4, Devils.

13:13 Dexter Strickland tries to dunk over Singler.

Didn’t happen. A stupid play for sure, but at least the kid plays with no fear.

Meanwhile, Scheyer and Singler own all 13 points. 13-7.

12:18 Duke is controlling all aspects of the game, holding UNC to its typical point-a-minute offense.

Four assists already for the Devils — on four field goals. If the Devils were shooting any better than 25 percent, this might be a laugher already. 13-8.

10:44 A bomb of a 3 by Will Graves, shot from Winston-Salem. 16-13, Duke.

8:25 Another bomb from Graves. Tie game, at 20.

3:39 Give the Heels credit — they have come to play tonight.

Now granted, it helps that Duke is missing chippees like I missed class my senior year in Chapel Hill — the Devils are shooting just 20 percent from the floor — but North Carolina seems to winning in the effort department, and John Henson has given the Heels a big lift off the bench.

Ginyard corrals an offensive rebound and dunks it home, and the Heels have their first lead since 2-0. 24-23, Heels.

3:29 Singler with a 3 out of the TV timeout. Duke has six 3s — and eight total field goals. 26-24, Duke.

1:03 Somebody tell my why every Carolina big man dribbles immediately when he gets the ball in the low post? Why? Even Hansbrough did it. It’s the first thing you’re taught in basketball. Just go up with it. Deon Thompson has an easy put-back dunk, but tries to put the ball on the floor and loses it. Duke hits a 3 here, and the game could get away in a hurry. 28-24, Devils.

2.8 seconds Huge play for the Heels, and maybe one that could turn Drew’s season. Duke tries to hold the ball for a late shot as the half winds down, but the Heels come up with the ball with 6 seconds to go off the rebound. Drew drives the length of the floor and lays it in high off the glass — and draws the foul.

He hits the freebie, and UNC is only down a point, 28-27, at the break.

Big, big play. Perhaps the biggest of the season.


Duke is shooting just 22 percent — though the Devils are 6 of 12 from 21 feet-plus away. Carolina isn’t exactly shooting the lights out at 30 percent, and Thompson does have two fouls, but UNC couldn’t have asked for a better end to the half. They trail by only one, have the Hansbrough ceremony coming up, and should realize that they are capable of playing with the Devils.

As for the Blue Devils? Stay calm and within themselves. There were two long chances in the first half where Duke could’ve put a hurting on UNC — midway through the half and from the 3-minute-mark on. Either time, a couple of made put-backs, and Duke might’ve have a double-digit lead. North Carolina blocked eight shots in the first half — the Heels won’t do that again.

The Devils, though? They are more than capable of hitting another six 3s. Add a couple of layups off of turnovers, and that big run would be right there.

Look at the nuumbers: Duke has seven assists, UNC 1. Duke has 10 offensive rebounds, UNC 6. The Devils were better in the first half.

And if the Heels want to win, somebody better wake up Davis, who has two points. Duke may want to shake scoreless Nolan Smith from his slumber as well.

Second Half

20:00 OK, Roy, when the big run starts, call a timeout to settle them down.

17:54 I remember that guy.

Marcus Ginyard made a must-make 3 right after Singler hit one off an offensive rebound, and then hits a tough layup to give the Heels a 32-31 lead.

15:54 The Heels take a 3-point lead after yet another blocked shot, but Duke hangs in there with yet another offensive rebound and put-back. A whopping 14 offensive boards. 34-33, UNC.

15:23 Smith hits a pretty jumper. With that shot, Duke players not named Scheyer or Singler are now 3-for-20 from the floor. But Duke leads 35-34.

11:46 Coach K knows when to call timeout.

Some brilliant play by Drew in the last 3 minutes.

No, really.

A nifty pass on the break to Davis for a layup, a deep 3 for a two-point lead, and then Strickland lays it in after another pretty feed from the point guard. Heels with their biggest lead, 43-39.

10:18 And that’s how a timeout is supposed to work. Devils come out with a strong power move by Singler and then Smith finishes after a patient possession. Tied again at 43. Nice answer by Duke.

9:52 And the Heels? They come out of a timeout and throw it off of Davis’ foot.

Be wary of the Duke run here.

8:51 Looking at Davis’ ankle on the sideline. I mean, c’mon with the ankles.

8:22 The game’s becoming one of attrition at the foul line. Scheyer somehow missed two, and the Heels have missed three. Duke, 45-43.

7:50 Tied at 45, and for much of the second half, Duke has either been really patient in its offense, or it’s resting. I guess we’ll know in the last few minutes of the game which it was.

7:29 Another Davis miss from the line, the front end of a 1-and-1. UNC is 7-for-14 from the stripe. That’s how you lose games.

6:56 23 offensive rebounds. Insane. 47-45, Duke.

6:02 Another bomb for Graves. Right when the Heels absolutely had to have it. 49-48, Devils.

5:37 And Scheyer answers. 52-48, Duke.

4:34 And here’s the run. A leaner by Smith, and it’s a 54-48 Duke edge. 15-5 run.

Look out.

Kyle Singler and the Blue Devils are just better than Carolina. Simple as that.

3:33 A gorgeous play by Duke. Just gorgeous. The Devils run the shot clock down, go in deep with Brian Zoubek, who dishes to a slashing Singler for an easy layup.

Duke is just better.

2:32 Ballgame.

Scheyer with a dagger of a 3 at the end of the shot clock again. 59-50. It’s over.

1:34 So you foul 20 seconds after you give up a quick foul, only to foul freaking Scheyer?

That’s the most mind-numbing part of UNC hoops this year. It’s not smart basketball. Ever.

And it’s another Carolina Collapse.

Final 64-54

UNC led 43-39 with 11:46 to go. The Heels scored 11 points the rest of the way — and only seven in the critical stretch.

That’s a huge credit to Duke, which hung in there when it didn’t play its best and rode Singler and Scheyer like it always does. But while the Heels stayed in the game with blocked shots, Duke won it with offensive rebounds, a staggering number of them. Duke may have shot only 31 percent from the floor (Carolina only shot 32 percent), but the Devils made nine 3s and had 69 shot attemps. That may have ended as just eight more than UNC, but at one point, Duke had 17 more field goal attempts than Carolina..

Is UNC done? Well, yeah. The Heels were done before this game, whether they won it or not. And while it was certainly a better effort against their biggest rival, it still wasn’t enough, and the Heels only finished with a miniscule 54 points — a good half last year.

No, this is not last season’s title team, and it shouldn’t be compared to it. That’s not fair. The Heels will play out the string now as no threat, and maybe that will help the development of their young players down the road. That’s about all UNC fans can hope for now.

And you know what? That should be OK. Two national titles in five years is a pretty good stretch, don’t you think?

And Duke? When Scheyer, Singler and Smith are on, they have enough to beat anybody in the country on any given night. Are the Devils in the top tier with Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse? Maybe not, but after witnessing a win like this, they may grind their way to the Final Four.

Put it this way: it wouldn’t be surprising.

Are the Devils flawed? Sure, but they went into their biggest rival’s house against a desperate team, didn’t play their best and yet still found a way to win. That’s the sign of a good team.

Simple as that.

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