SPECIAL VIEWPOINT TO BLOWING ROCK NEWS. By David Coulson. March 23, 2019. COLUMBIA, SC — It wasn’t surprising when No. 1 overall seed Duke pulled away in the second half for an easy, 85-62 victory over the undermanned North Dakota State Bison at the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships, Round 1 at Colonial Life Arena.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Any and all opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of Blowing Rock News, its employess, and management. From time to time we include the reasoned opinions of guest columnists to provide thought-provoking commentary for the benefit of our readers.
COVER IMAGE: Duke sophomore guard Jordan Goldwire passes to another open man on the perimeter. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Leading up to the game, the Blue Devils were near-prohibitive, 27-point favorites against the 16th-seeded and road-weary Bison, who needed a victory over North Carolina Central on Wednesday night in the NCAA’s First Four just to advance to the main draw.
Freshman forward Zion Williamson lived up to his advanced billing with a series of spectacular, highlight-reel plays to spark Duke’s big run at the start of the second half. He finished with 25 points on 12-of-16 shooting, while RJ Barrett played a fine second-fiddle role with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
But despite the histrionics of this impressive freshman duo, the Blue Devils turned in a lackluster first half. NDSU led by as many as seven points five minutes into the game behind the play of guard Vinnie Shahid (team-high 20 points). Duke rallied, but held only a 31-27 advantage at halftime over a hard-working, but athletically-challenged opponent in the Bison — that illustrated the troubles of the modern college game.
You see, no matter how many future lottery picks may inhabit your roster, there isn’t much that even a maestro of a coach the caliber of Mike Krzyzewski can do about immaturity and poor basketball IQ. That is what happens when you buy into the one-and-done mentality that has infected some of the most prestigious basketball programs in the country.
Williamson and Barrett, along with fellow freshmen starters Cam Reddish and Tre Jones might be able to find their way around Cameron Indoor Stadium, but how often do you think they have visited the Duke campus library, or the inside of many classrooms?
Let’s be honest, to call many of these youngsters student-athletes is the height of hypocrisy. In reality, the athletes in this equation are taking advantage of a college basketball system that permits them to prospectively gain fame while waiting a year to become NBA-eligible once they turn 19 years old.
From the outset, most of these one-and-doners start their college careers without any intention of earning a college degree — and a university of Duke’s pre-eminent academic stature should be embarrassed by their participation in what amounts to a charade.
As a college professor the previous four years at Appalachian State, this columnist watched his true student athletes thrive in the classroom. Some of my best students were also football players, volleyball standouts, golfers, cheerleaders and yes, even basketball stars.
You can’t help but wonder if the Duke freshman class is getting the true college experience, which includes learning how to think for themselves and being exposed and challenged by educational and life-ideas that develop more well-rounded adults.
At other institutions that frequently inhabit the Associated Press Top-25, the issue has been academic fraud (another top-seed, North Carolina, immediately comes to mind), where faux classes have been designed to keep players eligible, while neglecting the learning process.
And neither the one-and-done, or fake class issues touch on the current shoe-company scandal that the FBI continues to investigate, with lecherous companies guiding top talent to blue-blooded schools.
Ironically, North Dakota State coach David Richman, who did a terrific job in guiding his Bison squad to some unprecedented success this season pointed out some different priorities with his program after the game.
“These guys keep showing up,” said Richman. “They’ve done tremendous work in the classroom. They’ve done tremendous work in the community. I’m just extremely proud of these guys.”
For all of the Blue Devils’ talent, this was the first-ever game on the NCAA tournament stage for the four freshmen. Eventually, a slow start like Friday’s against a more competitive and experienced opponent will likely spell doom for the Blue Devils.
A rather calm Krzyzewski took the podium for the postgame press conference, extolling the virtues of Duke’s play in the second half.
“I thought we started out just taking jump shots and not working the ball,” Krzyzewski said, acknowledging his team’s early shortcomings. “Once you get behind, there’s a confidence level of the other team and the pressure of the game (to contend with). I thought our defense then picked up for the rest of the game after about 10 minutes. In the second half, we played just beautiful basketball for those (first) 12 minutes.”
But as the competition increases in the crucible of the tournament, slow starts can prove costly and 12 minutes of terrific play probably won’t be enough for this youthful contingent to survive.
Whether or not the Blue Devils can grow quickly enough to avoid the poor decision-making and selfish play on display in Friday’s first half will determine how far this brilliant, but selfish and immature squad will go –and whether they can deliver Duke another national championship.
Central Florida vs. Virginia Commonwealth
The next obstacle for Duke on Sunday at 5:15 p.m. will look familiar to Krzyzewski and Blue Devil supporters as the UCF Knights and their head coach Johnny Dawkins will take on his mentor, Krzyzewski.
Dawkins, a former Duke basketball star and a member of Krzyzewski’s staff for a decade, directed his Knights to their first NCAA tourney win in Friday’s nightcap with their surprisingly easy, 73-58 victory over VCU.
Dawkins’s son, senior guard Aubrey Dawkins, was one of the leaders on the court with 14 points and three assists as UCF used its 10-0 run over the final 3:11 of the first half and hit the Rams with a 9-0 haymaker over the first 4:37 after the break to soar to a 43-24 lead.
Virginia Commonwealth went over eight minutes without scoring at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second.
VCU, the one-time destiny darlings of NCAA post-season play under former coach Shaka Smart, wasn’t the same high-tempo, constant-pressure gang that made it to the Final Four in 2011 — and the only team in NCAA history to play in both the First Four and the Final Four.
The Rams did force 15 Knight turnovers and cut UCF’s lead to seven points on De’Ariante Jenkins’ trey with 4:53 remaining before UCF stemmed the tide and VCU seemed to run out of gas.
B.J. Taylor paced the balanced Knights with 15 points, but the talk of fans and media members alike was 7-foot-6 UCF senior center Tacko Fall from Senegal. Fall is still a work in progress, but he clogged up the middle with 13 points, 18 rebounds and five blocked shots, getting several of those caroms and swat-aways without even leaving his feet.
Fall possesses enormous hands, long arms and hauls his 315-pound frame up and down the floor surprisingly well. His matchup with the athletic prowess of Williamson in Round Two of this tournament is sure to be intriguing.
“We want to keep going as long as we can,” said the well-spoken African. “We had the size advantage (over VCU). We took advantage of it.”
Coach Dawkins isn’t as enamored of facing Duke as his team is.
“I know it’s going to be a challenge. They’ve obviously got some really good players. Coach K and I are friends and we would rather not have to play against each other.”