Orange is the new black (gold, red and white)
Posted February 23
Boy, I could get used to that. Just two games into this new Atlantic Coast Conference relationship, it appears that there is a future.
If it wasn't evident prior to Saturday night, in a warm, raucous Cameron Indoor stadium, it should be pretty clear that this Duke vs. Syracuse thing has staying power. Exactly three weeks prior, some 650 miles to the north at the Carrier Dome in front of an on-campus record crowd of 35,446, these two titans threw bolo punches at one another in, arguably, the best college basketball game of the year. On that night, on the eve of Super Bowl Sunday, the Blue Devils and Orange lit the scoreboard on fire -- certainly in relation to most games this year -- in a 91-89 overtime thriller that left much of college basketball fans scanning the schedule for the next meeting.
That came Saturday night, in front of a crowd one quarter the size but every bit as loud. It wasn't the same game, it was a lot more confined, but Duke managed to eke out a 66-60 win that was sorely needed after Thursday night's, searching for "it" loss to North Carolina. And, as this one was playing out, I just couldn't help but think that this was going to be a great replacement for the series exiting stage north.
I've written about this before, but for about four years there wasn't a better series of games than those played between Duke and Maryland. Mike Krzyzewski and Gary Williams went toe-to-toe as Maryland's greatest era coincided with one of the best stretches of Blue Devils basketball in the three and a half decades under Coach K. Those games were so memorable, with epic comebacks and classic player battles, that when the league expanded beyond the ability to play a true round robin schedule (pause for the old guard to lament the good ol' days), somehow Duke vs Maryland became one of the permanent partners.
Now, there can be no doubt that we have found a suitable replacement. In fact, I'd argue easily that we've found an obvious upgrade, a coach-to-first-class improvement. These are two of the best college basketball programs in the last 35 years. These are two of the best coaches in the history of the game. And, if they're going to deliver classic battles the likes of which we've already seen in year one, then sign me up to chronicle each and every one of these. Now all the league has to do it figure out how to make it happen.
To Krzyzewski, the when you play is every bit as important as the who. "If you're going to use your assets, it's important not to deplete those assets. I'm not afraid to play them (twice), but we have to have a plan. The Big East did a better job with that, better than us." Boehiem noted that his team's next opponent, Maryland, had this weekend off and will host the Orange Monday night, even muttering under his breath that it would have never happened that way in the Big East. There is something a little imbalanced about the fact that Syracuse will have played twice since the Terrapins' last game, Tuesday's 11-point home win over Wake Forest. Krzyzewski noted that as well and also lamented the number of 9:00 pm games that aren't good for players. "We have a goldmine for college basketball," Krzyzewski said of the additions of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and eventually Louisville. "This conference has struck gold, we just need to figure it out."
Figuring it out would give us a far greater chance to take advantage of those "assets". Think about it, we're just two games into this series and we've already had a desperation, game-tying three-pointer to force an overtime that was decided on the last possession. A classic battle of inside vs. outside that saw a Duke team saddled with foul trouble bomb their way from 3-point range into contention. Act II was the opposite, more of a defensive struggle, in which every possession seemed a fist fight unto itself. One Syracuse seemed to have under their control early until the Devils adjusted their approach in attacking Boeheim's vaunted 2-3 zone.
The adjustment was to get the ball to swing man Rodney Hood at the foul line and let the Mississippi sophomore create from there. Hood didn't even equal his scoring average, but his 13 points were the reason Duke was able to survive in the end. And, at least in the first year of this series, Hood figured in two of the game's biggest plays.
Three weeks ago, with 15 seconds left in overtime, Hood was flying in for a dunk that would have given Duke an 89-88 lead only to have the attempt blocked by Syracuse forward Rakeem Christmas. It appeared that Hood may have been fouled on the play, but none was called and the Orange ultimately won the game. Saturday night, with the Blue Devils nursing a two point lead and 10 seconds left on the clock, Hood drew a controversial charge from Syracuse star C.J. Fair, negating the tying basket and cementing the first-year transfer in the annals of whatever this series becomes. "The dunk that was maybe a foul up there and the charge…he was in the play both times," Krzyzewski said of Hood's role in the most critical moments of each game. "One turned out great for us and one didn't, and Hood's the guy. It was a signature game for him."
As for Mt. Boeheim, who erupted following the controversial call, it only took him one year to replace his friend, Gary Williams, who has also been tossed from a game at Cameron, just as his program will ultimately replace Maryland as the "other" grand series in the ACC. Boeheim's reaction to the call was, well, let's just call it athletic. "I wanted to see if I still had it in me," Boeheim joked after the game. "I got out there pretty good, I was quick, I stayed down, and I didn't get injured." Unfortunately, the technical fouls, and the subsequent free throws eliminated whatever chance Syracuse had of winning the game, but it did give us a moment to savor. "I think the fans will remember Jim Boeheim down here after that," Boeheim smirked.
Rivalries are built on memorable moments as well as great games. So far, these programs are two for two in that department.