Thursday, March 26, 2009

Villanova/Duke Preview, NCAA Sweet 16 - Quotes from Dave Bradley of on Gerald Henderson and the Crowd in Boston

(The Original Duke Blue Devil - from the Duke University Library's web site - University Archives, in the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library)

To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-

Before moving to the preview -

The image above is a rendition of the original Blue Devil... Click on this link to read the entire story of the origins of the Blue Devils nickname...

The entire Villanova blogosphere has been generating some great content throughout the week, so take a look at the blogs on the right to read Various Viewpoints on this Sweet 16...
Also, I've been writing a lot of Villanova/Duke-related posts all week, so please take a look at the link collection on the right sidebar under Villanova Viewpoint Archive...

In addition, I'd particularly like to thank Dave Bradley of, who graciously agreed to comment on the upcoming game amidst travel from Durham, NC to Boston, Massachusetts, along with a very busy practice and media schedule, as he is the Blue Devils' recruiting and communications coordinator. I had asked him to comment on Gerald Henderson, and on what the fan support at the venue in Boston would be like, in terms of support for Duke or Villanova - here are his answers:

Regarding the crowd...

"Everywhere I have traveled with the team for neutral site games like this one, we have had a supportive section of Duke fans. I think the consistent success under Coach K has made Duke Basketball a national brand so in addition to our alumni base we have a number of supporters whose connection to our university is their passion for our program and our head coach. They have those fan polls every year and Duke is always among the most popular teams in the nation and the least liked in the nation. So, you know a number of those Pitt and Xavier fans who stick around may not root for us. Overall, though, I wouldn't anticipate the crowd having a major impact on this.

Regarding G...

"G has really evolved as a player over the course of this season. It has been exciting watching his growth and transformation into a versatile player who really leaves his mark on all aspects of the game. He certainly can score the ball but he has also embraced a leadership role and is doing the little things that make you a complete player. He has pulled down some big rebounds for us, he is a very solid defender, he has had some big-time blocks and steals for us, and he leads the team in charges drawn. If you listen closely during our games and practicing, you hear his voice all the time encouraging teammates, directing traffic, etc. You can tell he is really comfortable in who he is becoming."
WPVI, the ABC affiliate in Philadelphia, reported on Wednesday night, that although the two teams haven't played since 2000, there are many connections between individual players from high school days (according to Scottie Reynolds, even since elementary school). There was also the fact that Villanova had recruited both Gerald Henderson and Brian Zoubek, both local products. Henderson is from Lower Merion, right down the road, and Zoubek is from Haddonfield, New Jersey, right over the Delaware River from Philadelphia.

Wright told WPVI that "it was like a punch in the gut" when they opted to go to Duke, and compared it to "losing a close game at the buzzer". They closed the feature by noting that "Villanova will be trying to beat Duke for the first time in 51 years".

Coach K has an extraordinarily deep bench, with nine players averaging at least 11.8 minutes/game, and eleven players averaging at least 6.4 minutes/game. No Blue Devil averages more than Jon Scheyer's 32.7 minutes, and only Scheyer and Kyle Singler average more than 30 minutes a game.

This depth is one reason why Duke can wear teams down, and it may pose a problem for Villanova. The Wildcats really can't go below eight players in the rotation.
Gerald Henderson, Singler, and Scheyer drive the Duke offense, averaging 16.8, 16.5, and 14.9 points/game respectively. Nolan Smith is fourth at 8.5 points, with four other Blue Devils clustered between 4.2 and 5.4.

One set of numbers leaps out immediately upon scanning the statistics: the wide extremes of foul shooting. Scheyer, Smith, Brian Zoubek, and Henderson are all over 75%, and the first three are all 82.8% or better. Kyle Singler is at 72%, Greg Paulus 69.2%. Lance Thomas (56%) is not good at it - and Elliott Williams and David McClure are at 46.5% and 45.5% respectively. Granted, the worst shooters are at the bottom of the rotation, anyhow, and Coach K probably has them off the floor in key free throw situations, but that's a weakness for Duke.

Duke has many weapons outside the three-point line, as Henderson, Singler, Scheyer and Paulus have all taken over 100 attempts this season, with accuracy ranging from 33.3% (Paulus) to 39.5% (Scheyer). If necessary, they will try to get the ball into the paint to Thomas (62.8% from the floor) and Zoubek (56.7% from the floor).

One X-factor, ironically, won't be taking the court. That is, Taylor King, who transferred from Duke to Villanova in April 2008. Although common in pro sports, having players who once played for your opponents in college sports is highly unusual, let alone having a player on your team, who once played for your opponent, as you now face them in the NCAA tournament.

As a freshman, King saw a reasonable amount of playing time for Duke in 2007-08, although he was not a key member of the rotation. He averaged 9.7 minutes, 5.5 points, and 2.0 rebounds per contest. His primary role was as one of many Duke sharpshooters, as he ranked fourth on the team in three-point attempts (he made 37.7% of them). King did have some games of distinction, as he was Duke's leading scorer in four particular games, which would be atypical of a player averaging less than 10 minutes a game. (King is forced to sit out his transfer year this year, although he is permitted to practice with the team.)

Coach and Context

The accomplishments of Duke and Coach K are unparalleled since the era of UCLA and John Wooden.
Including pre-Coach K appearances, Duke:
  • is making its 33rd NCAA appearance this season.
  • is making its 24th Sweet 16 appearance this season.
  • has won three national championships.
  • has appeared in the Final Four 14 times.
  • has appeared in the national championship game nine times.
By the rarefied standards of Duke and Coach K, the past few years have actually been somewhat of a drought (although that certainly wouldn't be true, anywhere else). Duke has not been to the Final Four since 2004, and didn't reach the Sweet 16 in either 2007 or 2008, as the last two tournaments in particular did not go well.


In 2007, Duke was an unaccustomed and relatively low seed, a #6, and fell to #11 Virginia Commonwealth, 79-77, in the first round in Buffalo. It was the lowest seed Duke had received in over a decade, since being a #8 seed in 1996. In fact, they had been a #1 or a #2 every year since 1996, until 2007. It also marked Duke's first opening-round loss since that year, 1996, when they had lost to #9 Eastern Michigan. Also, it was the first time since 1997 that the Blue Devils hadn't reached the Sweet 16.


In 2008, the Blue Devils were a #2 seed, but needed a near-miracle to escape an upset by #15 seed Belmont in the first round in Washington, DC (take a look at the ending currently airing in the March Madness section on Comcast on Demand, if you have it), winning just 71-70. #7 West Virginia ended the Blue Devils' season, 73-67, in the second round.

Overall Path to the Sweet 16

The Blue Devils have been in the top 10, steadily, all year. They currently sport a 30-6 record overall; they went 11-5 in the ACC, good enough for second place. They did not lose at all, until being upset @ Michigan on December 6 - and Duke then won ten consecutive games, culminating in a 85-44 demolition of Maryland at Cameron on January 24. They were 18-1 overall and 5-0 ACC.

The Blue Devils then stumbled through the next month or so, losing four of the next six. They traveled to then-#6 Wake Forest and lost by two. After crushing Virginia, they went to then-#10 Clemson and were demolished themselves, 74-47 (their worst loss to the Tigers since 1975).

They returned to Cameron and narrowly held off Miami by three. The Blue Devils then lost consecutive games for the first time, falling to archrival (then-#3) North Carolina at Cameron, 101-87. After yielding over 100 points to hated Carolina, they were then upset in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, by Boston College.

Duke then righted the ship, winning five in a row, including victories over Wake Forest and Florida State at Cameron, both ranked opponents. Their hope of avenging the Cameron defeat in Chapel Hill did not materialize, as the Tar Heels won the rematch at the DeanDome by eight.

The Blue Devils, seeded #2 in the ACC tournament in Atlanta, got past BC by one point, Maryland by half a dozen points, and Florida State by ten, to take the tournament championship.

They were subsequently awarded a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Perhaps due to the arduous ending of the first-round game last year against #15 Belmont, the 2009 Blue Devils easily dispatched #15 Binghamton, 86-62, in the first round. Facing Texas in the second round last Saturday, the Blue Devils were able to grind out an unspectacular 74-69 victory to get back to the Sweet 16 (again).

It was a typically glittering season for Duke. Aside from the rugged ACC slate, the Blue Devils notched imposing nonconference wins @ #9 Purdue (by 16), @ Xavier (by 18), and at Cameron against Georgetown (by nine). All six losses were to NCAA qualifiers.

The good news for Villanova is the fact that despite the fantastic record, high RPI and ACC tournament championship, these Blue Devils are not invincible. Duke lost at BC once and nearly a second time in the ACC tournament on a neutral court in Atlanta, as well as that 27-point loss at Clemson.

I'll have a full recap after the game...

You can also take a look at the Various Viewpoints on the right sidebar, for their takes...

Go Wildcats!

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