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Late-season Priority: Maintain Momentum

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

February 24, 2003 DURHAM — Beyond the obvious, that any team would prefer to have momentum (over a lack of it) entering the ACC Tournament, Duke hasn't had a year in which it will need March momentum as badly as this year. The Blue Devils are good, but they're two shades off the nearly unbeatable bunches that won each of the last four ACC tournaments. With a lineup of streaky outside shooters and up-and-down freshmen, Duke will need every weapon available, including the wind at its back.

Although Duke has played its best basketball of the season in recent weeks — beating Virginia, Maryland and N.C. State in one eight-day stretch — the schedule suggests that maintaining the momentum won't be an easy thing to do. Three of the Blue Devils' final four regular-season games are on the road, where they are 2-4 on the year, although their one remaining home game looks like a gimme.

That would be a March 6 date with Florida State. While the Seminoles did defeat Duke earlier this season in Tallahassee, FSU is a completely different team on the road — just as Duke as a completely different team at home. So chalk that one up as a Duke victory.

But what about the other three? No easy wins there, although Duke clearly has the game to win all three. Georgia Tech's invulnerability at home finally was punctured by Wake Forest, which became the first team to beat the Yellow Jackets at Memorial Coliseum this season. Duke could become the second on Feb. 26, but first the Blue Devils will have to continue getting past their own vulnerability on the road. They already have taken their first step — in a loss.

The Blue Devils' 94-80 double-overtime loss Feb. 13 at Wake Forest invigorated coach Mike Krzyzewski, because his team got punched in the nose and didn't back down. The Blue Devils hung with the Deacons for 47 minutes before running out of gas.

“You knew it would be a great win (for one of us) and a tough loss for somebody else,” Krzyzewski said. “So, it was a great win for Wake, and a tough loss for us.”

Tough but encouraging. When the Devils used that performance two nights later to jump on Virginia early and stay on the Cavaliers throughout a 78-59 win at Charlottesville, it was easily their best road victory of the season.

Winning at Georgia Tech would be every bit as impressive, and winning a few days later at St. John's wouldn't be anything to sneeze at. The Madison Square Garden crowd can be brutal, but that can work both ways. If Duke jumps on the Red Storm early, as it did to Virginia, watch the home crowd turn on St. John's coach Mike Jarvis.

The road win that would mean the most to Duke is the North Carolina trip, and the Blue Devils will close their regular season with a March 9 visit to the Smith Center. Like almost everyone in college basketball, North Carolina is much better at home, and by then the Tar Heels might even have back freshman center Sean May.

None of those road games will be easy, but if the Blue Devils can sneak two wins in three games and combine that with a thorough victory at home against Florida State, they would enter the ACC Tournament with the kind of good feeling that could translate into another championship.

Duhon Conspiracy Theories Off

The Sports Journal loves a conspiracy — sometimes even a conspiracy theory — as much as the next publication, and probably more, but we don't think we saw a conspiracy in Duke's recent addition of two captains.

The official version was that senior Dahntay Jones and fourth-year junior Nick Horvath were promoted to tri-captains with junior point guard Chris Duhon, who had been Duke's only captain. Jones has been the Blue Devils' best player this season, and Horvath may be more in tune with what the coaching staff wants than anyone on the team.

The unauthorized version making the rounds on the internet, and in the Charlotte Observer, was not a promotion for Jones and Horvath — but rather a demotion for Duhon, whose captaincy was diluted by two-thirds.

On one level, it sounded good. Duhon hasn't played his best and even had been benched twice — early in the second half against Florida State, and at the start of the North Carolina game. Maybe, according to this version, Krzyzewski was trying to send a message not only to Duhon but to the rest of the team: Duhon's lead was not to be followed if Duhon wasn't going to be playing his best.

But other facts suggested that the whole thing was nothing more than a nearly routine move by Krzyzewski. In each of the past two seasons, he has promoted captains during the season, adding J.D. Simpson to Shane Battier and Nate James in 2000-01 and adding Carlos Boozer to Jason Williams and Mike Dunleavy in 2001-02.

Clearly irritated by the negative suggestion that Duhon was being punished, Duke recently added a permanent section to its game-by-game notes, in which it mentions the midseason ascensions of Simpson and Boozer.

Franks' Move Mainly Cosmetic?

For the second consecutive offseason, Duke football coach Carl Franks has significantly upgraded his coaching staff. Following last month's hiring of former East Carolina special teams coach Don Yanowsky, Franks recently promoted passing game coordinator Jim Pry to offensive coordinator.

That's the positive spin. The negative spin is as follows: If you're looking for one reason — there are many — that Carl Franks was in over his head when he went from a Florida position coach to Duke head coach, look no farther than this: It took him four years to figure out he needed an offensive coordinator, and when he hired one it wasn't anyone who knocked your socks off.

It may have even taken Franks four years and a push from Duke athletic director Joe Alleva. Sources close to the program said Alleva “advised” Franks to diversify his coaching interests — i.e., hire a coordinator to run the offense. It reportedly wasn't a make-or-break proposition, but Franks knew he was in no position to argue. With a 5-40 lifetime record and an anemic offense, he followed the advice of the man who signs his paychecks.

Franks spun it a different way when he announced the promotion of Pry, saying it was a direction he had been wanting to go “for a long time,” as if forces greater than himself had prevented it until now. Whatever.

“I've wanted to name an offensive coordinator for a long time, and I feel comfortable with Coach Pry's knowledge and expertise of our offensive schemes.” Franks said, adding that Pry will “continue to have a major role with (offensive) decisions.”

In other words, Franks probably will remain the leader of the offense, much as N.C. State coach Chuck Amato was the Wolfpack's de facto defensive coordinator last year. Still, naming someone — anyone? — the Blue Devils' offensive coordinator was a step in the right direction, even if it has come a year or two (or three or four) late.