One hell of an opening night, at least for yours truly, an admitted Duke basketball fan since way back in the mid-eighties. Last night was a heart attack, but not unexpected in many ways, given the circumstances. Allow me to explain. And by "allow" I am clearly talking to the Blogger administrator who has given me access privileges to write to this site and not to you (and you know I know who you are) who is powerless to stop me.Belmont played a great game, but there were certain elements that also lent it to be a close contest. I noticed early on that the referees were 'letting them play' -- while hand fouls were generally called, you had to tackle someone to get a 'body foul'. Belmont was playing some tough man-to-man, so the lack of body fouls means you can get away with a lot of hand-checks. What this does against a shooting or "finesse" team is throw off their timing and rhythm and make getting open 3's even harder. I made it analogous to the Indianapolis Colt's receivers going to New England and being unable to get open -- the ref's were letting the defense maul them. In this game, the ref's weren't favoring Belmont per se, but 'letting them play' made for a more playground-type game. Towards the end, you could see that both teams were just chucking it up from wherever they could because both teams' defenses were being allowed to smother. Unfortunately, this desperation atmosphere ultimately led to Belmont's undoing. As soon as they got the lead late, they began to tighten up, taking quick, ill-advised and low-percentage shots from downtown when they should have slowed it down and used the clock and forced Duke to foul. They had some great free-throw shooters on that team that could have sealed the game (I think the one guard was a 91% shooter), but their inexperience showed up late, and Duke remained calm and got the job done. Luck has a lot to do with anything, but I was fairly confident going into the last two minutes, even down. And as Bobby Knight said, Belmont was there the last three years and would have played anyone tough.
And I still nearly had a heart attack. I love this time of year. Next Thursday and Friday are my two favorite nights to watch basketball.
PS: I would be remiss if I didn't relay a comment I made about Penn State's chances of getting in the tournament this year (they were 15-16). As I am prone to saying this time of year is 'my Christmas', I said if they got in, it would be as ridiculous as the virgin birth. Birth, get it? I am funny, and I must declare as such.