Cornell and Duke: Make Jacksonville Proud
It was only four years ago the two teams – Florida and Louisiana State – that advanced out of the NCAA Tournament’s second round out of Jacksonville, Florida, made it all the way to the Final Four. In 2006, LSU lost to UCLA in the Final Four, 59-45, and Florida defeated the Bruins in the title game – the first of back-to-back national championships.
Since 2000, only Jacksonville and Philadelphia can lay claim to having two squads that reach the Final Four in the same year. In 2009, Philadelphia had both Villanova and Connecticut make it – however, losses to North Carolina, the eventual champion, and Michigan State, respectively, ended their runs. Could Jacksonville in 2010 be the third city in five years?
On Sunday, I watched in awe as No. 12 Cornell and No. 1 Duke marched into this year’s Sweet Sixteen. The Big Red proved the poor seeding was a fluke and upended No. 5 Temple and No. 4 Wisconsin. The Blue Devils, under the watchful eye of head coach Mike Krzyzewski, destroyed No. 16 Arkansas Pine-Bluff and ripped No. 8 California to shreds.
For the most part, Cornell and Duke have little in common. Coach K, as he is so lovingly called, has led the Blue Devils to three NCAA championships and 19 round of 16 appearances. The Big Red’s Steve Donahue, in his ten years in Ithaca, New York, has three consecutive NCAA Tournament berths – all coming from automatic bids because of Ivy League titles. When the name Coach K is uttered, one thinks of winning, Cameron Crazies and more winning to the point of illness. If I say, “Steve Donahue,” you’re most likely going to picture an episode of the long-running The Phil Donahue Show. Don’t lie to yourself.
Superficially, Cornell fans don red and then some. Duke is blue – blue sweaters, blue scarves and occasionally a blue Speedo. Note: The diehard Blue Devil “Speedo Guy” just smiled.
In pregame shoot-arounds, the Big Red’s squad looked hungry for victories. You could tell they wanted priceless stories for their future children and grandchildren. They were relaxed and jovial – serious, but ready. The Blue Devils reminded me of robots that were trained to eat, drink and sleep basketball. Their pregame dribbling was flawless and formulaic. It was as if Coach K had personally placed the computer chips in the back of each one’s brain. Game time meant winning, and victories are all that matter in Durham, North Carolina.
In the locker room after Sunday’s win, Cornell looked like a group of teenagers who just received their driver’s licenses. Staring at and listening intently to the locker room television, the reserves took mental notes as their teammates conducted a post-game press conference. For Duke, the players gave the vibe of “we won, but we can win some more.” Forward Kyle Singler, the Blue Devils’ second highest scorer and leading rebounder, passed me in the hall Sunday with a look of sheer determination. Duke’s first and second round games were wins – and more of those should be around the corner.
The Big Red, a team that set the Ivy League record with 29 wins this season, is led by seniors – forward Ryan Wittman, center Jeff Foote and point guard Louis Dale. All three average at least 12 points and three rebounds per game. After Sunday’s win over the Wisconsin Badgers, 87-69, when asked about the key to Cornell’s offensive execution, Dale replied, “I just think we have so many unselfish guys on this team. Nobody really cares how it gets done, and we come out to make plays.”
As a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Duke is 39-8. With one of the top scoring trios in the nation – Singler and guards Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith, the Blue Devils have any number of options for who will drill shots. Duke, carrying the momentum from a five-loss regular season and an ACC Tournament title, is one of the more dangerous units left in the Big Dance. Asked about the possibly of Duke overlooking Cal and the dangers involved, Coach K responded, “Our team hasn’t overlooked anybody all year because we’re not a great team. We’ve got to really prepare for every game, and every team in the NCAA Tournament prepares that way.” Without fail, the coaching legend was humble about his Blue Devils.
As the Final Four nears, Cornell has a chance to make school history. Duke approaches a potential fourth championship banner. Both teams are not only focused, but have the selflessness, talent and team unity to stomp through March. Memories are made when all this madness ensues. Big Red senior guard Louis Dale said it best, “…we want to take this ride as long as we can because after this it’s just nothing but babies and memories, so we’ll just keep going.”
Richard Miller is a national broadcaster for Jacksonville Jaguars’ home games on Sporting News Radio.
Additionally, he can be heard on ABC 1320 WBOB in Jacksonville at 5:45 p.m. on Wednesdays with The Jacksonville Observer Radio Show. Richard also contributes to Inside the Game every Saturday from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on WBOB.
Currently, Richard is writing David Lamm’s biography entitled Lamm at Large: The David Lamm Story, which will be available in 2010.
Follow Richard’s daily blog on The Jacksonville Observer and e-mail him at Richard.Miller@jaxobserver.com.