Preseason Tourney Wrapup I : Josh McRoberts, The Gift That Keeps On Sucking

We’ll admit when we’re wrong. When we said teal was the new black? Wrong. When we said subprime mortgages were the salve to lingering 9/11 economic wounds? Wrong. When we said “Crash” was a simplistic piece of dreck that no more deserved an Oscar than did “Kangaroo Jack”? We were definitely right about that. But we may be wrong about Duke. Watching Duke roll through Lahaina last week, capping off the Maui Invitational with a win over a pretty good Marquette team, we’re ready to believe.  

To be fair to ourselves, who could blame us for doubting? This is basically the same team that slogged through a tremendously uninspiring season jellyfish.jpglast year, with freshman Kyle Singler essentially replacing the supposed go-to player on last year’s squad, Josh McRoberts. Except it’s not the same team. They run and they play with a little fire, qualities seldom seen with Duke version 06-07. As for Singler replacing McRoberts, one wonders if McRoberts was much closer to Shavlik Randolph than even the most trenchant of Duke haters realized.  Singler has certainly made it look that way, at least so far. He is a rangy big man who has tools that McRoberts lacked, like handles, a confident jumper, desire, a neck, and Homo Erectus-like posture.  

Honestly, the problem with last year’s team seems to be that Coach K hitched his wagon to the wrong horse, or horses. Even though DeMarcus ronald_basketball.jpgNelson led the team in scoring last year, it was more by default than by design. Everything ran through McRoberts and Greg Paulus, two McDonald’s All-Americans who may one day actually work for McDonald’s. The truth is Paulus can be a decent distributor and can knock down the occasional three, but franky we’ve been wondering since J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams’ senior year why Nelson, the team’s most athletic player, didn’t get more touches.  

Let’s give Coach K credit for realizing the error of his ways. Hell, it was easy to miss given his busy schedule of commercials and late night “I Never” sessions in Las Vegas with new BFF Kobe Bryant. For this team to excel, it’s suddenly clear that it will need to revolve around Nelson and Singler. The lack of bigs down low could still prove to hurt them, but with McRoberts and his black cloud of suckitude exorcised things could get interesting in Durham again.  

What else we noticed in Maui :

  • The Blue Devils put forth good effort on defense even if Paulus is sometimes a pylon, but Jesus, enough of the flopping. The NBA has started cracking down on this and it’s about time the NCAA did as well. As hockey fans we’ve always been in favor of the diving call, which is nice in theory until you realize you can watch NHL games for two straight weeks without ever seeing it called. james.jpg
  • With the emergence of Lazar Hayward and Ousmanne Barro, we actually like Marquette’s chances a little better than before Maui. Dominic James, however, has the look of a guy playing for the scouts rather than his team. Keep that out-of-control crap up and he’ll be playing for Turkish League scouts.
  • Illinois will be a tough, hard-nosed team. Again.
  • Despite getting blown out of the gates by Illinois early, ASU actually looks pretty active and athletic defensively. Which begs the question as to why they play that crazy ass zone.
  • Given the ethnic makeup of a typical Duke roster, the players’ insistence on shaving their heads does little to endear them to the legion of fans who would like to kick their ass.

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