One team wasn't even on the radar screen a week ago. The other was left for dead. Needless to say, bracket-breakers Southwest Missouri State and Purdue -- seeded 12th and 10th respectively -- will be the people's choice at the Meadowlands this weekend. If it wasn't for coach Steve Alford -- a former star on Bob Knight's last Indiana championship team -- Southwest Missouri State would be completely anonymous. The same can't be said for the Boilermakers, who have a recognized coach in Gene Keady, and a tournament veteran and scorer named Brian Cardinal.
As if Duke needed any favors. The path Mike Krzyzewski's potent Blue Devils have left to get to St. Petersburg is easier than an open layup. We can only assume John Chaney has already received a thank you card from Duke in the mail. Thanks to Temple stunning Cincinnati on Sunday, the Blue Devils will not have to face the only team they've lost to all season. Instead, they should steam roll lovable Southwest Missouri State and have no trouble with Temple or Purdue on Sunday. How hot is Duke? How good is Duke? Look no further than its startling margin of victory (196-114) in Charlotte.
The dark horse
If there is anyone left in this region who can beat Duke, it's probably Temple. Coach John Chaney is a certified master at defense, and the Owls' vaunted trap might be able to slow down the offensive machine that is Duke. Of course, Temple will have to play way over its heads offensively to have any chance at an upset. Another thing the Owls have going for them is Pepe Sanchez, who can neutralize William Avery if he plays -- and shoots -- like he did in Boston.
The long shot
Alford's Southwest Missouri State team defines the meaning of long shot. Unfortunately, they have to deal with Duke, which has made its living on crushing those lovable underdogs.
Trajon Langdon is Duke's best shooter and probably its leader. If the Blue Devils get involved in a close game, Langdon will be counted on to take over. He showed no ill effects as he returned from a foot injury Sunday.
Duke sophomore Elton Brand is a 6-foot-8 monster inside. He blocks shots on defense, is overpowering on offense, and has no weaknesses to speak of. He's a lock to be a top three draft pick if he comes out.
Yes, Duke has more stars still. William Avery has emerged into one of the nation's best point guards as a sophomore.
Purdue's Brian Cardinal is a junior with a senior's mentality. He mixes finesse and grit like few players in the country. For a big man, he is deadly from 3-point range.
Temple's Pepe Sanchez is the purest form of a floor general. He is constantly creating for teammates, and never goes out of his way to look for his own shot. Sometimes, Chaney wishes he would shoot more. In Boston, Sanchez made daring defenses pay by burying big 3-pointers.
The closest thing Southest Missouri State has to a star is Danny Moore. The big man is a deadly weapon down low. He has good hands, and is a master at posting up. Unfortunately, he doesn't mix it up under the boards.
Duke's Mike Krzyzewski needs no introduction, other than the two championship rings on his fingers. He is a master of fundamentals and psychology.
Temple's John Chaney is the most quotable coach left in this, or any region. He also happens to be a tremendous teacher and leader. It's impossible to play for Chaney and not have character.
| Brian Cardinal's hustle (right) is a major part of Purdue's success in the NCAA Tournament. (AP)|
Gene Keady from Purdue is also top-flight. He doesn't get the same recognition as a Coach K or Chaney, mainly because he's been lost in the overwhelming Big 10 -- and the Indiana shadow of Bob Knight. Keady says this is nothing a Final Four berth wouldn't change.
In many people's eyes, Steve Alford was last seen burying 3-pointers for Indiana in the 1987 National Championship win against Syracuse. But this year, Alford has proven he can coach too. At the same time, he has put Southwest Missouri State on the map. He isn't a typical young coach with all sorts of innovative concepts. Instead, he preaches old-school things like defense and taking care of the ball. Rumors are swirling that Alford will succeed Tom Davis at Iowa next season.
Of teams and temperatures: Duke is scalding; Purdue is toasty; Temple is warm; Southwest Missouri State is warm and fuzzy. It's hard to label the 29-game winning streak Duke is on as a hot streak. Ever since losing to Cincinnati in November, the Blue Devils have been on the type of crusade that might have them mentioned as one of the best teams of all-time before all is said and done. The Boilermakers were frigid before the tournament started, but the notion of having their season at stake has obviously brought out the best in them. Chaney's teams have never been marked as much by hot and cold as by consistency. This season -- and this tournament -- is no exception.
NoteworthyTemple would be wise to bring their A-game to the first half against Purdue. The Boilermakers are 16-2 when they lead at halftime.
Pepe Sanchez, Temple's point guard, can taste a little history if his team can last a little longer. He's nine steals from Mark Macon's school record of 281.
To show you how focused Krzyzewski is on winning his first national title since 1992, he was actually upset at one of his players for not divin for a loose ball in the 97-56 spanking of Tulsa Sunday.
The Final FourWithout breaking a sweat, Duke will be on its way to the hot sun of St. Petersburg. They'll put on a clinic against Southwest Missouri State, and post a comfortable 10 or 15-point victory against Temple or Purdue. Keep in mind that there is a good chance the Blue Devils will meet up with Kentucky in the national semifinal. The last two times the perennial powers have met in the Tournament, they've staged classics. And Duke would have revenge on their mind this time after blowing a double-digit lead in crunch time to the eventual national champs in last year's South regional final. Incidentally, that collapse was at -- you guessed it -- St. Petersburg.
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