Boom Times for Court Stormers/ Gonzaga Creeps Up

Mike Krzyzewski has had enough.

Normally imperturbable Coach K lashed out at the security threat posed by court stormers after Duke’s loss last night at Virginia. He’s concerned that players might be injured by the onrushings which have become fashionable this year when the home team registers a big upset.

There’s no question that Krzyzewski has standing to raise the issue. All four Duke losses this year – at Miami, at Maryland, at NC State, and at Virginia- have been capped by a court storm.

Court storming is the new standing ovation.

The practice dates back to the mid-nineties, but the record for court storms in a month was surely shattered in the February just concluded. The number one rated team has lost eight times this season in ten weeks. There have been nineteen cases of top five rated teams losing to teams outside the top 25 this season, and fifteen of them were in February. Of the aforementioned upsets, thirteen were by heavy home underdogs playing as if on a crusade. You couldn’t get better ingredients for a court storm.

But I take objection to a court storm which is not warranted under the circumstances, as when Maryland, a slight underdog, nipped no. 14 NC State 51-50 in a sloppily-played game at Comcast Center in January. Virginia was actually favored over Duke last night. This could be why the Cavalier onslaught was slow in developing.

Rarely does a team storm and get stormed in the same season. Fans of the really good teams don’t storm, and bad teams in defeat don’t get stormed. Duke fans do not court storm when they beat NC State.

But when a team goes from downtrodden to powerhouse in the course of a season, as Miami has done, the tables can turn. Miami fans court stormed Duke at Coral Gables in January. Then, lowly Wake Forest blew them out at home last Saturday, and it was the Hurricanes who were trampled upon.

Before court storming becomes dangerous, steps should be taken to regulate the rampage. If this were cattle, we’d have skilled horsemen regulating traffic. Since Rowdy Yates is not available, we at least need security personnel to surround the losing team and usher it away from the festivities.

And before court storming becomes routine, minimum standards should be set to determine when a court storm is justified. Here’s a suggestion:

Court storming shall be allowed if any two (2) of the following five factors are present:

1. Home team is rated outside the top 25, defeated team is rated within the top five.
2. Home team is an underdog by five points or more.
3. Home team wins on buzzer shot.
4. Home team at bottom of conference defeats lst place foe.
5. Defeated team is arch-rival ranked in top 10.

The NCAA has invaded almost every other aspect of college athletes’ behavior, why shouldn’t it try to regulate court storming?

Terp fans gather after February 16 win over Duke.

Back to Krzyzewski, I suspect that there were other reasons for his post-game pique. He must have been concerned with Duke’s lack of fight against Virginia, which dominated the boards and Duke center Miles Plumlee. Lately, Plumlee has resembled a second team all-ACC center rather than a player of the year candidate. The slender Dukies were pushed around by Virginia yesterday and by Maryland two weeks ago.

While Duke , Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Kansas, and Florida have been banging heads with tough conference foes (each has three or more conference losses), Gonzaga has quietly won all of its conference games in the weak West Coast Conference and is poised to move up to the number one slot on Monday if (when) it beats Portland Saturday. Indiana having lost Tuesday at Minnesota, Gonzaga’s path to number one is wide open; and the Zags are likely to stay there for at least a few weeks if, as expected, they breeeze through the WCC tournament.

The Zags are good, but they’ve had the luxury of needing to gear up for only two or three conference games. If they were playing tough games twice a week, their record would be a lot spottier than 27-2.

Their strengths are that they are extremely well balanced with a strong, veteran front line and skilled guards. Each starter shoots 75% or better from the charity stripe. Their margin of victory is 18 ppg , the highest in the land.

And they may have the sleeper candidate for Player of the Year. 7’ Kelly Olynyk, who red-shirted last year after playing two years of varsity ball, averages 17.7/game, shoots 67% from the field, 80.3 from the stripe, 39.1 from 3-point land, is an excellent passer, and has rock-star looks.

The Zags remain suspect because of their weak conference and a history of flaming out in the NCAA’s. Since their break-out season in 1998-99, when they made the round of eight, they have appeared in the NCAA’s fourteen consecutive seasons, never getting beyond the Sweet Sixteen, and eleven times falling in the first or second round. It’s possible they could finish first in the nation and not get a number one seed.

In this most bizarre college basketball season, where no team stands out but fifteen to twenty have legitimate title aspirations, stranger things have happened.


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