For the last 35 years, Marty Blake has been identifying top college and international talent as the NBA’s Director of Scouting. A former general manager of the St. Louis and Atlanta Hawks in the 1950s and ’60s, Marty will be sharing thoughts and observations from the road as he crisscrosses the country identifying top collegiate talent throughout the season leading up to the 2006 NBA Draft in June.

Marty’s Top Ten College Teams
13 way tie – UCONN, Duke and Florida
All three deserve a first place vote, so why not?
Recovering from two early disappointed losses
On any given game they can blow you out of the water
6 - Michigan State
(despite four losses, they could be the cream of the Big 10)
7West Virginia
A great bench and a veteran team
Needs only consistent pivot play to take the Pac-10
9George Washington
They are so tough on their home court with anyone of their first six capable of a double-double
10Illinois, Gonzaga, Indiana, and North Carolina State could easily move up this week

*Please note: I feel there are at least 20 teams capable this year of winning the NCAA title. Parity is finally here.

Last Saturday, I made one of my frequent trips to Washington, D.C. to watch a Georgetown basketball game, this time against the nation’s top cage team, the Blue Devils of Duke.

Saturday saw three undefeated Division I teams, Duke and Florida, one-two in every poll at 17-0 each. The Duke run tied a previous opening season mark of 17-0 which occurred in 1992 – year in which the Devils went on to win the National Championship. A 75-73 loss to North Carolina on Feb. 5 of that year ended that streak.

Florida, to the best of my recollection, had never started 17-0 while Pittsburgh, the third unbeaten five, had won all of its 15 starts this year (which also had been a school mark).

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, my wife Marcia and I, made frequent visits to our nation’s capital. First, because our son, Eliot, was a student at GU, and eventually would graduate in 1985 in a class that included the soon to be New York Knicks center, Patrick Ewing and famed songstress Pearl Bailey, who was the featured speaker at graduation that year.

Pearl’s husband was Louie Bellson, one of the jazz world’s premier drummers.

Eliot was to go on to obtain a law degree at Emory University in Atlanta and return to DC to work for several law firms.

Our daughter, Sarah, joined him in Washington after graduating from the University of South Carolina and eventually obtained a master’s degree from George Washington and soon joined that school’s women’s health care department.

That gave us another reason to visit.

Incidentally, the sports information director at George Washington was Ed McKee, an old friend from St. Louis, who had worked for the Indiana Pacers and was the publicity director at Indiana State during the reign of Larry Bird.

I was therefore assured of good seats at both places.

(Just a note of appreciation for the tremendous help accorded myself and every NBA scout and official by the collegiate sports information directors. They are a most helpful informational source and do a wonderful service for their schools, often under trying circumstances. But more on this item later).

After my plane approached in Washington, we were advised that the temperature in that city would be 68 degrees, most unusual for this city in winter.

It struck me that this could be the first surprise of the day.

As we approached the MCI Center, the usual home court of the Hoyas, except for an occasional campus exhibition at McDonough Hall, I was surprised at the swarm of people waiting for the gates to open. Some wore the royal blue and white of Duke but the overwhelming majority wore Georgetown colors – blue and gray.

I had never seen this many fans showing the Hoya colors.

After all, Georgetown has lost two of their last three games at No. 16 West Virginia, 68-61, and at No. 4 UCONN, 74-67. Close, hard-fought battles but no cigar.

Georgetown was 11-4, with conferences victories over St. John’s, Providence and South Florida – all at home.

Maybe their home court luck would hold up, but it would take a super effort.

Duke had five conference wins beating Maryland, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State at home and Clemson and Wake Forest on the road.

It took a last second (literally) 40-footer by senior guard Sean Dockery to best Virginia Tech 77-75 at home and only a sensational offensive outing by J.J. Redick at Clemson averted a loss.

I also had attended that game a week ago.

I have always liked to see key teams play on the road, especially those teams with fantastic home records like Duke and North Carolina – to name only a few.

Clemson hit more than 55 percent of their field goals in that game only to falter at the line missing 10 of their first 13 attempts at the charity stripe in the first half and converting only three more the rest of the way. It marked the first time in four years that Tigers had hit that field goal percentage.

Duke, in control by a slim margin all game, made their freebies and the 10-point margin of victory did not indicate just how heroic an effort the Tigers made.

I usually make my schedule in early October taking into consideration that I have been doing this for more than 50 years and by constant study of collegiate rosters and teams in the off season I can usually come close to keying on strategic outlines.

An expected sellout was to be the largest in several years for the home team – 20,035 souls – most of whom stormed the court after the Hoyas’ win.

The game which everyone knows by now went Georgetown’s way, was actually played in two phases – a brilliant first half and a good 30 first minutes by the Hoyas with outstanding performances by seniors Ashanti Cook, Brandon Bowman, and Darrel Owens with two others, sophomore Jonathan Wallace and Jeff Green also having standout efforts.

It was obvious that the visitors were off-key with only JJ (hitting 4 of 5 from long) totaling 18 of his team’s 28 markers.

It would take a super effort to get Duke back into the game, but they had done just that many, many times in previous years.

Duke fell behind by 16 shortly after the second stanza started, while Georgetown continued their fine play. Still down by 12 at the 9:04 mark, Redick took over.

He converted two free throws, grabbed a defensive rebound, converted a steal into a fast break bucket, hit another free throw and Duke was only behind by seven.

The Hoyas fought back, helped by a pair of Wallace free throws to forge ahead 72-63 with 4:49 left. Redick then hit a long 3-goal off a Paulus assist (72-66). After rookie Jamal Bykins made his lone goal of the game, rebounding a missed shot for a bucket (72-68), Georgetown’s Bowman, playing the best game of his collegiate career, made a massive dunk off a Cook handoff to make it a six-point spread (74-68) – at he 4:17 mark.

JJ scored the ball for two more (74-70) – his final points of the game to pull within two, before a driving layup by Wallace; a rebound dunk by Jeff Green and another free throw by Jeff gave the Hoyas what seemed like an insurmountable lead at 79-72 with only 2:09 left on the clock.

But Duke refused to go away. JJ made two more free throws (he missed two of his first four; versus Clemson he did the same only to make 11 straight to close rout the game). This time, he made 9 straight to finish with 11 of 13. His charity tosses cut the lead to five 79-74.

Green made the first of two FT attempts, followed by another Bowman dunk.
Then Dockery drove for two quick goals to again cut the margin to four at 82-78.

Ashanti made the second of two shots, followed by a pair of Bowman free throws and Georgetown had what their followers felt was a safe lead with only 26 seconds left. But Dockery broke loose for the fast break goal and Paulus continued his inspiring effort with a layup to closer to 85-82.

Bowman, who had 23 points, 8-12 from the field (2-3 from 3), 5-7 from the line, a team leading eight boards and a game-high three blocks, came through again.

He made the second of two free throws (86-82) and after a two-pointer again by Dockery (who scored of his 10 points in the final half), came the closer at the hands of the Hoyas’ exciting sophomore, Jonathan Wallace.

Jonathan has started in all of the 48 games he has played in the past two years – 32 his freshman season and 16 this year, including this one.

He saved the best for last.

After a Dockery goal closed the gap to two at 84-82, Wallace was fouled by Sean. He made the first and after missing the second toss, stole the ball with 0:04 seconds remaining to end the contest.

His line was 12 points, 4-6 from the field, 4-5 from the line, 6 assists versus only one turnover and one steal in 29 minutes.

Obviously the Hoyas are back and Duke may still be the top team in the country.

But the road to Indy is beset by landmines in the form of at least 20 teams capable of toppling each other.

Now we know the Big East reigns supreme among the nation’s conferences – at least for now.