Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Defensive Posture

Dan Dakich has been the head coach at Bowling Green and his alma mater, Indiana University. He has a burgeoning media career with an analyst gig on the Big Ten Network and a radio show in Indianapolis. But Dakich will forever be best known for one thing: shutting down Michael Jordan in the future superstar’s final college game at North Carolina. It is mandatory to mention that information in any news story or press release about Dakich. It will be the lead to his obituary.

The Tar Heels entered the regional semifinal matchup with the Hoosiers at the Omni in Atlanta as the undisputed favorite to win the title in the 1984 NCAA tournament. Despite its disappointing finish, the team often is cited as one of the best in Dean Smith’s Hall of Fame coaching career. UNC had a loaded roster with future pros Jordan, Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty, Kenny Smith, Joe Wolf and glue guy Matt Doherty. Smith and Daugherty were battling nagging injuries late in the season, disrupting UNC’s offensive flow.

Bob Knight’s team was an odd mix that included talented freshman Steve Alford and role players like Uwe Blab, who probably rivals brothers Majestic and Scientific Mapp for best name in NCAA history.

“The General” gave Dakich the marching orders to guard Jordan. Legend has it that when he got the assignment, Dakich made a beeline to the lavatory to vomit. That is probably apocryphal, but Dakich’s stomach was likely uneasy when Jordan got loose for four quick points in the early minutes of the game. The game plan was to play off Jordan, daring him to shoot jumpers, and keep him off the offensive boards.

Jordan kept trying to force the action closer to the basket, and ran into Dakich’s defensive helpmates Blab and Mike Giomi. That aggressive mentality got Jordan into early foul trouble. He picked up his second personal at the 12:45 mark on a questionable push-off call while trying to catch a lob pass over Dakich. That sent Jordan to the bench for eight minutes. After he got back in with 5:40 remaining in the half, Smith kept shuffling him in and out of the game to avoid him getting whistled for another foul. Jordan was never able to get into the flow of the game, and Indiana took a 32-28 lead at the break.

The legend of Dakich’s defensive masterpiece stems from Jordan going scoreless for a 12-minute stretch in the second half. The amazing thing is that Dakich picked up his fourth foul with over 13 minutes remaining in the game, and Knight kept Dakich on Jordan.

Given space to shoot, Jordan had two jumpers that went halfway down before spinning out. Dakich’s defense had nothing to do with those. The greatest accomplishment of Dakich in this game was holding Jordan to one rebound. Watch any game film of Jordan’s college years, and his offensive rebounding stands out. No opponent could match Jordan’s athleticism, so Dakich made a point to body Jordan as soon as a shot went up.

Dakich fouled out with four minutes still on the clock. Jordan got five points after that, but Indiana was money at the free-throw line down the stretch in the 72-68 victory that ranks among the top upsets in that storied program’s history.

So have Dakich’s defensive accomplishments been overstated as the years have passed? Probably. But there is no doubt Dakich did a more-than-admirable job. Jordan was never in the game after those early fouls. He finished 6 for 14 from the field for 13 points in only 26 minutes. Given Dakich’s own foul trouble, he probably guarded Jordan for around 20 minutes in the game.

The focus on Dakich also takes away from the artistry of Alford in this game. The sharpshooter had 27 points (Dakich had four), including a clutch 23-footer in the closing seconds of the first half. Alford also handled UNC’s pressure late in the game, and coolly knocked down free throws as the Tar Heels fouled in desperation.

But the Dakich angle just makes for a better story, and Indiana traffics in myths more than any other school. Dakich sure isn’t likely to set the record straight. What’s better than being known as one of the select few to shut down the greatest player of all time?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting angle to the game. I'd not considered it. Though I didn't see it, either.