The Chronicle's Sports Blog Bracket Challenge: And The Winner Is...

Me. Sort of anticlimactic, isn't it?

It isn't like you've read me here before. My 2500 word live blogs? Check. Endless rants? Check. Recruiting speculation?  Check.

Still, I did win The Chronicle's Sports Blog Bracket Challenge, with a bracket that was in the 99.9th percentile amongst ESPN's entries. I picked Cornell to go to the Sweet 16. I picked Butler to go to the Elite 8 (although not any farther). I picked six of the eight Elite Eight teams. And yes, I picked Duke to win the it all (take that, bandwagon jumpers!).

So what's my prize? I get free reign for one glorious blog post. Yes, it's been two weeks since Duke cut down the nets in Indy, but can you blame me for taking that long to come down from my euphoria?

So what should I write about in a post that, as my editor put it, needs only to be semi-respectable journalism? If you've ever, and I mean ever read anything I've written for The Chronicle, you know the answer to this question.

Brian Zoubek.

See, I love Brian Zoubek. He's everything I'm not—namely, tall. Plus, he's got an awesome beard.

But for a year and a half, my admittedly illogical obsession with Zoubek merited me continuous ridicule from my friends and tent-mates. "He can't catch the ball!" they'd say. "He can't make a layup!" they'd say. "He's 7-foot-1 and he can't dunk!" they'd say.

Well, now its my turn. And I have one thing to say—told you so.

Now, Zoubek certainly wasn't as big a star as any of Duke's "Big Three" this season, but he was arguably the difference that propelled Duke to the National Championship this year. Zoubek provided everything past iterations of Duke teams lacked—size, strength, toughness, rebounding, and interior defense.

See, once head coach Mike Krzyzewski inserted Zoubek into the starting lineup against Maryland Feb. 13, the whole complexion of the Blue Devils' season changed. After scoring 16 points and grabbing 17 rebounds—in only 22 minutes of action—Zoubek's evolution was complete. In 10 of the final 16 games of the season, Zoubek had 10 or more rebounds. He averaged 6.6 points over that stretch, despite never averaging more than 4.1 a season in his first three years on campus.

So, yes, Zoubek played like—gasp—a solid center.

But it was in the NCAA Tournament that Zoubek really shone, and might have even stolen some of the spotlight from his more ESPN-friendly teammates. In the first round against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Duke went to Zoubek early to exploit its size advantage, and the senior did not disappoint.

It got to the point that ESPN analysts were actually discussing Zoubek using terms like X-factor, dominant rebounder and difference maker.

I know, weird.

Then against California, Zoubek was arguably Duke's best player in a game in which the "Big Three" struggled. Yes he had 14 points and 13 rebounds in his best performance since that fateful Maryland game, but it was one play that defined the game for Zoubek.

See, the exclamation point on Duke's victory was, ironically enough, a Zoubek dunk. In what is probably my favorite moment as a Chronicle writer, I had to explain to my colleagues on press row in Jacksonville why a dunk by this 7-foot-1 beast was invoking such a frenzy amongst the Duke fans in the stadium. They couldn't seem to grasp the fact that this was Zoubek's first dunk since that Maryland game, and one could probably count on one hand the amount of times he'd dunked during his career.

I still don't think they understood.

But Zoubek understood. He understood that he didn't need to be a dominant post scorer to make a big impact for the Blue Devils. He understood that he could dominate a game not on the stat sheet, but in the paint. He understood that a rebound could be just as important as a dunk.

And Zoubek's renaissance wasn't done there. He had 14 rebounds against Purdue and played a bruising game against a physical, tall Baylor frontline. Against a undersized but solid-rebounding West Virginia squad, Zoubek had six points and 10 rebounds.

And then, fittingly enough, it was Zoubek who iced Duke's National Championship. Yes, he had eight points and 10 rebounds. But his most important series of the game, and perhaps of his career, was when he used his length to force Gordon Heyward to miss a fade-away jumper with under 10 seconds to go, grabbed the rebound, and then sunk a free throw.

After three-and-a-half injury-plagued and frustrating years, Zoubek was finally a winner. Now, his claim to fame was more than his height. He could say he was a National Champion, a dominant defender, and a solid big man. Oh yeah, and he's still 7-foot-1.

So here's a memo to any NBA scout reading this now approaching 800 word essay—give Brian Zoubek a chance late in the second round. He'll never dominate an NBA game. He may never even play consistent minutes. But if you're star center is in foul trouble, and you put Zoubek in the game, he'll rebound, play physical defense, and hustle for every loose ball. Think about it—isn't that exactly what you want from the 5th or 6th person off your bench?

And to all my friends who doubted me, I have one thing to say (again)—I told you so.

Brian Zoubek (and I) will now accept your apologies.


Share and discuss “The Chronicle's Sports Blog Bracket Challenge: And The Winner Is...” on social media.