“Certainly Duke is Duke…” (Coach Pete Gillen, 1997)
And 17 years later, not much has changed in the college hoops landscape.
With another loss by a rapidly-fading Syracuse team, along with Kansas and Creighton falling Saturday on the road, Duke backed into a No.1 seed today in some bracket projections. The Blue Devils also somehow soared to No. 4 in today’s new Top 25 poll, though they remain eighth in RPI.
While the aforementioned schools were playing in hostile environments, Duke was off all weekend — recuperating from a home win over last-place Virginia Tech and preparing for 12th place Wake Forest Wednesday. It’s a rough life in the ACC.
But when was the last time a six-loss team tied for third place in a mediocre league (containing more bad teams than any major conference in America), with nary a good road win (just four total all season! By contrast, potential one seeds: Wichita State has 12; Florida 10; Arizona seven – including a neutral win over the Blue Devils before a partisan Duke crowd), received a No. 1 seed? One could make a better argument for a three seed actually.
It’s thus irritating that I must scribe this type of column every year, but an obsequious media, bounces of the ball and much else make it sadly necessary.
I wrote two similar ones in 2013, though Duke thankfully choked down the stretch and received a two seed. The Blue Devils proceeded one round farther than usual in March Madness, but still missed the final four for the ninth time in 10 seasons, though they did advance past the sweet 16 for only the third time in a decade.
Like every year, the Blue Devils positioned themselves well by cleverly scheduling any “tough” opponents in November and December in order to escape with wins against bottom-feeders in January and February, while avoiding too many slip-ups (other than bad losses to non-tourney Clemson and Notre Dame, while somehow avoiding a road game at conference champ Virginia). Those are things you cannot do in the Big Ten, Big East, Big 12, Pac-12, Mountain West or Atlantic 10.
In a world where it’s easier to call names than debate facts, I repeat I am not a Duke hater. I admire Coach K as a person and leader. And compared to the type of player many top teams recruit, Duke has a roster of upstanding young men.
However, that does not excuse the fact that for the fifth year in a row the Blue Devils will likely receive credit they haven’t earned, and we all know darn well why.
Reward teams who schedule tough, including non-conference road games, and play in the best conferences. Period. I know ESPN isn’t listening, but maybe the Selection Committee will.