Not so fast, Duke haters: These overachievers are actually likeable
So you say you hate Duke. You always root against them. You consider it a crime against humanity, not to mention a conspiratorial act by CBS, that
Dude, you're such an outdated cliché.
I won't try convincing you to root for Duke this weekend, not when every other team in the field has its own compelling storyline. Not when Butler is playing in its own backyard, not when Michigan State is playing without its star point guard, not when West Virginia has managed to turn
But all this blind Duke hatred -- it's so 2006. Do you even know why you're still rooting against the Blue Devils? Or have you been doing it for so long that it's become as ingrained a habit as mocking
Because I've got to tell you -- most of the reasons people give for hating Duke basketball don't really apply to this year's team.
Mind you, I've been as big a Duke critic as anyone in recent years. I bristled at their penchant for
But hey, they proved me wrong, and in doing so debunked many of the very criticisms that surrounded them these past few years.
Some people, however, choose not to notice. They're too hung up on the past.
While Krzyzewski's program has been going to Final Fours since the mid-80s, the Blue Devils didn't truly achieve New York Yankees/Notre Dame football-level backlash until around 2001. That was the year Duke beat Arizona to win its third (and most recent) national championship, and you couldn't go five minutes without hearing
But does anyone really feel this year's Duke team was overhyped? Was it even hyped? Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Ohio State's
As evidenced by their ensuing NBA draft fortunes, those early-'aughts Duke teams were unquestionably loaded. So, too, to a slightly lesser degree, were the
Newsflash, people: There's no Battier or Boozer on the 2010 Blue Devils. If anything, Krzyzewski's recruiting has slipped in recent years. There's not one surefire first-rounder on this year's team, though guard
Many of you will presumably dismiss that claim by pointing to Duke's "easy" road to Indianapolis. The Blue Devils were, after all, a No. 1 seed, and I was among the many on Selection Sunday who felt they drew
But that argument no longer holds water after what's transpired in this tournament. When I said the Jayhawks got a tougher draw than the Blue Devils, I wasn't referring to quality of their opposing No. 9 seeds. It's not Duke's fault that Kansas couldn't handle Northern Iowa, or that Syracuse ran into Butler. Duke's past three games were actually harder when measured by total seed number (No. 8 Cal + No. 4 Purdue + No. 3 Baylor = 15) than fellow Final Four participants Michigan State (No. 4 Maryland, + No. 9 Northern Iowa + No. 6 Tennessee = 19) and West Virginia (No. 10 Missouri + No. 11 Washington + No. 1 Kentucky = 22).
Then there's the most tired argument of them all -- that Duke "gets all the calls." Please. Cry me a river.
You may not be aware of this, but every team that's ever won or lost a close game in the history of college basketball did so because the officiating was either for or against them. I spent the past two weeks courtside at two NCAA tournament venues where the teams' family and friends were seated directly behind the media. I got to hear everyone from
It was no surprise, therefore, that when
Which brings us to one last, and entirely ridiculous generalization that some folks just can't bring themselves to give up: That Duke's players are "punks." How do we know this? Because
In truth, Scheyer is one of the shyest Duke stars in recent memory. The next time he brags or trash-talks will be the first. The only two things he has in common with any of the names in the previous paragraph is that he plays for Duke ... and he's white.
One of the great sociological mysteries in sports today is why so many white basketball fans resent the fact that Duke has so many white players. Someone with a more advanced academic degree than mine might have to explain that one.
In the meantime, I've got some bad news people: Two of Butler's top three scorers --
Many of you won't want to hear this, but there are actually lots of reasons to
There's Zoubek, who, after 3 1/2 injury-plagued, underachieving seasons, remarkably transformed himself into a productive starter shortly after that Georgetown debacle. He, Scheyer and forward
And then there's Krzyzewski himself. I know -- this one's a hard sell.
The Dean of Durham is not often a sympathetic figure, but it's hard not to admire the job he's done with this team. Over the past couple of years, many (myself included) have questioned his dedication to the program what with his increased commitment to USA Basketball and Duke's perceived drop-off recruiting-wise. His adversary,
But now Krzyzewski is headed to Indy at the same time Williams is guiding his team in New York City -- for the NIT. He's made his own little mini-comeback. And next year, with the arrival of big-scoring transfer
Feel free to recommence your hating then.