First off, let me just say that I give the Belmont Bruins all the credit in the world. They played their hearts out and were the better team. That said, the score at the end did not favor them, and they will now spend the rest of the lives wondering, "What if?"
Belmont played the Duke Blue Devils for 40 minutes. Whenever Duke went on a run, the Bruins maintained their composure and hit the Devils back with a run of their own.
Alex Renfroe had his way with each Duke defender, consistently blowing by his man and finishing at the rim. Renfroe finished with 15 points on 7-11 shooting.
Andy Wicke came off the bench to hit five out of seven three pointers, including some huge ones down the stretch.
On the Duke end, Gerald Henderson saved their season, scoring 21 points, including the game winner.
In the end, the upset was not to be. Although some will say the result was a fluke, I don't see it that way. Now, if the two teams met again tomorrow, I am not saying that Duke wouldn't win that game by 15 points. They might.
However, in many of the bigger upsets that the NCAA Tournament has seen, the result has been a case of the Cinderella playing way above their heads while the favorite was having an off night.
That didn't happen on Thursday night. Both teams shot nearly identical percentages from the field, and Wicke aside, no player on the court was on target from beyond the arc. Duke actually out-rebounded Belmont by eight, and had 13 offensive rebounds.
Belmont continuously hurt themselves with ill-advised shots in transition, and a reluctance to bomb away from the three when their offense did not get anything going quickly. After Kyle Singler picked up his fourth foul midway through the second half, the Bruins never really attacked him while he was in the game.
Duke certainly didn't play it's finest basketball of the season, but played far from it's worst. They only shot 6-21 from the three, but they have had plenty of other games this season with similar numbers.
The fact of the matter is that this Duke team just isn't very good. Last night was not a fluke or an aberration. Coach Krzyzewski is going to do his very best to keep his team from going home early.
West Virginia is a dangerous team that beat many of the Big East's top teams over the course of the season. Beyond that waits either Xavier or Purdue, who both look capable of beating the Blue Devils.
More importantly, Duke itself has done very little to convince the college basketball world that they are ready to make a deep run in 2008.
Coach K plays his starters more than most teams, especially at this time of year. Against Belmont, Duke's bench only played 55 minutes, as opposed to the 83 by the Bruins' substitutes.
After 33 games, fatigue starts to become a factor. In the last five minutes, Duke's five on the court looked sluggish and tired, while Belmont's five looked to be the better conditioned and fresher squad.
Regardless, the Blue Devils lived to fight another day, and while this game may serve to be the wake-up call they so desperately need, I see it as no more than a temporary reprieve.