Duke Basketball Took Flat, Easy, Extremely Well-Lit Road to Final Four

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterApril 2, 2010

HOUSTON - MARCH 28:  Forward Kyle Singler #12 of the Duke Blue Devils during the south regional final of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Reliant Stadium on March 28, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Hello, Duke. Just wanted to pop in and congratulate you on your first Final Four berth in six seasons. Just as promised, good sirs. Hope it's tasty, YOUR MAJESTIES.

Full disclosure: The preceding sentences employed the method of sarcasm in order to prove a point. That point being, as others struggled, Duke got an eye-poppingly easy road to the Final Four. Just because they took advantage of it doesn't make it any less of a farce.

More full disclosure: I'm a Maryland fan, so surely I'm just being a Duke hater, right? Just another sour grapes Terp fan with a middle child complex?

Perhaps. It's a distinct possibility.

And this is why you don't have to take my word for it. Take it from Jason Whitlock , one of the nation's gutsiest and most insightful sports writers, who said Duke got an easy draw because CBS wanted to boost TV ratings.

Take it from unabashed Maryland hater and Blue Devil poet laureate Gregg Doyel . Take it from ubiquitous college hoops analyst and Duke graduate Seth Davis , who wrote that there is no way Duke deserved a one seed.

I'm not quite as into the conspiracy theories as others, but at the same time, a recent point from ESPN's Tim Keown rang true:

"Given the world's penchant for believing Duke gets preferential treatment every year, wouldn't you think the committee would go out of its way to make sure it doesn't happen—just once?"

Amen, sir. A—FREAKING—MEN.

Of course, now that Duke has unwrapped its big fat tournament gift, sportswriters are falling all over themselves to play up one of two angles. One being "Duke is back! OMG Coach K is so handsome." Number two is "Where are all the Duke haters now?"

One wonders where these people were when Duke's tourney draw was being panned and their chances belittled (perhaps asleep under the bandwagon). As for the haters, well, I'm still right here, and I'm not buying the argument that Duke is somehow vindicated by virtue of having simply unwrapped the aforementioned fatness.

Please join me for a little stroll down Facts and Statistics Lane, won't you? 

With the exception of Villanova, Duke went through all the chalk in its bracket: No. 16 Arkansas Pine Bluff, No. 8 Cal, No. 4 Purdue, and No. 3 Baylor. The average RPI of Duke's opponents is 57. Right off the bat, a big asterisk here has to go to Purdue, living on guts and gas fumes by the time they met Duke in the Sweet 16 after losing Robbie Hummel to an injury.

But hey, let's just give them a four seed anyway. Duke, did you want us to drizzle some gravy over the top of that Boilermaker for you?

Cal had an RPI of 20—not bad, until you realize they lost to pretty much every good team they played. Thank gosh for Oregon, right?

But still, props to Duke for beating a team that was clearly almost the class act of the least successful power conference in college basketball this season. (They had an 80-38 combined non-conference schedule; worse than the A-10, the Mountain West, and the Missouri Valley.)

And then there's third seed Baylor. A good team, sure. Tweety Carter and all that. They might have lost to Kansas, Kansas State (twice), and Alabama, and they might have needed overtime to beat Iona, but they beat Texas three times, man! Woo! 

The Longhorns would have been scary this year if their head coach hadn't run off into the woods at around the midseason mark. Run, Rick Barnes! Run! You're a free dog now! Arf!

But back to RPI. The average RPI of West Virginia's opponents was 47.  For Butler, it was 26. For Michigan State, it was 16. Again, the average RPI of Duke's opponents was 57. 

So take all the upsets that happened in the other regions (which roughly balance out the fact that Duke played a 16), combined with the fact that Duke more or less got a chalk draw (i.e., they played virtually the highest-ranked teams it was possible for them to play), and Duke STILL played a group of opponents with an average RPI 10 points worse than the next closest Final Four participant and FORTY-ONE points higher than the lowest one.

And once again, because it can't be overstressed, this doesn't take into account that Purdue did most of its winning before Robbie Hummel's knee broke like the porcelain head of some kerchiefed milkmaid, frozen forever in a tableau of joyful surprise as a rosy-cheeked lad quietly peeks from behind an insouciant Holstein with a paw-full of perpetually half-wilted posies.

To put all this another way:  AAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!!!

But no, really, congrats to Duke. Kudos. 

I'm glad they could outplay a Baylor team from an underacheiving conference whose best player is listed at 5'11".

I'm glad they could outplay a Purdue team that showed tremendous heart in just winning two tournament games.

I'm glad they outlasted a Cal team that couldn't beat 14-18 UCLA.

I'm glad they dominated Arkansas Pine Bluff. Three cheers to the Bluffs for taking the floor!

Know why I'm glad? Because Duke deserves it. Them and their smirking, spoiled fanbase.  It must be like rooting for Citigroup.

They deserved it because of their rafter full of banners, their team's fat TV contract, and their head coach's fat TV contract. When the rich get richer, well, you just have to take your hat off and applaud.

And if they can do it under even remotely dubious circumstances, all the better. 

So go Devils, beat West Virginia, and Butler or Michigan State. Those teams need to recognize who's boss. That's Duke, and they're about to tug you apart as if unwrapping so many—so very many—wonderful Christmas gifts. Go Duke!

Now THAT'S sarcasm.


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