To listen to a number of sportswriters and television analysts, the NCAA would be better off cancelling all 15 games of the South regional and automatically granting Duke its rightful spot in the 2010 Final Four. How else to explain all the carping that the Blue Devils region is so easy that a caveman, plus four guys from the Washington Generals, could run through it?
Tongues were wagging overtime Sunday over the selection gang not only making Duke the third overall No. 1 seed ahead of Syracuse, but putting the Blue Devils on the softest road - especially when compared to Kansas and Kentucky - to the Final Four.
Duke was the least accomplished of the No. 1 seeds - except to the selection committee, which considered them third-best. And the Devils wound up with a heavenly draw, with crippled No. 4 seed Purdue and fading No. 2 seed Villanova joining them in the South region.
The Devils couldn't have gotten a greater gift from the committee if the entire tournament were moved to Cameron Indoor Stadium.
So figure on Duke reaching its first Final Four since 2004.
But let's deal with the reality of why Duke was given a favorable draw. The NCAA is desperate for television ratings. The $6 billion CBS paid over 11 years financed a lot of things the NCAA likes to do - stuff like propping up nonrevenue sports.
Honestly, it wouldn't surprise me if the NCAA mandated that Christian Laettner, Grant Hill and Shane Battier referee all of the Blue Devils' tournament games.
Yeah, Duke got a ridiculous easy region. And, yeah, Kansas got stuck with Ohio State and Georgetown (I don't get why everyone thinks Maryland/Michigan State is considered a tough draw for the Jayhawks though -- it's not 2002). But:
a) Duke still has to win four games, something the Blue Devils haven't done since 2004.
West Virginia, VCU and LSU were all easy draws too; that didn't stop those teams from upsetting Duke in the past five years. It's amazing how quickly the conversation has shifted "Duke is overrated" to "Duke is so good that they can win four straight games without breaking a sweat."
b) Where is the proof of this Duke ratings increase?
Raismann and Whitlock make bold accusations but provide absolutely no proof of a Duke ratings goldmine other than an obvious quote from a CBS suit. Maybe it's because they looked up the data and realized that any Duke bump is relatively small and no different from that of a North Carolina bump or an Indiana bump or a good game bump. Good teams with national followings get more viewers. What's so surprising about that?
c) Who's to say the draw of Kansas and/or Syracuse won't end up being easier?
The brackets don't stay chalk. Only twice in the past seven years has a No. 1 seed had to face the "toughest" road (No.16/No.8/No.4/No.2) en route to a Final Four The odds of Kansas facing UNLV, Maryland and Ohio State are slim. Plus the argument about having both Georgetown and Ohio State in the region is moot; Kansas can only play one of those teams in the regional final.
I don't disagree with the fact that Duke got a ridiculously easy draw. It's insane. The selection committee did a horrible job. But I'm also not going to give the Blue Devils so much credit that I'm breaking out the Sharpie and jotting down "DUKE" on the Final Four line. There are four games to go before we confront that horror. And, unlike others, I'm holding out hope that no draw is too easy for the Dukies.