March 27, 2009
Unlike in years past, there was no bawling from Duke players tonight after they were eliminated from the NCAA tournament. A few tears, yes. Definitely some deep embraces and mournful hugs. But no crying. After all, it's tough to muster up those tears when you're so shocked. The Blue Devils were wrecked by Villanova tonight 77-54, in the team's worst NCAA tournament loss since the 30-point drubbing they received from UNLV in the 1990 title game. Once the team got down by double-digits they looked punch drunk; as if they didn't know what hit them.
There was a point in the game where I almost felt bad for Jon Scheyer and his 3-17 shooting performance. Evidently, Villanova had looked at tape on Scheyer and saw that he favored a pump-fake at the three-point line in order to shed defenders. It didn't work the first time Scheyer tried it tonight. Or the second. Or the fifth. It was like he was the guy from "Knocked Up" who only had the dice move on the dance floor. Once it was taken away from him, he had nothing left.
This is the sixth consecutive year that the mighty Dukies have been knocked out of the NCAA tournament by a team with a worse seed:
2009 - L - No. 2 vs. No. 3 Villanova (Sweet 16)
2008 - L - No. 2 vs. No. 7 West Virginia (2nd round)
2007 - L - No. 6 vs. No. 11 VCU (1st round)
2006 - L - No. 1 vs. No. 4 LSU (Sweet 16)
2005 - L - No. 1 vs. No. 5 Michigan State (Sweet 16)
2004 - L - No. 1 vs. No. 2 Connecticut (National semifinal)
What does it mean? Well, first of all, it means that Duke's consistency in getting high seeds is almost unparalleled. And it also means that they're a great team who underperforms in March. Finally, though, it suggests that Duke has a difficult transition going from ACC play into the NCAAs.
Maybe their offensive sets don't work as well; maybe the players they have to defend are different or maybe -- maybe -- the refs aren't as intimidated by Mike Krzyzewski and feel free to call the game with a keener eye toward fairness.
For all the talent that Coach K brings to Durham, for him not to have an effective point guard of a competent big man who doesn't lurch his way down the court is surprising. But, it's Duke. Like termites or a cousin "just in need of a little cash" they'll return sooner rather than later. And next year, I'll be cutting and pasting the same charts when No. 3 Duke inevitably drops a game to No. 6 Illinois.
But let's not look ahead, let's live for the moment. And in this moment, the Duke Blue Devils have gone down. And when you wake up tomorrow, please know that it will be in a better America.