Once again, the Duke Blue Devils have stayed true to the NCAA mantra and “survived and advanced” past ACC foe Virginia Tech into the Elite 8.
Much like the UCF Golden Knights before them, the Hokies failed on a (pretty open) last second tip-in that would have forced an OT with Duke to potentially taken the favorites out of the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Knights, who could have won the game outright in the Round of 32 (ruining a ton of brackets and bets alike in the process), also couldn’t find the bottom of the bucket in the final seconds of their 77-76 loss to the foes from Tobacco Road.
For those who love, picked, or bet on Duke to win it all, this second escape in a row comes as a relief. And, if you listen to the talking heads rave about Zion Williamson as the second coming of Michael Jordan, you might believe that Duke didn’t just win these games, they were destined to win them. If there are ancient scribes or tablets out there in the world depicting college basketball results in the eras to come, many would have you believe that Zion is depicted winning games and making shoes explode. So even though the games were close, they were never really “close”, right?
Incorrect. If I could make the Family Feud buzzer sound go off at this exact moment, I would.
Duke is Duke. They’re good. They’re very good. There’s a reason they’re on TV more than Leave it to Beaver reruns (shoutout to Pete Gillen for that amazing line). At the beginning of the NCAA Tournament, Duke was favored with 2-1 odds to win the whole thing. The last team with those kinds of odds? Kentucky in 2015, that lost in the Final Four. They, like Duke, also had prophesied basketball talent on their team, including Anthony Davis.
The lesson would be “no team is ever truly destined to win it all” and that rule applies to Duke. Sure, Vegas-savvy fans can point to 2011 when Kentucky had similar odds and did win it all, but the favorites winning it all is the exception, not the norm. In both cases, a lot had to go right (or wrong) for those teams to win (or lose). Kind of like Duke these past two games.
But you know that no team is ever truly destined to win it all, that’s not the real lesson. The real lesson is chaos – not Duke, Zion, or prophecies – rules the NCAA Tournament year in and year out. Upsets and blowouts aren’t the chaos, it’s not getting a last-second tip in when you have the Mountain from Game of Thrones playing center on your team, or missing a last-second layup when you’re wide open and next to the basket on an inbounds play. Chaos is also seeing a team like Duke win and win and win again, only to lose to a formidable foe like Michigan State, Gonzaga or Texas Tech to name a couple. I could go into the reasons why, but does it matter?
Duke losing by 1 or 100 is no different than them winning by 1 or 100 in the same circumstances. Madness doesn’t describe the tournament, calamity does.
Duke seems like the safe bet, but if these last two games have been evidence of anything it’s that Duke is far from safe. Fans looking to rest easy because they picked for/cheer for Duke will want to reconsider how comfortable they’re feeling at this moment in the tournament. Squeaky wins are wins, but how long does that last? Likewise, Duke can’t rest on their name (and Zion hype) alone if they expect to survive the next three games it’ll take to win it all. They’re not invincible, and if there’s one thing Rocky IV taught us it’s that anyone can be defeated. If you think any of Duke’s future opponents (however many there will be) aren’t doing Rocky-style training and preparation montages you’re in for a surprise.
Could Duke win it all? Sure, of course they could. But anyone believing they’ll be able to coast through, especially after these last two games, are in for a surprise.