It all makes sense, why Duke lost four of its last 11 and two of its last three, why Mike Krzyzewski sat stoically under the guise of letting players coach themselves, why no one seemed crestfallen after Clemson made Duke look like the unranked team in the ACC semifinals, why DeMarcus Nelson promised to raise a championship banner in Cameron this season after the March 8 loss to North Carolina.
Well, DeMarcus, the ACC Tournament has come and gone. So did this Duke team's penultimate chance to grace Cameron's rafters with some sort of banner, something to accompany the regular season and conference championship marker from 2006 that still, almost two years later, doesn't have a more recent companion.
That's the point: the Blue Devils didn't want to win the league tournament, not if they knew what was best. The chance to stay in North Carolina before the Final Four? Not important. The opportunity to carry some semblance of momentum into the NCAA Tournament? Also not important. The No. 1 seed in the East Region? Even less important, especially this year. You couldn't have thought that Duke dropped in the polls because other teams attacked its vapid frontcourt or the Blue Devil sharpshooters, um, dulled.
If the goal of this team was to win the NCAA Tournament, then the Blue Devils did exactly what they needed to do: earn a No. 2 seed.
San Antonio, the site of this year's Final Four, has hosted two previous national semifinals. Both times, "One Shining Moment" blasted as No. 2 seeds clipped nets for a less pricey, more priceless sort of bling. Revisionism, then, implies that history favors No. 2 seeds when four squads and their fan bases descend upon the Alamo Dome and flood the Riverwalk.
Other No. 2 seeds are certainly capable of sustaining the historical oddity, but Duke is as good a bet as any (especially at 15-to-1 odds, if these pages condoned gambling). Losing two of three games is not indicting, and neither are any of Duke's blemishes this year. The Blue Devils could have come out on top in each of the five games they dropped. They beat three of the teams that beat them; in the other two, Pittsburgh's Levance Fields made a cold-blooded three in the waning seconds of overtime and Wake Forest shot the lights out to take advantage of Duke's worst game of the year. Those losses were simple prerequisites for a national championship, sacrifices for the greater good.
Duke's unequivocal strength this year lies in the backcourt, with a bevy of guards each capable of taking over single games. Championship teams require one dominant player, and one of Duke's stable of guards can fill that role. Greg Paulus might catch fire early, Gerald Henderson could bottle his potential brilliance for one memorable game, Kyle Singler could become the Tournament's next heroic freshman.
Don't worry about the recent losses, don't listen to the professors of bracketology who deride Duke's chances. This team knew what it was doing all along: accomplishing just enough (or, not enough) to secure that coveted No. 2 seed, ready to ride it all the way to the serenades on April 7.
See you on the Riverwalk after the game.
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