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Telling The Story: Duke-Michigan State

How did No. 1 Duke end up playing No. 9 Michigan State on the Spartans' home floor?

That's the question the Duke fan base (read: Twittersphere) is up in arms about. And even though the Blue Devils wouldn't have peeped if they had simply gone to East Lansing and taken care of business and other teams have been dealt the same misfortune, there's no doubt that the NCAA Tournament has a fundamental flaw. The rationale behind the home-court advantage is that if 16 pre-determined sites have all season to market the games and host their local team, the arena will feel more like an NCAA Tournament game than a morgue. That was true Tuesday, as the Breslin Center was buzzing--one of our writers in East Lansing even called it "Cameron loud"--but the crowd supported the wrong team. Would it be better to have games on a neutral court? That's what the sport has done for the last four years, and early-round attendance has been pitiful. What's worse: Having no atmosphere, or having an atmosphere that favors a lower-seeded team? It's a lose-lose proposition,'s Mechelle Voepel writes Wednesday:

Predetermined sites is a flawed system, but one that people who follow women's basketball are sort of forced to accept. However, people who don't follow the women's game and tune in occasionally, like Tuesday night, are baffled by what they see.

How can one No. 1 team (Duke) be playing on its opponent's home court, another No. 1 (Oklahoma) be on a neutral court, and the other two 1-seeds (UConn and Maryland) be playing at home?

Where is the consistency on the seeding line? How does this make any sense in terms of integrity of the bracket?

It doesn't, and no amount of spin can cover up this flaw. But for now, the women's game is stuck with it.

The Detroit Free Press' Michael Rosenberg has an equally biting tone, but his subject is Joanne P. McCallie, not the NCAA. (Remember: Before McCallie came to Duke, she had just signed a contract extension to stay in East Lansing.) Rosenberg pens a column slamming McCallie for thinking the Michigan State job was beneath her, and even has an absolutely money quote from Tom Izzo to prove his point: "I don't think her heart was here," Izzo said during the first half Tuesday, before the night felt magical. "The way the last couple of years went, it didn't seem to matter what the administration did. It wasn't enough." Because of all that--and the fact that Rosenberg believes that Suzy Merchant outcoached McCallie, an argument that's hard to disagree with--it felt like poetic justice that McCallie walked off a loser on her former home court:

EAST LANSING -- So how is that dream job going for you, Coach P.? You having fun?

For too long, Michigan State wasn't good enough for Joanne P. McCallie. Tuesday night, Michigan State was too good for her.

The ninth-seeded Spartans beat former MSU coach McCallie and top-seeded Duke, 63-49. It was one of the biggest upsets in women's NCAA tournament history, and surely one of the most compelling.

MSU coach Suzy Merchant said afterward that the win belonged to her players. ("Coaching kind of takes a backseat sometimes and kids just put things in their own hands.") But this story is largely about the coaches, precisely because Merchant says things like that. Michigan State now has a coach who puts her players and school ahead of herself.

This wasn't just a game. It was justice, at least as far as the coaches are concerned. And if that sounds too harsh, please understand: the issue was never, ever, that McCallie left for Duke. She had done a wonderful job at MSU. She was entitled to go.

No, the problem was that McCallie thought MSU didn't deserve her. She had some of the best facilities in the country, but she wanted more, more, more. A new locker room. A higher salary. When she left, McCallie called Duke her "dream job." -- and she had been dreaming for two years, about all sorts of jobs.

Moving over to student newspapers, The State News designates Tuesday's Duke loss as Merchant's "signature win," and, like The Chronicle, placed the story above the fold:

It had to be perfect.

To beat No. 1-seed Duke, the No. 9-seed MSU women’s basketball team had to limit turnovers, storm the glass and play staunch defense.

The Spartans did just that, pounding Duke 63-49 and advancing to the Sweet 16 to play No. 4 seed Iowa State in Berkeley, Calif.

And if you haven't read them already, make sure you check out The Chronicle's game story and analysis, too.


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