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Hey, Dad: See you in Indianapolis?

Duke hopes that a favorable bracket will mean a Final Four bid, unlike last year’s Sweet 16 bowout.
Duke hopes that a favorable bracket will mean a Final Four bid, unlike last year’s Sweet 16 bowout.

On Sunday night, no more than 10 minutes after Duke was gifted an NCAA Tournament draw that made even the Blue Devil mascot blush, my dad called me. Like most fathers and sons, I suspect, we have a yearly habit of analyzing the bracket and competing with each other in a two-person pool that means more than any cash prize. (Well, not any cash prize. But you get the point.) We usually have similar brackets, and in the past three years, we both have rationalized Duke’s runs to the Final Four to ourselves. Our brackets and collective pride are not appreciative.

This year, though, would be different.

“So, have you bought your tickets to Indianapolis?” he said when I picked up.

I wasn’t one to object, not after having watched the CBS crew unveil Duke’s draw before witnessing a dichotomy of vitriol and virtual high-fives on Twitter. The analysts peeled off region after region until only 17 slots remained, and by that point, everyone around me had become giddy with optimism while everyone else in the country likely groaned with disgust. For Duke fans, it was like waking up Christmas morning and spotting every present you asked for, plus the one you really wanted—but felt guilty requesting. (Or so I’m told.) For pretty much anyone else, it was like spying the Grinch stealing Santa’s toys and keeping them all for himself. (Or so I’m told.)

Duke got the South region, which had been all but ceded to Syracuse. Duke got the weakest No. 2 seed, which should have been reserved for the strongest No. 1. Oh, and Duke also was placed with a No. 4 seed that might just be an underdog in its first-round game.

Full disclosure: I do not know why any of this happened.

I’m not here to ascribe motives for the seedings, nor can I really answer anyone who asks, loudly, why Duke’s region, at least theoretically, is less of a gauntlet than the others. (Just for the record, I didn’t hear many complaints outside of Durham when the Blue Devils, a No. 2 seed last season, were jobbed just as much as they were favored this year.) Unlike certain television networks intent on filling 24 hours of air time, I’m also weary of publicizing my predictions for games that will take place almost a month from now between four teams that have yet to be determined. It’s this type of baseless speculation—I know what will happen before it happens, and I will not be wrong!—that I kind of abhor about March Madness. Filling out a bracket is one thing. Pretending as if your bracket is the Gospel is another. You have been forewarned.

Unfortunately, one reaction to Duke’s draw has risen to the surface faster than the others in the last two days. It’s a specious argument, and some of its subscribers are all-too-adamant about screaming it. Perhaps you know what I’m talking about: Don’t pick Duke, because Duke’s flamed out the last three years!

In case you haven’t heard, Duke hasn’t made the Final Four since 2004. The Blue Devils were muscled out by VCU in the first round in 2007 and West Virginia in the second round in 2008, and last year, they were outclassed by Villanova in the Sweet 16. This is all true. You know what else is true? I watched Duke beat Virginia in the first round of the ACC Tournament on the 15th deck of a cruiseliner, with about 50 other Duke students. Later that night, I joined in a chorus of taunters by chanting “N-I-T” at a bunch of UNC students attempting to sing karaoke. The next day, when my return flight to Durham touched down, the first thing I heard, even before the flight attendant warned against unfastening our seat belts, was that Duke beat Miami and Kyle Singler scored 27 points. That’s all true, too.

It’s all just about as relevant to Duke’s postseason success as Duke’s last three NCAA Tournaments.

Maybe this Duke team won’t make it to the second weekend, and maybe this Duke team will win the national championship. Both are probably unlikely, but neither has anything to do with the fact that Duke is simply a better team this year than it has been the last three years. These Blue Devils, you might have noticed, have lost one game since January. It was against the ACC co-champion, on the road, on Senior Night, and it even required a miraculous shot from the ACC Player of the Year. These Blue Devils, you might have noticed, have established some sort of depth in the frontcourt, which will only grow in potency if the Brothers Plumlee overachieve. These Blue Devils, you might have noticed, feature a cold-blooded senior and two juniors playing better than they ever have before.

And just as important, these Blue Devils, you might have noticed, have a shot at making the Final Four that even a North Carolina guard could sink.

So no, pops, I haven’t bought my tickets to Indianapolis yet. I might just prefer to watch Duke in the Final Four on campus.


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