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The truth* about Duke’s season

There were two options for this column: Either I could write a reasoned analysis of Duke’s chances to reach the Final Four, or I could write something totally outrageous. Before the Blue Devils dismantled North Carolina in the ACC tournament final, I was leaning toward a reasoned analysis of why you, the NCAA Tournament viewer, should listen to the computers (which love Duke again this year—although not as much as they did last year) and not to know-nothing television commentators. (Actual quote from an ESPN analyst who will remain nameless, when discussing a potential Duke-Ohio State Final Four matchup, “I like [Ohio State]; they’re very solid. Duke is suspect at times, so I’m going with Ohio State.”)

Digger Phelps’s opinions notwithstanding, the Blue Devils are something of a trendy pick to win the championship now, so my reasoned analysis would be trite. Therefore, without further ado, I present to you the true* inside story of this year’s season.

*not true

DURHAM (Dec. 2, 2010) — Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and his assistants sat in the coach’s Cameron Indoor Stadium office in the wee hours after the Blue Devils handily took down then-No. 6 Michigan State. Coach K was not pleased.

“This season is not working out as planned!” Krzyzewski said.

His assistants were puzzled. The team was 7-0 and had yet to be really challenged—even against then-No. 4 Kansas State. There was talk of an undefeated season, and most analysts felt Duke was head and shoulders above any of their competitors.

“We’re winning too much, too soon,” Coach K continued. “At this rate, I’ll break Bob Knight’s all-time Division I wins record in a 101-48 win over Hampton in an NCAA Tournament first round game—and then the rest of our inevitable march to the championship will be anti-climactic.”

With assistant coaches Steve Wojciechowski, Chris Collins and Nate James listening intently, Krzyzewski laid out his plan.

First, he said, they’d pretend that star point guard Kyrie Irving got injured. It would be a freak injury to a ridiculous body part, like his right big toe. This would shift the storyline around Duke away from Krzyzewski and onto Irving’s toe. “Duke students” (read: spies planted by Krzyzewski) would start the ridiculous and sublime website savekyriestoe.com (complete with matching Twitter account), pun-loving students could tweet things like “TOE NO!” and “stay op(toe)mistic,” Irving could flash his sartorial style on the sidelines (topsiders, cardigans and jeans, oh my!) and the coach could sprinkle Irving-flavored doom and gloom into every press conference.

Without Irving, the Blue Devils could credibly look beatable as they adjusted to his absence on the fly. They would lose four regular season games, including a true stinker on national television against St. John’s and a road game against North Carolina.

But just when the national media started doubting them, they’d turn it around in time for the ACC tournament, dominating all challengers, including the hated Tar Heels. And to top it all off, Irving would tell the media that there’s a chance he’ll play in the NCAA Tournament— putting the toe back in the spotlight and preventing the rest of the world from realizing that Krzyzewski was only four wins away from tying Knight’s record.

Irving would return in the Tournament, and the Blue Devils would breeze through to the Final Four, with Coach K tying Knight’s record. (Not even Krzyzewski could predict that the NCAA Tournament would give Texas a No. 4 seed. He could, however, predict that Virginia Tech wouldn’t make the Tournament. Seth Greenberg just makes for great television, and Coach K knows entertainment.)

In the national semi-final, Duke would face North Carolina for the first time ever in the Tournament. The Blue Devils would race out to a quick 25-point lead, and it would never be any closer than that. Harrison Barnes would shoot 0-for-10 from the field and 0-for-10 from the foul line, in a game that was the exact opposite of Christian Laettner’s 1992 regional final performance. After the game, a dejected Barnes would attempt to walk off the court, but he’d be stopped by Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek, who would handcuff him and take him back to Krzyzewski. Live on Skype, Barnes would stand by Coach K as he announced his retirement, effective immediately.

Nolan Smith would take over as player-coach-mascot for the championship game, an easy Blue Devil win.

When Krzyzewski finished outlining the plan, Wojciechowski, Collins and James looked up at their leader in disbelief. Surely he was joking.

“Savekyriestoe.com?” they thought. “That’s ridiculous.”

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