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Capping off the weirdest season ever

Two days ago, Duke traveled to Winston-Salem to face a 13-16 Wake Forest team that the Blue Devils have beaten by an average of 18 points in their last four matchups. As expected, Duke went up early, but then something weird happened. The Demon Deacons outscored the Blue Devils 43-40 in the second half, cut the score to six (!) in the final minutes and wound up losing by just eight.

Duke came dangerously close Tuesday to blowing a game against the third-worst team in the ACC, needing a career performance from Ryan Kelly to squeak out the win. No one really saw that one coming.

It occurred, by the way, just five days after gritting out a huge win on the road against the then-No. 16 Seminoles. And three days after needing overtime at Cameron to beat the 15-13 Hokies. And three weeks after a 19-year-old hit a buzzer-beater to finish a furious comeback at the Dean Dome.

Welcome to the Weirdest. Year. Ever.

“I’ve never had a team like this,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday. “It’s crazy.”

Indeed. I can’t recall a year like this, when every game is an adventure, and you would be foolish to try to predict anything with confidence. Find me one well-informed fan who said with absolute certainty that Duke would go into Chapel Hill three weeks ago, three days after a heart-breaking loss to Miami, and upset a rolling Tar Heel team.

Or find me a fan who thought Duke would go down 20 against N.C. State, then rally back for a breathtaking win. Or one who saw Duke losing to the Hurricanes in overtime because of six straight missed free throws.

The unpredictability is undeniably entertaining—if you enjoy watching supposedly routine games through the slits between your fingers.

But how did this happen? How did the Blue Devils see their 64-game home winning streak against unranked opponents be broken against Florida State Jan. 21—then lose to another unranked opponent at Cameron two weeks later? How did Duke, one of the younger teams in the conference, just go undefeated on the road in conference play? Is this all a fever dream I’m having after stupidly sleeping in a K-Ville tent over the weekend?

There’s no one, good explanation.

Maybe it’s a result of starting the season in China and Dubai. Maybe we should have seen the picture of the brothers Plumlee standing on the Great Wall of China in conical Asian hats and just instinctively realized that this wasn’t going to be a normal year. Maybe we’re witnessing a virtuoso coaching performance from Coach K, who’s doing everything he can to cajole and lead a young team that’s naturally going to have its ups and downs.

Maybe, this year, the ups are just really, really high, and the downs are unexpected and really low. Or, maybe this team is actually deserving of that old, hackneyed term that sports columnists have been overusing for decades: gritty. After all, how else do you describe a team that has pulled off wins when teetering so many times on the brink of disaster?

Which brings us to Saturday, the one for all the marbles. At this point, Duke can win by 20, and I’d be happy, but not surprised. It can lose by 20, and I won’t bat an eye. Krzyzewski can take off a mask, revealing himself to be long-time character actor Steve Buscemi. Sure, makes sense, I’d say. I just don’t know what the hell is going to happen or what to say about it.

Well, maybe this: If you bet money on this game, you either have a severe gambling problem, or are insane.

Enjoy the game.


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