Originally posted on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 2/11/13
Let’s begin with the obvious: there is no 2012 Kentucky this March. College Basketball lacks a truly great team this season, and there are about a dozen schools that could make a claim for #1 seeds in March. So, more than ever, while rankings are mostly meaningless, they do get publicized every night; they do brainwash casual fans who don’t follow college basketball until February or March; and they therefore do matter since in five weeks four teams will receive top seeds for March Madness 2013. And as usual, the Duke Blue Devils positioned themselves well by cleverly scheduling their “toughest opponents” in November in order to roll through December, January, and February, escaping with wins against bottom-feeders and avoiding too many losses. These are things you cannot do in the Big Ten, Big East, Big 12, Mountain West, or many other conferences. Life is easy in the ACC. No Anti-Duke Agenda You may be wondering, why must I pen similar columns on Duke every winter? I do not hate the university in Durham. I admire Coach K as a person and leader. And compared to the type of player many top schools have recruited the past 20  years, the Blue Devils usually have a roster of upstanding young men.  However, this does not excuse the fact that Duke is two games out of first in the lowly ACC, yet slotted above the first place school who crushed them two weeks ago, is ranked #1 in America by coaches, a close #2 by the AP, and #3 in ESPN’s infamous “power rankings.” And more importantly, for the fourth year in a row, with a #1 RPI, this group is cruising toward a top seed they simply do not deserve. The Trend Continues Let’s review: In 2010, Purdue University was locked in as the final top seed until Robbie Hummel tore his ACL Feb. 24 in Minneapolis; Duke quietly took the last number one seed for March Madness, somehow was given a cakewalk draw, and hung on to take the national title when Gordon Hayward’s desperation shot hit the rim at Lucas Oil Stadium. I was at the game, and support Butler, but Duke played even up with a “mid-major” for their first title in a decade. In 2011, Duke was ranked #1 deep into January, then lost to unranked Florida State, St. John’s, and two of their final three games (non-tourney Virginia Tech and UNC). Like this season and last, the ACC was a weak conference; Duke lacked quality road wins; had questionable losses, yet somehow propelled themselves to a dubious top seed after winning three games in the irrelevant ACC tourney. There was no rationale for this seeding except bias. The Blue Devils were quickly demolished by a one-man Arizona team in the Sweet 16 a fortnight later, proving they were unworthy of a one seed. In 2012, Duke struggled mightily to survive at home against 5th place N.C. State, last place Virginia Tech, and at 20-loss Georgia Tech in another weak ACC.  Number one seeds in March Madness shouldn’t need 40-45 minutes to hold off inferior teams. Duke apologists pointed to the school’s ”quality wins” as to why they deserved a one seed. Factually, Duke’s best wins were a buzzer-beater against UNC, and neutral site triumphs versus Kansas, Michigan, and Michigan State. The latter seem impressive, until you realize these all occurred in November before any of those young teams were what they became by season’s end. None were road games. Sound familiar? (Michigan State was also unranked in November and traveled 3,000 miles in three days after opening their season against UNC in San Diego.) A December shellacking by Ohio State, January loss at Temple, home losses to unranked Miami and Florida State, plus another blowout home loss to rival North Carolina in the season finale — and a second loss to Florida State in the ACC tourney semi-finals — forced the committee to give Duke a #2. They should have been a #3. Duke did not have a non-conference road win all season. (Creighton, for example, who had a better overall record than Duke and played in a conference every bit as good, yet was given an eight seed, had three.) How did Duke reward the committee for that #2 seed? Embarrassingly losing to #15 Lehigh in round one. In 2013, the Blue Devils again scheduled reasonably tough non-conference games — all in November and none on the road, however. They survived against a very young and so far disappointing Kentucky in the opener; a Minnesota team that quickly went from top 10 to unranked; rapidly-fading Louisville; then made a furious comeback to beat Ohio State  (5th place Big 10) in Durham. After being crushed in non-conference road games the past two years, Coach K simply avoided any this season. Since Nov. 28, Duke has beaten no good teams. I’d argue they’re barely a top 20 team since then, especially when you consider: In January, the Blue Devils: Lost to unranked N.C. State — arguably the most disappointing team in the nation. Were demolished by then #25 Miami (perhaps still overhyped and benefiting from a terrible ACC. The ‘Canes lost non-conference to Indiana State and Florida Gulf Coast, yet are unbeaten in conference). Then “hit their stride” by…barely surviving against bottom dwellers Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and, last night, coming back from down five late to win on a free throw at last place Boston College. (Earlier Sunday, #2 Indiana was ripping #10 Ohio State in Columbus, yet Duke is ranked higher in one poll?) If this is a top team, it’s a sad year for college basketball. Duke Overhype an Example of Sports Injustice To aid Duke’s cause, ESPN is currently pushing the “best rivalry in college basketball” as North Carolina — a team bound for the NIT — comes to Cameron Indoor Wednesday night. Exactly what have the Dukies done to deserve a 3 seed in March, much less the top draw, other than survive versus bad schools and schedule ostensibly tough matchups very early? However, the ball don’t lie, as the kids say. Untested in four months, the Blue Devils will likely lose early again in March Madness, as they have each year the past decade sans 2010; and the angry, ad hominem attacks from classless Duke fans toward my columns will again disappear; the media will forget this annual routine by November; and I’ll probably be forced to pen the same treatise next February, sadly. College hoops has issues. They are nowhere near as bad as football and the fraudulent BCS, but despite the incredible success of so-called “mid-majors” in March, a problem is increasingly apparent: If you’re ranked in the top five or ten when the season commences by a subjective, regional media, schedule softly most of non-conference, play in a weak “major” conference like the ACC or SEC, win 90% of your games, you’ll receive a top seed. Many have done it, but the Blue Devils will soon have done it four years in a row. Many Americans dislike Duke’s basketball team, their coaches, their obnoxious fans, the school itself, mainstream media hype, and bias toward them, et al. I do not have an agenda other than exposing injustice at the sports level —  be that obvious (BCS, inordinate length of the NBA playoffs) or less obvious (incessant NFL hype, overrated/overpaid Ryan Howard). I don’t know which category Duke falls into, but I believe the objective summaries I continue to provide each February are worth considering until this trend ceases. The post Duke Backs Into #1 Ranking in Coaches Poll … Will They Back Into Another Undeserved Top Seed Come March? appeared first on Midwest Sports Fans.
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