Thursday, April 08, 2010

Welcome To Bracketville, Population 9, Version 3.3

The sixty-four games over the three weeks of the 2010 edition of the NCAA Men’s basketball Tournament were exhilarating, thrilling, often electrifying, tension-filled, frequently Hollywood-scripted and habitually entertaining.

As a Duke fan, I am exhilarated, elated, ecstatic and exhausted.

This group of kids won Monday night because they lost to VCU in the opening round three years ago, were slapped around by West Virginia two years ago in round two and eviscerated in the second half by Villanova in last season’s Sweet Sixteen. This assemblage of talent, grit, courage and class was blessed with a work ethic second to none. They lost their first NCAA tournament game playing for Duke and won the last one.

This year they were a written-off, upperclassmen-laden team, lacking much NBA talent who nobody thought could win it all.

They are as surely a “band of brothers” as those made famous by Stephen Ambrose for their World War II exploits. And, in Coach Krzyzewski, they have a leader, mentor and guiding spirit who is a master motivator. Always prepared, they realized a goal that maybe a handful outside their extended family thought possible.

Certainly, my bracket did not have them in the winner’s circle. For the past five or six years, I have picked Duke to go one round further than they did. This year I chose them one round short. Trust me; picking them, a game light is more fun.

These kids proved that that being flashy, trying to make ESPN’s top plays or coming up with arrogant dance moves are not what it takes to win in college basketball. They out-rebounded every opponent, played incredibly hard-nosed defense and played smarter than the competition.

Of this team, I’ll quote Al McGuire (from his UNC days), “We were lucky, but we were good too.”

Naturally, this championship team will unleash a new wave of Duke-hating. To this, I quote Coach Krzyzewski, “We have great kids who go to school, they graduate. If we're going to be despised or hated by anybody because we go to school and we want to win, you know what, that's your problem.”

In my opinion, those who wish to hate the Duke program that K has taken to excellence in both athletics and the classroom…they best save room for programs like Butler, Purdue, Vanderbilt, Cornell, Xavier and Stanford. Those colleges emphasize superiority in basketball and scholarship as well…and they are succeeding. Even better, maybe the haters should hope their teams attempt to join the club striving for distinction.

This season I have read hundred of article, hundreds of thousands of words on college basketball in general and Duke in particular. I think Joe Posnanski’s article in Sports Illustrated is the best I’ve read. Now, were Frank Deford to summarize the season, I’d bet his would be the definitive piece.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/joe_posnanski/04/06/duke.title/index.html
It was a nifty season. Butler was a most worthy opponent. They played such powerhouses as Syracuse, Michigan State, Kansas State and Duke with no fear---and came within a half-inch of taking the crown. They may have been defeated by Duke, but they never lost. They did everything with dignity, pride and poise…they are noble warriors.

While many teams from “power conferences” whined about being left out of dance due to a pre-conference cream-puff schedule (Virginia Tech comes to minds), Butler took on Davidson, Minnesota, Georgetown, Ohio State and Xavier. Butler went for it from day one. Just a great story.

As Duke’s Lance Thomas said about Butler, “If I wasn’t playing them; I probably would root for them.”

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