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More on the Duke win
April 6, 2010

As we all know, Duke won the 2010 National Championship in basketball last night. I said last night that I never even allowed myself to dream that Duke could be champions this year. Didn't even cross my mind as the regular season progressed. Why? For one, they don't have a single superstar. They haven't had much postseason success since 2004. They don't have many offensive weapons. Sure, Scheyer, Smith, and Singler can play, but they're prone to going cold and if you shut one or more of them down, who are you going to turn to? So, like I said, I thought they would win 28-30 games, maybe win the ACC tournament because the rest of the league wasn't all that good, either, go out in the Sweet 16 and then we'd see them again next season.

And then, of course, the tournament started. Kansas went out in the second round to Northern Iowa. Now, people were critical of Duke's bracket, saying Duke had it too easy while teams like Kansas and Kentucky had it too hard. When they were saying that, I don't imagine they were thinking Kansas was going to have it too hard in the second round versus a 9 seed. But that didn't really affect my opinion of Duke's chances, because Kansas was in an opposite bracket and Duke could only potentially face them in the finals. Then Syracuse lost in the Sweet 16 to Butler. Like Kansas, that would only affect Duke in the finals.

Then Duke got to the Elite 8. That's when the first glimmer of hope crept into my mind that maybe, just maybe, Duke has a chance. Not a big chance, but a chance. Still, they would have to go through a tough, athletic Baylor team, exactly the kind of team that has been giving Duke fits the past few years. They would have to then go through whomever won between Kentucky and West Virginia. West Virginia, the winners of the Big East conference, and a team that beat Duke in the tournament two years ago. Or Kentucky, a team with at least 5 first round NBA draft picks playing for them. After that, they would face whomever came out of the other side of the tournament, the wacky side that had already seen Kansas and Syracuse go out.

As we all know, West Virginia beat Kentucky and Duke beat Baylor, so Duke would face WV in the Final Four. Michigan State and Butler would battle in the other matchup. Hope... building. Butler beat Michigan State, Duke throttled West Virginia, and the championship game was set. Butler versus Duke. Everyone nationally was billing it as David versus Goliath, good versus evil. Nevermind that Butler was a preseason top 10 team and was 33-4 and had won 25 games in a row, and had beat 1 seed Syracuse, 2 seed Kansas State, and perennial Final Four participant Michigan State to reach the championship game. This was no cinderella Duke was facing. Still, hope was at a fever pitch.

As the championship game went on, Duke was clearly not playing to the same level they did against West Virginia. Butler was tougher defensively than the Mountaineers ever were, and they weren't getting the shots they got in the semifinal. Duke jumped out to an early 5 point lead, but Butler got right back into it. Duke stretched the lead up to 6, but Butler got right back into it. At half, Duke led by just 1. In the second half, Duke kept the lead for the majority of the way but could never make a basket when they had the chance to extend the lead beyond a mere 4 or 5 points. They had several opportunities, but it never happened. As it turns out, it came down to the last few seconds. Duke saw a late 5 point lead trimmed to 1, Butler had the ball in hand with the shot clock off and the chance to win.

Let's rewind back to 1999. In 1999, Duke was 37-1 entering the championship game against UConn. Other than a early season loss to Cincinnati, no one could touch them. Duke went through the ACC undefeated and blazed right through the tournament to face UConn in the final. Despite UConn actually being ranked #1 for longer in the season than Duke was, I had no real fear that Duke wouldn't win the championship. It was destined to happen. It was perhaps the deepest team Duke had ever put on the court, you could literally take the first five out and still the other team would be overmatched. As it turns out, UConn was better than I imagined and Duke lost by 3. Duke coming back and winning in 2001 was good, but 1999 is still a bad memory, as I'm still convinced Duke would beat UConn 8 out of 10 times if they played that game over.

2004. Final Four, again against UConn. UConn was the more heralded team, but Duke was actually seeded higher since UConn had some duds in the regular season. Duke controlled the game basically from start to near finish. I say near finish. Duke's big men couldn't stay out of foul trouble, though, and both of their main bigs (Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph) fouled out several minutes before the game was over. Duke maintained an 8-10 point lead, but after their bigs were gone, they could not stop UConn's Emeka Okafor. UConn beat Duke by 1 and went on to beat Georgia Tech in the championship game. Again, I'm firmly convinced that if Duke could have kept their big men on the floor in that game, they would have had no problem against Tech and would have claimed yet another national championship.

So that brings me back to this year. 1999 and 2004 were just examples of championships I felt that got away. This year's Duke team was not as good as either team. They weren't the most talented team in the country. But winning a title this year in a year when they should have had no chance would make up for one of those disappointments.

Back to the game. Butler has the ball, 13 seconds to go, everybody in Indianapolis, everybody in America is rooting for them to beat Duke. Butler had made all the plays in the last couple of minutes. Butler was confident. I was sitting there with a sense of dread that I had maintained throughout much of the game that Duke had played their best game of the tournament one game too early and that this, too, would be snatched away. Even though they weren't the best team, they were the best team left, but like before it would not be enough. Butler would win, and Duke would be known as the team that lost to cinderella (even though, as said before, Butler was no such thing). Butler's best player, Gordon Hayward, had the ball and he was trying to take it to the basket. He hadn't shot incredibly well for the game, yet he seemed to have no trouble in the second half either taking the ball to the basket and getting a shot or getting fouled in the process. Yet this time, Duke managed to stay in front of him. He drifted off to the right, took a fadeaway jumper from the baseline over the outstretched arm of Brian Zoubek, and he missed! The ball drew the back of the iron and the rebound squirted right into Zoubek's hands with 3.6 seconds left and he was fouled.

To the other end of the court, Zoubek to shoot 2, Duke still clinging to thet 1 point lead. Now, Zoubek is a beast. He's not an offensive threat in the slightest unless he's wide open, but for the second half of the season, he had been a rebounding and defensive machine. It was fitting that he was the defender on that last play and had grabbed the rebound, but dude is not a good free throw shooter. 55-60%. He sunk the first one, and intentionally missed the second. Now, everyone is questioning Coach K on that decision now, but at the time, I agreed because I said to myself before he even shot that he should miss it. Butler had no timeouts and would have to gather the rebound and take it the length of the floor with no play, no focus, and only 3 seconds or so to create something from nothing. It sounded like a good idea. Sure enough, the ball clanks off the iron but Butler had no trouble with the rebound. Hayward had it once again, got the ball to midcourt, heaved a deperation shot...

Off the backboard, off the rim, and time ran out! The shot was no good (dang close, though), and Duke had won!

And you know how I felt? Not elated, not like Duke had just stolen a title they had no business winning (and being ecstatic that they did), but relieved. Duke would not be the team that lost to the cinderalla-that-wasn't.

The funny thing is that Duke may as well have lost that game, as much as everyone keeps second-guessing the intentional miss, talking about the shot that didn't go in, and in general discussing Butler. The fact that Duke won the game is apparently an inconvenient triviality.

But like Coach K said in the postgame press conference last night, Butler is a good story, but so is the story of this Duke team. Nobody (including me) thought they had a shot. They weren't the most talented team in the country. The seniors on the team lost in the first round as freshman, the second round as sophomores, and were beaten badly in the Sweet 16 as juniors. They lacked depth in the backcourt, and had no real threat of inside scoring. Yet today, they are the 2010 National Champions.

Maybe I'll post more tomorrow or later this week.



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I'm Anthony Pegram. This site is a place where I can talk about things that interest me in music, video games, programming, and other parts of life. It's also a place where I test the latest and greatest in programming technology. Thanks for stopping by.