So Many Reasons to Root Against Duke
INDIANAPOLIS -- Along my way to Lucas Oil Stadium, where Friday's Final Four practices were taking place, a family of four was approaching with everybody dressed in Duke blue and white.
The couple smiled. The babies burped or something in their strollers while looking cute and innocent. Just for a moment, I thought to myself, "Well, maybe everything surrounding Duke Basketball isn't synonymous with pure evil."
They are the Blue Devils, you know.
So, maybe ...
Unless you haven't been paying attention, you should pull for anybody but Duke this weekend along the way to the Final Two on Saturday and possibly the Final One on Monday night.
You know I'm right about the Blue Devils. They get all the calls -- not only from the refs during games but from the NCAA when it comes to most things. They're ridiculously smug. They have a coach who thinks he's better than everybody else (and, no, I don't care that in many ways he actually is). They did that floor-slapping thing on defense (below right). Oh, and they featured the likes of Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Steve Wojciechowski and a bunch of other folks that you just couldn't stand.
With apologies to that couple and their babies, Duke has to lose, and it has to start Saturday night against a West Virginia team capable of exorcising those Devils with its 1-3-1 zone. If not West Virginia, we must hope for the best from either that magic team from Butler or Michigan State's latest masterpiece from Tom Izzo.
This isn't personal. Even Duke guard Nolan Smith knew as much, because he nodded at his locker after practice when I asked him if he understood that the entire solar system is overrun with Duke haters.
"We embrace it, and we try to use that as something to really put a chip on our shoulders and go out there every game knowing that," said Smith, a sharp-shooting junior who grew up in Upper Marlboro, Md. "I mean, that's one of the reasons why a lot of us came to Duke, because I knew about [that hatred] when I came to Duke. All the time, I kept hearing from people, 'Why are you going to Duke? I hate Duke. But if I have to, I'll cheer for you.' And those were just family and friends back home saying that [about Duke] when I made my decision. That's when I knew that, if they're saying that, the whole world was probably thinking the same exact thing."
Uh ... yep.
Duke now tops the list of despised teams in professional and amateur sports. And, yes, I know. The Yankees still aren't universally hugged, but they received more kisses than usual from the masses last season during their "Win One For The Boss" campaign. They said they wished to grab the World Series in honor of ailing owner George Steinbrenner, and they did just that to complete a fairy tale -- even for those who used to view anything with pinstripes as goblins.
In the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys always prance around as if they are no more than a season removed from their last Super Bowl victory. The truth is, until this season, they hadn't won a playoff game in 13 years. So the Cowboys continue to generate a wide-spread case of dislike, but not as much as Duke.
The same goes for the New England Patriots, famously despicable since the turn of the century due to the Tuck Rule, Spygate and Bill Belichick. They've become an afterthought since they haven't won a Super Bowl in five years.
And Notre Dame has been nothing for a while -- at least in football, the primary reason the Fighting Irish regularly generated Duke-like anger from those who don't exactly tingle over the sound of the Victory March.
But back to Duke, which brings me to Blue Devils center Brian Zoubek, who has his theory on why his team is viewed as college basketball's version of a four-letter word among many. "People are tired of us winning, and we're not tiring of winning," Zoubek said. "So there obviously is going to be a clash."
No question, Duke is a winning machine, and it all goes back to Mike Krzyzewski (right), owner of more victories (75) in the NCAA tournament than any coach in history. Only the sainted John Wooden has more Final Four trips (12 to 11). As a result, Duke's winning percentage in the tournament of .754 is the best ever, and the Blue Devils also have those three national champions under Krzyzewski.
It's just that the Blue Devils haven't won it all since 2001, and before this season, they hadn't been to the Final Four in six years.
Still, Duke has been treated like royalty.
A Duke, if you will.
Just during the last few weeks, the NCAA tournament selection committee virtually guaranteed the Blue Devils a spot in the Final Four by giving them the third slot among the No. 1 seeds, when Syracuse deserved it more. That's because Syracuse played in the superior Big East this season compared to Duke's Atlantic Coast Conference. Even so, Syracuse was sent to the West Region, and Duke was placed in the South, where you had Villanova as the tourney's weakest No. 2 seed, Baylor as the tourney's weakest No. 3 seed and Purdue as the tourney's weakest No. 4 seed.
Then there were those Duke-like calls when the Blue Devils survived Baylor down the stretch of the South Regional finals.
Once, Duke's Jon Scheyer shot two free throws despite swinging his elbows wildly after getting trapped in the backcourt. One of those Baylor defenders involved with the trapping somehow was given the technical. In another situation, a Baylor player was called for charging into the 7-foot Zoubek who appeared to be blocking. Said Zoubek at the time, "That was a lucky blow of the whistle."
This isn't to say Zoubek was confessing anything. Like most of his teammates -- and despite his aforementioned theory -- he admitted he really doesn't know why Duke causes others to frown with ease.
"You can point to a 100 different reasons why [folks hate us], but we try to do everything the right way, and we try to have a lot of class in the way we do it," said Zoubek, a senior, who has been a Duke fan since one of his aunts back in Haddonfield, N.J., dressed him in Blue Devils stuff when he was four-years old. "It's hard to say [why people hate us]. I don't know. It's just a culture of hating Duke."