The narrative. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.
On January 25th — an 80-69 loss at #15 Miami — #24 Duke fell to 15-6 with a .500 record (4-4) in the ACC, and would soon fall out of the Top 25. This prompted a February 2nd article on ESPN.com with the headline Dayton a safer March bet than Duke, which is just brilliant.
And everyone was telling me, from coworkers all the way to my own mom and dad, that Duke was having a bad year. What’s wrong with your Dukies? they’d ask.
So, no, Duke’s public perception wasn’t too strong, but that’s due — at least in some small part — to how the media portrayed a 15-6 Blue Devils team. They might not even make the NCAA Tournament!
Sports outcomes — but basketball and football, in particular — play into the worst of society’s reactionary tendencies. In 2016 it’s impossible to go through a two- or three-game slump without it holding some inherently greater meaning. In this case, Duke was better than their (already decent) record indicated. But you would never know by what the pundits said on TV.
This was true before they defeated Louisville, before they beat Virginia, and before the other night when they beat #5 North Carolina by one point. Per Kenpom.com, the Blue Devils rank second in the country (out of 337 Division One schools) in offensive efficiency, and 11th in Pythagorean Rating. Even when Duke was unranked, they still rated among the nation’s elite in the advanced metrics.
They are about the reach the end of a four-game stretch through Louisville (twice), Virginia and North Carolina. Following that are three winnable games — against Florida State, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest — before ending the regular season at home against North Carolina.
The end of the year is interesting on another front, as junior G Matt Jones has a “badly sprained ankle,” according to Coach K, as he joins F Amile Jefferson on the bench. At its best, Duke is an 8-man rotation. Right now they have five healthy D-1 contributors:
- Grayson Allen
- Brandon Ingram
- Marshall Plumlee
- Derryck Thornton
- Luke Kennard
The sixth, freshman big man Chase Jeter, isn’t someone you trust in any capacity beyond mop-up duty. Krzyzewski proved this much against UNC: After Marshall Plumlee picked up his 4th foul (with 14:06 left in the game), Coach K put Jeter in for three minutes before getting Plumlee and his four fouls back on the floor. He basically blew his load and gambled on Plumlee not picking up his 5th foul, and won.
It’s not hard to admit that the 2015-’16 college basketball season will be lost on me in 4 or 5 years, what with everything else that’s been happening. My first love was sports, but my new love is politics. I don’t love Duke any less for having been mildly out of touch with them this year. It’s just a different kind of love.
When I consider the future, and the direction of the country I love, I currently find myself much more interested in that than some random sports games. As I’ve started looking closer at longterm impacts, I realize just how pointless sports are, when you really think about it.