Congrats to Duke and Coach K…
As a Syracuse fan and now an ACC fan, I have always had a loyalty to Jim Boeheim and a healthy degree of healthy, spirited dislike for Coach K and Duke. I am not saying that Duke is not a great program. I would be hard-pressed to make an argument that any other coach in college basketball is superior to Coach K. 1,000 wins and (now) five championships speak for themselves. Still, to me, Duke is the New York Yankees of college basketball… when you meet a non-alum fan living outside the region, you cannot help but think “fair weather.” And it is beyond debate that Duke seemingly “gets the calls” as much as any team in any sport. Somewhere along the way, Dick Vitale converted from a basketball knowledge savant to a Coach K agent and Duke promoter, which grew intolerable. So, if any praise for Duke and Coach K comes from this writer, it is a brand new feeling. But here it goes… props to Coach K and Duke for the national championship this year.
First, the game last night was outstanding. Duke should have lost that game, playing without two of its best players for significant portions. Duke trailed by nine, when freshman Grayson Allen seemingly put Duke on his back and kept them in the game. In fact, not only did Wisconsin fail to expand its lead, Allen and company led Duke back into a lead. Can any coach control when a player gets unexpectedly hot and confident at the exact moment when needed? Probably not. But it was apparent that Coach K could sense that Allen was hot and gave the team the green light to take advantage of same. That IS coaching. And that hot hand stayed hot long enough to not only weather the storm, but bring the sun out.
Second, the officials were not as bad as the Kentucky/Wisconsin game, but Wisconsin was hurt by the out-of-bounds call. BUT… when you have a 9-point lead and two of your opponent’s three best players on the bench, you cannot let that lead evaporate. And during the final few minutes, it did not look like Wisconsin offensive basketball. The call hurt, but so did the 3rd foul on Jahlil Okafor. As if often the case, the refs made a foul call without bothering to determine whether there was truly contact. The idea that the hand is part of the ball seems to have evaporated from college basketball as fully and completely as the travel call is no longer called by NBA referees. In any event, calls will go both ways all game. You don’t get to complain just because the last bad call went against you. The out-of-bounds call hurt, but it did not cause Wisconsin to lose the game.
Third, Tyus Jones can shoot. Wisconsin showed how dominant a team can be with shooters. Jones was money down the stretch, delivering the knockout punches. Coach K has an eye for guys that can hit three-pointers reliably and when needed.
Finally, with several Duke freshman with prominent roles and immediate NBA futures, Duke does not look all that different from Kentucky. The one-and-done nature of college basketball lends itself to this phenomenon. But that just adds to the Coach K legacy. He won championships with upperclassmen. And now he won a championship with a temporary roster. And he did it against a veteran, battle-tested team. Really… Wisconsin was a very, very good team. Duke and Coach K found a way to win.
Fans of other ACC schools may not always be rooting for Duke and Coach K, but they added to the ACC legacy–which benefits us all. So, congrats to Coach K and Duke!