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Every Storyline Under the Sun: A Duke-Butler National Championship Primer

April 5, 2010

I'm ecstatic. Much like the forthcoming feature film Clash of the Titans, Duke has escaped the rancid belly of its Cronus-like forebearers to become a National Championship contender. All the weight of the Duke's tournament history has lorded over this current team for 3 years, looming like a shadow cast by Zeus's storm clouds. Coach K has released the Kraken (aka Brian Zoubek) in each game with supreme results. The utter dismantling of a rugged West Virginia team on Saturday was but one more step towards the final goal of returning Duke to the ranks of the Elite Programs, the Olympians of the college basketball world.

Now as excited as I am, I am also dubious of the media coverage Duke is once again receiving. I spent the weekend at a friend's wedding, completely depriving myself of both the reading and watching of the media Duke was surely receiving before, during, and after their Final Four game. (Actually, I would recommend this, I didn't have to listen to Hubert Davis and Digger Phelps cheapen Duke's victory by making references to UNC and Notre Dame). But since I missed the bevy of storylines that have been espoused by various media outlets, I decided to catch-up Sunday morning while sitting hungover in the Tampa, FL airport. Let me say, the things I've been reading have been utterly lacking in originality. It's almost as though many of the beat and national writers have canned several Duke stories and just pull one out whenever the game goes a certain way. Since it took me several hours to muddle through all of the press, I thought I'd help out the average sports fan with a condensed, bulleted version here.

Stories I read while furiously drinking fluids to kill my migraine (just add milk or water):
  • Duke is Back!
  • Duke is Back?
  • Duke is Back, Boo!
  • Why People Love to Hate Duke
  • Why People Hate Duke and Should Continue To
  • Why People Shouldn't Hate Duke
  • Coach K Looks Like A Rat (No, this really happened)
  • Duke-Butler, David-Goliath, Couldn't Think of Another Bible Story to Use
  • Butler is the Hoosiers, Not a Team that has Been Building a Program for Years
  • Dick Vitale: "I Never Forgot About Duke", and Other Thoughts on Jason Williams/JJ Redick
  • Are We Sure Kansas Isn't Supposed to Be Playing in this Thing?
  • Brian Zoubek is a Good Player?
  • No, Brian Zoubek Really is a Good Player
  • Why you Should like Nolan Smith
  • Why you Should like Gordon Hayward
  • Everyone in the World Besides Duke Fans Will Be Cheering For Butler/Hoosiers/Underdog
  • This Game Might Be Ugly
  • Gordon Hayward is the White Adam Morrison (Ok, this one doesn't exist, but I wish it did)
And Last but not Least:
  • Goliath vs. the Hoosiers Holding a Box of Kittens in the Dome Down the Street Tonight.
So the weekend leading up to to my review of all necessary media storylines has been nothing but a blur of cheap beer, toasts, strip clubs, and a DJ with atrocious jokes. The Wedding Weekend in Tampa, Florida had me and 10 of my closest friends from high school parading around in a drunken stupor, sun-burned and happy. I streamed the Duke-WVU game over my phone while breaking it down to the best dance music the 1970's had to offer. I sat staring at my plate of pulled pork and sweet potato crochets when I learned that MSU had been downed by Butler, not even envisioning the factors that lay on the periphery of the final game itself. Match-ups, I thought, think of how well Duke matches up to Butler..... I dreamed of the Title. I had not considered, the home crowd for Butler, that people really hate Duke, that Jay Bilas will probably throw us under the bus, and that Butler is a really, really good team.

With all of the mountain of press that has unfurled within the past 48 hours, I still feel as though one of the biggest and most important storyline of this whole thing has been missed: Sometimes Experience Trumps Talent. Now that's more of a macro-view of the tournament this year, but I think it also is a lens through which to view the upcoming National Championship game. The teams that had the right mix of experience and toughness have made through to the next round. Just look at the Final Four: Duke, WVU, MSU, Butler. All four of those teams were experienced and tough. Duke starts two juniors and three seniors. MSU has been to 6 Final Fours in the last 12 years and was in the Nat'l Championship game last season. WVU has been steadily building an NCAA tournament resume that has included progressing further and further each season. Butler, the little school that could, has nine players on it's roster that was junior and seniors and it's two best players, Hayward and Mack, are sophomores who played LSU down to the wire in last season tournament before falling short.

This season in college b-ball has been an exciting one, with experienced, tough teams leading the way instead of NBA-bound talent playing the trump card time and time again. And honestly, it's a refreshing change of pace. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and other freshman phenoms had their moments, but they were fleeting ones. And those still standing at the end of the season are the players that have been putting in the time, effort, and hard work to mold their games and teams into contenders. Whatever the outcome tonight, Duke is no Goliath, Butler is no David, and there will be no Hoosiers in the building; only two teams that are smart, dedicated, and tough. And I can't wait.


Teach said...

I hate to say it, but we've underestimated and lambasted Duke's talent base for at least four or five years now. Myself included. 'Cause them making the championship game isn't just about experience

April 5, 2010 at 7:04 PM
Teach said...

Except the Morris brothers...who knew all along that Zoubek and company were Olympians...Also, Ice, don't think I didn't notice the Greek allusions that seem vaguely reminiscent (perhaps in a mocking fashion) of my Dex Strickland post...well played, sir

April 5, 2010 at 7:07 PM
Iceman, AD said...

Uh-hem. Well I don't mock others on this site. Intentionally. Well except for that Dex Strickland piece, I think I did subconsciously mock it.

I agree with what you're saying, it takes some major talent to make the Championship game, but in this instance I would say that talent alone is not the only thing coming into play. In years past the Championship game was a prelude to the NBA Draft (See: Kansas-Memphis 2008), not so this year. And that was my point. And I think that's refreshing.

April 5, 2010 at 7:25 PM
Deckfight said...

i hated the "right way" stories. just b/c they're private schools, that automatically makes them play the right way? What about USC? they play the right way with all their probations?

halftime on the game right now, i missed the first half. looks like homefield advantage is working a bit for butler.

April 5, 2010 at 10:20 PM
Iceman, AD said...

I'm on board with you Deckfight. In fact, I think it's downright sad that the expectation of most people is that most college athletes don't get education. And so when a school graduates a large portion of their players, they are considered to be playing "the right way." Kind of annoying, and in most cases it makes me feel like people are trying to talk themselves into programs they don't particularly like.

April 6, 2010 at 12:44 AM
Teach said...

Actually got into the graduation rate argument with Gillian's dad. He feels colleges take advantage of athletes etc by not graduating them. I didn't really won't to get into that debate because I have mixed feelings about it, so I threw out the straw man that a college team with a low grad rate most likely plays for an institution with a low grad rate; and, from the schools we looked up, it was true. If a school doesn't graduate its average student, then it will not graduate its athletes. What comes into question here then is not necessarily the coaches but the atmospheres and environments of academia in the US. The bball numbers were all within a stone's throw percentage wise of the general student population at their university.

April 6, 2010 at 6:27 PM
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