Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A defense of Duke's No. 1 ranking

The e-mails from fans criticizing the current Duke team typically latch onto one area where the Blue Devils unquestionably are lacking.

Fans of other schools question how Duke (25-2) can be ranked No. 1 after playing just two teams ranked in the current top 25 (No. 19 North Carolina and No. 23 St. John’s).

As Duke prepares to meet No. 24 Temple (21-5) at 7 p.m. tonight (ESPN2), that’s a fair and legitimate question.

The ABD (Anyone But Duke) crowd wants to know, if Duke was in the Big East, what would the Blue Devils’ record be? That’s an impossible question to answer.

When Duke lost at St. John’s on Jan. 30, the defeat appeared to expose a serious flaw for the Blue Devils and the ACC. At the time, first-year coach Steve Lavin’s team appeared to be on its way to a finish in the lower third of the Big East standings.

Now, though, St. John’s owns Big East wins over No. 4 Pittsburgh, No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 14 Connecticut. So it’s not accurate to say that Duke’s loss at Madison Square Garden proves that the Blue Devils would be roadkill in the Big East.

Here’s a better question to ask. Let’s imagine that the future of the planet depended on the NCAA tournament.

An invading alien army from another galaxy would spare the earth if you could correctly pick the one team that would win the tournament. Would anybody – even the most fervent North Carolina fan - pick a team other than Duke?

Let’s consider some other options:

- No. 2 Ohio State might have the best big man in the land, but Jared Sullinger is just a freshman and Thad Matta’s Buckeye teams (except for the one that had Greg Oden) have notoriously underachieved in the NCAA tournament.

- Except for 2008, No. 3 Kansas has performed below expectations under Bill Self in the NCAA tournament. The Jayhawks also just had their point guard, Tyshawn Taylor, suspended indefinitely for an unspecified team rules violation.

- No. 4 Pittsburgh and No. 5 Texas also have coaches who haven’t performed well in the NCAA tournament when you consider how much talent they’ve had.

- Regarding No. 6 Brigham Young and No. 7 San Diego State, do you really think the NCAA tournament winner is coming from the Mountain West Conference?

You get the picture. In the final analysis, nobody has two seniors who are as accomplished as Duke’s Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, and you need only look back to the last two seasons (with champions Duke and North Carolina) to see how important high-quality seniors are in the NCAA tournament.

Duke also has a coach in Mike Krzyzewski who has proven time and again that he knows how to win in March and April. Krzyzewski has enough talented pieces in place along with Smith and Singler to make a run in the NCAAs, as Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly all are contributing regularly. And the Blue Devils are defending and rebounding well, as they did at the end of last season.

The final four games of the regular season will test Duke more. The Blue Devils play at home tonight against a No. 24-ranked Temple team whose strengths also are defense and rebounding.

On Saturday, Duke visits a Virginia Tech team that also has veteran talent in Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen and is desperate for a high-profile win to enhance its NCAA tournament resume.

Duke’s home finale on March 2 will be against a well-coached Clemson team that also has NCAA tournament aspirations. And in the regular season finale, the Blue Devils will visit an extremely talented North Carolina team that gets better every week.

The schedule over the next 11 days will tell us a lot about whether Duke really is the No. 1 team in the nation. But as it stands now, it’s difficult to pick a team that’s more likely to win the NCAA tournament, even if injured freshman point guard Kyrie Irving doesn’t return for the Blue Devils.

Ken Tysiac


Anonymous said...

Not Duke's fault that every team at the top is losing but them.

Please come back, Kyrie.

Anonymous said...

I agree. It's not Duke's fault everyone else is losing. Just like the NCAA tourney last year. The complaint was that Duke had an easy road. Well, it wouldn't have been easy if everyone else would have taken care of business. Duke should be praised for perservering, not belittled. It will be the same thing this year. Great coaches turn good teams into great teams. The best coach turns great teams into champions. That's why Duke will win it again. GO DUKE!

Anonymous said...

I am a lifelong UNC fan and can't help but despise the Dookies, but I think your analysis is spot on. I would hate to have to pick them to save the world but it would be hard not to if they win their next 4 games.

Anonymous said...

My God, Ken... that brought a tear to my eye.

I agree with your analysis and think that this next stretch is really going to show what Duke is made of. They could potentially lose 3 of 4.

Anonymous said...

No way we lose to UNC-CHeat.

Anonymous said... lost me at i a a.....oh how I lament the descent in the altitude of attitude so many writers apply to that which they offer as representative of their acquired skill level..all the while deeming themselves qualified to objectively pontificate on the skill level of so many of our young adults..perhaps it is time to implement a re-certification process for all media representatives..buoyed by mandatory periodic continuing education courses..otherwise you will repeatedly skip and glide over the morals of responsible journalism no matter how often you slip and slide intellectually demeaning scribble past your editors..on to a public deserving of so much more..all the while enjoying the benefits of a mostly free ride..being provided to your industry by the Beaux Gestes of young ones truly committed to the achievement of excellence in all their endeavors.....

Tom said...

after playing just two teams ranked in the current top 25 (No. 19 North Carolina and No. 23 St.

sneaky..current top 25..neither was ranked at the time...

there is no defense for the preferential treatment that college of derm gets...

Anonymous said...


"...there is no defense for the preferential treatment that college of cheater hill gets..."

Anonymous said...

Based on your argument, maybe Duke should just be ranked #1 the rest of the year...Why does their ranking even need defending? I'm a UNC grad and fan, but that's how the polls work. When teams in front of you lose, you should move up. You can debate they are a weak #1 but that's how the pieces fall this week. I hope they are still #1 when they come to Chapel Hill.

Anonymous said...

Pitt is the only team other than Duke that even has an arguement for #1. OSU is in a slump, Texas has 4 losses (and got blown out by USC), and Kansas got destroyed by K. State (and of course Texas).

david.gleason33 said...

Duke plays in the weakest conference of any of the top teams. The ACC is much weaker than the Big Ten, Big 12, or the Big East, so they are going to have fewer losses than Texas, Kansas, Ohio State, or Pitt. However, being number one means nothing now, only at the end of the season. A weak ACC will definitely hurt Duke in the NCAA tournament.

Anonymous said...

"Duke plays in the weakest conference of any of the top teams. "

Its not our fault that besides Carolina(which i hate admit) there aren't any other good teams in the ACC. Usually the ACC has at any given time 4 or 5 teams in the top 25 or really close to being ranked. Maybe we should play some tougher out of conference games(even though we did play two top five teams.cant help them falling apart) but we cant change the ACC schedule.You cant be angry with us getting the number one if we are winning consistently

AJ said...

Rankings in February are like Bond girls. Sure, they're nice to look at, but you really shouldn't take them too seriously.
The great thing about college basketball, and the main flaw of the BCS in football, is that the rankings don't, and shouldn't, matter. It all comes down to late March and the first weekend of April. Who can win 6 (or 7 if you're a lower seed beginning this year) games in a row. No 2nd chances, no excuses. Win or go home. Survive and advance.
The problem with polls and rankings was exposed easily last year. Carolina started ranked in the Top 10, but quickly fell out of the polls as their tough scheduled proved too much for a team that had lost so many key players from the previous season. Syracuse, however, started unranked and played like a team that should have been in the Top 10. Most writers, though, are too afraid to shake things up when it comes to the polls. Its much easier to stay at the top, if you started at the top than it is to work your way up. If the #1 team plays the #2 team, if the rankings were accurate, the #2 team should lose. When it happens, though, does it suddenly mean that it isn't really the #2 team any more? Realistically, a team could be the 2nd best team in the country, and still lose every game if they play the best team in the country 10 times. Does that mean that the #2 team still couldn't beat the #3 team? Absolutely not, yet pollsters are quick to drop a team just because they lose, without regarding who they lost to and how. The #1 team losing on a last second shot to a top 10 team doesn't mean the #1 team still isn't the best team, it means that college basketball has parody, something analysts love, but most fans hate! Sure, I love parody when Duke loses to St. Johns. I hate pardody when Carolina loses to Minnesota! On the same note, the #1 team losing by 15 points to an unranked team means that either the #1 ranked team is overrated, or the unranked team is underated. Either way, something is wrong with the rankings.
Bottome line, this is why the NCAA Tournament is so great! Teams have a chance to prove on the court that they are deserving of being #1. Does the best team always win? Of course not. But when they don't, they at least have the benefit of knowing it was their own fault for playing poorly, or the other team's fault for playing better, that ruined their chance of winning it all. In football, only two teams get the chance to play for the National Championship, and it usually has more to do with the letters on their jerseys than with the W's and L's on their records.

Anonymous said...

OK so make that 2 wins against the current top 25.

Not sure if anyone's noticed, but Duke has steamrolled every team they've played since St. John's except for UNC. Wouldn't bank on Singler shooting 3-17 again.