Duke Blue Devils on the Wrong Side of NCAA Tournament History

Steve Auger@@Corner_CubeAnalyst IIMarch 23, 2012

When it comes to sports, no team ever wants to be “the first of” anything that has a negative connotation.

The 2004 New York Yankees hold the dubious distinction of being the first (and only) baseball team to ever blow a three-games-to-none lead in the playoffs.

The fact that they coughed up that series to their hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox, coupled with being the mighty Yankees, owners of 27 World Series championships, provides the Bronx Bombers with a strangle hold on the title of Biggest Gag Job in Playoff History.

In one of the most exciting and shocking games of this year’s NCAA tournament, the Duke Blue Devils joined a very exclusive club care of the Lehigh Mountain Hawks.  Coach K’s crew was unceremoniously booted off Bracket Island by a score of 75-70.  Along with Syracuse, Arizona, South Carolina, Iowa State and Missouri—ironically, Mizzou was shown the door just a couple of hours earlier—Duke became just the sixth 2-seed to lose to a 15-seed in tournament history.

Though they weren’t the first team to suffer that humiliation—that honor forever belongs to Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange all the way back in 1991—the following question now must be pondered:  Was this the biggest upset of the group?

A thorough examination of Duke’s pedigree reveals that answer to be a resounding “yes.”

Pardon the pun, but Duke is one of a handful of programs that can be classified as college hoops royalty.  Entering this season, the Blue Devils were fourth in all-time wins, trailing only Kentucky, Kansas, and North Carolina and ahead of other storied programs such as UCLA and Indiana.  Pretty elite company by any stretch of the imagination.

Duke resides in the Atlantic Coast Conference, historically, the conference of hoops conferences.  Just ask anyone in the ACC and they’ll tell you how superior their league is to all the others.  Yes, that last sentence is dripping with disdain.

Under Coach K’s reign, the Devils have hung four national championship banners with the most recent being only two short seasons ago.

Coach K also just happens to be the all-time winningest coach in men’s Division I history after passing Bobby Knight early this season.  And if that isn’t enough, he guided the U.S. men’s basketball team to the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics.

The Cameron Crazies stand among the most annoying fan bases (if they don’t occupy the top spot already) in all of sports.  Every home game they recycle all their clever little chants and their cute little Duke cheers while fawning all over King K.  But the reality is many of them certainly can’t tell the difference between a foul and a fowl.  If you ask any of the Crazies, Duke players never ever commit fouls, so how can we rightfully expect them to recognize one?

Duke’s hoops alumni list reads like a Who’s Who of Little Engines That Could whose main purpose in life is to be loathed by all other college hoops fans:  Laettner, Hurley, Chris Collins, Wojo, Greg Paulus.  Need I go on?

Duke owns a spot on the Mount Rushmore of teams you either love or hate along side other ego-inflated organizations that include the Los Angeles Lakers, the Dallas Cowboys, the aforementioned New York Yankees, and Notre Dame Football.  And since we’re on this subject, it is only fair to point out that a new team has begun carving their emblem into the mountain side. 

An ever-growing pocket of delusional New England Patriot fans think that football didn’t exist until Bill Belichick and Tom Brady touched down in Foxboro.  Those people raise obnoxious to never before seen heights.

Back to Coach K.  There is no disputing the man’s basketball acumen in every facet of the game.  But far too many members of the media conveniently overlook the fact that Coach K can berate an official like none other.  The steam that emanates from his head to match the string of profanities spewing forth when one of the zebras has the audacity to blow the whistle against his team suggests that Coach K lives in a constant state of road rage. 

Except for when forced to sit through one of his press conferences in which he preaches about how he has a really good group of kids and he loves his kids and it is a privilege to coach those kids blah blah blah and so on.

Dick Vitale has almost single handedly turned most hoops fans against Duke with his constant ranting and raving about all the goodness Duke brings to our wonderful planet and if you’ll just open up your hearts to Duke, Saint K will enrich your currently meaningless, hollow, and empty life.  Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration but if you’ve ever listened to Vitale worship at the altar of Cameron Indoor Stadium, you’ve no doubt worn out the mute button on your remote.

Still not convinced about Vitale’s brainwashing powers?  Exhibit ‘A’ is none other than Vitale’s broadcasting partner for most Duke games, Mike Patrick.  He’ll swear up and down that no team plays harder than Duke, no team gets more out their talent than Duke, no fans are louder than the Crazies, no coach is smarter than K, no team has nicer kids than Duke, and no other school in the country has the curriculum that Duke does as Vitale bellows in the background “what’s not to like about Duke, baby?”  Puke.

Perform a Google search on the job that Chris Duhon’s mom got after he enrolled at Duke.  And why doesn’t Duke have to vacate their 1999 Final Four trip since Corey Maggette accepted improper benefits?  Memphis and UMass did.  Oh I forgot.  In NCAA eyes, Coach K = good.  John Calipari = bad.  Sounds like a couple of tidbits not to like about Duke but I’m probably just bitter.

And lastly, the four-letter network puts Duke on TV every year more than Lindsay Lohan appears in court.  From November through March, Duke Basketball is the equivalent of talking about how bad the economy is.  You simply can’t escape it wherever you go.

Syracuse may have been the first team to endure the 2-Seed Walk of Shame but the tourney expanded to 64 teams in 1985, six years prior.  There were only a total of 24 two-seeds prior to the Orangemen (as they were known back then) spitting the bit.  So it’s not like they were the Chicago Cubs in search of a World Series ring that has eluded their fans and franchise since 1908.

When a 1-seed finally loses to a 16-seed—Syracuse almost turned that trick this year—that will be a much bigger deal given that they are 112-0 all-time against 16-seeds.

Arizona joined the Orange two years later but since the Wildcats lost in the first round in three of four years from 1992 to 1995 (props for a Final Four run in 1994), was anyone surprised?

Both South Carolina and Iowa State have been decent programs in the past with differing levels of success but nothing approaching what Syracuse and Arizona have accomplished in the last 30 years so they can almost be forgiven for not knowing how to handle a moment of adversity like what they endured.

And the Missouri Tigers, who punched their club membership ticket mere hours before Duke, remain tied with Boston College for most NCAA Tournament wins without having ever reached a Final Four.  Have fun in the SEC, Mizzou.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the mountain of evidence stacked before you points to one indisputable fact.  Despite not being the first, the Duke Blue Devils are, beyond a reasonable shadow of a doubt, the most famous 2-seed ever sent packing by a 15-seed in NCAA Tournament history.

According to lore, fame is fleeting but infamy lasts forever.

Despite losing its next game to Xavier, Lehigh is almost certainly still basking in its 15 minutes of fame after slaying one of college hoop’s big boys.  As for the Blue Devils, well, this is just the beginning.  Hopefully the Cameron Crazies were smiling when history snapped their picture.

Welcome to infamy, Duke.


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