Like any self-respecting college basketball fan I watched the North Carolina-Duke game Saturday night. I was impressed by Duke even though, full disclosure, Duke might be my least favorite team in sports. Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood both looked like All-American talents, the defense forced turnovers and bad decisions, and they outrebounded a much bigger and deeper UNC frontcourt.
It was a good performance. Then I woke up the next day, went to ESPN.com and saw the following headline: “Duke isn’t No. 1 in the ACC. But its 1-2 punch of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood keep it in contention for a No. 1 NCAA seed.”
How in God’s name is Duke near a No. 1 seed, even with the UNC win? Are they even a No. 2 seed?
Let’s compare the Blue Devils to a team that’s actually deserving of a No. 2 seed: Wisconsin.
In the Jeff Sagarin rankings Wisconsin is 10-3, and against the top 50 Duke is 7-4.
Against the top 25, Wisconsin is 6-2 to Duke’s 5-3. Against the RPI top 50, Wisconsin is 8-4 to Duke’s 6-4.
But that’s just performance against the caliber team you can expect in the NCAA tournament. Who cares about that when seeding the NCAA tournament?
It gets worse when you look closer at Duke’s best wins. Against Michigan and Syracuse two factors stand out: First, both teams were in the middle of a minor free fall, with Michigan still trying to figure out if Mitch McGary was healthy (he wasn’t) and how to use him in his hobbled state.
I’m still not sure what’s happened to Syracuse. It seems every one of their starters has taken a magical step backwards.
Context for a win is important. You don’t hear me trumpet Wisconsin’s win over Florida as proof that Wisconsin can beat the best in the country, because Florida wasn’t even close to the best in the country at that time.
They were missing SEC Player of the Year contender Scottie Wilbekin, SEC Sixth Man of the Year frontrunner Dorian Finney-Smith and five-star center recruit Chris Walker.
The second factor against the Michigan and Syracuse wins is that both were at home. That isn’t really a problem, as many teams get their best wins at home. But it’s indicative of the larger problem, that Duke has shown a complete inability to win outside of Cameron Indoor stadium.
The Blue Devils’ first road game was their 14th game of the season. Their best road win came against Pittsburgh, who might not make the NCAA tournament. After Pitt, their road wins include Boston College, Georgia Tech and Miami. That’s it.
These guys are 4-5 on the road this year and we’ve ranked them in the top 10 while talking about their No. 1 seed potential. Let me say this again, because it should really sink in: Duke is 4-5 on the road this year.
Do we really want to reward this kind of scheduling behavior, where Duke knows it can schedule absolutely no road games and expect to grab a top seed provided they show at least a modicum of ability?
It’s not even like they’re unbeatable at home. Just ask Syracuse, who lost on a clearly wrong charging call that caused head coach Jim Boeheim to go berserk, and Vermont, who lost on an even worse call where Rodney Hood was stuffed while driving and somehow drew a blocking foul.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin is 8-3 on the road, with wins over the regular-season Big Ten champion, ACC champion and Horizon League champion.
Wisconsin has arguably the best non-conference resume in the country and finished second in the nation’s second best conference, according to Sagarin’s rankings.
Duke didn’t play a non-conference road game and finished third in the nation’s fifth best conference.
Let me put this plainly: How is the team with the easily weaker non-conference resume and the lower standing in the worse conference even considered for the No. 1 seed?
To be clear: Duke is a very good team and could make the Final Four or even win the National Championship. But that is true of a lot of these teams this year, which is why a high seed will be more valuable than ever. And if the Blue Devils get one, memo to athletic director Barry Alvarez and head coach Bo Ryan: no more road games for Wisconsin.
Is Duke overrated, cowardly or all of the above? Let Jack know by emailing email@example.com.