Duke vs. Butler for the national championship will tip off in a few hours, and I'm not afraid or embarrassed to say that I am 100 percent OK with it if Duke wins.
I'm not rooting for Duke. I don't hope they win. But I am not going to be all pissed off if they cut down the nets sometime just before midnight in Indianapolis.
Let's get a few things straight first.
I don't like Duke.
But I do have a lot of respect for Duke and its program. Their fans... that's another story. I find them annoying and geeky and over-rated. Put it this way, if Maryland played in a 8,000-seat high school gym with fans seated 3 feet from the court, our place would be loud (er) too. But that's a different subject for another day. For today, for a few minutes, let's think about the 2009-2010 Duke men's basketball team.
Let's even forget Coach K. for the sake of this particular discussion. He's annoying too of course, reaching the pinnacle of obnoxiousness with those Amex commericals a few years ago when he said something like, "I am not a basketball coach. I am a leader of men." OK, whatever. But even if you call him coach Ratface and love it when Gary gets the better of him - is anything better? -
you simply can't ignore the incredible run of great team after great team that he puts out there on the court. Every. Single. Year.
Tonight Duke will start Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek, Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, and Lance Thomas.
Which of those guys do you hate? I guess the most hate-able guy is either Zoubek - because he's a gigantic, screen-setting machine who looks like a henchman from the 1976 Soviet national team (seriously, can't you picture Zoubek in a red CCCP jersey?); or maybe Singler because... hmmm.... because he's a pasty white guy who is really good?
Scheyer gets made fun of for his maniacal facial expressions, but this is a Jewish kid from Chicago who just plain lights it up and can play ball. Forgive me, but I like Jon Scheyer. He's the best Jewish point guard for a nationally prominent team I can remember since Doug Gottlieb dished out 8 assists a game at Oklahoma State. But Gottlieb couldn't shoot to save his life. Scheyer is a dead eye. I wonder if he kept kosher for Passover this week? I doubt it.
Nolan Smith is a Maryland native and the son of Derek Smith, who died suddenly at age 34 while an assistant with the Wizards. Nolan was only 8 when his dad died. He is a classy player who has stepped up his game massively this season. He averaged only 8.4 ppg last year and pours in 17.5 this season. He's electric with the ball and can really shoot it. I like Nolan Smith.
And the third of the big three is Singler, an athletic 3/4 kind of a player who can beat you inside and out. Who wouldn't want that guy on their team? I kinda like Singler too.
Back in 2001-2002, when Duke featured Shane Battier, Chris Duhon, Jason Williams, and Carlos Boozer... I HATED those guys. I thought they were arrogant and entitled and got every call. I don't feel that kind of hate for this Duke squad. Forgive me Maryland fans, I actually like the way this Duke team plays.
The biggest reason most Maryland fans and most other fans around the country hate Duke is for the name on the front of their jerseys, not the backs. These guys represent a school that most people despise because they're perceived as the preppy rich kids who win. And who really wants to see preppy rich kids win? Again. Not me for sure.
But, here are three reasons why I'm OK with a Duke win tonight.
1.) Duke represents the ACC.
Around here we like to think we play in the best conference in the country. The point is debatable. But when your league owns the national title, you can point to that and claim bragging rights. For everyone who hates Duke for being, well, Duke. Think about this - how much would it suck if Duke weren't great? How great is it that Maryland gets to measure itself up against Duke twice a year, every year? Every season when Maryland puts a team on the court, they get the chance to play Duke, home and away, for a very real test to see if the Terps are any good. When we're good, we usually beat Duke at least once. When we're counterfeit or just OK, they rip us a new one. Hate on Duke all you want - believe me, I hate them most of the time - but be thankful they are in our league. When you lose all of your meaningful non-conference games, you need Duke in your league so that if you beat them you can point that win and say, "See, we really are good. We beat Duke!"
2.) Maryland is the last team to beat Duke, downing the Blue Devils 79-72 on March 3rd at Comcast. My friend Max said she felt like Michigan State had "our" tournament run this year. I agree. Maryland coulda been playing tonight if that shot from Luscious doesn't go in But it did. I kinda like the idea of Maryland being the last team to beat the national champs. It's something (not much). Duke is 9-0 since and hasn't been seriously threatened in the tournament. (side note - if they do win, they'll have beaten the biggest bunch of NCAA tournament no names in history on the way to the national title - Arkansas Pine Bluff, Cal, Purdue, Baylor, West Virginia, and Butler. There are some decent teams in there but NONE with any tournament pedigree to speak of).
And 3.) Well, you gotta have 3 in any list, but I'm reaching for this one. My third reason why I'm OK if Duke wins tonight is because... hmmm.... because ... oh hell, who am I kidding...
(those Plumlee brothers, now THEY are hate-able)