NCAA Selection Committee Handed Duke the Championship
I mean that in the most literal sense possible. UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero doubles as the NCAA Selection Committee Chairman and he was the one who handed Duke and their coach Mike Krzyzewski the championship trophy for winning the NCAA tournament. See:
As commenter J.S. has pointed out, the NCAA tournament doesn’t necessarily yield the best team in the country but rather the tournament champion. I still believe Kansas and Kentucky were the two top teams in the country and that they would have met in a championship had there been a double-elimination format or seven game series. Both those teams made early exits from the tourney and now we recognize Duke as the national champion for the fourth time. Moreover, coach Mike Krzyzewski is now in a class with Adolph Rupp and John Wooden as the only coaches with more than three titles (Wooden has 10, Rupp four).
I still feel that the NCAA lent a helping hand in Duke’s title by pairing them with Villanova and Purdue (the weakest of the respective two and four seeds) and by leaving the two strongest two seeds (Ohio State and West Virginia) out of their bracket. I realize that Duke beat West Virginia but imagine if they had to beat WVU in the Elite Eight to reach the Final Four where they would have had to play Kentucky. Things would have been much different.
Now, I will share some positive sentiments about Duke. I’m happy that Coach K’s way of running the program worked. He represents a different style of coaching — recruiting guys who will stay in school several years and work towards building an actual team rather than a nice collection of individual talent. As easy as they are to dislike, they took a lot of crap for their failures in the tournament the past few years and still persevered this season. Duke played quite well in the tournament and their “Big 3” truly stepped up. Nolan Smith was nothing short of awesome during the tourney, Jon Scheyer was steady, and Kyle Singler overcame an 0-for-10 performance vs. Baylor in the Elite Eight to dominate the two Final Four games.
It’s amazing that all it came down to was two Gordon Hayward shots going a few inches the opposite way for an entirely different story to be written but Duke definitely won this game. And for everything we say about the Scheyer, Singler, and Smith, I believe there are three other players who are just as critical to their success. Brian Zoubek, Mason Plumlee, and Miles Plumee are highly effective big men without whom Duke could not have won the title. Zoubek stepped up considerably to become a monster on the boards — particularly on the offensive glass — and the Plumlee’s served as strong backups that maintained the defensive intensity when Zoubek and Thomas were in foul trouble or needed a breather. Congrats to Duke on a fine season and for playing well all year, especially in this tournament. They earned it.