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What A Ride

What a weekend! As one of our correspondents said, it's smart to take a bit
of time and think about just what this team has accomplished.  It's really
remarkable.  They lost 4 first round draft picks, three prematurely, they
lost their center, their point guard, and their superstar in waiting. They lost
the guy who would have become the center when he transferred to Utah.  Picked to
finish as low as 6th in the ACC, they have an excellent chance of finishing the
regular season as the #1 team in the land.  They went through the ACC with
only one loss and avenged that in the championship game.  They lost the two
opening games to the defending national champion and to a superb Stanford team -
in overtime.  Three upperclassmen led six bony freshmen, in Chris
Carrawell's memorable phrase, to the #1 seed in the East and quite likely the #1
seed in the tournament.

Last spring, after the NBA stuff happened, we wrote that at least one of
those guys would be sitting in a hotel room at some point this season and would
see what Duke was doing and would miss it terribly. We suspect either William
Avery or Corey Maggette, spending a lot of time on the bench and living out of
suitcases and unable to go to bars with teammates, watched part of this
tournament from a hotel and wished they could have been part of it. Who wouldn't
want to be part of a team like this?

Battier, for one, has a keen appreciation of where he is and what is and
isn't capable of right now. He said this a few days ago about the NBA:  “I don’t know if there is such a thing as ready for the
NBA. I don’t think most college seniors are ready for the NBA, in terms of the mental and physical aspects that go along with it. I want to be prepared as well as I can, and by coming back next year, I know I will be.”

What Battier didn't mention, but might have, should be a mantra to those
players who are seeking long term financial prosperity: there is no salary
cap on endorsements.

Like Tim Duncan and Grant Hill before him, Battier is poised to become
enormously familiar with the great North American television audience (and these
days might as well say global), and by the time he does sign with someone, he
will have a ridiculous number of endorsement opportunities.  Handsome,
articulate, liked by mothers and lusted after by daughters and probably trusted
by fathers, Battier will sign the formulaic contract for whatever the cap allows
and then go out and make his real money because people know who he is.

But we digress.

The weekend was a wonderful time to be a Duke fan.  Hearing the other
schools boo us was sweet music.  Seeing them rain destruction on Clemson
was amazing, then to slowly strangle a game Wake Forest, and the most complete
Maryland team we've ever seen - that was a joyful occasion.  Duke has hit a
level of dominance that is unparalleled as far as we know in ACC history. 
Yes, it correlates with a down time for the conference, but Duke is on a
different calendar.  There's no down in Durham. 

Furthermore, though Cwell will be missed terribly, next year the team should
be even better as the freshmen gain strength - particularly Dunleavy and Sanders
but also Horvath -but they'll also add in Chris Duhon and Andre Sweet, and will
have, at the least, quality practice depth when Reggie Love and Jeremy Battier
finish football season.

For Duke, the best part is that it likely gets even better. The record might
not get better - it can't get much better - but the record could be worse and
the team much better.

What these guys have accomplished this year is remarkable, and regardless of
what happens in the NCAA, all Duke fans should be enormously proud of their
character, their heart, and their passion to be great.  They are currently
damn good, not great, but they have an opportunity to reach for greatness now.

Duke's Regional, the East, is as brutal road as we can remember. Stickdog
posted the following insights on our bulletin board:

Here are the current Sagarin ratings for the top 9 teams in the East regional: 3, 5, 9, 10, 14, 15, 20, 27 and 29. This includes a 29 team (DePaul) who just got an important player
back from injury and DOES NOT INCLUDE any of several teams which recently experienced suspensions or injuries.

This means Duke's bracket gets 9 out of the top 29 (31%), 7 out of the top 20 (35%), 6 out of the top 15 (40%), 4 out of the top 10 (40%), and 2 out of the top 5 (40%).
Um, I thought there were 4 regionals, not 2 and a half.

Virtually every team is worthy. The worst team, by seeding, is Lamar, and
Lamar has a rich hoops tradition. Kansas and DePaul is an amazing second game
for a 1 seed, no matter who wins. Florida has a score to settle with Duke from
last year, Butler has a hallowed tradition, Illinois took Duke to the wire early
this season, and Penn is a typical Ivy team - smart, sturdy, and likely won't
beat themselves. 

On the other side, Indiana is Indiana, Pepperdine has Jan Van Breda Koff as
coach now, and they nearly beat Auburn and UCLA, and did beat Miami and Fresno
State.  Oklahoma State gave Duke a tremendous game in the NCAAs in Wojo's
senior year. Hofstra we know little about., and we don't expect to see
Lafayette. But lurking down there, waiting like an angry sumo wrestler in a
doorway you have pass through, is Temple. They are a nightmare, and this may be
their best team ever. We want Chaney to see one Final Four, but again, not this

It's not easy, but on the other hand, in order to win, you have to play the
hottest teams, no matter.  If some are in the Eastern Regional, then so be

We don't want to fall into the trap of thinking that this team has achieved
so much that losing is ok now; nor do we want to get into the mindset that
losing is unforgivable.  What we want from here is this: we want our guys
to continue to play with heart and passion. We want them to want greatness with
every fiber of their being.  And we want them to be welcomed home after
their last game, win or lose, with the respect and affection that they
deserve.  These guys have been amazing, and their accomplishments will go
down into Duke legend alongside the greats.  That's how special they have
been, and continue to be.