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Waiting For The Brackets - What Should Duke Fans Expect?

Duke's in, so no worries there (as usual). But who, where and what seed? That's what we're waiting to find out.

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Can Duke's Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen connect in the NCAA Tournament?
Can Duke's Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen connect in the NCAA Tournament?
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

I was one year old when the NCAA was rocked by the first NCAA Tournament selection controversy.

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There was no Selection Committee in those days and no Selection Sunday. Instead, there were eight regional committees – each charged to pick the best team in their regional. Those eight selections would make up the entire NCAA Tournament field.

It usually worked well, although there was some debate in Region 3 in 1946, when the regional committee (headed by a former UNC basketball player) picked UNC over Southern Conference champion Duke. Truth be told, UNC was probably the better team that year, at least it was after adding ex-Army Air Force star Bones McKinney at midseason.

But the debate in 1946 was nothing compared to the furor in 1950.

The Region 3 selection committee – headed by Virginia athletic director Gus Tebell –had to choose between the No. 3 and No. 4 ranked teams in the nation – Kentucky, the champion of the SEC, and N.C. State, the champion of the Southern Conference. Not only were the two teams ranked side-by-side, their records were almost identical. Kentucky probably played a slightly better non-conference schedule that season, but the Wolfpack played in the tougher conference.

It was a tough call since just one of the two teams could be invited.

There was an added complication. Kentucky was the two-time defending NCAA champion. But the celebrated Fabulous Five which had claimed those titles (and anchored the U.S. Olympic gold medal team in 1948) had moved on, leaving a new crop of Kentucky stars.

Faced with a nearly impossible choice, Tebell came up with a brilliant solution. He noted that there was a two-week gap between the SEC and Southern Conference title games and the start of the eight-team NCAA Tournament. He suggested that N.C. State and Kentucky meet to determine the region’s representative.

N.C. State coach Everett Case welcomed the challenge. He agreed to meet Kentucky ":any time, any place".

But Adolph Rupp refused, arguing that his resume was clearly better than State’s and, besides, the two-time defending champs shouldn't have to prove themselves in what amounted to a play-in game.

As a result of Rupp’s refusal, Tebell and his committee awarded the bid to N.C. State. A furious Rupp denied that he had been offered the chance to play N.C. State, leading Tebell – a former football and basketball coach at N.C. State – to essentially call Rupp a liar in print.

Kentucky went to the NIT, where the Wildcats were routed by CCNY, which then turned around and entered the NCAA Tournament, where they edged N.C. State in the national semifinals – when future Duke coach Vic Bubas missed what would have been the game-tying basket in the final seconds.

Just an aside – that CCNY team would be a great subject for a book. Not only is it the one team to win both the NCAA and NIT tournaments in the same year, it was the first integrated team to win an NCAA championship … and it was at the heart of the first great college basketball gambling scandal.

But back to our story. That 1950 controversy would have considerable impact on the NCAA selection process. In the off-season, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee elected to expand the tournament from eight to 16 teams. More importantly, the committee awarded 11 automatic bids to the 11 most powerful conferences. A national selection committee (actually the Men’s Basketball Committee) was established to pick the last five qualifiers, but only from among the independents or from conferences that didn’t get an automatic bid.

The 11 automatic-bid conferences were allowed to pick their own representatives, using any criteria that they choose. Ten of the 11 conferences elected to send their regular season champions. Their postseason conference tournaments died out and disappeared.

The Southern Conference alone elected to give its NCAA bid to its tournament champion. The league was too large and too diverse to play a fair regular season schedule. Plus, the Southern Conference Tournament was a popular and profitable event for the league.

That was the NCAA selection process that I knew growing up. When the seven strongest athletic programs in the Southern Conference broke off to form the ACC in the spring of 1953, the new ACC was immediately given an automatic NCAA bid and the new league retained the tournament format to elect its NCAA representative.

That was the reality of my youth. The NCAA Tournament expanded over the years, but retained the same basic form that was put in place after the 1950 season.

The ACC’s only NCAA representative was the ACC Tournament champion. No ifs, ands or buts … well, one but – the three years when N.C. State was on probation (1955, 1959 and 1973), the ACC Tournament runnerup got the bid instead.

That all changed after the 1974 season, when the absurdity of limiting each conference to just one bid was demonstrated to a national audience when No. 1 N.C. State and No. 3 Maryland dueled in the ACC Tournament title game – with just one bid available for two of the nation’s three best teams.

Three months after that memorable game, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee voted to expand the field to 32 teams and – more importantly – to allow two entries per conference.

That created the first "Selection Sunday" drama of my lifetime. To be honest, there wasn’t much drama after the first year. It became clear that the committee would reserve the one "at large" bid from the ACC for the regular season champion – or at least for the best ACC team that didn’t win the ACC Tournament and the automatic bid.

The first real intrigue came in 1980, when the rules changed again, allowing an unlimited number of teams from a conference into the NCAA Tournament. The ACC got five bids that first year.

Still, for Duke, there’s never been much drama on Selection Sunday.

Duke’s NCAA chances were always cut-and-dried before the change in 1980.And that season, the Blue Devils upset Maryland in the ACC Championship game to earn an automatic bid.

Mike Krzyzewski’s first three Duke teams weren’t close enough to even sniff the bubble and his fourth team in 1984 was solidly in the field after losing to Maryland in the ACC title game. From that point on, Duke was always a certain NCAA pick – except 1995 when the team collapsed in Coach K’s absence. There was a bit of drama in February of 1996, but that borderline team pretty much put itself solidly in the field with a late five-game win streak that included wins at Maryland and over No. 16 UCLA.

So Blue Devil fans have NEVER had to sweat out Selection Sunday.

Oh, there is always intrigue as to seeding and matchups, but never concern about selection. And that’s the case today as Duke – and Blue Devil fans – wait to learn the team’s NCAA fate.


We know Duke won’t be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed … but we also know that the Devils won’t face a play-in game in Dayton either.

I agree with the national bracketologists that suggests that Duke will be a No. 4 or No. 5 seed when the field is announced this evening.

It will be interesting to see where the Devils are sent and who they are bracketed with. As a No. 4 or No. 5 seed, Duke will face a potential Sweet 16 matchup with the No. 1 in their region. Of course, getting to the Sweet 16 will be a significant achievement for this young, injured Duke team.

Matchups are always important. As a No. 4 or No. 5, Duke would get either a No. 13 (if Duke is a No. 4) or a No. 12 (if Duke is a No. 5). That will be a strong opponent – similar to the Lehigh and Mercer teams (seeded No. 15 and No. 14, respectively) that upset the Devils in 2012 and 2014. There used to be a trend where the No. 12 seed had a lot of success against the No. 5 teams … but that hasn’t been the case so much in recent years.

If Duke gets past the first round (and thanks to the NCAA for going back to its old nomenclature for the brackets), the Devils will face a roughly equal opponent in the second round.

One very sharp observer suggested that what Duke faced this week in Washington is a pretty good preview of what the Devils will face next weekend in Brooklyn, Spokane, Denver or wherever (except the crowd won’t be as hostile to the Devils as it’s been in Washington). Duke should open with a team that’s roughly as good as N.C. State, then face a team that’s roughly as good as Notre Dame.

We’ll see when the matchups come out.


Of course, my entire focus won’t be on Duke when the field is announced. Like everybody else, I’ll be interested to see which teams earn No. 1 seeds going into the last hours before the field is selected.

As I write this Saturday night, I see two absolute locks for No. 1 seeds– Kansas (win or lose in the Big 12 title game Sunday) and North Carolina after winning the ACC championship.

Michigan State can lock up a third No. 1 seed if the Spartans beat Purdue today in the Big Ten title game. Villanova had a chance to do the same Saturday, but put its No. 1 seed in jeopardy with a loss to Seton Hall in the Big East title game.

The fourth No. 1 is wide open. It could go to Oregon, if the Ducks beat Utah in the Pac 12 title game. Or the committee could keep Virginia or Villanova on the No. 1 line, despite their losses.

The truth is, I don’t think it matters so much this season whether a top team is a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.

My other focus will be on the bubble teams – especially the two ACC bubble teams.

The consensus of opinion seems to be that Pittsburgh is barely in, while Syracuse is barely out. Then again, the consensus is often wrong.

I don’t have a lot of strong feelings about the other so-called bubble teams. Okay, I do think Wichita State should be in – a lot of their early season struggles were due to the absence of star Fred Van Vleet. I think St. Mary’s should be out – the committee punishes power conference schools that play a weak non-conference schedule, so how can they not punish a "contender" from a weak conference that also chooses to play a weak non-conference schedule?

Expect the usual whining from the teams that don’t get in, it’s a March ritual. The patron saint of the Whinefest is ESPN commentator Seth Greenberg, who was so dense as Virginia Tech’s coach that he could never figure out that his scheduling philosophy was the reason why is team almost always landed on the wrong side of the bubble (not to mention his stupidity in not offering a scholarship to VPI legacy Stephen Curry … or his younger brother Seth). I guess you can tell that I have little respect for Greenberg.

But it will be fun listening to him rant tonight. I’m always interested to see the field and listen to the various experts – some of whom I actually respect – offer their analysis and make their tournament picks.

For Duke and Duke fans, the selection show offers little drama, but still remains must-see entertainment.


North Carolina beat Notre Dame Friday night by 31 points – the largest margin of victory ever in an ACC Tournament semifinal.

That broke the previous record of 30 points, set in 1989 when UNC routed Maryland 88-58 in the semifinals. Remember, No. 8 seed Maryland had upset No. 1 seed N.C. State in the first game of the tournament in the Atlanta Omni. The result was so stunning that Maryland coach Bob Wade had a heart episode after the game and was carried out of the arena on a stretcher.

So, considering the quality of the opponent, UNC’s 31-point victory over a very solid Notre Dame team was MUCH more impressive than UNC’s 30-point win over a bad Maryland team in 1989.

The Tar Heels weren’t nearly as dominant in the title game Sunday night, except that it was impressive as hell that UNC beat Virginia at its own game, winning a low-scoring slugfest, 61-57.

North Carolina’s triumph means that the ACC has now had six different champions over the last six seasons:

  • 2011 – Duke
  • 2012 – Florida State
  • 2013 – Miami
  • 2014 – Virginia
  • 2015 – Notre Dame
  • 2016 – North Carolina

I know that Joel Berry won the Case Award as the tourney MVP – and he’s not a bad choice. But I voted for Marcus Paige, whose defense on Malcolm Brogdon was (I thought) the decisive factor in the title game. Brogdon was 6-of-22 from the floor against Paige’s tenacious defense.

Duke’s Grayson Allen made the second all-tournament team, but there was a second-team omission too. N.C. State’s Cat Barber had the highest scoring average of any player in the tournament AND the highest assist average. I know his team was just 1-and-1, but Virginia (2-1) and UNC (3-0) were the only teams that left Washington with a better record. He should have been on the second team.

One final tribute to the losing Cavaliers.

You have to be a student of ACC history to appreciate what Tony Bennett’s team has done in the last three years.

Virginia won one ACC championship in the first 60 years of the ACC and managed a record of ACC futility that was surpassed only by Clemson among the original members.

Virginia won just two of its first 18 ACC Tournament games – and, indeed, went the entire decade of the 1960s without a victory in the event.

I can remember 1970 at the old Charlotte Coliseum (the silver dome on Independence Boulevard) when No. 7 seed Virginia broke its 11-game tournament losing streak with a stunning quarterfinal victory over No. 2 seed North Carolina (the three-time defending ACC champion). The victory was so unexpected that the school had not reserved a second night of rooms for its team and staff – Virginia officials had to scramble to find lodging for Friday night in Charlotte!

The program had some success under Terry Holland – winning a title with Wonderful Wally Walker in 1976 and reaching the finals in 1977, 1982, 1983 and 1990 (the middle two title game losses with Ralph Sampson). The Cavs also reached the finals under coach Jeff Jones in 1994.

But Virginia faced another long dry spell after an opening-game win over Georgia Tech in 1995. The program, struggling under Pete Gillen and Dave Leitao, lost nine tournament games in a row before beating No. 9 seed Clemson in the 2004 play-in game – in overtime.

The program that Bennett inherited in 2009 had won just three of its previous 19 tournament games and had not reached the semifinals since 2004. It took the young coach time to get going, but he’s won seven of his last nine tournament games.

That’s a pretty impressive showing.