In 1991, after Duke upset UNLV, Coach K got on the team bus and saw several guys wearing cowboy hats. Alarms started going off.
Get rid of them, he told his team, and then blistered them about buying into their own hype. Yes, they beat UNLV. It didn’t give them a championship.
That was in the penultimate game of the year. Duke’s win over Kentucky, as startlingly eye popping as it was, only the opening salvo.
We’ve been talking about what we’ve seen so far and that it’s been amazing and now it’s a national story. Everyone is stunned by what Duke did last night and a lot of people now see Duke as the pre-eminent favorite to win the title.
Well maybe. It’s a bit early for that for several reasons, not least of all Kansas. The Jayhawks are really good too and they have Udoka Azubuike, who is 7-0 and 270. Duke can match both numbers but not in one player. They also have Dedric Lawson and a bunch of other talented players.
Second, though Duke looked great, you have to hope injuries aren’t a problem and on some level they always are. No team gets through the season without some issues.
Third is that there are a lot of teams that will fight harder than Kentucky did. Duke’s not going to beat everyone by 34 and someone, somewhere, will teach Duke some lessons in some way. It’s the nature of the game.
And fourth is just plain hubris. This has tripped up many teams over the years, including the 1991 UNLV team Duke upset and Michigan’s Fab Five, the 1983 Houston Cougars and so many other teams that bought into their own hype. For that matter, it happened to Duke in 1999 when the Blue Devils simply assumed they were better than UConn. They were - but not on that night. Jim Calhoun had his eye on Duke throughout the entire tournament and when his Huskies were in position, they simply played better and harder.
Things happen and the best team rarely wins the NCAA tournament. It’s just the nature of the beast.
So it was pretty cool that, after the smashing win over UK, when Tre Jones was teasing Zion Williamson while he was being interviewed, that Williamson told him to “act professional.”
Williamson is the most watched player in college and just a few months out of high school. That he would step up like that is noteworthy.
So to sum it up, last night was like Mardi Gras and New Year’s combined.
Both events tend to come with a painful day after. We’ll see how Duke responds to early success soon enough but we’re guessing cowboy hats are out.
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