Ten days after a very shaky loss to UNC in the ACC Tournament semifinals, the Blue Devils ran roughshod over their first two opponents in the Big Dance, laying waste to an overmatched Iona team on Thursday and appearing even more dominant against a more fairly matched Rhode Island squad that was reasonably expected to pose problems.
Saturday's 87–62 public execution of the seventh-seeded Rams was just short of shocking, coming against an experienced team that entered the contest with a 26–7 record and a handful of battle-tested seniors. Duke's violent ransacking of coach Danny Hurley's team was an overwhelming display on both sides of the ball. The Blue Devils shot 57 percent from the field and seemed to score at will, beginning with a 23–5 run midway through the first half. That outburst effectively turned the rest of the game into an exhibition—any inkling Rhode Island may have harbored about making a run was quelled by an outstanding defensive effort that made the Rams' frantic exertions feel very melancholy at times. It was all so fruitless. By the time Coach K finally pulled his starters, the entire enterprise had become like some tragic Italian neo-realist melodrama, the Bicycle Thief with Marvin Bagley in the role of the bloodless and uncaring police.
Terrific stuff. Coupled with the rash of upsets that have characterized the first two rounds of play, including Virginia's unthinkable panic job, Arizona's perplexing no-show, and anything-can-happen losses by Wichita State and Tennessee, a no-drama walkover into the Sweet Sixteen is a well-earned blessing. But where does this leave us? And why isn't that voice in my head getting any quieter? (Don't pretend you don't know the voice I am referring to.)
How many times have I drunk the Kool-Aid on this particular Duke team? I am conservatively counting three separate junctures this past season where the things I have seen have convinced me that neither God nor nature could keep this from being a Final Four team. When they get rolling—when Allen and Trent are hitting threes, when Duval is playing with confidence, when Bagley is Bagley-ing—they could beat any college team on any day. They could cause scrimmage trouble for the Golden State Warriors.
Then, a short time later, they show up to a contest seeming to be confused by the nature of the appointment. (“There's a game? I thought I was here to see the Capitol steps!”) Pending this evening's results, Duke will face either Michigan State or Syracuse in the round of sixteen, and under the wrong circumstances, both squads have the patina of a potential nightmare matchup.
OK, let’s do this. Duke will definitely beat either team. We already know how!
Duke beat Michigan State on November 11. The score was 88–81 and Grayson Allen went immeasurably insane and scored thirty-seven points. So we know the formula. Grayson: you get around forty and let the rest take care of itself. Duke played Syracuse three weeks ago and they kicked their ass 60–44. Carter and Bagley played great, Bolden chipped in with seven, blah, blah. Again, we know the formula. Don't even attempt to assail my logic. Whatever the next task at hand, I don't see any possible chance that they can lose.
Look, people! I'm not a soothsayer. I'm not even convinced I believe any of this is actually happening. But I do think it's going to happen. If the Blue Devils play with even a modicum of the flair and creativity they have demonstrated in their initial tournament salvos, we will be continuing this insane conversation into next week and the Elite Eight. I'm parched. Someone take me to the punch bowl.