Why It Matters, Revisit

Ahhhh. So, here we are. Yesterday, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was announced.

Guess who’s in and guess who isn’t?

About five weeks ago, I spent an hour constructing a blog entry instead of taking care of my eight week old baby. Now, I’m going to ignore my 13 week old baby and do it again.

I pointed out at the time that, because Duke University is playing with a different set of rules when it comes to time-off-the-clock and player-fouls, they managed to beat Clemson. The game was stolen, I argued, and had Scheyer, McRoberts or Nelson, three of Duke’s starters, been called for a single foul in 105 minutes of basketball, or had the clock run out when it was supposed to, Clemson would have won the game.

I had to point out why it even matters, it’s one game, it’s not that important. I said that now Duke had beaten a ranked team in Clemson and Clemson was looking at 4-4 in the ACC and a long haul to an invitation to the NCAA tournament.

The cut-off to be considered for the tournament, it turns out, is a 500 record in the ACC. (I have to ignore the fact that Duke beat Boston College the next game, because my point there is that BC dismissed the best player from their team because of drug use and Duke’s best player for years didn’t get in trouble for his own drug use until he was finally out from under the umbrella of Duke University). Clemson ended the season at 7-9, and Duke ended the season at 8-8.

There are a lot of games in a season, and a lot of moments in a lot of games. Had Clemson simply scored a *bunch* more points than Duke, the way Carolina did, there wouldn’t be any kind of argument. Had Clemson won its first game in the ACC tournament, then there would be one more win, had they taken care of business against any other school, Carolina included, then they would have gone to the tournament, no question. But they didn’t.

The problem is, neither did Duke. They didn’t win their first game in the ACC tournament. They didn’t take care of business against other schools, Carolina included. And the one more win they needed to get an at-large bid… well, it could be argued that the Clemson gift was that one more win.

All of this is fine. I’m not the kind of person who says that President Bush doesn’t deserve the presidency because he’s the son of a president, with all that I have received from my parents and my fortunate marriage, I would be the worst kind of hypocrite to claim some kind of moral high ground on nepotism or favoritism. But I don’t walk around saying “I’ve *worked* for everything I have, I am the model of that which is the very best at what I’m trying to do…”

Duke is considered to be the bastion of college basketball, the paragon of how the game should be played. Even when Duke player Gerald Henderson threw his elbow into an opposing player’s face and Duke’s coach said that the opposing player probably shouldn’t have been in the game anyway, pundits and sports writers went crazy, but have been careful to describe it as “un-Duke-like” and there have even been articles that have called this year’s team “Duke in name only…” as if the cheating and ref-berating and cover-ups and cheap shots have all started *this year*, the year that happens to coincide with them losing slightly more games than they are used to.

Clemson, a program that basically has always sucked, is stuck on the outside looking in. The coach who has slowly and methodically crafted this team from a total doormat to a dangerous group of kids is gonna have to go one season longer than he thought in order to get into the NCAA. His team that got no favorable treatment, no latitude, doesn’t have any players accused of rape or drug possession, doesn’t have any players who elbowed a guy in the face, and shouldn’t probably forfeit all of their wins from 1999 (such as they were) is looking from the outside in.

And Duke? They’re a 6 seed, even after some sportswriters guessed they would be as low as 10. Now they meet VCU in the tournament, one year after ex-Duke player Jeff Capel left them as head coach, and, not surprisingly considering the number of ex-Duke players who completely suck as head coach, VCU turned completely around and went 27-6 under their new coach and got their first bid to the dance.

It would be a beautiful kind of poetry if they beat Duke on the opening day on a neutral court with unbiased officials. Too bad Clemson won’t get the chance