Tuesday, January 20, 2009
There are 341 teams in Division I college basketball. Quick: which one, out of all those 341 teams, would have the least room to complain about their treatment by the media?
If you answered anything other than Duke, you are wrong. The answer is Duke. Always, always Duke. I could list the thousand reasons why, but I don't need to. There is no room. None.
Remarkably, this did not stop Mike Krzyzewski from publicly airing a gripe this week about the polls. No, wait--as college basketball's polls are completely and totally devoid of meaning, and as Duke has always been treated with the maximum amount of favor, that would have already been stupid enough. But Coach K somehow took it a whole new level of stupid, complaining that the local News and Observer's coverage not of his team, but of his team's poll ranking hasn't been exhaustive enough.
That's right. Any college basketball coach arguing that their poll ranking is a big deal is dumb. The coach of Duke making this argument by bypasses "dumb" and goes straight to program megalomania. It would be one thing if this were football, and the polls meant something. It would be another if this was a smaller program for whom being No. 2 is actually news-worthy. But this is neither of those things. It is Mike Krzyzewski complaining that Duke deserves more attention for their poll ranking.*
Here's what really, really gets the proverbial dander up: that same Saturday, in the same city of Durham where earlier that day Duke had defeated Georgetown in a heavily-hyped game on national television, Division I transitional team North Carolina-Central took on D-II Chowan in the final game of UNCC's "B.C. Powder Classic," a little three-team invitational where the Eagles could take a break from getting their heads pounded in for money and play two winnable games on their home court. (The sponsorship of a past-its-prime but delightfully regional brand like BC? Perfect.)
In front of an announced attendance of 1,357, UNCC's Jamar Briscoe shot 9-of-15 from the floor, hit all 10 of his free throws, and led all scorers with 31. But it wasn't enough as Chowan drained a 25-foot heave in the dying seconds to escape with a 72-70 win and drop the Eagles to 2-19.
Two Durham basketball teams. Yes, there's a big difference in their quality. Yes, there's a big difference in their fan bases**. And yes, it only makes sense and is maybe, in some ways, only fair that one team gets a thousand times the attention of the other.
But there's not much difference, if any, in how hard the players on these teams work. There's not much difference, if any, in how much these teams care, how much they love the sport of basketball. The same amount of attention? No. But a little more attention for UNCC and a little less for Duke, a little more respect for what UNCC at least makes an effort to accomplish, even if they don't accomplish it the way Duke does? Yes. That, too, is only fair.
Would Krzyzewski agree with that if you put the question to him? He probably would. But that's not the statement he gave us recently. What we do have is a statement telling us, in so many words, that it is Duke that needs more press. What we have is Krzyzewski saying it is his players--the NBA prospects, hamburger All-Americans, and nationally-recognized stars--who are getting the raw deal.
Which is why, every March, I root against his team as hard as I can.
*I should point out that some of Krzysewski's beef may be rooted in the fact that the N&O is apparently a Tar Heel-slanted paper, but still: why on earth would he care what the likes of the N&O thinks or does?
**I don't think race is germane to this post at all. Nonetheless, for the fullest picture of the differences in Duke and UNCC, it has to be noted that UNCC is an HBCU and that Duke's commitment to diversity has, at the very least, been at issue. Just kind of a background FYI.