Duke is a better team than South Carolina, and nothing that happened on Sunday night changes that. South Carolina deserve every inch of credit for administering them a season-ending loss, of course, but the fact remains: Duke is one of the best teams in the tournament — if not the best — and when fans look back on 2017 in the months and years to come, they’ll remember it as little more than a missed opportunity.
But Duke has a problem, one that was especially amped-up this year because of Grayson Allen’s ongoing antics. In many ways, it was the reason its season came to a screeching halt on Sunday night.
Duke were just too easy to hate.
This is hardly new news, of course. Duke are the unapologetic rich kids of college basketball, an image many fans own, and that they’re routinely among the best teams anyway only fuels the fire against them. You may not know anything else about college basketball, but you know that unless you went to Duke, you have to root against them.
*watches zero seconds of college hoops for like two years* *hears Duke is losing in the second round* pic.twitter.com/bI515bu6Kx
— Albert Burneko (@AlbertBurneko) March 20, 2017
But as fun a dynamic as that creates for fans during the tournament, it presents a unique challenge for Duke players. It’s something the New England Patriots in the NFL and, indeed, other similarly ‘unlikable’ teams have to overcome in their respective sports. When you’re the team everybody loves to hate, every win becomes more difficult.
Suddenly, teams that would otherwise have little motivation to do anything other than succumb are driving on effortlessly for victory, chasing the kind of glory South Carolina enjoyed on Sunday. When you antagonize your opponents simply by the nature of being who you are, you’re constantly having to rise to challenges just to stay in place.
You have to be so much better because all room for error evaporates in a moment. With the pressure against you ramped-up to the brim, one momentary mistake causes everything to unravel, all to a chorus of applause surrounding you.
when the alternative minimum tax kicks in pic.twitter.com/fbqDyhvJ9T
— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) March 20, 2017
That, essentially, explains Duke’s end to the season.
It’s not that they were especially bad on Sunday night (though, in fairness, they weren’t at the level we expected from them), but all the talk of how Duke were the team to beat, that Coach K was cruising to another title, that Grayson Allen was the spoilt, dirty, unbeatable King of College Basketball, became too heavy. Duke, simply put, became the prize every other opponent wanted desperately to kill.
South Carolina aren’t a great team, but they’re a gritty, tough, defensive team. They didn’t out-skill Duke on Sunday night, they outfought them. Would they have demanded so much of themselves against any other team? It’s hard to say. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. They got the glory they wanted.
Where does South Carolina rank among Duke’s ugliest NCAA tournament losses ever?
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