Say what you want, but the Duke Blue Devils reached the top of the NCAA world after a nine year absence.
In a season that was reigned by Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse, and a few other teams, Duke was never mentioned. They quietly did their thing, and while doing that all regular season, they quietly won the ACC, the ACC tournament, and earned their position in the tournament.
The naysayers and critics believed that Duke was the weakest of the #1 seeds in the tournament, and had the easiest road, but Duke went out and handled their business. Breezed through the South Region and the Final Four for a trip to Indianapolis.
Then the stage was set for the National Championship. They faced a team that had the crowd, and a “Hoosiers” like story behind them in the Butler Bulldogs. Like Duke, this was a team that handled their business. 25 straight wins, knocked off Goliaths such as Syracuse, Kansas State, and Michigan State. Playing down the road from the championship site (Lucas Oil Stadium), Butler was looking for a great story and cap off a Cinderella run.
Butler showed nothing but heart in a game where they were a 7.5 point underdog, and many people felt that Duke would steamroll them and make it no contest. The Bulldogs showed nothing but grit and grind in this game, when Duke got up by six, Butler responded with seven straight points. When the Blue Devils wanted to pull away, Butler would not let them, it took a 48 foot heave by Gordon Hayward that hit the backboard and off the front iron that gave Duke its first championship since 2001.
For the Blue Devils, it was their fourth championship, in a tournament where they knocked off a seed higher than four for the first time since 2001 (last time they won), and they used their strengths and improved their weakness. From Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler’s ability to shoot from the outside and the length and height of Brian Zoubek and the Plumlee brothers (Mason & Miles), coming home to Indiana to win a national championship. And Coach Mike Krzyzewski, coming off the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics, claims another title, which ties him with Adolph Rupp of Kentucky for the second most championships among coaches with four. (Behind John Wooden’s 10).
Finally how about Nolan Smith. 30 years after his dad, Derek Smith won a National Championship with Louisville in 1980 in Indianapolis at the old Market Square Arena, he wins one himself in the same city at Lucas Oil Stadium. A great story indeed.
The National Championship stays in the ACC, and in the state of North Carolina continues to reign supreme in college hoops. And it will just add more fire to the already heated UNC/Duke rivalry. Celebration is on in Cameron, congratulations Duke. You earned it.