Monday, March 4, 2013

Storm the Court, Duke

Security escorts Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski off the court after a loss at Maryland. (AP)

It's okay, Mike Krzyzewski. Really, it is. Your Duke Blue Devils have been court-stormed four times this season, eac after a loss on the road, and that is embarrassing. It is humbling. But it is also flattering.

Having opposing fans storm the court means that a pivotal game has just concluded — not necessarily for Duke, but for the other teams. The Blue Devils are a historically fantastic program that, thanks to stellar recruiting and coaching, have not missed an NCAA Tournament since 1995 and before that, last failed to capture a berth in 1983. They are more or less guaranteed to contend for the ACC title and make the big dance each season with expectations to make it to the second weekend of competition.

The current season is no different, with the Blue Devils holding a top-three ranking in early March and winning 15 games before falling for the first time this season, meaning none of Duke's losses have been more important than the others. The Blue Devils were on the wrong end of a 27-point thrashing by then-No. 25 Miami in January, but redeemed themselves this past weekend by eeking out a three-point home victory to a Hurricanes squad boasting a top-five ranking. North Carolina State was No. 20 when the Wolfpack dealt Duke its first loss; Maryland is underwhelming enough to miss being a bubble team, but the Terps are close to completing a rebuilding process; and Virginia is currently projected as 10-seed in the NCAA tournament.

Aside from the first Miami outlier, the Blue Devils have lost three games by a combined 15 points. Most teams would love to have such a record at this point in the spring. Only one team in the country, Gonzaga, has fewer losses and it is not like Duke is posting one of the worst verifiable seasons in college basketball history like a program a few states away.

The ACC is filled with proud programs, topped by Duke and North Carolina. Coach K's recent comments against the tradition of court storming after big wins are undoubtedly an extension of his program's pride and seem to come from a place of frustration rather than one of sourness. He has taken a level-headed approach, acknowledging opposing players and fans' right to celebrate while encouraging practices that would keep the Blue Devils — and likely any other losing programs besieged by a rush from the stands safe in the process. After all, Krzyzewski made the comments when Virginia fans filled the court before he and the Blue Devils exited last week.

The truth is that it happened in a controlled environment and, according to Virginia officials, one in which Coach K was notified of what procedures would be taken in the event of a court storming. He was aware that a similar plan was in place at Miami before the Hurricanes throttled the Blue Devils. Despite this, an unnamed ACC athletic director is dedicated to addressing the court storming "issue" in a meeting with the conference's other AD's.

Thanks, anonymity, but you're not hiding much. Timed almost directly after Duke's fourth flustered performance of the season and Kryzezewski's criticism, the commenting AD is almost certainly housed in an office down the hall from Coach K and Duke's other coaches.

If Coach K and Co. are mad, that's fine, but the anger is probably not genuine. It is from the knowledge that they have been stormed in 100 percent of their losses this season and none of the losses were to the ACC's other traditional powerhouse. After several years of teams across the college hoops spectrum urging fans not to storm the court, the groupthink action is back. Based on competition, ranking and history, Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils just happen to be in the position most likely to find themselves in a sea of a different color.

Be upset, Coach K. Your team definitely has been, but it is still an elite program. It is your right, just as it is your opposition's right to celebrate after a big win. But don't forget to see the act of court storming for what it really is: a backhanded compliment to yourself and the Blue Devils. And maybe, just maybe, enjoy being immersed in the blue sea during Duke's next triumphant chapter.

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