Lacking athleticism, Duke falls in Sour 16 once again

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One of the most consuming moments in an NCAA Tournament game is the tipping point of an upset special. The favorite absorbs a few blows and either maintains its balance and provides a wire-to-wire finish with the underdog, or squabbles to the mat as the upstart prizefighter feeds off the emotion of the moment. The “This is Actually Happening” crescendo created amongst the crowd and announcers is incredible.

We got that tonight with Duke-Arizona.

But if you’re not one for poetic analogies, you could also just classify this as men beating boys, as the Wildcats throttled the Blue Devils 93-77 with one of the most impressive second-half offensive performances in recent tournament memory. It was a lesson in effective emasculation; one that may propel Arizona’s basketball program back to the forefront of college basketball for years to come.

A recurring issue with Duke players is that their often times exceptional basketball players, but comparatively marginal athletes. Tonight, we saw that glaring deficiency in Coach K’s kids, as his team unraveled at the seams in the second half during a 19-2 Wildcats run, highlighted by a handful of dunks from Derrick Williams and Jamelle Horne, which will be YouTubed ad nauseum for years to come.

Duke has struggled mightily in the Sweet 16. Certainly it’s a problem few programs even have the opportunity to sniff, but for such a pristine program that measures success in Final Fours and national championships, we have a severely disconcerting issue at hand. Not only does Duke lose in the Sweet 16 on the regular, they get embarrassed in them. Surely leaving a sour taste in their fan’s mouths.

Consider that Duke has been eliminated in the Sweet 16 five times in nine years:

  • 2009: Villanova 77 – Duke 54
  • 2006: LSU 62 – Duke 54
  • 2005: Michigan State 78 – Duke 68
  • 2003: Kansas 69 – Duke 65
  • 2002: Indiana 74 – Duke 73

That is a lot. Even more bothersome if you’re a Cameron Crazie, is that the Blue Devils are only 2-5 in their last seven Sweet 16 games, a stat that reeks of everything that is not elite.

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For Arizona, they’re peaking at just the right time. Calling on a team that recently eliminated Duke in the true third round, the Wildcats are writing a similar arc to the 2005-2006 LSU Tigers. Young and ferocious, it took a few months for that Tigers team to find themselves, but they knocked off Duke and advanced to the Final Four because they were supremely athletic and had a pair of horses down low (Glen Davis, Tyrus Thomas) that could step out and pose significant match-up problems for opponents.

It’s pretty clear that the Sean Miller Era at Tucson is way ahead of schedule. I know hindsight is always 20/20, but this should have been everyone’s dark horse Final Four pick.