Better Duke teams than this did not win the national championship. Why, better Duke teams did not advance to the Final Four.
How this collection of, by Blue Devils standards, ordinary skills won an extraordinary title is a tale of perseverance, coaching and good fortune.
Perseverance from three seniors who as freshmen were part of a team that tied for sixth in the ACC and became the first Blue Devils squad in 30 years to lose its last four games.
Coaching from Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski, who at 63 has no inclination to downshift.
Good fortune in an NCAA tournament that saw the top two seeds exit prior to the Final Four.
It's that latter element that drives the virulent anti-Duke crowd mad. They awakened Tuesday to a national champion that, despite Monday's stirring 61-59 victory over Butler, cannot match the raw talent of recent tournament winners such as North Carolina, Kansas and Florida.
But so what? The Blue Devils went 35-5 against the nation's eighth-strongest schedule, that rating courtesy of collegerpi.com. They shared the ACC's regular-season title with Maryland, won the conference tournament and peaked in the NCAAs.
Go ahead and fuss that Duke would have lost to Kentucky or Kansas. You're probably right. But the Wildcats fell to West Virginia, the Jayhawks to Northern Iowa.
Besides, Duke bounced West Virginia by 21 in a Final Four semifinal and survived Butler's underrated talent and immeasurable karma in the final. That should count for plenty, and the credit belongs to the Devils and their coaches.
Seniors Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek endured a 22-11 record as rookies in 2007, which ended with a first-round NCAA tournament loss to VCU. Moreover, that team dropped its last four games, the first Duke team to do so since 1977.
But under Krzyzewski's hand, Scheyer developed into a four-year starter and unanimous first-team All-ACC performer. Thomas and Zoubek became outstanding defenders and rebounders for a 2010 edition that thrived on defense and board work like no other in Krzyzewski's 30 years in Durham.
Yes, six Blue Devils were McDonald's All-Americans in high school, including Nolan Smith, voted the Most Outstanding Player at the South Regional, and Kyle Singler, MOP at the Final Four. But no one will confuse this group with Duke's national champs in 1991, '92 and 2001, teams led by consensus All-Americans and future NBA all-stars such as Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, Shane Battier, Jason Williams and Carlos Boozer.
The '99 Duke team that was 37-1 entering the national title game, only to lose to Connecticut? The '98 squad that fell to Kentucky in a regional final? The '86 bunch, Krzyzewski's first to make the Final Four, that lost to Louisville in the championship contest?
All were more talented than this season's champs.
"I've said throughout the year they were good, then they were really good, then they were really good with great character," Krzyzewski said Monday. "But I told them (after the game) before we said a prayer that, 'You are a great team. You are a great team.'"
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltimeCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun