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Don't bet against Duke adding to misery of local basketball fans

Getting caught up in March Madness yet? Or is the whole NCAA men's basketball tournament just a big snooze for you now?

I ask because maybe you've noticed that there aren't a whole lot of local teams in the Big Dance this year.

In fact, when I say there aren't a whole lot of local teams in it, what I really mean is that there are, um, no local teams in it.

None. Zip. Zilch. Maryland's not in it. Morgan State's not in it. Coppin State's not in it. UMBC's not in it. Loyola's not in it.

Ditto Mount St. Mary's up in tiny Emmitsburg, which is not exactly local. But we could kid ourselves and glom onto the Mount in a pinch if we had to. Except the Mount's record this season was 11-21, which will not get you into postseason play even if you pay off every member on the NCAA's selection committee.

Here's how bad things are for hoops fans in these parts: Maryland didn't even make the NIT!

That's like not being invited to the worst party in town, the party no one wants to go to anyway because it's so boring and the food's horrible and the people are ugly, too.

Think Terps coach Gary Williams had a chip on his shoulder before this snub? That chip will be the size of a Ponderosa pine now.

I bet a day doesn't go by between now and next season that Gary doesn't remind his players they were dissed by the lowly National Invitation Tournament.

If the NIT gives you the cold shoulder and you don't use that as a motivational tool, they should take your coach's card away for good.

So now the question becomes: who will fans around here root for over the next three weeks?

The knee-jerk response for Maryland fans is simple: any team but Duke.

And I get that. The haughty Blue Devils, the defending national champs, are part of our latter-day Axis of Evil, along with the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Yankees.

But in the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess that in my brackets, I have Duke going all the way.

This is nothing new for me, either. Every year when the tournament rolls around, I get sucked onto the Duke bandwagon.

I feel like a guy with Stockholm Syndrome. I've watched the Blue Devils crush Maryland for so long that I've started to identify with them — at least when it's time to fill out my brackets.

You tell me where the weaknesses are with this team.

They come at you in the front-court with all these big bodies: Ryan Kelly, who's about 17 feet tall (actually 6-11), Mason Plumlee (6-10), Miles Plumlee (6-10) and Kyle Singler (6-8).

Sure, the Plumlee brothers often play like two guys who just climbed off a tractor.

But the Blue Devils have a great blend of senior experience and youthful energy. They're good at shooting 3's (38 percent) and their terrific sophomore guard, Seth Curry, is deadly from out there. They're good from the foul line (74.8 percent.)

And in guard Nolan Smith, the ACC Player of the Year, and Singler, their heady forward and an All-ACC first-team selection, they have as good a one-two scoring punch as any team in the country.

Not to mention the fact that the skinny guy in the dark suit running their huddle, Mike Krzyzewski, can coach a little.

I watch this team week after week and think: who's going to beat these guys when March rolls around?

The Los Angeles Lakers? The Boston Celtics?

So I have Duke, the top seed in the West, coming out of the East-West side of the brackets to play in the championship game.

And their opponent that night, having survived a long, tough slog through the Southwest-Southeast side, will be — ta-daa! — Notre Dame.

Here's why I like the Fighting Irish, the No. 2 seed in the Southwest:

They start five seniors, and with the way college basketball is going, we might never see that again. They're seasoned, having played in the brutal Big East, where every game is an alley-fight. And they've knocked off excellent teams uch as Pittsburgh, Georgetown and Connecticut

Finally, they have a terrific 3-point shooter in senior guard Ben Hansbrough, who commands the offense with the swagger of a Third World dictator.

Not that any of that will matter on the night of April 4, when it'll be Duke cutting down the nets in Houston after winning its second straight national title.

I can see the headline now: "Duke wins, Terps fans mourn."


(Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.)

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