First off, Bracketology is not an actual science, no matter how much it sounds like one. And that’s no offense to Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm, who do seem to have a knack for understanding what the NCAA Tournament selection committee is thinking.
My guess is that Palm and Lunardi could figure out the probability of what the committee will eat for breakfast on Selection Sunday. So that’s why I can’t understand why both of them keep leaving Duke out of the projected tournament field.
The numbers apparently say to Bracketologists that Duke isn’t even on the bubble at this point, but Duke is going to get in. There is no way CBS, Turner, and the NCAA will leave Mike Krzyzewski out.
So is North Carolina. Indiana. Kansas, of course. I guess Kentucky won’t make it, unless it wins the SEC Tournament. But the story of this college basketball season is how the sport’s bluebloods are all having a bad year at the same time. Suddenly, they all are starting to play better.
The Bracketologists are forgetting something: A lot of these seasons are being played for TV. Not just ON TV, but FOR TV. Ratings have been down throughout not only sports, but TV in general.
No matter what happens, Duke is not going to be kept out of the NCAA Tournament any more than Cincinnati was ever going to push Ohio State out of the College Football Playoff.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has somehow managed to keep at least a tiny bit of interest nationally in college basketball. He has kept the sport in the national conscience. It’s a year when Gonzaga and Baylor might be historically great and headed for a historical-level national championship game (actually, I think Illinois will win the national title).
Yet there’s a better chance the country knows the name of the student-reporter (Jake Piazza) that Krzyzewski very mildly gave a negative answer to than there is that anyone can name one player on either Gonzaga or Baylor.
Early in the year, when teams were flying back and forth across the country, Krzyzewski wondered openly whether the season should even be played at all, or certainly whether it should have just started later, once more people had received a COVID vaccine.
Social media, in its unquestioned wisdom, snarkily (if that’s a word) assumed that Krzyzewski was just trying to get out of a season when Duke, for the first time in decades, had a bad basketball team.
“Look, I just got my butt beat by a lot,” Krzyzewski said at the time. “Anything I say, someone can say, ‘He’s saying that because he got his butt beat.’
“Do I think things should be done a little bit different? I mean, yeah. A lot of kids aren’t going to be able to go home for Christmas. It’s probably a time when they should, for mental health. But we’re just plowing through this.’’
Krzyzewski is now working miracles with his team, having won five straight. Of course, miracles are a little easier to work when you’re able to recruit the nation’s best players in the first place.
Freshman Jalen Johnson left the team to heal up and prepare for the draft lottery. And without its heralded star, Duke has suddenly started winning. What happened? Rather than just getting the ball to Johnson, the ball is now moving around more, faster.
But Johnson’s departure also created a buzz in the sport. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said that Duke is better without him, and critics started calling Johnson selfish for leaving. That created a debate, and ESPN’s Jay Bilas stepped in and said that Johnson was just looking out for the best interest of his life and his family.
Boeheim, after losing to Duke 85-71 Monday, came back by telling reporters, “They are way better than they were (with Johnson). Jay Bilas knows something about basketball? I know more than he knows. I said they are better. They are better. Period.’’
The point is that Krzyzewski always manages to stay at the epicenter of college basketball, even if he crosses the line between the sport’s conscience and its mother hen. There is almost no talk about the sport at all without him.
But let me get back to Bracketology. I think the scientific formulas never factor in what it would take to get Duke into the tournament. It’s normally just a given.
The NCAA canceled last year’s tournament because of COVID, and the tournament is the financial lifeblood of the entire NCAA.
“We’re the thing the NCAA is most concerned about because men’s college basketball and the tournament pays for something like. . .it produces 98 percent or more of the money for the NCAA,’’ Krzyzewski said. “We need to have a tournament. We can’t have it where two years in a row you don’t have the NCAA Tournament.’’
Meanwhile, CBS and Turner are the financial lifeblood of the tournament. The season is being played for them, just as the college football season was played for ESPN. And they aren’t going to want to hand money back to advertisers.
Duke is going to get in. Krzyzewski is going to get in.
College basketball and the NCAA wouldn’t be college basketball without him. It doesn’t take a scientist to see that.