Some day, college basketball will move past its morbid obsession with Duke.
The Devils from Durham won’t forever be the nexus of college basketball acrimony, difficult as it is to believe. There may be a time, even, when teams will have the gall to circle other opponents on their schedule, when beating Duke doesn’t instantly legitimize an otherwise subpar season.
For now though, Duke is all the rage. In fact, to some, Mike Krzyzewski’s envied assembly is all that matters.
Exhibit A: North Carolina State.
Blackballed by its heavyweight neighbors as an expendable third wheel, the Wolfpack has spent the better part of the last quarter-century measuring itself against its big brothers on Tobacco Road. The Research Triangle may show three points, but only the eight mile line connecting Durham and Chapel Hill has effectively mattered during the shot clock era.
Even in a season teeming with promise — N.C. State began as the preseason ACC favorite and ranked in the Top 5 nationally — the Pack can’t keep its mind off the royal (or powder) blue. After knocking off then-No. 1 Duke in January, prompting an overdone court rush, N.C. State responded the same way as it did after beating North Carolina two weeks later, the same way it customarily does after battering either blueblood: by losing.
Life after Duke historically hasn’t been kind to a program that ties its self-worth to how it fares against its rivals to the north. Since the 1992-93 season, N.C. State is 1-14 in the game immediately following a win over Duke or North Carolina. That’s to be expected for a team that plays its national championships in Raleigh during the months of January and February.
N.C. State is far from the only sucker for the post-Duke-win hangover. A pair of bubble teams dented their at-large hopes this season by following up Duke wins with identical flops in Chestnut Hill.