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College Basketball

This Is Going To Be Absolutely Unbearable

Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils solidly outclassed the four-seed Arkansas Razorbacks Saturday night and took the NCAA Tournament’s West regional championship with a comfortable if bland 78–69 win. The win sends Krzyzewski through to his record 13th Final Four appearance, and makes him the first head coach in Division I history to make the Final Four in five different decades. If you were hoping that Krzyzewski’s big nauseating farewell tour would end on a sour note, if not downright ignominy, I’m very sorry to say that ship has now sailed.

Duke started to muscle Arkansas around just minutes into the game, with sophomore center and ACC Defensive Player of the Year Mark Williams putting a lid on the rim and the Blue Devils overwhelming the Razorbacks with size at both ends. Turnovers and tentative shooting kept Arkansas close early, but Duke closed the half on a 10–2 run highlighted by freshman guard Trevor Keels throwing in a deep three-pointer at the first-half buzzer to put the Blue Devils ahead by 12. You may not have wanted to believe it at the time, but this was functionally the end of the game. Arkansas did not close to within a single possession over the game’s final 28 minutes, and only closed to within two possessions once in the entire second half.

Going by seeding, the second round was really the last chance for Duke’s season to end in true gutting disappointment, when they faced and solidly thumped Michigan State, a seven seed. A loss to Texas Tech in the Sweet 16 would’ve been a sour ending, but only very slightly. Now that Duke is in the Final Four, no conceivable ending to their run short of his players deliberately scoring baskets for the opposition can take the shine off of Krzyzewski’s final season. Duke will face the winner of Sunday’s UNC-Saint Peter’s matchup, and either outcome will be unbearable. Either way we will get five days of hagiography. If it’s UNC, the story will be about The Fates delivering one final Duke-UNC contest to mark the passing of a basketball deity, and you will want to die. If it’s Saint Peter’s, the story will be about the symmetry of Coach K, a bemoaning and begrudging navigator of the contours of the one-and-done era, gazing to the other bench and glimpsing in soft focus the sport’s and his own pre-polluted past, in a plucky small-school program led by low-profile upperclassmen. And you will want so badly to die.

We’re already here, we’re already doing this, so let’s just go the whole way. Let the pain and disgust wash over you! Fuck it, man!

Only the unprecedented run of a 15-seed has kept this tournament from being even more centered on Krzyzewski than it was always going to be. And that dynamic is about to get so much worse, now that Duke is two wins from a national championship. “It wears on you a little bit, because everywhere you walk, everyone is taking a picture of you and they’re watching everything,” Krzyzewski said Wednesday, of the experience of being the center of attention, a condition he courted and engineered by announcing his retirement almost 10 months ago. “Look, that gets old. You know, that gets old.” Yes it does! It gets extremely fucking old. God help us all.

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