Conspiracy theories concerning alleged Duke basketball insider agreements with officials are cute, but three simple explanations exist for the perceived favoritism.
In hopes of preventing further moaning about Duke basketball teams "getting all the calls" — a pipe dream, I know — I've decided to shed some light on the subject by bringing to light what I've observed.
First, I'll admit, in general over the years, Duke has been on the desired end of whistles more times than not. After all, numbers support the notion. Zebras have indeed charged the Blue Devils with 807 fewer fouls than their opponents since the start of the 2009-10 season (a difference of roughly two per game).
And I'll even acknowledge that the current players were fortunate in the final seconds of the 70-65 home win over Florida St. on Monday night (see: the shoulder from Duke's Matthew Hurt with the called foul on FSU's Devin Vassell). Ditto for the 98-96 overtime road thriller over North Carolina two days prior (see: the non-call for Duke's Wendell Moore after reaching for the ball against UNC's Andrew Platek).
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That said, against both the Seminoles and Tar Heels, the Blue Devils were also on the undesired end of blatant missed calls, so I don't buy that their inherent overall advantage when it comes to officiating has anything to do with money exchanging hands or TV ratings. In fact, I don't at all support the accusation of intentional bias on the part of the officials.
Instead, what seems to be the case is that three factors, each relating to either Duke's style of play or gamesmanship, are indeed at play. Therefore, once and for all, it's time to take a look, one at a time, at the three reasons refs so often appear to err on the side of the Blue Devils...
1. Coach K acts advantageously
From my 38 years on this planet, I've come to learn that, for the most part, folks are naturally kindest to those they simultaneously fear and revere. Mike Krzyzewski checks both boxes — though only in the eyes of objective onlookers, of course.
When talking to the guys in stripes, the 72-year-old's mannerisms are fiercely intense in some instances and pleasantly conversational in others. While he won't stand for nonsense, he does stand up for the common-sense approach of treating others with respect. In other words, he helps his team's cause during encounters with refs by exhibiting an ideal mix of corrective communication and cordial chitchat.
Krzyzewski, the product of a blue-collar Chicago family, graduated from West Point and reached the rank of captain for the United States Army before beginning his coaching career way back in 1974. As a result of his wealth of life experiences and top-of-the-line personality, many people — including officials — must instinctively desire to keep him happy.
No doubt, in the heat of on-court battles, the NCAA's all-time wins leader is clever and calculating in his discussions with the men in black pants who hustle up and down the floor. However, last time I checked, there's nothing in the rule book that regulates either one's brain size or one's deep understanding of human interactions.
Evidently, Coach K's basketball intellect and psychological advantages rub off on his players...
2. Blue Devils are smart
Mike Krzyzewski is renowned for recruiting prospects with unusually high levels of character, charisma, and competitiveness. And he has 1,153 wins, five national championships, 12 Final Four appearances, and 15 ACC Tournament titles to show for his selection process.
The mastermind strategist has witnessed Duke basketball great Shane Battier wisely use the charge rule to his advantage — to the tune of a record 111 so-called "flops" from 1998-01 — at a time when his peers across the nation were seemingly either too inept or fragile to do the same.
Also, a slew of Blue Devils, such as current pests Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire, have dared to think outside the box by pushing the limits of hands-on perimeter defensive techniques in order to stymie opposing backcourts and manufacture transition opportunities. In a perfect world, such efforts would receive infinitely more applause than cries of unfair play.
Plus, like their coach, the Blue Devils do not act like goons when disputing calls. For those whose eyes see otherwise, I recommend you take an honest look inside your Duke-hating heart to understand why your vision is blurred.
Thankfully for the Duke basketball program, refs typically do seem to appreciate such mature behavior and brilliantly executed defensive crafts. Therefore, when in doubt, they likely do subconsciously side with the more skilled and well-mannered side.
Makes sense, right? Well, the same reasoning holds true for calls when the Blue Devils have the ball...
3. Duke is often the aggressor
Duke basketball players typically demonstrate the type of fiery confidence that intimidates foes and attracts record numbers of viewers. Put simply, hate them or love them, their style of hoops has long been an irresistible sight for the masses (refer to ratings from most any season, but in this season, per the official Duke basketball Twitter account, the country's two most-watched games are Duke-UNC at 2.7 million and Duke-Kansas at 2.4 million).
In most games, Duke's ball movement is poetic and requires fouling to disrupt it. At its most intensely determined level, not even fouls can slow down the fine-tuned, uptempo attack.
Consequently, from one season to the next, the Blue Devils consistently land among the nation's top 10 percent in scoring; this season, despite losing 73.7 percent of their scoring from last season, they rank No. 3 out of 353 teams at 82.6 points per game, with the 17.5 from bruiser Vernon Carey Jr. leading the bunch.
In response, over the years, opposing coaches have thrown nearly every type of defense in the book at the problem — most of the time, to no avail. So one could logically contend that there is only one legitimate grievance with the whistles against Duke opponents when the Blue Devils have possession: an insufficient count. Besides, Basketball 101 says the team with the most relentless weapons on offense will, on average, wind up with the most drawn fouls.
In conclusion, don't blame the officials for all the calls that benefit the Blue Devils. No, don't blame anyone or anything at all. Rather, give credit both to the superior recruiting machine in Durham and to the supreme skills, schemes, and self-assurance of the beneficiaries themselves.
Or — my realistic expectation for most — just continue to root for some other program's inferior brand of basketball while incessantly criticizing Coach K, his players, and the officials every time the Blue Devils play.
Either way, whether you anti-Dukies decide to keep on futilely complaining or start genuinely trying to learn a thing or two during Duke basketball games, ratings point to one certainty: you are paying far more attention to my favorite team than I am to yours (decide for yourself what that means).