CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – While coaching Providence in 1997, Pete Gillen famously said Duke is on TV more than “Leave it to Beaver” reruns.
That's why it seemed strange to hear Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski complaining Sunday night about the tone the media take toward the Blue Devils.
Following a 67-49 shellacking of Virginia – another team that Gillen once coached – Krzyzewski was asked if fifth-ranked Duke (25-4, 12-2 ACC) is flying "under the radar."
"I think over the years, after we've had some success, we are not talked about much when we're good," Krzyzewski said. "It’s only when we lose. So I don't think we're ever 'under the radar.' It's just that the radar only shows up when we get our butts beat."
Gillen’s statement remains true 13 years after he made it. Every Duke game except for the Nov. 21 meeting with Radford will be televised this season. The Blue Devils have 12 games on ESPN and have had three nationally televised CBS games. But Krzyzewski said it's only news when Duke loses.
"Believe me, I'm not a paranoid person," he said. "But I've just learned that over this last decade, that that kind of happens. People know who we are. We’re not a great team. We're a very good team but that's won a lot of games. Maybe that's why we haven't gotten that kind of recognition.
"We're not just going to go out on the court and, 'Wow, they're going to kill us. These guys are unbelievable.' We have to work together to make it happen. That's why I like my team so much, because they’ve done that all year long."
There is some validity to what Krzyzewski says. When you're Duke or Kentucky or UCLA, people expect you to be near the top of the college basketball world. By journalistic standards, that's called "dog bites man." That happens every day, so it's not considered big news.
When Duke, Kentucky or UCLA struggle, it falls into the category of "man bites dog." Because it defies expectations, it's considered news. Which brings us to North Carolina. The Tar Heels' precipitous fall from NCAA champions to a tie for last place in the ACC has captured the attention of the nation.
People are eager to determine what's wrong with North Carolina and whether the Tar Heels will be able to recover next season. Before the Duke-North Carolina game on Feb. 10, all sorts of broadcast outlets called to interview me to preview the game.
Invariably, the first question they asked wasn't about how Duke had climbed back to the top of the ACC. They wanted to know what was wrong with North Carolina.
Incredibly, the Tar Heels’ struggles have been so profound that Duke's excellent season has been overshadowed. The Blue Devils' lack of a win over a premier opponent has a little bit to do with that, too.
But if North Carolina were in the upper third of the ACC, Duke's resurgence might be getting a lot more play in the media. Still, there's one way for the Blue Devils to make sure they get lots of positive publicity.
If they can get to their first Final Four since 2004, it will be impossible to ignore them. The NCAA Tournament is the ultimate test of how a team is perceived. And if the Blue Devils win big there, the stage is so big that their accomplishments will be impossible to ignore.