Gerry Broome / AP
Did Duke geta free pass into the Final Four?
Watching the NCAA tournament field unfold Sunday, one thing became clear: The Midwest is stacked.
The region's home to the No. 1 overall seed (Kansas), perhaps the nation's hottest team (Ohio State), a team that thrashed Duke (Georgetown), the co-ACC champ (Maryland) and the only two schools that have beaten the Jayhawks this season (Tennessee and Oklahoma State).
Four of those schools are in Ken Pomeroy's top 11 teams and Jeff Sagarin's top 15.
Heck, a team with 28 victories (Northern Iowa) is a 9 seed.
Our readers overwhelmingly agree, too. The Midwest is by far the toughest region.
Duke was the least accomplished of the No. 1 seeds — except to the selection committee, which considered them third-best. And the Devils wound up with a heavenly draw, with crippled No. 4 seed Purdue and fading No. 2 seed Villanova joining them in the South region.
The Devils couldn't have gotten a greater gift from the committee if the entire tournament were moved to Cameron Indoor Stadium.
So what gives? Well, Jason Whitlock has a theory – it's all about TV ratings and money.
Whitlock, a K.C. Star columnist, thinks that with the NCAA likely to negotiate a new TV contract this summer, it needed to ensure people would watch. North Carolina's not in, so Duke's the next best thing to ensure casual fans watch.
And the best way to keep those fans around? Ensure the Blue Devils reach the Final Four.
"Duke and (North) Carolina bring big built-in audiences to TV sets," CBS programmer Mike Aresco told a USA Today reporter last year in explaining CBS's 2009 tournament ratings bump.
The NCAA needs another bump … No coach and no team move the needle better than Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils.
They're the Tiger Woods of hoops, a squeaky-clean fantasy that sports fans love and love to hate.
Short of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, Coach K and his All-American Boys have been the NCAA's best box-office draw. Duke's 1992 victory over Michigan is the second-most-watched championship game after Magic-Bird. Duke's loss to Arkansas in 1994 is fourth.
If Whitlock's right, Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse won't cut it. Villanova, Ohio State and Georgetown are big enough. K-State, Baylor or New Mexico would be a nightmare.
So Duke gets a pass.
It's a tempting theory and will probably ensure plenty of Monday morning chatter. And what better way to start off the tournament than by getting people buzzing?
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