By Ben Collins

This happens about fifty times a year.

ESPN plays its jingly noise and tells me that it’s switching its coverage from the game I’m currently watching because Duke is losing in some place where they really shouldn’t be. And I get giddy I like a school girl at an Ashlee Simpson concert.

It happens about as often as some spot starter on the Orioles or Devil Rays or some terrible small market team taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning, everyone in the sports world flipping out and doing that ensuing full-scale sprint to the nearest functioning TV. The kid, who is usually just a career-long reliever that happened to string together 20 good at-bats, eventually gives up a big fly to the other team’s pitcher and loses the game by seven.

I can’t really consider this a tease; I know the outcome going in and just opt to suspend the disbelief that someone or some team this tragically mediocre could do the remarkably infeasible. I can consider this, though, an inane waste of a pastime.

But it’s worth it. Every single time. Because, every once and a while, we get a night like last night.

The no-hitter happened. Marquette was the pitcher. Dominic James, a 100-mph fastball, was the out pitch.

That’s not to call Marquette a mediocre team, either. And Dominic James — the ACC Rookie of the Year — shouldn’t be anywhere near that “mediocre” word. He did happen to have his coming out party last night, scoring 25 points without even playing in the last few minutes because of an unkneadable cramp, and lead a Marquette to a 73-62 win over the Blue Devils.

But this was not supposed to happen. And it sure makes the night of everybody in the country when it does. Even that of our beloved Associate Online Editor Sam Rubenstein.

“One of my favorite teams is whoever is playing Duke,” he said. “I know it’s obvious to hate on them, the Coach K backlash is at an all-time high right now, and Vitale makes it even easier, but I’m not afraid to hate on an easy target. And usually I try to avoid piling on like that. Whatever.”

And it is. Beating up on Duke is trite. It’s overdone. It’s probably even a little annoying at this point. It’s all of that.

In fact, ESPN interrupted what was actually the game of the year so far in the UCLA-Kentucky standoff, which, unlike the Duke game, came down to the final minute. They did it simply to show a Duke team’s long, torturous struggle with a Golden Eagles squad with which they had ultimately indomitable matchup problems.

So should I stop this seemingly senseless Duke hating? Yeah, probably. Will I? Absolutely not.

I go to a Division-III college(go Emerson Lions!). I have no team to root for. So I think I speak for the vast majority of us, who either have no alma mater or have one with a basketball team that is primarily comprised of players who are still “too short to ride this ride,” when I say that I root for America’s team:

Not Duke.

Not Duke has a horrible winning percentage, so we’re always the underdog. Winning seven games would be a good year for us and points to a nice job of our invisible AD and literally transparent coach sucking up to the schedule maker.

We have the catchy unanimity of the Harlem Globetrotters, but we refresh our material every few years. (We are, in the long run, made up of the sarcastic and the ones who are a bit too attention deficient to follow one team.) We can connect with the relatively ordinary players on mid-majors more than we ever will with any NBA-bound Blue Devil.

But, most of all, we have faith. Blind, stupid, incredibly dumb faith.

And that’s why, when we hear that ESPN jingle during the game of the year, like Pavlov’s dogs, we jump and dart to the remote to turn up the volume button just in case our favorite team is on.

Because, even if it’s not the best basketball game of the year, there’s always millions of people all across this country praying for an average pitcher with a barely good-enough out pitch.
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Now onto some BabyLinks. (I mean, um, Shaving Points? Do we really want to call it that?)

– Sorry for not alerting you guys of March in November tonight, but this early season tournament stuff is the best you’re going to see until March. Teams are post-gel mode and pre-midseason lull. Catch the end of the Maui Invitational — UCLA-GTech — tonight at 10 before teams slowly stop caring until early-Spring.

– Now that they’ve finally lost, can we officially declare that Memphis was overrated to begin with? The Tigers were ranked 11th in the country going into the night o’ good tourney matchups, but that’s only because they beat up on perennial SWAC powerhouse Jackson State and barely slid past an Oklahoma team that just so happened to lose to Purdue. Oh, and Oklahoma team whose only wins came against Norfolk State and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

So, through the transitive property, Memphis should be in the same league as the school of the guy who once said, “If you’re not a born-again Christian, you’re a failure as a human being.” There’s gotta be a ceiling on a school like that.

Back to the point, this is a Memphis team that starts three sophomores and a freshman and they’re one spot away from being a top-10 team?

There’s only one logical excuse for this: voter hangover.

Remember the best story of that guy in college/high school/elementary school (some of my friends had, apparently, very bad parents) who had one or three or 55 too many and woke up three weeks later in North Dakota with a full beard? Well, there’s a poll voter equivalent to that. Some of these people must have woken up a year later with a ballot in their hands, swallowing raw eggs with the shell as a chaser, assumed Rodney Carney and Darius Washington were still on this Memphis team and pencilled them into the top 11. John Calipari is a talented guy, but I’ve seen 5th grade travel teams with more developed starting lineups.

The best thing about the second week of the season is that this type of thing sorts itself out and the wrinkles in the polls get flattened. Georgia Tech rallied from 16 down and had a 62-point second half (seriously) to beat up Memphis on national TV Tuesday night. They were outrebounded 29-19. That’s why teams this young should never be ranked this high. Tenacity comes in, oh, a year or two.

– Are they ever going to call warding on Josh McRoberts? Remember offensive hooking fouls in the post? No? OK. Gotcha.

– I would figure that, if you’re the coach of the Prairie View A&M Tigers, it’s acceptable to laugh at the game tape of the 94-33 Florida loss on Tuesday. Then you try to find a way to burn the game tape before the AD finds out. Because, otherwise, I think this conversation occurs.

Byron Rimm (Coach of Prairie View A&M): “Yeah, we scored, uh, 14 points in the second half.”
Robert Atkins (AD of Prairie View A&M): “They still play games without the shot clock?”

And that’s just, you know, awkward.

– I just made fun of Jackson State, but they beat a team last night in a real conference (Rutgers, Big East). Not that that matters.

– Also something that you don’t have to pay attention to, either, but the best, sheerly mathematical team in the country right now is Clemson, who has six wins and no losses and had their best win yet last night against Mississippi State.

My bet is they run the table. Listen to this fluff schedule from January 6th to February 24th: Georgia Tech, Duke, BC and Maryland twice and one more at UNC. 30-0, baby! Hop on the bandwagon!

– As I said, UCLA-Kentucky was the best game no one saw. But the lack of TV coverage was worth it, as I explain by cheaply plugging my first Duke hatred column this year (see above). I probably won’t be able to count how many I do this year. Feel free to share your Duke hating experiences, or reasons as to why I’m a sissy bandwagon-hopper below in ‘Comments.’