First off, let’s try to be reasonable.

Anyone who watched Duke annihilate their opponents in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, while countless fellow tourney favorites including UNC and Virginia were resoundingly trounced by lower-seeded teams, can be forgiven for racing to the conclusion that the Blue Devils are fated and indeed honor bound to cut down the nets in San Antonio on April 2. That is certainly my position, one further emboldened by a Syracuse upset of Michigan State that spared Duke a potentially treacherous rematch against the Spartans. Yes, there are still games to play. Yes, Villanova and Kansas and Michigan lurk menacingly. But surely fate has now cast its surly lot with Marvin and Grayson and Gary and Coach K. Nothing could be more plain or obvious. The reasonable position is that Duke has already won this tournament and the rest of the games can now be played out politely and strictly for exhibition purposes.

Now that we have established this apriori truth, let us play the light and comical journalist’s game of discussing feasible scenarios for Duke’s inevitable win over Syracuse in their Sweet 16 matchup later this evening. It’s so important to make time for fun in these stressful days of meteorological bomb cyclones and John Bolton as national security adviser. We are unsure of so much, but we can be cheerfully convinced of a Duke victory tonight.

Here’s how it might happen.

ScenarioOne: It Looks Just Like the Last Game
Just over a month ago, Syracusevisited Cameron and were gifted a knuckle sandwich for their trouble, losing 60–44 in what was arguably Duke’s most dominating defensive performance of the season. This was the game that represented Marvin Bagley’s triumphant return following a four-game absence and a worrying knee sprain, and he was clearly the best player on the floor as he notched nineteen points on eight-of-nine shooting. With both teams retreating into a two-three zone, the game itself was a bit of a grind, with long stretches of apocalyptic offensive woes on both sides. Ultimately, however, the Blue Devils led by eleven at half and never felt in jeopardy of losing. In proving they can win a scrappy ground war as easily as a high-scoring affair against Jim Boeheim’s team, they essentially eliminated any pathways to a Syracuse victory. Tonight might look a lot like that—a lot of grinding of the gears on both sides, but Duke’s superior talent clearly superseding that of the Orangemen.

ScenarioTwo: Duke Wins By Thirty-Five or More
Maybe they just kill them. Maybe TravonDuval and Grayson Allen sit back just barely out of reach of the zone and bury twelve threes in the first half. Maybe it turns into the Gary Trent Jr. show and he breaks out with a signature 30–10–6 game. Maybe it gets so out of hand that Coach K has to take the starters out with eight minutes left, and Jack White cements his legacy as an underdog tournament hero with three steals and ten points and a monster dunk in the closing seconds. God, I hope that part happens. Anyway, there is a scenario in which Duke could simply overwhelm Syracuse in much the same manner they made Rhode Island look mournfully sad in the second round. I don’t think this is likely, but it is what I’m hoping for.

ScenarioThree: Boeheim Keeps It Close
This, of course, is theuncomfortable scenario we don’t discuss in polite company. Duke starts off ice cold, recalling their addled loss to UNC in the ACC semifinals. Ball movement is lethargic or sloppy or both, and a bad vibe is beginning to creep into the contest. Tyus Battle is on one of his periodic tears and now we are down eleven with three minutes gone in the second half. No need to go any further. Jim Boeheim is a dark arts operator whose willingness to employ methods reserved for only the most diabolical and depraved minds is an open secret in collegiate sports. Who knows what he might conjure? I’m just saying, don’t worry. If they seem to be close at the end, it’s only because Coach K hasn’t sprinkled his sanity dust on the situation. It’s coming, it’s coming.

ScenarioFour: Syracuse Decides Not To Take The Floor
This is a definite long shot, andreally more of a suggestion than an actual likelihood, but I think it’s really worth considering. In this scenario, Boeheim acts out of deference to his decades-long friendship with Coach K, concedes the point that Syracuse probably shouldn’t be in the tournament to begin with, and simply decides not to have his team take the floor. Instead, there is a ceremonial confetti drop, some loud celebratory music, and maybe some light scrimmaging between fans of both teams or some young children. This becomes a “Teachable Moment,” where two wizened old coaches demonstrate that a spontaneous dance party is always preferable to a ritualized public flogging. The FBI, duly impressed that college basketball has reasserted its integrity, calls a halt to all pending and current investigations into the sport. A fractured society begins to heal.

That’s how I see it. Are there other ways it could possiblyplay out? What am I, a Delphic Oracle? How many scenarios do you people need? Choose one of these and be happy with it.

In the meantime, have fun tonight, be s
afe, and check back in this space next week as we prepare for either Clemson or Kansas.