ANAHEIM, Calif. - As the basketball gods are my witness, I deliver promising news: Duke can be had. Duke has been had.
Duke has lost more Sweet 16 games this century than any team in Division I, II and III, men or women, day or night, on land, sea and in the air.
The Blue Devils' weakness isn't perimeter shooting or off-side help against a zone, it is numerophobia, or arithmophobia, or anything that can be connected to their astonishing lack of success in Sweet 16 games.
• 2000: No. 1 seed Duke loses to No. 5 seed Florida in the Sweet 16.
• 2002: No. 1 seed Duke loses to No. 5 seed Indiana in the Sweet 16.
• 2003: No. 3 seed Duke loses to No. 2 seed Kansas in the Sweet16.
• 2005: No. 1 seed Duke loses to No. 5 seed Michigan State in the Sweet 16.
• 2006: No. 1 seed Duke loses to No. 4 seed LSU in the Sweet 16.
• 2009: No. 2 seed Duke loses to No. 3 seed Villanova in the Sweet 16.
If you are a believer in this sort of thing, Duke is due to lose again. Soon. Tonight, perhaps.
Outside his team's locker room Wednesday at Honda Center, Arizona coach Sean Miller did not bite on any type of Duke-can-be-had angle.
"It's never to your advantage to go against them in this tournament," he said.
If you strip away those six puzzling Sweet 16 losses, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is 79-16 in the NCAA tournament, a winning percentage of .832. How good is that? UCLA's John Wooden won .825 percent of his NCAA tournament games.
So, no, you don't add up the numbers and find hope. Duke is Duke, and that's always trouble.
In his days as an assistant coach at North Carolina State and at Xavier, Miller has been on coaching staffs that played Duke 15 times. He is 1-14. That is the number that drives the UA coach.
One win, 14 losses.
"There's a long line in front of me," Miller said. "I'm not the only one."
In the lead-up for tonight's game, Miller has preached the gospel of a Man Who Has Lost To Duke 93 Percent Of The Time.
"He keeps pounding it in, that Duke is fanatical and that nobody plays harder," said UA forward Solomon Hill. "He talks about their ball-screens and their offensive rebounding. Those are hustle plays, tough-guy plays. That's Duke. They do all the little things right."
On the 15 occasions that Miller coached against Krzyzewski, he discovered no variation of effort and no softness. "Not once," he said.
That is why, in a lot of ways, Miller's basketball teams at Xavier, and now at Arizona, are a latter-day version of the Blue Devils. Not in the sense of out-manning you with McDonald's All-Americans, but in being sound, tough and smart, especially tough.
In two seasons, the Wildcats have probably become the most physical team in the Pac-10, or close to it, and the influence of Krzyzewski on Miller is surely part of the transformation.
"We pride ourselves in being tough on the ball and tough off the ball," Duke forward Mason Plumlee said Wednesday. "That's always been Duke basketball."
Miller's Blue Devil quote of the week: "They don't flinch."
Tonight's game, while daunting and potentially one-sided, is a chance for Miller to measure how far his team has grown in precepts unrelated to shooting percentages and points scored. More than any game since getting creamed by Louisville in the 2009 Sweet 16, this will be Arizona's surest test of manhood.
Krzyzewski appears to like what he sees in Miller, who is 22 years his junior.
"He's a basketball guy," Krzyzewski said Wednesday. "I think Sean is more of an 'old soul.' He got in the game for the right reasons. His team is sound. They're just good. … I think Arizona is lucky to have him."
The last time Miller coached against Duke was at the 2004 Elite Eight in Atlanta. Duke survived a 40-minute skirmish, 66-63, and went to the Final Four. It was shortly after that game that Xavier head coach Thad Matta was hired away by Ohio State and Miller was promoted to head coach.
Now he has come full circle, matched against Duke again, older, wiser and aware that those who say Duke is a finesse team, full of three-point shooters and soft inside, has not watched enough basketball.
"What strikes me is how hard it is to beat them, but also how hard they play," he said. "A lot of times that alone beats you. A lot of times there's an adjustment period at the beginning of the game. You want to make sure you don't get knocked on your heels by their effort level."
In the '09 Sweet 16, under an interim coaching staff, the Wildcats were quickly out of their element, almost submissive, against Louisville. They fell behind 17-9 and soon it was 38-19. They lost 103-64, having been happy just to get that far.
This UA team is neither resigned nor satisfied. It may lose by 10 or 12, but, if so, it should be a function of Duke's talent rather than Arizona's lack of will.