124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

The Loop

Yes, Tom Izzo, you get a big old asterisk for winning at an empty Cameron Indoor Stadium

December 02, 2020

Grant Halverson

Ready for some truly vile Duke homerism? Well, blame Tom Izzo. Tuesday night, his Michigan State Spartans beat Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium by six. As a Duke fan, I have to tell you that I didn't really care. It's another bizarre year, and Duke is very mediocre. Maybe they'll make me eat my words and win a title, but already it looks like another team of talented-but-unpolished freshman, one solid upperclassman in Matthew Hurt, and not a three-point shooter in sight. This has become typical for Duke teams, and in fact the lack of shooting even burned the Zion Williamson team at the hands of Izzo's Spartans. As a program, we're in a nasty holding pattern.

But I digress. The result didn't bum me out like it would in most years, but what did catch my eye, and began to boil the old blood, was Izzo's comment afterward. He said:

"I know one thing: I'm not gonna put this as an asterisk."

See, despite some success against Duke, Izzo was 0-3 in Cameron Indoor Stadium before Tuesday's game. Now, technically, he's 1-3. But with apologies to Coach Izzo and to everyone who will find this argument insufferable, mannnn, that is not a real win at Cameron.

Not even close! Even in the age of the zombie college fan, where fewer and fewer students want to spend the time to go to a game or really engage when they're there, Cameron is still one of the hardest places to play in the country. In any sport. It's not quite the same for a Florida State game on a Tuesday in February, but for a Carolina or Virginia game, or when a marquee program like Michigan State comes to town in the fall? It's still a zoo. I know everyone is sick of Dick Vitale and his ilk treating Coach K and the Duke students like they invented the polio vaccine, but one thing I can say without hyperbole is that Cameron, at its best, is genuinely psychotic. Until you've actually been inside, it's hard to imagine the deafening madness when the place is in a frenzy.

That's partly down to the small size, partly down to the acoustics, and partly down to the success of the program. There's nothing special about Duke students; you could sub anyone else in and it'd be just as wild. It has a momentum of its own, and it's intimidating and hot and claustrophobic. Now, all that is missing. To win there in 2020, with no fans in the house, does not in any way resemble the significantly tougher task of winning in the cauldron. I mean, I watched Gary Williams have a mental breakdown while 13,000 people shouted "sweat, Gary, sweat!" at him. It's very hard to keep your head in a place like that, which is why Michigan State is only the third non-conference opponent to win at Cameron in 20 years.

Obviously, this is a very good win for Tom Izzo, and he's right to be proud of his team and the accomplishment. But no asterisk? Please, Tom. You deserve the world's biggest asterisk; an actual real-life one, many stories high, and if I had the means I'd buy it for you and pay to have it installed in your front yard. But for now, please settle for this: