PONTIAC, Mich. -- It is, perhaps, the most unavoidable curse of success, and with that knowledge, the Duke Blue Devils should feel flattered.
Pessimism, after all, is merely prosperity turned inside out. And so it was that minutes after they dominated St. John's 78-61 in the Midwest Regional championship game yesterday afternoon, one of the very first questions addressed how it is that the Blue Devils intend to atone for last year's embarrassing NCAA title-game loss to UNLV.
Their coach, Mike Krzyzewski, apologized for sounding, in his words, "like a jerk," but he had to intercede.
"Let them enjoy the moment," the coach pleaded.
To be sure, it was a moment to enjoy as Duke completed an Atlantic Coast Conference sweep yesterday, joining conference rival North Carolina in Indianapolis next weekend.
Duke, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest, and East No. 1 seed North Carolina, a 75-72 winner over Temple, raised the ACC's record to 11-4 in the tournament.
The Blue Devils also are making their fourth consecutive Final Four appearance, and fifth in six years.
Do the Blue Devils need more to crow about?
How about capping the lopsided Midwest Regional fittingly, with an average victory margin of 18.7 points? Or to be the only team to have defeated each of its four tournament opponents by double figures?
At halftime against St. John's, the Blue Devils led by 14. At the 12:22 mark of the second half, they led by 23. With more than nine minutes to play, they went to a semi-delay.
Graciously, they waited until 5 1/2 minutes remained, when St. John's premier player and leading scorer Malik Sealy left the game for good with the Blue Devils leading by 19, to start smiling a little.
Playing before a Pontiac Silverdome crowd of 25,634, the Redmen were in trouble early. The final Big East team left in the tournament, they held their last lead at 5-4, drew the third foul on point guard and defensive catalyst Jason Buchanan at 12:23 of the first half and, perhaps most damaging, lost center Robert Werdann with a reinjured right calf seconds later.
Werdann re-entered the game at 8:13, but was heavily limited by the injury and came out for good less than five minutes later with four points and seven rebounds.
"I can't even blame the referees today," cracked St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca, whose Redmen committed 16 turnovers in the first half and finished with 26.
The Blue Devils would break a regional final record -- set by Arkansas against Texas last year -- with 17 steals.
Helping the Blue Devils was the performance of sophomore point guard Bobby Hurley. The regional's MVP was 4-for-5 from three-point range in the first half and finished with 20 points, four assists and four steals.
But if the Blue Devils have played the bully thus far in the tournament, they were not about to apologize. Certainly not for that, and not for their Final Four prosperity, either.
"The biggest thing this means is that we won another championship and we're going to the Final Four," center Christian Laettner said. "I'm sure there will be things written about the other little things it meant, but all it means is that it's our championship."
That's an emphasis on "our" with no attempt to hide it. For while it will be theirs forever, the joy is guaranteed for only six days.
Krzyzewski, with five Final Fours but no national titles, knows that as well as anyone. One of the last questions he would answer before boarding the team bus came at him with all the subtlety of an offensive charge.
After all, what would any interview with the Duke coach be without the infamous Bud Grant and his 0-for-4 Super Bowl record mentioned?
"I feel very happy," Krzyzewski said with the patience of a winner. "I don't know why everyone wants me to feel sad. Unlike the pros, we have a different team every year. This is a dream for these kids and for me through them. So I feel very fortunate.
"But am I satisfied?