In the past two weeks, #2 Duke beat a top 25 team by nearly a double digit margin, and #1 Carolina lost to an unranked team by almost the same amount.
In this part of the country, those are fightin words. But don’t worry, I’m not here to talk smack. At first glance, the above statement might imply that Duke is by far the superior basketball team, but appearances can be deceiving. You see Duke lost to an unranked team by an even greater margin earlier this season, a team that they’d already played and massacred two weeks prior.
In addition to that fact, you should also know that UNC beat a top 25 team by 35 points–a total blowout of a team with whom they should have been equally matched.
And this happens every year. Several top-ranked basketball teams end up losing to a team they should have decimated, an aberration amidst an otherwise dominant season.
Why is that?
There are several explanations for this, one of which is the presence of over-ranked teams, but there is also something psychological to it. Whenever Duke prepares to faces a tough opponent, they prepare themselves mentally and physically. They do all that they can to learn about the other team and equip themselves for superior play. Their minds are focused on one thing and one thing alone–how to outplay the enemy.
But I suspect the same amount of preparation is not involved when facing a lesser team. When a player knows that the game will probably be easy, he doesn’t prepare himself with the same degree of intensity. Psychological, his guard is down.
And what’s the result of letting his guard down in the face of a non-threatening opponent? The occasional upset.
It always surprises us, but it makes total sense.
What is fascinating to me about this phenomenon is that it’s not unlike the Christian life. When we spend time with non-Christians or go on a mission trip, we prepare for it with the same intensity as a Duke player facing Carolina. We’ll be uber intentional about everything we do and say, keeping our guard up, knowing that the Enemy is right around the corner doing the exact same thing. You morph yourself into the ultimate Christian.
But once we depart from these obvious mission fields, we approach our lives much like a top ranked team faces a Division 1 Nobody. We fail to prepare, we let our guards down, and we set ourselves up to fall. We become sitting ducks for the Enemy to take us down.
Just like an arrogant basketball team, we are most vulnerable to sin and temptation when we least expect it and when we are least prepared.
Keep that lesson in mind as the basketball season unfolds. Duke was not the first to fall, and Carolina will certainly not be the last. The false sense of confidence that led these teams to fall is just as present in every one of us. When you go see a shady movie with your Christian friends, when a believer dates a non-believer, or when a pastor has an affair in his church–these stumbles all start at the same place because sin never happens out of nowhere. Like a crouching lion, the Enemy waits for an opportunity. Be sure not to hand it to him.