If Duke has a lot of work ahead to survive its weekend in Rhode Island – with a tricky potential short-rest matchup with Baylor looming after UNC Wilmington – it’s only going to get tougher for the Blue Devils after that, no matter who they play out west.
The last time Duke was sent to Anaheim, Calif., a top-seeded team that boasted national-championship returnees Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee – and looked like a heavy favorite to repeat early in the season before Kyrie Irving was injured – suffered a late-night 93-77 loss to fifth-seeded Arizona in a west regional semifinal.
That was part of a trend: Mike Krzyzewski’s teams have never won an NCAA tournament game in the Pacific time zone. The 2011 Arizona loss dropped the Blue Devils to 0-4 out west. They have fared better in Salt Lake City or Denver, but Duke’s tournament trips to Pullman, Wash., and Seattle and Anaheim (twice) have all ended at first asking.
And it’s back to Anaheim the Blue Devils will go if they can advance, a long cross-country trip for a team that has struggled with schedule compression this season, going 2-3 with one or less days off against ACC opponents.
Krzyzewski was able to steer his team of one-and-done freshmen to a national title last season after first-round exits with teams led by Austin Rivers and Jabari Parker, so maybe the Pacific problem is similarly surmountable this season.