Duke opens the NCAA tournament Friday as the No. 2 seed in the East Region.
The seventh-ranked Blue Devils (27-8) will take on No. 15 seed Troy (22-14) in Greenville, S.C., at Bon Secours Wellness Arena at 7:20 p.m.
Duke won four games in four days at the ACC tournament to earn its seed, and the Blue Devils look to be getting stronger.
Three questions for Duke as the tournament opener approaches:
Is Harry Giles really himself again?
The freshman forward’s stat line from the ACC tournament doesn’t tell all of the story. How about the big block and then the slam on the other end against North Carolina in the semifinal round, helping Duke keep the Tar Heels at bay inside the five-minute mark? Or the decisive defensive rebounds that produced key Duke shots against UNC and Notre Dame?
Giles averaged 4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 13 minutes a game. He grabbed 11 defensive rebounds total.
He showed glimpses of the player he was expected to be, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for Duke.
When the Blue Devils beat Notre Dame, 75-69, for the ACC title Saturday, Giles played just 10 minutes but helped strengthen the inside along with veteran forward Amile Jefferson. Duke outscored the Irish in the paint, 44-32, one of six times the Blue Devils scored more than their opponent in that area since opening ACC play on Dec. 31.
With an improving Giles, a seasoned Jefferson and sprinkles of play from freshman center Marques Bolden, Duke may have the tools to limit athletic interiors of its opponents.
Can Matt Jones be an X-Factor?
After going without a field goal in two straight games, and three of the last four, Jones buried a 3-pointer to bust open a one-point game with 51 seconds left in the final against Notre Dame Saturday. Jones was 0-of-4 from the floor leading up to that moment.
Jones is capable of making a difference in in big games if he can hit the 3. The 6-5 senior has been on both ends of the NCAA spectrum, losing in the first round in 2014 and winning it all in 2015.
Jones has played in every game this season and started in all but two.
Will there be a Duke-Villanova showdown in New York?
Duke could face the No. 1 seeded Villanova Wildcats in New York if it gets past the first three rounds. The 2016 national champions are on top of the RPI rankings; the Blue Devils are sixth with eight top 25 RPI wins and 13 against the top 50. Villanova (31-3) is 12-2 against top 50.
The Wildcats open NCAA action in Buffalo, N.Y., Thursday in the East Region.
If the top seeds of the bracket advance, Duke and Nova will clash.
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan