No. 4 seed Duke to face UNCW in the NCAA West Region

Duke will open its NCAA tournament quest as the No. 4 seed in the West Region. The Blue Devils will face No. 13 seed UNC Wilmington at 12:15 p.m. Thursday in Providence, R.I. It will be the first game of the round of 64, and it will be televised by WNCN.

The winner of fifth-seeded Baylor and No. 12 seed Yale would await in the round of 32 on Saturday. The winner of that matchup would head to Anaheim, Calif., for the west regional semifinals.

Duke has won its region 16 times—but the Blue Devils have never won a West Regional. The Blue Devils have been placed in the West Region five times (1984, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2011).

This is the 21st straight NCAA tournament appearance for Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils, the second-longest active streak nationally (No. 1 overall seed Kansas has 27 straight trips to the Big Dance). Duke has made the NCAA tournament 32 times in Krzyzewski’s 36 years – this is just the fourth time the Blue Devils have been lower than a No. 3 seed under him. Duke has never before been a No. 4 seed under Krzyzewski.

UNC Wilmington (25-7) won the Colonial Athletic Association conference tournament as the No. 2 seed. The Seahawks beat top-seeded Hofstra 80-73 in overtime. UNC Wilmington didn’t play any Power 5 opponents this year, but the Seahawks share one common opponent with Duke: Georgetown. UNC Wilmington lost 87-82 to the Hoyas on Dec. 12 in Washington. The Blue Devils beat Georgetown 86-84 on Nov. 22 in Madison Square Garden.

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The Seahawks are coached by former Louisville assistant Kevin Keatts, who is in just his second season at the school. UNC Wilmington is making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006. Shooting guard Chris Flemmings was the most outstanding player of the CAA tournament, and point guard Denzel Ingram and guard Craig Ponder were also on the all-tournament team.

Duke and UNC Wilmington have only played once previously, in 1982 during Krzyzewski’s second season (a 67-57 Duke win).

Last time out, No. 19 Duke (23-10) lost in the ACC tournament quarterfinals to Notre Dame in overtime after leading by as many as 16 points in the second half. The Blue Devils are 3-4 in their last seven games, with wins over N.C. State, Wake Forest and Florida State and losses at Louisville, at Pittsburgh, at home against North Carolina and against the Fighting Irish.

The Blue Devils have overcome the loss of Amile Jefferson (broken right foot in practice on Dec. 12) and a 4-4 start in the ACC. Next came a five-game winning streak, which contained Duke’s three best wins of the year (wins at Georgia Tech, at home against N.C. State, Louisville and Virginia and at North Carolina).

Technically this is Duke’s defense of its 2015 NCAA tournament title, but the two teams are completely different. Last year’s national title game hero, Grayson Allen, is this year’s Duke star, earning first-team all-ACC honors by averaging a team-best 21.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and a team-high 3.6 assists per game. ACC freshman of the year Brandon Ingram will possibly be a top-two pick in this year’s NBA draft thanks to his length (6 feet 9 with a 7-3 wingspan) and speed. He has averaged 16.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while playing out of position as a stretch-4 (traditionally the power forward spot).

The Blue Devils have excelled offensively this year, boasting the nation’s sixth-most efficient offense, according to statistician Ken Pomeroy (scoring an average 1.19 points per possession) but the 110th-most efficient defense out of 351 Division I teams (giving up an average of 1.01 points per possession). UNC Wilmington ranks 74th offensively (1.09) and 105th defensively (1.00).

Should the first-round games in Providence go chalk, Baylor would be a tough matchup for the Blue Devils on short rest. Duke’s six-man rotation has been expanding of late to include more of a seventh, reserve forward Chase Jeter, but it’s still primarily guards Allen, Ingram, Matt Jones, Derryck Thornton and Luke Kennard and center Marshall Plumlee. The Bears have nine players who average at least 12.5 minutes per game. Like Duke, Baylor can score (13th nationally in efficiency with 1.17 points per possession) but don’t defend at as high of a level (0.99, 72nd nationally).

Laura Keeley: 919-829-4556, @laurakeeley

No. 4 Duke vs. No. 13 UNC Wilmington

Thursday, March 17, Dunkin’ Donuts Center, Providence, R.I.

12:15 p.m., WNCN

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