Duke is a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the 13th time.
The Blue Devils are the top seed in the South Region and will begin their drive for the program’s fifth national championship against the First Four winner between North Florida and Robert Morris Friday at 7:10 (CBS) in Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena. The winner of San Diego State vs. St. John’s would await in the round of 32.
“We’ve won 29 games and have been one of the best teams in the country with four freshmen and eight guys. I like my team,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Duke’s loss in the ACC tournament. “We’re ready to go to war in the NCAA tournament, and we’ll take what the consequences are of our efforts.”
Krzyzewski was defending his team against a comparison to last year’s team, which is a complete apples-to-oranges comparison. The personnel has changed almost completely, with freshmen Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow, combined with the senior leadership of Quinn Cook, pacing Duke this season.
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The Blue Devils built a strong resume, going 29-4, finishing second in the ACC after the regular season and losing in the ACC tournament semifinals to eventual champion Notre Dame.
Duke’s best wins came at Wisconsin (the No. 1 seed in the West), at Virginia (No. 2 in the East), a 30-point thrashing of the Fighting Irish (No. 3 in the Midwest) at home in February and twice against North Carolina (No. 4 in the West). Duke also beat Louisville (No. 4 in the East) on the road.
The Blue Devils have advanced to the Sweet 16 all 12 previous times they earned a No. 1 seed. Houston will be the location of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games for Duke’s region.
Until the loss to Notre Dame, the Blue Devils had looked nearly unbeatable, winning 12 straight games and destroying N.C. State 77-53 in the ACC tournament quarterfinals. That’s what made the lethargic opening against Notre Dame – it was 41-26 at the half, a larger halftime deficit than all of Duke’s previous halftime deficits combined – so surprising.
“For about the first 24 minutes, I’m not sure – I don’t know who we were coaching,” Krzyzewski said. “We weren’t talking. We weren’t doing anything. We weren’t following instructions and it was like an out-of-body experience.
“Hopefully, we’re still in a point in time where we can learn from this. Next game we play, there is no more learning. You’ve got to do it. We had not lost since January, and sometimes I think you can take winning – not winning for granted, but the preparation to win, the emotional, the intellectual preparation that it takes to win, and we as a group didn’t have that.”
Duke shot a season-low percentage from 3-point range (3-of-17, 17.6 percent), and Okafor’s 28 points on 13-of-18 accuracy weren’t enough to overcome the cold shooting. It was an unusual occurrence, the lack of 3-point baskets, but it did provide Duke an opportunity to work on a plan B.
Throughout the season – before last week, at least – Duke had shown an uncanny ability to remain calm under pressure, pulling off dramatic comeback wins against St. John’s, Virginia and UNC.
Those experiences, combined with the disappointment of the ACC tournament, have prepared Duke for their final run of the season.
RECORD: 23-11. LAST 10: 9-1
BID: Automatic (Atlantic Sun). RPI: 167
RECORD: 19-14. LAST 10: 8-2
BID: Automatic (Northeast). RPI: 174
7:10 p.m. Friday (CBS)