Duke Now

What Duke's NCAA seed says about the chances of winning it all

Duke got the No. 2 seed it was expecting, and will play in Pittsburgh, not Charlotte, during the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

There was a slight possibility Duke would have played in Charlotte had the NCAA Selection Committee felt it had a better resume than rival North Carolina. But the Tar Heels beat the Blue Devils 74-69 in the semifinals of the ACC tournament on Friday, and earned the rights to play in Charlotte.

Duke (26-7) does not mind though.

Its first round opponent is 15th seeded Iona, winners of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament. Six players on Iona's team averages 10 or more points. As a team, the Gaels average 80 points per game. Rickey McGill, a 6-1, 175-pound junior point guard, leads the team in points per game (13.5) and assists (5.6).

Duke and Iona face off on Thursday at 2:45 p.m.

If Duke beats Iona, it will see the winner of Oklahoma (18-13), a No. 10 seed, and Rhode Island (25-7) a No. 7 seed. Oklahoma has the country's leading scorer and assist man in Trae Young. He averages 27.4 points per game and 8.8 assists.

Rhode Island, which received an At-Large bid, finished first Atlantic-10 conference, but lost in the conference tournament championship game by one point.

Familiar teams

There are many familiar foes in the Midwest Region bracket, including No. 3 seeded Michigan State, which Duke beat 88-81 on a neutral court on Nov. 14. Duke could meet the Spartans in the Sweet 16.

N.C. State, which beat Duke 96-85 on Jan. 6, is a No. 9 seed in the Midwest Region and would play Duke in the Elite 8.

ACC rivals Clemson and Syracuse are also in the Midwest Region as a No. 5 and No. 11 seed respectively. Duke beat both teams earlier this season.

Duke is 3-1 this season against the 16 teams in its region.

Kansas is the No. 1 seed in the region. Any meeting with the Jayhawks would be in the Elite 8.

Duke has had success as a No. 2 seed in Midwest Region of the NCAA tournament in the past. In 1991, as a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, the Blue Devils won a national title. In 2013, as a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, Duke advanced to the Elite 8 before losing to Louisville. Louisville has since had its wins from that season vacated, including its national championship title.

Duke was a No. 2 seed in the East Regional in last season's NCAA tournament, and lost in the Round of 32 to South Carolina.

A successful regular season

Duke likely had a chance to grab one of the No. 1 seeds had it won the ACC tournament this past week in Brooklyn. It looked like that could be possible after a convincing 88-70 win over Notre Dame in the quarterfinal game. But Duke lost 74-69 to UNC in the ACC tournament semifinals the following day.

For the most part, Duke has had a successful season. The Blue Devils started the season as the No. 1-ranked team in the country with high expectations. Duke had the No. 1 recruiting class, headlined by Marvin Bagley III. Bagley won ACC Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and first team All-ACC honors. He is also a finalist on many national award lists.

Duke won the first 11 games of its season, but struggled on the road in conference play.

The Blue Devils' first loss came on the road to Boston College on Dec. 9 in Boston. Questions began to arise about what Duke needed to do to better its defense. Duke's defense hit a low point on Jan. 6, after a 96-85 loss to N.C. State in Raleigh.

Duke's defense improved after that and the Blue Devils won six of its next seven games. Its only loss during that stretch came against Virginia in a 65-63 loss on Jan. 27. Then Duke hit another low-point. It lost back-to-back games to St. John's at Madison Square 81-77 on Feb. 2 and then 82-78 at UNC on Feb. 8.

After the UNC loss, Duke ended the season winning six of its last seven games. Along the way, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski announced that his team's primary defense would be a zone. Krzyzewski's teams have historically played man-to-man defense.

It has worked. Heading into the NCAA tournament, Duke has the seventh most efficient defense in the country, according to kenpom.com, an advanced analytic site. It also has the third most efficient offense.

Alexander, 919-829-4822; Twitter: @jonmalexander
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