Remember when the so-called experts said it was a down year in the Atlantic Coast Conference? It was supposedly Duke and everyone else?
Well, yes, the Duke Blue Devils were outstanding this season and are into the Sweet Sixteen. However, the rival North Carolina Tar Heels and Florida State Seminoles are also alive, giving the ACC three of the 16 remaining teams.
Duke left Raleigh-Durham International Airport Friday for Anaheim. That’s another thing that the Blue Devils have going that the rival Tar Heels do not. UNC will travel to Newark, N.J. Wednesday for their next game(s). Where would you rather be?
It is a funny thing, too. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski boards the aircraft dressed in a polo shirt, business as usual, ready for one of likely thousands of trips he has taken before. The student-athletes, however, are more laid back. Most have buds in their ears listening to music, but there was one thing I found particularly interesting. Among the carry-ons for Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving were their game shoes. Watch Thursday and you’ll see Smith wearing a shining new pair of white sneakers with blue trim, while Irving has a bright blue pair of kicks. Either it is superstition, the players don’t want them to get ruined underneath the plane with the rest of the luggage, or there is some unknown bond the players have with their shoes where they cannot be separated. Nonetheless, it is comical.
As far as the next game is concerned, Duke takes on Arizona Thursday night at 9:45pm ET at Honda Center in Anaheim. The Blue Devils spanked Hampton in the second round 87-45, and snuck by Michigan in the third round 73-71. Arizona survived a game effort from Memphis in the second round 77-75, before edging Texas 70-69.
Duke is 0-1 in NCAA Tournament play all-time in the state of California
Duke has won four straight NCAA Tournament games vs. Pac-10 opponents
Duke is 1-0 in NCAA Tournament play all-time vs. Arizona, beating the Wildcats 82-72 in the 2001 National Championship Game
Coach Mike Krzyzewski has 900 wins, two shy of mentor Bobby Knight for the all-time NCAA lead in victories
Duke is 45-8 all-time as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament
Duke has advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament 26 times, including 12 of the past 14 years
Duke has won 22 consecutive neutral site games, last losing in the 2009 NCAA Tournament vs. Villanova
Duke is allowing 63.9 points per game — the fourth-best scoring defense since 1951.
If you go position-by-position, this game might be a blowout.
In the frontcourt, big man Derrick Williams is a huge factor for Arizona, and he must be stopped if Duke is to have success. However, Solomon Hill has only had recent success. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils have Kyle Singler and rebound kings Mason and Miles Plumlee. Ryan Kelly has also been a factor, giving the No. 1 seed a solid edge as far as the big bodies go.
In the backcourt, the Blue Devils welcomed back the freshman Irving vs. Hampton. He has averaged 12.5 ppg in his first two NCAA Tournament games. Duke is still trying to jell with the addition of Irving, but it’s a good thing adding a player of his magnitude at this point of the season. National Player of the Year candidate Nolan Smith and Seth Curry held down the fort without Irving, and give Duke an overwhelming advantage at the position. To make matters worse for the Wildcats, Coach K told The Associated Press this week that Irving will play “significant minutes” in Thursday’s game. However, he’ll still serve as the sixth man off the bench, as Krzyzewski said the team is “good with who we’re starting.”
Lamont Jones and Kyle Fogg might be the best options for the Wildcats, but clearly Duke has the advantage here too. However, Jones’ nickname of “Momo” is pretty cool.
With Duke’s experience, especially on the coaching side, this game might be over by halftime. Arizona has had two close shaves against decent opponents, but they haven’t met a side with the depth and experience which Duke brings to the table.
Prediction – Duke 79, Arizona 64
As far as the ACC having a down year, they have those three times alive still. That pales in comparison to the city of Richmond, who boasts two teams of its own with the hometown Richmond Spiders and Virginia Commonwealth Rams. How is the vaunted Big East Conference doing? They had 11 entries. Well, they’re down to two teams. It looks like the ACC was a little stronger than people thought. We’ll see Thursday and Friday when play resumes in what has been a special NCAA Tournament so far.