Stacked Midwest hardly a bargain for Duke
Posted March 20
Maybe the fifth time will be the charm for Duke in Raleigh.
Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils have won four NCAA titles, but they’ve never won one after having gone through Raleigh en route to the Final Four.
And really, only one of those Raleigh visits happened after Krzyzewski was hired in 1980. That was in 2004, when the Blue Devils, seeded No. 1 in the Atlanta Regional, opened the tournament here with wins over Alabama State and Seton Hall.
After Raleigh, the Devils stopped Illinois and Xavier in Atlanta but then fell to Connecticut at the San Antonio semifinals. UConn then wiped out another ACC team, Georgia Tech, for the championship.
Under Vic Bubas, Duke met similar fates after starting in Raleigh, at N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum in those days.
Bubas’ 1964 team won the East title by beating Villanova and Connecticut, then reached the title game in Kansas City before losing to UCLA.
Bubas’ 1966 Devils won another East title in Reynolds – beating St. Joseph’s and Syracuse – but then lost to Kentucky in the Final Four semifinals in College Park, Md.
And, of course, there was the day no one in these parts cares to remember – March 11, 1979, or “Black Sunday” – when Duke lost to St. John’s and UNC lost to Penn in Reynolds.
Midwest Regional toughest
This Duke team, seeded third in the Midwest, faces an uphill challenge in its hopes to reach the Dallas-area Final Four.
Then again, so do Midwest No. 1 seed Wichita State, second-seeded Michigan, fourth-seeded Louisville and everyone else in the regional.
That’s because the Midwest easily rates as the most difficult of the four – the upshot of the selection/seeding committee having clearly under-seeded Louisville and No. 8 Kentucky and then kicking in First Four survivors N.C. State at No. 12 (defeating Xavier) and Tennessee at No. 11, which got past Iowa in overtime Wednesday night in Dayton.
Duke should get past 14th-seeded Mercer on Friday without much of a scare. But against the Volunteers or sixth-seeded Massachusetts on Sunday, the situation will get dicey.
Both teams have solid guard play and, yes, Tennessee beat Virginia by 35 points in the regular season. Atlantic 10 heavyweight Massachusetts (24-8) has averaged 76 points and beat Boston College, Clemson, LSU, New Mexico, Nebraska and BYU among others outside the conference.
Wahoos hottest in East
ACC regular-season and tournament champ Virginia landed the top seed in the East Regional and should have a relatively easy time winning two in PNC Arena.
Starting with Coastal Carolina on Friday in the 9:30 p.m. game, the Cavaliers should get to New York for next weekend’s Regional semifinals in part because the East looks to be the easiest of the regionals on paper.
Virginia’s NCAA record is only 1-3 since the end of the Terry Holland/Jeff Jones era in 1998, and Tony Bennett’s 2012 team got fried by Florida (71-45) in its first NCAA game.
But with their bevy of perimeter shooters, suffocating defense and ability to milk the shot clock, these Wahoos have the look of a Final Four qualifier. Tourney experience has to be a concern and they aren’t built to play from behind, but the Cavs earned their No. 1 seed.
Raleigh dance card
No. 3 Duke (26-8) v. No. 14 Mercer (26-8), 12:15 p.m. on WRAL-TV and 99.9 FM The Fan.
No. 6 UMass (24-8) v. No. 11 Tennessee (22-12), 2:45 p.m. on WRAL-TV and 99.9 FM The Fan.
No. 1 Virginia (28-6) v. No. 16 Coastal Carolina (21-12), 9: 25 p.m. on TBS and 620 AM The Buzz
No. 8 Memphis (23-9) v. George Washington (24-8), p.m., 6:55 p.m. on TBS and 99.9 FM The Fan
Will be determined late Friday
TEN TO WATCH
Jabari Parker, Duke, 6-8, Fr.
Rodney Hood, Duke, 6-8, So.
Langston Hall, Mercer, 6-4, Sr.
Chaz Williams, UMass, 5-9, Sr.
Jordan McRae, Tennessee, 6-6, Sr.
Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia, 6-5, So.
Joe Harris, Virginia, 6-6, Sr.
Joe Jackson, Memphis, 6-1, Sr.
Maurice Creek, GWU, 6-5, Sr.
Elijah Wilson, C. Carolina, 6-4, Fr.
Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis is in the tournament with his fourth different school – Clemson, Auburn, South Alabama and now Coastal Carolina. The 68-year-old coach is an accomplished singer who has made several records, primarily rhythm and blues. His coaching record is 665-426. At Clemson, he went 193-142 over 10 seasons.
Coastal Carolina’s top scorer, 6-foot-4 freshman Elijah Wilson (16.1 ppg), played high school ball at Wilmington Laney – Michael Jordan’s alma mater.
Duke didn’t visit N.C. State during the regular season. The lone regular-season game was in Durham, a 95-60 Duke romp on Jan. 18. The two met a second time last Saturday in the ACC semifinals at Greensboro with Duke winning again, 75-67. The Blue Devils’ last game in the PNC Arena was an 84-76 loss to State on Jan. 12, 2013.
It’s a long shot now but there were times during regular season when UMass had six players averaging double digit scoring and they’re still close. Seven are above 8.5 ppg mark, including subs Trey Davis (9.3) and Maxie Esho (8.8). Speedy 5-foot-9 playmaker Chaz Williams leads the team with a 15.8 average.