Blue Devils focused and fired up for Albany
It took Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski a mere 90 seconds of game action last Friday night to see his team was being defeated by not one, but two foes.
Maryland was on the court. Human nature was in his player’s heads.
The Blue Devils knew they were going to the NCAA Tournament and played like they had nothing to gain in their ACC Tournament quarterfinal. Maryland never trailed and sent Duke home with an 83-74 loss at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Every day since then, Duke has been preparing for the NCAA Tournament, which the Blue Devils will open in Philadelphia against Albany on Friday (12:15 p.m., WRAL).
From now on, not giving the best and most focused effort can bring end a season quickly.
“I’m 66. I can be ready every day at this time in my life,” Krzyzewski said Tuesday. “When you feel those things that can defeat you, I have mechanisms that, for me personally, I can use. Now to translate that to 19, 20, 21 year olds, that’s difficult. At 90 seconds into the Maryland game, that’s what I was doing. We weren’t able to do it. Maryland was really good and human nature was really rampant that night.”
Krzyzewski said he saw no flaws in the preparation his team had undergone heading into the ACC Tournament after placing second in the league regular season race. But something didn’t carry over.
“It happens,” he said. “It just happens. Throughout my life when it’s happened ... I couldn’t defeat it as a player or a coach. Then as a result when you are in those battles against human nature and lose them you learn.”
Duke (27-5) knows that lesson all too well. The Blue Devils enter the NCAA Tournament having lost their last three postseason games, including the Maryland loss last week.
The most striking of them was the 75-70 loss to Lehigh in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
Now, here again is Duke as a No. 2 seed facing a 15th-seeded team just like last year.
A repeat of last year’s performance, or last Friday’s, could lead to another stunning upset.
“Hopefully our nature is to be hungry,” Duke senior center Mason Plumlee said. “We aren’t satisfied with where we are. I couldn’t be more excited about this tournament. I’m just ready.”
The Blue Devils were projected as a No. 1 seed as the season progressed. Twice Duke held the nation’s No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, and the Blue Devils finished the regular season No. 1 in the Ratings Percentage Index and with the No. 1 strength of schedule.
The Maryland loss, though, meant Duke didn’t win either the ACC regular season or tournament championships. Indiana, Louisville, Gonzaga and Kansas, who were all regular season or tournament champions of their leagues, beat out Duke for top seeds.
“At the end of the day if we had to give you one distinction, it got down to fine distinctions here, maybe they didn’t win on the road quite like some of the other teams in the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 slots,” NCAA Tournament Committee chairman Mike Bobinski said of the Blue Devils. “ They were in the mix for a No. 1 slot. As the week went forward, they actually spent some time on the 1 line, as did a number of teams, as we did our evaluations.
It was a very, very close call. Just one of those decisions we ultimately had to make. Plus they also tangentially didn’t win their regular season or the tournament as the other No. 1’s in some cases.”
Given that Duke had to play without Ryan Kelly for 13 games because of a foot injury and that Seth Curry was limited in practice all year with a leg issue, Krzyzewski said the team performed well overall.
“If you compared us with any team in the country, most people would say in the regular season we did as well as anybody,” Krzyzewski said. “But we didn’t win a regular season championship or a tournament championship. We could say injury, but we didn’t. We did not do that. But overall in the 32 games, for most of them we played our butts off. We were in tough situations and we played a tough schedule. Our guys did a great job. They are prepared. We just haven’t had the luxury of continuity.”
Throughout the season, Krzyzewski said he liked his team’s ability to fight through tough situations. The loss to Maryland, as humbling as it was, didn’t diminish Krzyzewski’s opinion of the Blue Devils’ toughness.
“I like my team,” Krzyzewski said. “I think my team is going to play well. I like my seniors. I think we’re going to be ready to go.”
NOTES — Krzyzewski said Tuesday that Rasheed Sulaimon will move back into the starting lineup after he began the last two games on the bench. Sulaimon will replace Tyler Thornton at one guard position. Kelly, Curry, Plumlee and Quinn Cook round out the lineup.