Plenty of potential landmines on Dukes NCAA path

Games against home team, former assistant and transfer all possible in first two weeks

Brad Penner—USA Today Sports
Mar 10

DURHAM — Following Duke’s four-game run to the ACC Tournament title, coach Mike Krzyzewski said he hoped the Blue Devils would get a little extra time to rest.”Hopefully — the only thing I would say in reference to the tournament is I would like if it was a Friday, Sunday,” Krzyzewski said. “But they’re not going to listen to me. They’ll probably make a new rule and have us play in Dayton or something.”Duke got everything Coach K asked for. The Blue Devils will play Friday/Sunday, giving them an extra day of rest. And, no, the team didn’t have to play in the first-four in Dayton on Tuesday or Wednesday.Other than that, the selection committee didn’t do Duke any favors.Duke, a popular pick for a one-seed following its impressive ACC Tournament showing, was dropped to a two-seed, and placed against the highest-rated of the four top seeds — defending champion Villanova.In addition to Villanova, there are three other teams in the East Region that are higher in the KenPom ratings than the Blue Devils: No. 4 Florida (9 in KenPom), No. 5 Virginia (7) and No. 6 SMU (11). Baylor, the region’s three-seed, is 13th in KenPom, one spot below the Blue Devils.In addition to getting six of the top 13 KenPom teams in its region, the East has five of the top 13 RPI teams.The overall amount of talent in Duke’s region isn’t the primary concern, however. As ESPN’s Jay Bilas said, “It’s not like golf. At the Master’s, you have to beat everyone. In the NCAA’s, it’s all about your path.”Of course, Duke’s path also has some potential landmines, starting with the NCAA’s first weekend.While the Blue Devils shouldn’t have any problem getting by Troy in the opening game, but the second-round game promises to be a headache, regardless of the opponent.If the seven-seed, South Carolina, wins, Duke will be facing a team playing about an hour and a half from its home campus. It’s the first time the Blue Devils have faced a team in the tournament with such a home-court advantage since beating Butler in the 2010 title game.The last time Duke played an opening-weekend team in its home state was the last time it was assigned to Greenville, in 2002. The No. 3 Blue Devils had little trouble with Winthrop, winning 84-37.Should South Carolina drop its opening-round game, Duke will have the even less enviable task of playing Marquette, coached by former Blue Devil player and longtime Krzyzewski assistant Steve Wojciechowski.In the Sweet 16, Duke could have another uncomfortable reunion. Baylor is the weakest of the three seeds, based on the committee’s own seedings, while SMU is the strongest of the six-seeds.If the Mustangs spring the upset, Duke will need to stop AAC Player of the Year Semi Ojeleye, who played a season and a half at Duke before transferring midway through the 2014-15 season. It would be the third time Coach K faced a Duke transfer in the NCAAs. Seton Hall’s Andre Sweet scored seven in the 2004 second round, and Cal’s Jamal Boykin scored 13 in the 2010 second round.Should Duke survive all that drama, the Blue Devils would likely face Villanova for a trip to the Final Four, although a rematch with Florida (beaten by Duke in New York in December) or Virginia (beaten by Duke in Charlottesville in February) are also possible.A difficult path through a loaded bracket, after Duke’s week in Brooklyn for ACC week, the Blue Devils shouldn’t have expected anything less.