Blue Devils’ path to Final Four would include familiar faces

Duke could face crosstown rival N.C. Central on Friday

Zion Williamson and Duke earned the top seed in the NCAA Tournament by beating Florida State on Saturday in the ACC Tournament title game. (Chuck Burton / AP Photo)

DURHAM — Duke could have plenty of familiar faces in Columbia, S.C., when the Blue Devils start their 2019 NCAA run.

After winning the ACC Tournament, Duke received the top seed in the entire 68-team field and will be No. 1 in the East region.

Duke was sent to nearby Columbia, which will be the first time the Blue Devils open the tournament in South Carolina since its second-round loss to the Gamecocks in 2017. This is the fourth straight year Duke has opened the tournament outside of North Carolina, the longest such streak in school history.

The Blue Devils will play the 16 seed judged to be weakest by the selection committee. That will be the winner of Wednesday’s play-in game in Dayton between North Dakota State and fellow Durham university, N.C. Central.

If LeVelle Moton’s Eagles, who won the MEAC tournament in an upset, advance to play Duke, it will be the third time in NCAA history that the Blue Devils have opened the tournament with an in-state foe. Duke beat Campbell 82-56 in Greensboro to start their 1992 title run, and the Blue Devils opened with Kevin Keatts’ UNC Wilmington team in Providence in 2016, winning 93-85.

Duke and Central have played once before, with the Blue Devils winning at Cameron Indoor, 121-56, at the start of the 2007-08 season. The Eagles enter the tournament with an 18-15 record and are ranked near the bottom of the country in turnover percentage on offense and 3-point shooting. Central has strong rebounding and perimeter defense, however.

North Dakota State won the Summit League and also enters at 18-15. The Bison have a shaky defense but a relatively efficient offense with several accurate outside shooting guards.

Duke could then face some drama in round two, when the Blue Devils would be scheduled to play the winner of Virginia Commonwealth and Central Florida.

UCF is coached by Johnny Dawkins, one of Krzyzewski’s first major recruits at Duke and a former assistant of Coach K.

The selection committee claims that it doesn’t look at potential second-round matchups when making the bracket, but this is the second time in three years that Krzyzewski could potentially face a former player in round two. In 2017, former Duke point guard and longtime Krzyzewski assistant Steve Wojciechowski, now the head coach at Marquette, lost his first-round game to South Carolina, who played Duke.

Last year, while not facing a former player or coach, Krzyzewski was matched up in round two with Rhode Island, who was coached by Danny Hurley, brother of former Duke point guard Bobby.

Duke was also placed in the same bracket as Notre Dame, coached by former Duke assistant Mike Brey, in 2012, before the Irish joined the ACC. Neither team advanced to round two.

VCU has one of the stiffest defenses in the nation — it allows foes to make just 27.6 percent of threes, third-best in the country, and 43.8 percent of twos (10th best). It’s also one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country.

Dawkins’ UCF team has one of the best scoring defenses in the country and is led by 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall, who would be an interesting matchup with Zion Williamson in the paint.

Dawkins’ son Aubrey, who was born in Durham while Johnny was on Coach K’s staff, is also one of the team’s top scorers.

After the first weekend, Duke — assuming it advances, of course — would head to Washington, D.C.  In its only other NCAA trip to the capital, Duke was upset by West Virginia in the second round of the 2008 tourney.   

If chalk holds, Duke will face either No. 4 Virginia Tech — who beat the Blue Devils while Williamson was injured — or No. 5 Mississippi State in the Sweet 16.

The Bulldogs led the SEC in 3-point shooting and feature several scoring guards, including Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters, as well as shot-blocking and offensive-rebounding size inside.

If Duke gets past that round, the Blue Devils will face whoever emerges from the bottom half of the bracket. Big Ten champion Michigan State is the No. 2 seed, and LSU is the three. The Tigers have had a successful season in the SEC, but coach Will Wade has been suspended for his role in the FBI wiretap case that has embroiled the sport in scandal.

That half of the bracket also includes fellow ACC member Louisville, who is the seven seed, and the team Louisville replaced in the ACC, Maryland — a ferocious Duke rival who is seeded sixth. 

Then it would be on to Minneapolis for a run at Duke’s sixth national championship.