CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Within the aftermath of Saturday’s ACC match championship, Duke’s stars slipped previous questions on match seeding and nationwide title expectations with the identical easy management they confirmed of their second-half dismantling of Florida State.
No. 1 total seed? That is for the committee to determine.
Finest workforce within the nation? Simply making an attempt to get higher.
The favorites to win all of it? Nonetheless have six video games to play, my man.
OK, it is Duke. They have been right here earlier than, and the lingo is engrained, even for the freshmen who’re residing all this for the primary time. They anticipated to be right here, champions of the ACC and once more atop the faculty basketball universe.
The loopy factor, although, is that none of that appeared significantly doubtless only a week in the past.
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With Zion Williamson sidelined, Duke did not seem like a title contender. The Blue Devils dropped three of six with out their greatest star, narrowly escaped a house loss to lowly Wake Forest and had been completely demolished by their greatest rivals twice. The issues — poor shot choice, brutal perimeter taking pictures, a skinny bench, the dearth of a veteran presence — all appeared so apparent.
Then Williamson returned, and all these issues had been swept below a 6-foot-7, 285-pound rug.
“When Zion was out, groups had been actually doubling down on RJ [Barrett], when he was attacking issues,” level guard Tre Jones mentioned. “So with Zion being again, they depart me much more now, and I used to be in a position to step up and make performs, and that may open it up for them to play their video games, too.”
Think about this: Duke had 44 factors within the paint Thursday in opposition to Syracuse. That tied for probably the most the Orange had allowed all season. A day later, Williamson & Co. posted 50 within the paint in opposition to North Carolina, probably the most the Heels had surrendered in eight years. On Saturday in opposition to a Florida State workforce that downright embarrassed Virginia within the lane and on the boards within the ACC semifinal, Duke as soon as once more dominated the paint, ending with a 42-18 benefit over the Seminoles. That, too, tied a season excessive allowed by FSU.
Cannot shoot from the perimeter? Possibly it does not matter.
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“We consider we’re offensive workforce,” coach Mike Krzyzewski mentioned. “We’re extra balanced, and now we have a whole lot of confidence. They’ve confidence in each other.”
Every week in the past, Duke seemed just like the clear second banana behind doubtless 1-seeds in UNC and Virginia. Now, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Blue Devils on the high of the heap, headed to Columbia, South Carolina, for the primary spherical of the NCAA match, a homecoming for Williamson, a Spartanburg, South Carolina, native.
Every week in the past, Barrett seemed like a lone scorer making an attempt to hold a workforce on his again. Within the ACC match, Barrett went by stretches of brutal play, and none of it mattered. Williamson was dynamic. Bench gamers corresponding to Jordan Goldwire and Antonio Vrankovic had an influence. Jones, the defensive wizard, blossomed right into a legit scoring menace.
Duke seemed like a brand new workforce — or, extra to the purpose, Duke seemed like its previous self.
After sitting out six video games with an injured knee, Zion Williamson made his return felt in a giant means, main Duke to the ACC match title and incomes MVP honors.
“We talked to one another about, we got here too far to lose,” Williamson mentioned of Saturday’s championship recreation.
Krzyzewski joined the refrain downplaying the influence of seeding on Saturday, however he supplied reminders main as much as this recreation that Duke had its beginning 5 on the court docket for simply half its ACC video games this season.
The truth is, with that beginning 5 on the court docket, Duke has only one loss all season — to a different doubtless 1 seed, Gonzaga, by two factors in November. Williamson, Barrett, Jones and Cam Reddish had all of seven video games of faculty expertise below their belts again then. They’re just a little extra seasoned now.
Nonetheless, it was laborious to stroll away from Friday’s slender win over North Carolina with any sense of inevitability. Certain, Duke seems to be dominant once more. And no, not even Florida State’s monsters might corral Williamson within the paint. However there’s that nagging feeling that the Tar Heels let the third installment of this 12 months’s collection get away, and someplace alongside the road, they could have one final crack at their nemesis.
So sure, this week’s ACC match proved that Duke once more belongs on the high of the ladder. Nevertheless it did not cement that they will be climbing one other ladder to chop down the nets in Minneapolis.