For the fourth consecutive year, the Blue Devils will likely have to go through a perennial powerhouse to reach the Final Four.
Duke (27-6, 12-4 in the ACC) received a No. 2 seed for the fifth consecutive season when the 2014 NCAA tournament field was finally revealed Monday night. The Blue Devils are in the Lincoln Regional, headlined by Connecticut, the tournament's No. 1 overall seed. The Huskies beat Duke 83-61 at Cameron Indoor Stadium Dec. 17.
After losing in the Elite Eight each of the past four seasons, the Blue Devils’ journey to the 2014 Final Four will begin Saturday at 11 a.m. against 15th-seeded Winthrop at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“We’re always excited to play,” junior center Elizabeth Williams said. “It doesn’t really matter at this point where you play—it’s more about how you play. We’re looking forward to it. We’ve had some good practices coming off break and we’re just excited to get playing again.”
Duke has not played since the championship game of the ACC tournament—falling 69-53 to No. 2 Notre Dame March 9—and is still adjusting after losing three primary ball-handlers due to season-ending injuries and suspensions.
Winthrop claimed its first Big South Conference title to earn an automatic bid to the Big Dance. The Eagles are led by Big South Player of the Year Dequesha McClanahan—who averages 17.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest—and have four players averaging more than 10 points per game.
Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said she was going to start watching film immediately after the selection show in preparation for Saturday’s contest.
“I don’t know enough yet,” McCallie said. “I know they’ve got a tremendously balanced scoring attack, with four double-digit scorers, which is interesting. We’re trying to do things to get ourselves better and implement the scouting report. We’re really excited to have an opponent and really excited to get started.”
The Blue Devils will play either seventh-seeded DePaul or No. 10 seed Oklahoma in the second round Monday at 6:30 p.m. if they take out the Eagles (24-8). Duke beat the Sooners (18-14) 94-85 Dec. 8 in Norman, Okla.
If they advance past the first two rounds that they will host, the Blue Devils would likely meet No. 3 seed Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 in Lincoln, Neb. However, Duke will relish the chance to play again in Cameron Indoor Stadium before thinking ahead to the second week of the tournament.
The Blue Devils’ seniors are grateful to have the opportunity to start their final NCAA tournament journey in friendly surroundings.
“I think that’s great—especially for me [because] I get to play another game in Cameron before I leave—but I think having home fans and playing on our home court is a big advantage for us,” senior guard Tricia Liston said. “We’re trying to build up momentum and take it into the next games.”
Although Duke is content to play its first game at home, the Blue Devils are slightly concerned about the fan turnout for the mid-morning contest.
Having gone through a full season of morning practices and workouts, though, Duke should be able to prevail regardless of the number of fans present Saturday.
“I’m a little worried about our game time. I feel like a big bus needs to go through Durham and wake everybody up and make sure everybody comes,” McCallie said. “It’s an early start time. From a coaching perspective, I love it, but from a fan’s perspective, I’m definitely empathetic. I think our team is a great morning group—they’re breakfast eaters.”