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Duke aims to avoid Sweet 16 stumble

For most teams in Division I basketball, simply making the Sweet 16 is an accomplishment in and of itself.

Many major-conference programs value a berth in the regional semifinals as a benchmark for a successful season. Similarly, emerging mid-major programs see reaching the Sweet 16 as a statement announcing they have arrived on the national scene.

For Duke, however, the Sweet 16 is old news. After cruising to wins over Southern and George Washington in Greensboro last weekend, head coach Mike Krzyzewski's teams have reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament nine consecutive years. The top-seeded Blue Devils (32-3) play fourth-seeded LSU (25-8) at 7:10 p.m. tonight in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

But while the streak of Sweet 16s is surely an accomplishment, Duke-which has been a No. 1 seed in eight of the past nine tournaments-has struggled recently to advance further in the Tournament.

During the past four years-excepting a 2004 trip to the Final Four-the Blue Devils have bowed out of the NCAAs in the Sweet 16. J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams' class is 1-2 in regional semifinal games and last year, top-seeded Duke was upset in the Austin regional by fourth-seeded Michigan state, 78-68.

With 32 wins and an ACC Tournament title already under their belt, the Blue Devils know that any satisfaction they take from this season will come from what goes on beginning with the Sweet 16.

"Going to the past four [Sweet 16s], it's something special and it's something you can't appreciate until you graduate," senior forward Lee Melchionni said. "But we feel like we're not done yet and we feel like we have some unfinished business."

While the Blue Devils won with relative ease over eighth-seeded George Washington in the second round, Duke's opponent, LSU, was almost jettisoned from the NCAAs. The Tigers squeaked past Texas A&M in the second round when Darrel Mitchell nailed a long three-pointer with three seconds to play.

LSU's appearance in the Sweet 16 is the program's first since 2000, meaning none of the Tigers have any experience playing past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Led by 310-pound SEC Player of the Year Glen Davis, LSU is certainly happy to have reached Atlanta but is committed to not being intimidated by Duke.

"I don't think our team is walking around in any kind of awe or a belief that they can't win or anything of that nature," said LSU head coach John Brady, who has four NCAA wins to his credit. "I think they have a tremendous amount of respect for [Duke's] team and the coach, but I do believe that when we step on the floor our team believes if we do certain things we'll have an opportunity to win."

Despite the disparity in Tournament experience between the two teams' players and coaches, the Tigers come into the matchup with Duke with a fair amount of confidence. During the regular season LSU won games against Kentucky and Tennessee, and lost close contests at Connecticut and Ohio State.

Davis leads a deep and versatile frontcourt that has caused problems for other teams this season. Williams and Josh McRoberts will have their hands full with Davis and freshman sensation Tyrus Thomas. Thomas, one of three freshman who receives significant playing time for the Tigers, has wowed opponents and NBA scouts with his athleticism and shot-blocking ability this season, although he has been inconsistent at times.

"They'll be a very difficult opponent," Krzyzewski said. "They've had a great year, they have one of the best players in the country and John Brady's done an amazing job with his team."

Duke, on the other hand, has been buoyed of late by the play of its two freshman starters, Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus. The two emerged during the George Washington game to assist Redick and WIlliams. After taking the day off Sunday, the team returned to practice Monday to begin preparations for LSU.

"You have to be really ready, right away, no fooling around," Krzyzewski said. "It's mostly attitude-an aggressive, enthusiastic attitude-because you have to assume the other team is going to do that."

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