Walking back onto Coach K Court after the March 4 loss to North Carolina, senior forward Lee Melchionni had one message for the thousands of fans who remained in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"We lost tonight, but this season's nowhere near over," Melchionni said, causing the crowd to erupt in cheers.
Melchionni and the Blue Devils are not buying into the idea that consecutive losses to Florida State and North Carolina to close out the conference slate have shown why Duke cannot win head coach Mike Krzyzewski's fourth National Championship this season. Since the loss Saturday night, the Blue Devils have had an opportunity to take stock in what they accomplished so far, and what they still have left to do.
"This week is a fresh start," said J.J. Redick, who was named ACC Player of the Year for the second straight year Tuesday. "We all wanted to accomplish something special and try to go 16-0 in the conference. Unfortunately that didn't happen.
"We were 27-3, we were a top-five team all year, we accomplished some great things. But now it's just time to pack all that stuff away."
The Blue Devils (27-3, 14-2 in the ACC) will attempt to regain their focus when they travel to Greensboro for the ACC Tournament, which takes place Thursday through Sunday. Friday at 12 p.m., top-seeded Duke will face the winner of today's Clemson and Miami contest.
The five-day break between games could not come at a better time for the Blue Devils. Redick slumped over the last four games of the regular season in the midst of breaking the NCAA three-point record, Duke's scoring record and the all-time ACC scoring record.
Krzyzewski has maintained that Redick is not worn down physically, but that the media scrutiny has taken an emotional toll on the senior. After the loss Saturday night to North Carolina, the Blue Devils took Sunday completely off from basketball activities and did not work out Monday.
To win the ACC Tournament, Duke will have to win three games in three days. The time in Greensboro therefore, could have two outcomes-it could wear the Blue Devils out or it could refocus the team before the NCAAs begin the following week.
"If you are any kind of competitor you don't want to take that kind of action," senior forward Shelden Williams said in reference to losing early in the ACCs. "Any time a player is in the Tournament, you plan on going to that championship game, and that's something that we plan on."
And with three losses now on its resumé, the ACC Tournament could now have a significant impact on Duke's NCAA seeding. A little more than a week ago, the Blue Devils seemed a lock for a No. 1 seed-and they still are likely to receive one as they remain No. 1 in the RPI-but now there is still work to be done.
"So much could happen with seeding just based on conference tournaments," Redick said. "You look at us last year, going into the tournament, no way were people talking about us being a one seed. We win the ACC Tournament, we're a one seed."
If the Blue Devils can put together three straight wins this weekend, it will not be something new for the team. During Redick and Williams' time at Duke, the Blue Devils are 8-1 in the tournament overall-including championships in 2003 and 2005-with the only loss coming in the 2004 title game to Maryland.
"I think this week is a very important week for us," Williams said. "Our first goal this season was to be regular season champions, and we became that.
"Now we have to move on to our second goal, which is to try to win the ACC Tournament. Once we see ourselves doing that, we move on to our third goal."
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