Early Monday evening, the Blue Devils waited in anticipation as they listened to ESPNews to learn of their seeding in the NCAA tournament. Although the team had hoped for a first-round bye, Duke instead will have to play Winthrop Thursday at Koskinen Stadium in the tournament’s first round.
However, the team can seek solace in the fact that it is playing the first round at home, where it was undefeated this year except for an overtime loss to N.C State.
“Our goal was always getting to the NCAA tournament and playing a home game,” head coach John Kerr said. “We got what we wanted and what we earned.”
A win over the Eagles would pit the Blue Devils against Michigan State, the tournament’s 14th seed, in East Lansing, Mich. Duke could then face No. 3 Wake Forest, which it lost to in its regular-season finale, in the Round of 16. That matchup would take place Nov. 22 in Winston-Salem, if the Demon Deacons also advance to that stage.
Duke’s success this year can largely be attributed to freshmen that have stepped up. Forward Ryan Finley and defender Andrew Wenger will likely need to put forth outstanding performances in the tournament if Duke hopes to progress to the final rounds.
“It is an exciting time for them,” Kerr said. “It’s their first NCAA tournament and they bring a freshness to the team. We re all excited about playing.”
The disappointing first-round loss to Boston College in the ACC tournament is still fresh in the minds of the Blue Devils and they are hoping to avenge that defeat later in the tournament.
“We’re looking to have a real crack at it, and not be fearful that it’s a knockout tournament, but embrace the moment and enjoy it and make the most of it,” Kerr said.
The ACC will have a strong presence in the tournament as Virginia, Wake Forest, North Carolina and N.C State were all granted bids.
But before Duke can seek redemption against its ACC rivals, it will have to get through a talented Winthrop team in the confines of Koskinen Stadium.
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