In head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final year, Duke’s season has always been about the road to the Final Four in New Orleans.
Now, just six wins away from the program’s sixth national championship, that road is coming into view at last.
Duke was named a No. 2 seed in the West Region of the NCAA tournament Sunday evening after claiming the ACC regular-season title and finishing runner-up to Virginia Tech at the conference tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Blue Devils’ path to the title starts Friday in Greenville, S.C., with a first-round matchup against No. 15-seed Cal State Fullerton at 7:10 p.m., and would appear to run through No. 1-seed Gonzaga, with the two teams on a collision course for a potential Elite Eight showdown in San Francisco.
“Our kids have done a great job. 28-6, regular-season champs. Right now we're 0-0,” Krzyzewski said after Saturday’s loss in the ACC tournament title game. “I think we'll be a pretty good seed, and we've got to move on and learn from it.”
With a first-round win against the Titans, the Blue Devils would face the winner of Friday’s matchup between No. 7-seed Michigan State and No. 10-seed Davidson. Elsewhere in the West Region, Duke could find itself up against No. 3-seed Texas Tech in the Sweet Sixteen, and No. 4-seed Arkansas could coast into the Elite Eight if it manages to pull off the upset against Gonzaga.
“We move on to the next one. Tomorrow we're going to see where we're seeded at and then we just go from there,” junior captain Wendell Moore Jr. said Saturday. “We get a couple days of good practice in order to prep for who we have.”
Beyond its ACC accolades, Duke’s resume includes a pair of November wins against top overall seed Gonzaga and No. 2-seed Kentucky. Debuting in the preseason AP Poll at No. 9, the Blue Devils quickly redefined expectations with their season-opening win against the Wildcats at Madison Square Garden, and eventually rose to No. 1—albeit for just one week—after their thrilling Black Friday win against the Bulldogs.
In a relatively underwhelming year for the conference, though, Duke’s losses often seemed to outweigh its best wins, and for much of the season, the Blue Devils remained the only ACC team ranked in the AP Poll, with only North Carolina ever joining them. Still, five ACC teams are moving on, with Duke, No. 8-seed North Carolina and No. 10-seed Miami leading the charge, No. 11-seed Virginia Tech punching its ticket in Brooklyn and No. 11-seed Notre Dame sneaking into the First Four despite a winless week at the conference tournament. Wake Forest was not as lucky, falling just short of the field after its Wednesday loss to Boston College.
Elsewhere in the tournament field, Arizona, Kansas and Baylor round out the No. 1 seeds while Villanova and Auburn join Duke and Kentucky on the No. 2 line. A pair of successful trips to Greenville and San Francisco would likely pit the Blue Devils against at least one of these teams in New Orleans.
“It’s an exciting day, Selection Sunday," Krzyzewski said after hearing Duke's seed Sunday. "It’s my last one, so it makes it even more exciting. To be picked second, a No. 2 seed, it means you’re one of the top eight teams in the country. That’s what the basketball people feel about things. I’m very proud of our team and our support staff. It’s the last time I’m going to be able to do this and to be a No. 2 seed is terrific.”
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.