This time back in February, Duke was sitting on back-to-back losses after crushing defeats at Miami and Virginia.
That was one month, nine wins, two avenged losses and an ACC tournament title ago. And in Sunday evening’s NCAA tournament selection show, the Blue Devils found out their reward for their standing among the hottest teams in the field.
One day after striking down the Cavaliers 59-49 in Greensboro, N.C., to win the ACC championship, Duke has been selected as the No. 5 seed in the East Region of the Big Dance. That means that head coach Jon Scheyer and the Blue Devils’ pursuit of a second-consecutive Final Four appearance will start Thursday evening against No. 12-seed Oral Roberts in Orlando, Fla.
“Well, it’s an exciting day any time you hear your name called on Selection Sunday,” Scheyer said following Sunday's reveal. “It’s great that we’re getting right to it, we play on Thursday. We know we have a really good opponent in Oral Roberts. And for our team, we’re just hungry to keep this thing going.”
If all goes according to plan for the Blue Devils at the Amway Center, a trip to New York's Madison Square Garden for a potential Sweet 16 matchup with No. 1-seed Purdue looms the following weekend.
"Winning a championship is a special thing, so I want to enjoy this tonight," Scheyer said after Saturday’s crowning win. "I want these guys to enjoy it. We'll figure out where we're going tomorrow and worry about that then."
The road to the Final Four in Houston could be a tricky one for Scheyer’s squad. Should it win Thursday's tilt with the Golden Eagles, Duke will move on to face the winner of No. 4 Tennessee-No. 13 Louisiana. If the Blue Devils can survive the first weekend, they will move on to the regional in New York, where Purdue, No. 2-seed Marquette and No. 3-seed Kansas State are favored to gather for a chance to cut down the nets.
As conference tournament champions and the top ACC team in the NET rankings (16) used by the selection committee, Duke is one of five league teams to make the field. Miami, which the Blue Devils defeated 85-78 in Friday’s semifinal, will look to reprise and build on its Elite Eight run from a season ago as the No. 5 seed in the Midwest Region, while Virginia prepares for a run as the South Region’s No. 4 seed.
Pittsburgh and N.C. State, both considered bubble teams entering Selection Sunday, also made the field of 68. The Panthers — after falling 96-69 Thursday to Duke — will begin their journey as one of two No. 11 seeds in the First Four of the Midwest Region; the Wolfpack are a No. 11 seed in the South Region.
Should the Blue Devils make a deep run, they are likely to meet one of the draw’s No. 1 seeds along the way. The Boilermakers reside in Duke’s region, but the South Region’s Alabama claimed the top overall seed. Houston and Kansas head up the Midwest and West regions, respectively.
“It means everything, seeing your name on Selection Sunday,” junior captain Jeremy Roach said. “It’s always a great feeling. And this mindset that we have to go on to the tournament with, just a game mindset, taking it one game at a time, not thinking ahead about round of 32, Sweet 16, anything like that. Just taking care of Oral Roberts and we’ll be fine.”
Duke, which surged to secure a top-four seed in the ACC on the last day of the regular season, has done much the same in the days leading up to Sunday’s reveal. By winning three games in as many days at the conference tournament, the Blue Devils again made a top-four seed a possibility, with the chance of playing the tournament's first weekend in Greensboro an added benefit.
On seven separate occasions, Duke has opened the NCAA tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum, including during its 1992 and 2001 runs to the national championship. While the venue is a first- and second-round site that would have kept the Blue Devils close to home, it was ultimately not in the cards.
“Greensboro is a special place, period, and we'll go where they send us with a smile on our face, ready to compete and go win,” Scheyer said Saturday. “With that said, we'd love to be here. Greensboro is a terrific place, and you can't assume anything is going to happen, but of course, this has been a great spot for us.”
Tipoff for Duke at the Big Dance is set for Thursday at 7:10 p.m. and will air on CBS. Oral Roberts, the automatic qualifier from the Summit League, is playing in its second NCAA tournament in three years after reaching the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed in 2021.
“It’s a great feeling. It’s been a goal of mine since I was a little kid, to be in the tournament, and now we’re here,” ACC tournament MVP Kyle Filipowski said. “There’s no excuses now. Put everything in the past, leave it there and now we’ve just got to focus on the future.”
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.