Duke, UNC, State begin tourney play Friday
The last time Duke entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed was last year and the Blue Devils didn't last too long.They lost to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the second round, a stunning upset that will have an effect on both Duke and this year's 15th-seeded opponent, Albany.
"Well, Lehigh didn't do us any favors, that's for sure," Albany coach Will Brown said Thursday, a day before the Blue Devils and Great Danes meet in the second round of the Midwest Regional. "I think the one thing with your kids is if you look back at the NCAA tournament, a 16 seed has never beaten a 1. A 15 has beaten a 2. So when you talk to your kids about that and you look them in the eye and you're preaching, they believe you because it's happened."
Lehigh's 75-70 win last season was the sixth time a No. 2 seed went down to a 15.
"If we keep looking back at our experiences, then we would really get overconfident because we've won four national championships and been to 11 Final Fours," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "There's no need to go back to good or bad experiences because not all these guys were involved in that.
"The best thing to do is to be involved in this experience, and we're not reminding the seniors that they've won a national championship when they were freshmen. We're not talking about what we did last year because it's a totally different team.
My feeling is stay in this moment. Whatever happened in the past, good or bad, has happened in the past."
There's been a lot more NCAA past for Duke than Albany (24-10), the America East Conference champions.
Duke is 96-32 as it enters its 36th NCAA tournament and the Blue Devils have been either a No. 1 or 2 seed the last six years in a row, nine of the last 10 and 15 of the past 17.
The Great Danes are making their third appearance in the tournament — all since 2006 — and they have been a 16, a 13 and this year's No. 15. The first two losses were to Connecticut — a game Albany led by 12 points in the second half — and Virginia.
"I think it's just coming in with the mentality to play relaxed," said Jacob Iati, a graduate student who was second on the Great Danes in scoring with a 12.1 average. "We don't have any pressure on us. Nobody in the country expects us to win or even make it a game. That makes it easier to relax and play loose. ... They're supposed to win, we're not, so we're going to come in and play as hard as we can and we need to play extremely well to be in the game and have a chance to win, but we're going to come out and give it our all."
So will the Blue Devils.
"We've been focusing the last few days on them, their offense and what we feel we can do with our offense against them," said forward Ryan Kelly, one of the Duke seniors who have spent their entire college career ranked in the Top Ten. "So we're excited to play and we're ready to play."
Kelly has been the key for Duke this season. The Blue Devils are 17-1 with the 3-point-shooting power forward in the lineup. He missed 13 games with an injury to his right foot. He returned against Miami on March 2 and had a career-high 36 points, including going 7 of 9 from 3-point range.
"I think we have adjusted to him real easy. It's who is he now," Krzyzewski said. "His first game back, it was like divine intervention. It was like, I'm Catholic, and we got holy water from Fatima and just doused him with it, and all of a sudden — that couldn't happen, what he did. It couldn't happen, what he did.
"So since then it's more of a reality of, hey, this is a guy who's in November shape, getting in shape, playing with guys who are in shape to play in March. So I think he's had to push it up, and he's had a great week. He looks more fluid right now, and he feels as healthy as he's been in 2½ months."
Duke and Albany have met once, on Dec.17, 2007 at Cameron Indoor Stadium with the Blue Devils winning 111-70, the most points the Great Danes have allowed in their Division I history.
"We're pretty confident in our school and we know how hard we worked to get here," Iati said. "We're going to come out as hard as we can and play to win. We're not going to roll over and be scared just because of the name on the front of the jersey. We know how good Duke is. We respect them. They have a lot of great players, NBA players on their team, we understand that. But we're not just going to roll over. If we're going to do that, there's no point in coming."
The winner of this game faces the winner of the game between No. 7 Creighton and No. 10 Cincinnati on Sunday.
Temple takes 1-and-done reputation vs N.C. State
One-and-done. Temple knows that's become its reputation when it comes to the NCAA tournament, leaving the Owls with an overriding goal for their trip to Dayton.
They want to leave town with no clean clothes after a weekend-long stay.
The ninth-seeded Owls (23-9) are in the tournament for the sixth straight season. In four of the last five, they were knocked out in their opening game, including a 58-44 loss to South Florida last year when they had a No. 5 seed.
They'll play eighth-seeded North Carolina State (24-10) on Friday, knowing their reputation will be up in the air along with the opening tip.
One-and-done? Or something more?
"We've got a little chip on our shoulder this year," senior guard Khalif Wyatt said. "We want to prove that we can belong here and that we can make a run at this thing."
The school with a rich basketball tradition hasn't made a deep run in the tournament since 2001, when the Owls reached the Elite Eight. There was a seven-year gap before they reappeared at the tournament, albeit in those cameo appearances.
They lost their opening games in 2008, 2009 and 2010. They beat Penn State in 2011, finally ending coach Fran Dunphy's record of 11 straight NCAA tournament losses — and those "One-and-Dunphy" headlines — before falling to San Diego State in double overtime.
Last year, they headed back to Philadelphia again after just 40 minutes on court. Given their expectations and their No. 5 seed, that one really hurt. And the Owls know a lot of folks filling out their brackets this year are expecting another fizzle.
"We've been here six straight years, and we only won one first-round game," Wyatt said. "So the fact that people pick N.C. State is not a surprise. But that's just added motivation for us and a chance for us to go out there and prove some people wrong."
The Owls got a bit of good news leading up to the game. Six-foot-nine forward Anthony Lee — their top rebounder — is expected to play after getting checked out for a possible concussion after Temple's loss in the Atlantic 10 tournament. He's desperately needed against the Wolfpack's bigger front line.
"He looks pretty good right now," Dunphy said. "He practiced a little bit yesterday. We'll do a little bit more today, and doctors are hopeful.
"We're planning on Anthony playing. How much? I don't know. He hasn't played. He hasn't run that much over the last week, so there's a question there."
Even if he plays, the Wolfpack will be looking to get the ball inside in a game that well could come down to which team is better up-front. Lee is the only Temple starter who is taller than 6-foot-6.
"I think it's real big for us to take advantage of that," 6-foot-8 forward Richard Howell said. "They definitely lack in size, and that's something we want to use to our advantage."
N.C. State also wants to push the pace and pressure Temple's guards, who were behind the Owls' late-season surge of seven straight wins. Six-foot-4 guard Khalif Wyatt was the Atlantic 10's player of the year after leading the league with 19.8 points per game.
"He's very crafty when he's dribbling the ball," Wolfpack forward C.J. Leslie said. "He's one of the craftiest guys I've seen this year."
The Wolfpack hasn't been to the tournament as often as Temple lately, but they've shown some staying power when they made it. N.C. State made the tournament six times previously since 2002, winning at least one game in five of those appearances.
Last year, they beat San Diego State and Georgetown in nearby Columbus, Ohio to reach the round of 16, where they lost to Kansas 60-57.
N.C. State's reference point for this year's appearance goes back much farther. It's the 30-year anniversary of its national title under coach Jim Valvano, and that clip of the coach joyously running around the court has been replayed a lot.
"There's so much tradition and history and so much reference regularly around our school to 1983," coach Mark Gottfried said. "So our guys know about it. They watched the (television) show (about it). But I think they're interested in making their own history.
"They tasted it last year a little bit. They wanted to do something special. So they're certainly aware of that, but I think they're interested in trying to make their own mark right now."
'Nova faces deep threat from UNC in NCAA opener
Villanova fans had no idea when Miami beat North Carolina 68-59 back in January that something bad had just happened to them.
It was then that a discouraged Roy Williams decided to stray from his long-established coaching philosophy and install a smaller lineup. As a result, Carolina (24-10) has turned its season around and developed some topflight 3-point shooters.
That could be a problem when Villanova (20-13) faces North Carolina on Friday in the second round of the NCAA tournament because perimeter defense has been a season-long bugaboo for the Wildcats.
"They definitely shoot the ball well," said Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono. "In practice earlier today we were working on it. That's what we've been trying to do these past couple days, just trying to get better at defending the 3-point line."
Carolina has hit 255 3-pointers — almost eight a game — and accelerated the pace as the season wore on. Complicating things for anyone trying to guard the perimeter against the Tar Heels is the height of some of their top shooters, Reggie Bullock (6-7) and P.J. Hairston (6-5). Hairston, a part-time starter, is 81 for 208 from behind the arc while Bullock is 84 for 192 — a solid 43.8 percent.
The Wildcats have given up 30 more 3-pointers than they've scored.
"They have great guard play," said Arcidiacono. "Great shooters, great defenders. Me, Darrun (Hilliard), the rest of the guards we have great responsibility. But at the end of the day, it just falls on just doing what we do. We have to focus on the little things. It's just a matter of not letting them play harder than us."
Williams admits it was tough making the decision to go in a different direction.
"It's been interesting and it's also been scary because it's not something I've been comfortable with," Williams said. "Most coaches develop a philosophy, a style that they stick with most of the time. If you've done it for 25 years as a head coach, you're probably not going to change very much."
North Carolina will be facing one of the most up-and-down teams in the tourney. The Wildcats were good enough to beat both Louisville and Syracuse, and bad enough to lose at home to Columbia by 18 and Alabama by 22. Just before the Alabama debacle, they carved out an 89-81 overtime win over Purdue.
"The coaching staff was sitting there saying, 'Who is this team?' In the Purdue game, we were saying the same thing — who is this team?" said coach Jay Wright. "They've had some incredible accomplishments, and we've had some great disappointments. That's just the personality of this team."
It could be a memorable day for Williams in more ways than one. If his eighth-seeded Tar Heels get past the ninth-seeded Wildcats, it will be his 700th career victory, a plateau few have reached.
"That is a great accomplishment for him and I am honored to be a part of it," said Tar Heel guard Dexter Strickland.
Said Bullock, "It would mean a lot to me and this team. "He has been a great person to us. We definitely want to make him get to that point."
A total of 418 of those wins came during Williams' 15 years at Kansas. And thousands of Jayhawk fans cramming the Sprint Center to see their team play Western Kentucky later Friday know it well.
Many were bitter when Williams left for North Carolina three years after turning the Tar Heels down and vowing to remain a Jayhawk for life. Many are still bitter, even though Kansas has faced Williams' North Carolina teams twice in the NCAA tournament since then, and won twice.
Tis is the first time Williams has brought his team just a few miles from the Jayhawks' storied Allen Fieldhouse. The reception he gets on Friday will be interesting.
If Kansas and North Carolina both win on Friday, they'll meet for a third time under Williams in the third round on Sunday. Williams and his players say it's nothing they've given a thought to.
"When I came back to North Carolina, it was a very emotional thing," Williams said. "It's a very emotional thing when I didn't go the first time and it was when I did go the second time. I realize some people were upset when I left. Hopefully, time is going to cure a lot of those problems."