CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Within the aftermath of Saturday’s ACC event championship, Duke’s stars slipped previous questions on event seeding and nationwide title expectations with the identical easy management they confirmed of their second-half dismantling of Florida State.
No. 1 total seed? That is for the committee to resolve.
Greatest group within the nation? Simply attempting to get higher.
The favorites to win all of it? Nonetheless have six video games to play, my man.
OK, it is Duke. They have been right here earlier than, and the lingo is engrained, even for the freshmen who’re residing all this for the primary time. They anticipated to be right here, champions of the ACC and once more atop the faculty basketball universe.
The loopy factor, although, is that none of that appeared significantly probably only a week in the past.
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With Zion Williamson sidelined, Duke did not appear like a title contender. The Blue Devils dropped three of six with out their largest star, narrowly escaped a house loss to lowly Wake Forest and have been completely demolished by their largest rivals twice. The issues — poor shot choice, brutal perimeter taking pictures, a skinny bench, the shortage of a veteran presence — all appeared so apparent.
Then Williamson returned, and all these issues have been swept beneath a 6-foot-7, 285-pound rug.
“When Zion was out, groups have been actually doubling down on RJ [Barrett], when he was attacking issues,” level guard Tre Jones stated. “So with Zion being again, they go away me much more now, and I used to be in a position to step up and make performs, and that may open it up for them to play their video games, too.”
Contemplate this: Duke had 44 factors within the paint Thursday in opposition to Syracuse. That tied for probably the most the Orange had allowed all season. A day later, Williamson & Co. posted 50 within the paint in opposition to North Carolina, probably the most the Heels had surrendered in eight years. On Saturday in opposition to a Florida State group that downright embarrassed Virginia within the lane and on the boards within the ACC semifinal, Duke as soon as once more dominated the paint, ending with a 42-18 benefit over the Seminoles. That, too, tied a season excessive allowed by FSU.
Cannot shoot from the perimeter? Perhaps it would not matter.
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“We consider we’re a great offensive group,” coach Mike Krzyzewski stated. “We’re extra balanced, and now we have lots of confidence. They’ve confidence in each other.”
Every week in the past, Duke appeared just like the clear second banana behind probably 1-seeds in UNC and Virginia. Now, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Blue Devils on the high of the heap, headed to Columbia, South Carolina, for the primary spherical of the NCAA event, a homecoming for Williamson, a Spartanburg, South Carolina, native.
Every week in the past, Barrett appeared like a lone scorer attempting to hold a group on his again. Within the ACC event, Barrett went by means of stretches of brutal play, and none of it mattered. Williamson was dynamic. Bench gamers corresponding to Jordan Goldwire and Antonio Vrankovic had an influence. Jones, the defensive wizard, blossomed right into a reputable scoring menace.
Duke appeared like a brand new group — or, extra to the purpose, Duke appeared like its previous self.
After sitting out six video games with an injured knee, Zion Williamson made his return felt in an enormous method, main Duke to the ACC event title and incomes MVP honors.
“We talked to one another about, we got here too far to lose,” Williamson stated of Saturday’s championship recreation.
Krzyzewski joined the refrain downplaying the influence of seeding on Saturday, however he provided reminders main as much as this recreation that Duke had its beginning 5 on the court docket for simply half its ACC video games this season.
The truth is, with that beginning 5 on the court docket, Duke has only one loss all season — to a different probably 1 seed, Gonzaga, by two factors in November. Williamson, Barrett, Jones and Cam Reddish had all of seven video games of school expertise beneath their belts again then. They’re a little bit extra seasoned now.
Nonetheless, it was laborious to stroll away from Friday’s slender win over North Carolina with any sense of inevitability. Positive, Duke appears to be like dominant once more. And no, not even Florida State’s monsters may corral Williamson within the paint. However there’s that nagging feeling that the Tar Heels let the third installment of this 12 months’s sequence get away, and someplace alongside the road, they may have one final crack at their nemesis.
So sure, this week’s ACC event proved that Duke once more belongs on the high of the ladder. But it surely did not cement that they will be climbing one other ladder to chop down the nets in Minneapolis.