Entering the ACC tournament, Duke was a projected No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament — having lost the regular-season finale to North Carolina, a team that looked on pace to secure a No. 1 seed alongside virtual locks Villanova and Kansas.
Fast forward four games in four days and now the Blue Devils (27-8,11-7) are suddenly in the mix for a No. 1 following an impressive ACC tournament title run that included wins against Clemson, Louisville, North Carolina and finally Notre Dame.
Meanwhile, North Carolina (27-7) appears to have fallen to the No. 2 line based on such a similar résumé to Duke’s and the other No. 1 seems like it could go to Gonzaga, with a Pac-12 team being in the discussion as well. Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, indicated this much on Saturday when mentioning six teams the committee’s considering.
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How is the No. 5 seed in the ACC tourney in the mix to for a No. 1 seed with one-loss Gonzaga and three-loss Villanova? Should it play out this way, the Blue Devils would have the most losses (eight) of any No. 1 seed in tournament history. The most previously was seven by Illinois in 2001, Michigan State in 2000 and 2012 and Virginia last season.
Will the NCAA selection committee discount injury-prone losses with Duke? Or will the fact that Duke just cut down the nets in the country’s toughest conference tournament be a deciding factor?
Asked what the recipe was for a clearly fatigued and tired Duke team doing what had never been done before in ACC tournament history — following the epic come-from-behind victory against Notre Dame on Saturday, coach Mike Krzyzewski answered in a postgame interview, “guts.”
Krzyzewski’s absence for back surgery and the polarizing on-and-off-the-court scrutiny that has followed Grayson Allen have all played into the story line that the preseason national title favorite Blue Devils were in a funk or underachieving. Maybe so, but here we are on Selection Sunday and this team clearly is hitting its stride for a national championship run.
The whole season, the questions hovered around Allen, national player of the year candidate and leading scorer Luke Kennard, and what the team’s identity was?
The answer has come in the form of the team’s superstar freshman, Jayson Tatum, who has blossomed all year and fully come into his own when it matters most. He averaged 22 points and 7.5 rebounds in the four ACC tourney games as the team’s clear-cut most valuable player. More than that, he gives the team the energy and playmaking to make other players better. Case in point was Saturday when Tatum found glue guy Matt Jones for a game-deciding three-pointer. Then he had the game-sealing dunk shortly after. Krzyzewski said that juice Tatum provides fills up the team’s “gas tank.”
Coach K simplified it in Saturday’s game, letting his team run a motion offense and telling them to, “be you.”
Turns out, “being you is being a champion.”
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