Duke won’t look past Albany
DURHAM — Duke won’t get caught looking ahead in this NCAA tournament.
Nobody’s talking about a possible matchup with Michigan State, or a rematch with Louisville, or a return to Indianapolis — where these seniors won a national championship as freshmen.
These Blue Devils understand they won’t get there if they don’t take care of Albany first.
Second-seeded Duke (27-5) opens Friday against the 15th-seeded Great Danes (24-10) in the Midwest Regional.
The Blue Devils have lost their last three postseason tournament games, including last year’s NCAA shocker against Lehigh — another No. 15 seed — and last week’s upset against Maryland at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
“A lot of guys know the feeling — especially from last year,” point guard Quinn Cook said Tuesday. “We had it again (last week). ... We understand we have to have a sense of urgency for our seniors.”
Coach Mike Krzyzewski says he’ll remind his players of those past performances — to a point.
“You bring up a few things. You bring up that you didn’t play well last year, but you don’t belabor it,” he said. “We want to be in this moment and not bring a lot of stuff from other moments — including championships, because that might make you soft.”
A year ago, the Blue Devils were slotted into a bracket stacked with subplots and attractive potential matchups — including a possible matchup with Kentucky, 20 years after Christian Laettner’s famous shot against the Wildcats.
They never made it that far, being bounced in their opener by a Lehigh team in one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history.
“We were shocked that it really happened,” Cook said. “We don’t want it to happen again.”
This year’s Midwest Regional field is also compelling: The Blue Devils could meet and Michigan State in the round of 16 in Indianapolis — where both Duke and the Spartans reached the 2010 Final Four and Duke won its most recent national title.
If the seeds hold, the Blue Devils would face overall No. 1 seed Louisville in a rematch of a November holiday tournament game won by Duke — back when the Cardinals were without center Gorgui Dieng.
And none of that will mean anything if the Blue Devils look past an Albany team that won the America East tournament as the No. 4 seed.
Krzyzewski says during the past few years, he tweaked the way he approaches preparing for the tournament. In years past, he would break the bracket down into mini-tournaments of four teams apiece, but a suggestion from his college coach — Bob Knight — led to his switch.
“You’re always trying to figure out how to psychologically be better (and) the way he tried to do it, he said each game’s a championship game,” Krzyzewski said. “And then if you make it to the sixth championship game (the national final), you’re a veteran of winning championships. I really think that’s more appropriate, because it is — one-and-done.”
After the Blue Devils were knocked out of the ACC tournament by Dez Wells and seventh-seeded Maryland last Friday night, Krzyzewski said they came back to Durham and had three days of practice.
Some of the same warts that plagued Duke in the Lehigh loss last March in Greensboro — poor 3-point shooting, and an inability to prevent a determined, high-scoring guard from repeatedly attacking the rim — reappeared in the same building almost exactly one year later during that loss to the Terrapins.
Duke was just 6 for 26 from 3-point range against Lehigh while allowing C.J. McCollum to score 30 points in that forgettable 75-70 loss in the second round. Against the Terps, the Blue Devils were 4 of 25 from beyond the arc while allowing Wells to hang 30 on them.
“We didn’t have it (against Maryland), and we all understood that this is it,” Cook said. “This is what we all play for.”