Duke is focusing on this Dance's opportunity
PHILADELPHIA - Entering the ACC Tournament a year ago, Duke was 26-5 and had won seven of its final eight to close out the regular season. Then Duke lost to eventual ACC champion Florida State in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament and was bounced in the first round of the NCAAs by 15-seed Lehigh. This year, Duke enters the NCAA Tournament at 27-5 as a No. 2 seed and facing No. 15 seed Albany (24-10).
Duke had lost junior forward Ryan Kelly just prior to last year’s regular-season finale, and it didn’t seem like as big a loss as it ended up being. The team never really adjusted to life without him.
This year, though, Duke is in the opposite situation. Kelly is back in the lineup after having been out 13 games and Duke has seemingly caught a second wind.
The only similarity to last year really is the Blue Devils are coming off an unexpected loss in the ACC Tournament. Duke lost to Maryland in the quarterfinals on Friday and has spent the last week finding that sense of urgency again, much of which has come from its three senior leaders: Kelly, Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry.
“Our example will be followed,” Plumlee said. “Our sense of urgency has to be felt throughout, and by the (coaching) staff included. So we have to set a tone in practice and at the very start of the tournament. We have to get momentum going right away.”
And one way of regaining that momentum is by moving past last year, even though there are similarities.
The Blue Devils are sick and tired of talking about it. Even Mike Krzyzewski doesn't want to talk about last year.
“You can’t focus on that...I think you’ve got to do right now and with the seniors, I want them to focus a little bit on when they were freshmen (in 2010). That was pretty good. They won a national championship, remember?” Krzyzewski said. “I would like to remember a lot of the good things, and we’ve had more good things than bad things happen.”
The players feel somewhat differently, though. And they were reminded of that feeling after the stunning loss to Maryland.
“A lot of guys know the feeling, especially from last year. We had it again (against Maryland),” point guard Quinn Cook said. “We understand that we have to have a sense of urgency for our seniors. We only have one guaranteed game left and their careers could be over, so we want to play six more (games) with our seniors.”
The only senior on last year’s squad was Miles Plumlee, and a lot of the players talked about the disappointed look on his face when his career was over. His younger brother Miles feels that sense of urgency that his brother had a year ago now, and he has done his best to impart it to his teammates before it’s too late.
“There’s no more (situations where) a guy make a bonehead play and you say, ‘Oh, my bad, I’ve got you next time.’ There’s got to be the reality that there’s not a next time,” Plumlee said. “We can’t meet after this next weekend and say, ‘This is what we’ve got to work on.’ We have to be at our best right now.”
Albany reached the NCAA Tournament by upsetting the league’s regular-season winner Stony Brook in the semifinals of the America East Conference Tournament. The Great Danes have won five of their last six games. One big disadvantage they have against Duke is a lack of size. Albany has one player who’s taller than 6-foot-9 and just three at 6-foot-8 or taller.
Duke certainly doesn’t want to lose to a 15-seed again but Plumlee said it’s not exactly pressure the Blue Devils feel right now.
“Personally, I don’t feel any pressure but I think we know that we have an opportunity,” Plumlee said. “We have a senior class that’s strong, and we’ve had a team that at points in the season has been the best team in the country. We feel very confident going into this tournament.”