By TOM SHANAHAN
Duke is another round closer to the NCAA tournament or another round deeper into the post-season, depending on how you how view the ACC tournament.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has his team playing as if the Blue Devils are already in the NCAA tournament and they just advanced to another round.
The 10th-seeded Blue Devils defeated No. 7 Louisville 70-56 on Wednesday in Greensboro to advance to Thursday’s quarterfinal round. Duke (13-11) faces second-seeded and No. 15-ranked Florida State (15-5) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Greensboro Coliseum.
“Really, the (NCAA) tournament has already started because of all the conference tournaments,” Krzyzewski said. “In some respects, everybody is in it because every team has a chance. So, right now we’re in the tournament. We have to keep winning in order to advance to next week, but when you’re in your conference tournament, you are in the NCAA Tournament. You’re just maybe not one of those 68 teams right now. You have to look at it that way.”
Louisville (13-6) might not think it’s so far after having defeated Duke twice in the regular season, but that’s why it’s called March Madness.
The differences this time around included was Duke was able to control Louisville’s guard penetration and the play of 7-foot-1 freshman Mark Williams.
Williams posted a career-highs with a double-double of 23 points and 19 rebounds. The rapidly improved Williams didn’t play in the first meeting, a 70-65 Louisville record on Jan. 23 at the KFC Yum Center. In the second game, he struggled with only eight points in Louisville’s 80-73 win on Feb. 27 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Through it all, Williams kept working with Nate James until his breakthrough. In the last six games he’s averaging 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and shooting 44-of-59 (.746).
“When we first saw him to recruit him, we felt that he was going to be at some time a a high-level player,” Krzyzewski said “The maturation process of a big guy can take a while. His has sped up in an amazing fashion in the last month, and that all has to do with him and the work he’s doing with Nate.”
Duke and Florida State didn’t meet this year. They were scheduled to play Jan. 2 in Tallahassee, but COVID-19 protocols on the Florida State roster forced the game to be postponed and later canceled.
In the other three ACC second-round games, No. 8-seeded Syracuse defeated No. 9 N.C. State, 89-68; No. 13 Miami upset No. 5 Clemson, 67-64; and No. 6 North Carolina routed No. 11 Notre Dame, 101-59.
The other three quarterfinal games match Syracuse against No. 1 Virginia and Syracuse at noon; Miami against No. 4 Georgia Tech at 2:30 p.m.; and No. 3 Virginia Tech against North Carolina at 9 p.m.
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