Duke Blue Devils vs. Oregon Ducks preview: NCAA basketball tournament Sweet 16
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Considering Duke rates as the underdog among the four teams fighting to reach the Final Four, the West Region semifinals should be truly wild.
Duke is 0-4 in NCAA Tournament games played in the Pacific time zone and as the No. 4 seed in the West, draws top seed Oregon in the first of two games Thursday night.
"It's interesting with ESPN, every time I look at the ticker, it's something we haven't done," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Thursday of the winless mark on the West coast. "So we've won 90 games in the NCAA. Yeah, I've never been one to look at what I do on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays or whatever. I've looked at what we've done cumulative. So it's our 23rd Sweet Sixteen. We've been in 116 NCAA games, and we're honored like crazy to be in here. I really don't think it makes a damn bit of difference what we've done on the West Coast before. If we started to compete because of Mondays, Tuesdays and West Coast, I don't think we ever would have had five national championships and 12 Final Fours."
Duke won the national title last April in Indianapolis, then lost the heart of the team with player of the year Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones - all 2015 first-round NBA draft picks - all turning pro. What does remain is a short rotation, typically no more than seven deep, headed by All-ACC freshman Brandon Ingram and sophomore Grayson Allen. Allen started all season and is one of the nation's top scorers.
In this tournament, he is emerging as more than the offensive catalyst he was against Wisconsin in the 2015 title game, Kryzyewski said.
"The main way he leads is how he plays. This kid comes every day and he's as good a competitor as there is in college basketball. He's a great kid," Krzyzewski said. "He works that hard in practice, but he also works that hard in the classroom. He's an Academic All-American, a great teammate. So it doesn't surprise me the success that he's had. He's just a balanced, balanced kid. I love him."
Oregon's Dillon Brooks said it will be important for the Ducks to return to capitalizing on turnovers. They had 21 points off turnovers in the first two games after being one of the best in the country generating offense with defense in the regular season. Brooks also said it will be hard to mask the motivation to take down a college basketball blueblood he's been following his entire life.
Head coach Dana Altman won't downplay the significance of the opportunity before the Ducks.
"But any time you get an opportunity to play someone that's as well established as Duke, Coach K, it's a great opportunity," Altman said. "Our basketball tradition is not that great. We're working hard to improve that. This is a point in our time that we need to play well. We need to play well on the national stage against someone that is very good and has proven themselves. So it is an opportunity for our program, no doubt."
The No. 2 seed in the region, Oklahoma, draws Texas A&M on Thursday and the Aggies are here only after rallying from a double-digit deficit with 44 seconds remaining. That emotional high carried Billy Kennedy's team through the week and the third-seeded Aggies are putting their focus back on likely player of the year Buddy Hield and the Sooners.
"Yesterday we had a really good practice," Kennedy said Thursday. "Our guys are very familiar with Oklahoma. We see them on television all the time. They're former Big 12 opponents, so we played them a couple of years ago. So they know what's at stake. I think we're ready to go."