GREENSBORO -- If this Duke team reaches what would be Mike Krzyzewsi’s 12th Final Four, there are two reasons why it should qualify as his best post-season coaching performance ever.
1. Regional difficulty: Seeded 2nd in the South, the Blue Devils (27-6) cannot get to New Orleans without having defeat overall No. 1 seed and championship favorite Kentucky (32-2) if the favorites advance.
There’s no such thing as an easy regional draw at the outset of the NCAA. The competition can get easier as upsets occur and the tournament goes along, of course. But anytime you’re placed in the same bracket with the pre-tournament favorite, the odds are against you.
With the South semifinals and championship games being played in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, the sky’s almost the limit for Kentucky fans to obtain tickets. Being the energetic fans they are, Kentucky folks will reach for the sky.
The fact this is the 20th anniversary of Duke’s historic 104-103 overtime win over Kentucky in 1992 East title game in Philadelphia will only enhance the Wildcats’ incentive if it’s Duke on the opposite bench on March 25 in Atlanta.
And while Duke is a 12-point favorite over 15th-seeded Lehigh (26-7) tonight and a likely 6-9 point favorite over Notre No. 7 Dame (21-11) or No. 10 Xavier (21-12) on Sunday, there’s little reason to believe Greensboro Coliseum will be a friendly arena for the Blue Devils this weekend.
North Carolina’s fans will see to that, particularly if the Tar Heels play the first game, and win, Sunday in their Midwest bracket. Given that scenario, it’s entirely within reason that up 15,000 or so Carolina fans quickly will provide a full tank of emotional fuel for Duke’s opponent.
2.Personnel: Even if forward Ryan Kelly is completely recovered from his right-foot injury, which is unlikely, Krzyzewski enters this NCAA with one of his most unpredictable rosters ever.
Granted, these are the players Krzyzewski went out, sought and signed which is very much a basic coaching aspect, but for whatever reasons Duke doesn’t look a lot like Duke of old this season.
The previous 11 Duke Final Four teams have had a established rotation, more experience and infinitely better defensive execution.
These Devils are led by freshman guard Austin Rivers, who has impressive skills but no post-season exposure.
The rest of the team is a collection of role players, whose contributions vary wildly.
A prime example is junior wingman Andrew Dawkins, who scored 22 points in a win at Florida State on Feb. 23 and had a total of three points in the five games since.
Seth Curry has gone 14-for-44 on field goal attempts since sinking seven of 15 in an ovetime win over Virginia Tech on Feb. 25. However, Curry is shooting 43 percent from the field for the season.
Kelly, in his last game, went 1-for-8 against North Carolina in a loss at Durham. The previous game _ a win at Wake Forest _ he went 7-for-13 and scored 23 points.
When Krzyzewski first broke through in 1985-86, he did it with a roster than included seniors John Dawkins, Mark Alarie, David Henderson and Jay Bilas, junior playmaker Tom Amaker and sophomore Billy King. The top freshman, Danny Ferry, averaged less than six points per game.
A pattern then was set for Duke. Each team, each year that reached a Final Four had a certain combination of assets that added up to success.
Even the long-shot 2010 NCAA champs had experience _ Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler and team leader Jon Scheyer.
This team isn’t blessed with innate advantages or overwhelming talent.
These Devils are a creation of Krzyzewki’s improvising.