The defending national champion Duke Blue Devils (30-4) are back in familiar territory as a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, although they have been shipped out to the West Region this year where they will meet the 16th-seeded Hampton Pirates (24-8) in a second-round matchup on Friday at Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena. The Blue Devils (-22.5) have been a top seed in 10 of the last 14 years and will be looking to become the first repeat NCAA champion since Florida in 2007.
Duke did not win the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title despite an impressive 13-3 record but pounded top seed North Carolina 75-58 in the tournament championship game on Saturday. The second-seeded Blue Devils had lost to the Tar Heels on the road in the regular-season finale 81-67 and then responded by beating all three of their ACC tourney opponents by an average of nearly 16 points en route to their third straight title.
Hampton also finished second in its conference during the regular season before taking home tournament crown. The second-seeded Pirates went 11-5 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, finishing two games behind Bethune-Cookman. Morgan State upset the top-seeded Wildcats 61-48 in the semifinals of the MEAC tourney, setting up the championship matchup with Hampton. The Pirates then edged the fourth-seeded Golden Bears 60-55 in the title game to earn their first invitation to the Big Dance in five years.
Both Duke and Hampton covered all three of their conference tournament games and seem to be peaking at the right time. The Blue Devils are riding a 12-game winning streak in postseason tournament play and hope to have freshman phenom Kyrie Irving available after he worked out during the ACC tournament.
Irving suffered a severe toe injury in the national championship rematch with Butler back on December 4, which resulted in an 82-70 victory. He scored 21 points in that game against the Bulldogs and is averaging 17.4 points and 5.1 assists per game. If he can somehow come back during the NCAA tournament, Duke would have another potent weapon alongside Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, who teamed with departed senior Jon Scheyer to win the national title last year.
Smith emerged this season as the ACC Player of the Year, averaging 21.3 points, 5.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game. He scored 20 points and dished out 10 assists in the ACC championship game against North Carolina and has carried the team in Irving’s absence.
Pick – Over 134