DURHAM, N.C. (AP) -DeMarcus Nelson insists Duke's focus rests squarely on first-round opponent Belmont.
Somewhere in the background, however, lurks Virginia Commonwealth.
The threat of yet another one-and-done in the NCAA tournament has the No. 2-seeded Blue Devils cautious as they prepare for their postseason opener against the 15th-seeded Bruins.
``It's something that we don't want to harp on the most right now, because it will creep into how we approach things, but (it's) definitely in the back of our minds,'' Nelson said Monday. ``But right now, we're excited about the opportunity that we have this year. We're a whole lot better than last year, better than we were at the start of the year. We're just making sure everyone's fresh and confident and excited about starting our tournament run.''
The Blue Devils (27-5) are entering a second straight NCAA tournament on what could be considered - by their lofty standards - a tailspin, having lost two of three. But unlike last yea, when they lost three straight heading into the NCAAs, they weren't punished for it when the seeds were announced. Instead, they're back in their customary place near the top of the bracket.
Holding the No. 2 seed in the West Regional and spending the opening weekend in Washington, D.C., they seem to have a more manageable path to another deep tournament run than the one they faced a year ago, when as a No. 6 seed they were knocked off by VCU in one of the more memorable upsets in recent postseasons.
``Part of the NCAA tournament's always scary, because whomever you see on tape can be, in a one-shot deal, even better,'' coach Mike Krzyzewski said. ``They're all good, but I think ... we're OK wherever we went and wherever we were seeded. Our full body of work has earned us everything that we've got, and I think we've earned whatever we've got.''
That surprising loss in Buffalo has provided the Blue Devils with a season's worth of motivation. They walked off the court that day to the ear-tingling cheers that players have said were prompted not because 11th-seeded VCU won but because mighty Duke lost, leading some to speculate that Duke's air of invincibility was starting to disintegrate.
``Going into that game, it was very emotional. Physically, we were worn out,'' Nelson said. ``It was a game that we gave all that we had, but physically, we were done. We've done a lot of things different this year to make sure that we stay fresh mentally and physically.''
That includes perhaps the most effective solution to staying mentally sharp and confident: a 22-1 start and 10 straight ACC victories. And while an ACC tournament victory against Georgia Tech was sandwiched by losses to North Carolina and Clemson, Krzyzewski says that extra bit of rest might give his team an added boost of energy heading into the weekend.
``It was really a great week for us,'' Krzyzewski said. ``I'm really excited about where we're at, and I think we have a better chance of being good right now than we did 10 days ago.''

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