|Duke enters matchup against Belmont on rare NCAA losing streak|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 20 March 2008 00:37|
Duke entered this edition of March Madness on a rare NCAA tournament losing streak, and Krzyzewski was not about to let his players overlook that fact.
OK, so it's only a two-game skid. But still. Duke is Duke, and Coach K is Coach K.
``The sophomore class,'' he reminded everyone on the eve of the tourney's tipoff, ``they haven't won a game in the NCAA tournament yet, because we got beat by Virginia Commonwealth last year in the first round.''
In 2006, Duke fell in the round of 16.
So that made for consecutive defeats heading into Thursday night's first-round matchup between the No. 2-seeded Blue Devils (27-5) and No. 15 Belmont (25-8) in the West Regional.
Everyone associated with Duke is well aware what happened last spring.
``There's constant reminders from everybody, whether it's coach or it's us. We don't want it to happen again,'' guard Greg Paulus said. ``It's not something you can forget. It's something we want to use to help us.''
Some Duke players acknowledge getting the sense that there were plenty of people around the country who were pleased to see such a prestigious program stumble for a change.
Don't forget: This is a team that hadn't lost in the NCAA's opening round since 1997.
A team that under Krzyzewski has won three national titles and made 10 Final Four appearances.
``For how successful Duke has been, I think a lot of people liked to see that,'' guard Jon Scheyer said. ``We learned from last year, but we're still moving past it.''
A year ago, Duke was seeded only No. 6 in its regional, and players talk now about how weary they were back then.
``Going into the tournament this year, I think we're a lot deeper. Everyone is confident of their abilities and how they can contribute to help the team,'' guard DeMarcus Nelson said. ``It's a night-and-day difference, how we feel physically and emotionally going into the tournament this year and last. ... By the time we stepped into the tournament, we pretty much were dead.''
The Blue Devils headed into Thursday having won only six of their last 10 games. Belmont, in contrast, carried a 13-game winning streak into its time in the spotlight.
``I was pretty much amazed we'd be playing Duke,'' Belmont guard Henry Harris said. ``This is one of the teams you grow up seeing all your life.''
In truth, for the Bruins, this is something of a case of been there, done that.
Each of the previous two years, Belmont's prize for winning the Atlantic Sun Conference championship and a trip to the NCAA tournament was a first-round matchup against a team that owns a significant place in the sport's history.
Each time, Belmont pulled out to an early lead. And each time, Belmont lost by more than 20 points to a past national champion and eventual Final Four participant: UCLA in 2006, Georgetown in 2007.
``We've joked a little bit: We're trying to play every storied team in the country. Next year, it might be Kentucky or Indiana, at the rate we're going,'' forward Will Peeples said. ``After two years, we've got a little more confidence. Your first two experiences are kind of shock and awe. You're trying to soak it up.''
No. 15-seeded teams are 4-88 against No. 2s; the last such upset came in 2001, when Hampton stunned Iowa State.
So while Belmont's Rick Byrd - one of 16 active Division I head coaches with at least 500 career victories - was sure his players were better prepared than ever for what awaited against the Blue Devils, he wasn't exactly proclaiming that his team was ready to shock the world.
Indeed, the initial words Byrd uttered as he sat on the dais for his pre-tournament news conference were: ``Well, first I'd like to say we're certainly happy to be here.''
In the days since Belmont clinched its third consecutive NCAA invitation, Byrd received all sorts of advice. The running theme, he said: ``If you really believe you can win, you can win.''
``If I really believed I could beat Tiger Woods, he'd beat me by about 25 shots. Even if I really believed,'' he said. ``We can believe it all we want, but the odds are stacked against us. It's not impossible. For sure it's not impossible. But it's not just, 'OK, you think you can win and you can.' There's about 800-something folks that thought they could beat Coach Krzyzewski, and they didn't.''