ACC champ Duke claims top seed in South Regional

ACC champ Duke claims top seed in South Regional

By Joedy McCreary
Associated Press
March 14, 2010

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Duke claimed one tournament title Sunday and immediately turned its attention toward the pursuit of an even more important one.

The Atlantic Coast Conference champion claimed the No. 1 seed in the South Regional when the NCAA announced its tournament pairings. The Blue Devils (29-5) will face the play-in winner, Winthrop or Arkansas-Pine Bluff, in the first round Friday in Jacksonville, Fla.

In making the field for the 26th time in 27 years and for the 15th straight season, the Blue Devils claimed a No. 1 seed for the first time since 2006.

Under coach Mike Krzyzewski, Duke has reached 10 Final Fours and won three national titles.

“We’re just excited to keep going. We’ve got a great thing here and we don’t want it to end,” senior Brian Zoubek said after the Blue Devils’ 65-61 win over Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament.

“We’re playing so well together and we’re really tough at the end of the game,” Zoubek added. “We’re not worried about No. 1 seeds or where we go, just excited to still be playing this time of year.”

During the days leading up to Selection Sunday, Krzyzewski refused to campaign for a No. 1 seed, reasoning that it was the one thing that was out of his team’s control. Instead, he let the Blue Devils’ resume — which includes ACC regular-season and tournament titles, an unofficial RPI of 2 and a top-10 strength of schedule — to speak for itself.

It’s the final chance to piece together a deep NCAA run for a senior class that has made incremental progress through the years on college basketball’s biggest stage. Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Zoubek were freshmen on the 2007 team that went one-and-done.

They won their NCAA tournament opener as sophomores before making a second-round exit, and last year, they advanced to the regional semifinals for the first time since 2006.

“I remember freshman year going against (Maryland’s Ekene) Ibekwe and (James) Gist, getting beat up every game,” Thomas said. “Now we’re the guys beating up on people. It’s tough to think this day would come for my teammates and the senior class … after we’ve been through so much.”

Duke, which shared the ACC’s regular season title with Maryland, capped the run to its ACC-record 18th tournament crown and second in a row by holding off the No. 7 seed Yellow Jackets.

Now the Blue Devils must face the harsh reality of postseason basketball: one loss, and the season — or in a senior’s case, his career — is over.

“It hit home for the seniors right after this (ACC championship) game,” Zoubek said. “We’ve got the NCAA tournament. If we lose, that’s it. That’s extreme motivation.”