The NCAA Tournament selection committee took its share of criticism for giving Duke a No. 1 seed rather than West Virginia. The Blue Devils, though, are not apologizing for being the top seed in the South Regional as they play a first-round game today against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in Jacksonville.
Duke shared the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title with Maryland, won the ACC Tournament and will take a 29-5 record into today's game. Coach Mike Krzyzewski is satisfied with his team's resume and says his players don't derive any extra motivation from pundits questioning the seed.
"It has nothing to do with anything," Krzyzewski said. "An opinion I had before the selection means as much as an opinion I have after the selection, and it doesn't mean anything and you can't focus on things like that. We have our body of work and we said before the selections that whatever we're seeded, wherever we play, let's play, and that hasn't changed."
Duke's players echo their coach's sentiments. They downplay the comments of West Virginia coach Bob Huggins and some of his players, who complained about what they felt was preferential treatment given to the Blue Devils.
"We haven't even talked once about it, about what we should have been or who should have been a 1 seed," senior guard Jon Scheyer said. "For us, once we found out we were a one seed, we were excited and then all the talk was about who we were going to play."
Duke has not been to the Final Four since 2004 but has taken one step closer each of the last two seasons since being knocked out in the first round by Virginia Commonwealth in 2007. The Blue Devils were beaten in the second round by West Virginia in 2008 and got to the Sweet 16 last season before falling to Villanova. However, all three seasons have to be considered disappointments, particularly the last two when Duke was a No. 2 seed both times.
Duke senior forward Lance Thomas says the lack of NCAA success should help keep the Blue Devils grounded and focused despite the No. 1 seed.
"It's pretty hard not to think ahead a little bit to what we might be able to do in this tournament because I know we're capable of beating anybody," Thomas said. "But considering none of the guys on this team have been very far yet, we don't have any preconceived notions of where we should be. This is a hungry team right now. We've been working really hard all year and now we're in a position where it's a completely different team. We're not trying to make up for what we did the past three years in this tournament. This is a new team and we're going to take that and keep moving forward."
While Duke enters the tournament with confidence, Scheyer said the Blue Devils are smart enough to have reasonable expectations. After all, few pegged Duke as a Final Four team in the preseason, especially when they began practice with just three guards on the roster.
"We just can't expect we're going to be playing next weekend or the weekend after that," Scheyer said. "One thing this team does know from experience is how quickly the season can end. So, we really do know how to take it one game at a time."
Crawford Leads Musketeers
The expectations are low for Xavier as it is the No. 6 seed in the West Regional. However, the Musketeers (24-8), who play Minnesota in a first-round game today at Milwaukee, have a player who could carry them a long way in sophomore guard Jordan Crawford.
Crawford led the Atlantic 10 in scoring and is averaging 19.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 32.2 minutes a game. The importance of Crawford to Xavier is obvious his 33.6 percentage of shots is 16th in the nation and his 29.0 percentage of possessions is 79th.
Crawford has made quite an impact in his first season since transferring from Indiana, having left the Hoosiers in the wake of Kelvin Sampson's firing, and many observers felt he should have been the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year rather than Richmond's Kevin Anderson.
"There's no question, he's our best player," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "I think he's one of the best players in the conference. We lean on him a lot on the offensive and defensive ends. We're not relying on him, because we have a lot of other good players, but there's no question he can take over a game."
Crawford feels that sitting out last season as a transfer has made him a better player, even if was difficult to watch Xavier's run to the Sweet Sixteen on television when he would have rather been playing. Crawford and fellow guard Mark Lyons, a freshman who was also sitting out the season as a redshirt, would watch the games on campus and commiserate.
"The game slowed down a little bit for me," Crawford said. "I was able to sit with Mark and watch the games from a different perspective. It was tough, though, when the team was on the road and we'd be sitting at home. I'd asked the guys on the team what it was like on the road or what was it like to play in the NCAA Tournament. Sometimes, I couldn't control myself. I'd just go into the gym and shoot to get rid of the some of the frustration of not being able to play. That helped me, though. All the extra shooing has helped make me a better scorer."
Purdue Not Worried About Seeding
Purdue was in the hunt for a No. 1 seed all the way up until being routed by Minnesota 90-61 in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament last weekend. However, the Boilermakers wound up as the No. 4 seed in the South and will play Siena today in a first-round game in Spokane.
UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero indicated that the loss of star forward Robbie Hummel to season-ending knee surgery last month played a role in the Boilermakers dropping down a line or two on the brackets. However, senior guard Keaton Grant says Purdue (27-5) is downplaying any idea that they have been underrated by the committee.
"It doesn't matter if we're a two seed, a six seed or a 10 seed," Grant said. "We just have to play."
Purdue coach Matt Painter agreed and says his team put the selection committee in a position where it doesn't have to defend the Boilermakers' seeding.
"We gave them a reason to do what they did by the way we played against Minnesota," Painter said. "Now, we've got to be able to turn the tables a little bit and play better basketball. I think we're capable of doing that."
Different Situation for Texas A&M
Texas A&M got the No. 5 seed in the South Regional and will play Utah State today in Spokane in a first-round game. It is a tough draw for Texas A&M to play the fellow Aggies in the Northwest but you won't hear the Aggies from the Southwest complaining.
Texas A&M was on the proverbial bubble on Selection Sunday the previous two seasons before finding out they were in the tournament. This time, Texas A&M was a sure thing a 23-9 record.
"We were very blessed because this year was very different than last year," Texas A&M senior guard Donald Sloan said. "We were on pins and needles the last couple of years. That made for some stressful days."
Texas A&M was able to get to the second round each of the last two years, beating Brigham Young both times in the first despite its iffy status. Sloan believes the Aggies are prepared to make a longer run this March.
"We've played a tough schedule and we've earned everything we've gotten this year," Sloan said. "We're a confident team."
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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