Numbers Like Duke’s Don’t Lie
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) _ Southwest Missouri State enters the East Regional semifinals with some impressive numbers.
The 12th-seeded Bears allowed their two opponents in the NCAA tournament an average of 41 points and the wins over fifth-seeded Wisconsin and fourth-seeded Tennessee were by a combined 41 points.
Duke enters the East Regional semifinals with some very impressive numbers.
The top-ranked Blue Devils won their first- and second-round games by an average of 41 points. Over the last 11 games, the average margin of victory has been 31 points and it stands at 26.3 for the season. Duke has lost just one game this season and has won a school-record 29 straight games. The Blue Devils lead the nation in scoring at 93.6 points per game and their 51.7 shooting percentage is second best.
When the teams meet Friday night at Continental Airlines Arena before sixth-seeded Temple and 10th-seeded Purdue play in the other semifinal, the only numbers that matter will be on the scoreboard.
``They are dominant,″ Southwest Missouri State coach Steve Alford said of Duke. ``We came here with a 20.5 winning margin and now I’m trying to figure out how to leave East Rutherford with a winning margin. There are a long list of underdogs who have been successful in the history of this tournament. But this is a whole new level, the number 1 team in the nation playing extremely well.″
Duke (34-1) hasn’t had anybody stay even close since St. John’s lost 92-88 in overtime on Jan. 24. Since Feb. 11, only North Carolina State has been closer than 20 points and that was a 15-point loss.
``This is a tough task for us in that one, they are a very good basketball team and two, everybody has already said we’re going to win,″ Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. ``We have to make sure we focus on the actual game and not on what everyone else says. For the entire year our team has pretty much done that and will have to again. We haven’t overlooked anybody.″
Southwest Missouri State (22-10) has been overlooked quite a bit. One of three teams from the Missouri Valley Conference to make the field of 64, the Bears don’t have the name, the stars or the history to compete with Duke.
``We know they’re a great team, they’ve been a great team all year, the number one team in the polls,″ Bears junior guard Kevin Ault said. ``We just have to put all that behind us. There are 16 teams left in the country and we’re one of them and we have to play that way.″
Southwest Missouri State held both Wisconsin and Tennessee to less than 30 percent shooting. Duke’s worst outing of the season was 41 percent against North Carolina.
Bears center Danny Moore was chosen first team in the Missouri Valley. Duke center Elton Brand was a unanimous first-team All-America selection while guard Trajan Langdon was voted to the second team and guard William Avery was an honorable mention.
This is Southwest Missouri State’s sixth appearance in the NCAA tournament and its second trip past the first round. Duke won consecutive national championships in 1991 and 1992 and have made five other Final Four appearances under Krzyzewski, whose 45 NCAA wins leave him only behind Dean Smith and John Wooden.
``We feel this is a great opportunity and a weekend where we could have some fun,″ Alford said. ``We are coming into this game to compete hard. Just as Duke has a mindset of winning, our mindset is of winning. You can’t have any other mindset other than that.″
And the Blue Devils, the first team to ever go 16-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, don’t.
``Coach has instilled the will to win in us, to play our hardest every time out,″ Brand said. ``We don’t look at the name of the team we’re playing. As long as Duke’s playing, we’re out there to play our best.″