The NCAA’s East Region has been tabbed by some as the region of death because there are so many accomplished teams among its 16-team group.
As No. 2-seeded Duke prepares to navigate that bracket, the Blue Devils have the advantage of already accomplishing something more difficult.
Winning the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn last week required Duke to win four games in four days. The final three matchups were against ranked teams in Louisville, North Carolina and Notre Dame.
The East Region features seven ranked teams. Those include No. 1 Villanova, the No. 7 Blue Devils, No. 11 SMU, No. 12 Baylor, No. 20 Florida, No. 24 Virginia and No. 25 Wisconsin.
But the most ranked teams Duke could face in regional play is two. That, of course, is less of a challenge than what the Blue Devils faced in Brooklyn at the ACC Tournament.
The Devils open NCAA tournament play in Greenville, S.C., on Friday against Sun Belt champion Troy, a No. 15 seed.
If Duke advances, the next game will be Sunday against either No. 7-seeded South Carolina — playing in its home state — or No. 10 seed Marquette. Former Duke player and assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski coaches the Golden Eagles.
While neither of the potential second-round opponents are Top 25 teams, they offer unique challenges. The Gamecocks are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004 but will be playing two hours from their campus.
This is where it’s prudent to point out that these games were supposed to be in Greensboro — an hour from the Triangle. The NCAA moved them because of North Carolina’s controversial HB2 law that includes language preventing the LGBT community from receiving protection from discrimination.
If Marquette wins the first-round game, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski will square off against a coach he considers a son.
Those are both emotional challenges for Duke, though.
The best on-court, talent-based challenges would come in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in the second weekend.
Third-seeded Baylor and sixth-seeded SMU could meet in the second round for a chance to advance for a probable game against Duke in the Sweet 16.
Baylor has six wins over teams in KenPom.com’s Top 25 this season, so the Bears have played tough competition. Their defensive efficiency is No. 14 in the country — a stern test for Duke’s ability to score.
SMU, led by former Duke guard Semi Ojeleye, hasn’t played as many top teams. But the Mustangs enter the NCAA tournament on a 16-game winning streak that includes two wins over Cincinnati.
Finally, defending NCAA champion Villanova would be Duke’s Elite Eight foe if the seeds hold up. That’s if the Wildcats make it through a stretch that could include Wisconsin and either Virginia or Florida.