Blue Devils, Canes fight out of Providence

While the ACC’s two top seeds in this year’s NCAA Tournament, North Carolina and Virginia, both find other league members in their respective brackets, Miami and Duke are standing alone as they seek to make runs this coming weekend.

Interestingly enough, Jim Larrañaga and Mike Krzyzewski’s squads will attempt to begin their respective runs in the same building — the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence.

A disappointing overtime loss to Notre Dame in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament in Washington, D.C., didn’t hurt Duke’s seeding, as the Blue Devils gained the No. 4 seed in the West Region for their 21st straight NCAA appearance. Miami received the No. 3 seeding in the South Region despite its loss to Virginia in the ACC Tournament semifinals.

In Duke’s opening game, which happens to be one of this year’s NCAA Tournament’s first tipoffs, at 12:15 pm on Thursday, the Blue Devils have drawn in-state foe UNCW, which prevailed in the Colonial Athletic Association for the Seahawks’ fifth NCAA Tournament appearance. The game will be on CBS.

UNCW is led by former Louisville assistant Kevin Keatts, who in just two seasons has turned the program around from a 9-23 record in 2013-14 to a 25-7 mark this season.

The Seahawks have some interesting losses on their resume, including back-to-back midseason setbacks to the likes of Northeastern and Towson. But they’re a confident bunch now, having won 16 out of their last 18 heading into this showdown with Duke.

Duke was in great shape after it went into Chapel Hill and stunned North Carolina on Feb. 17, but the Blue Devils seemed to run out of gas after that, losing four out of seven. They didn’t lose to any bad teams (at Louisville, at Pitt, UNC, and Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament), but something just isn’t quite right.

The absence of Amile Jefferson, who will not be playing in this year’s tournament as he awaits word on whether or not he’ll get a sixth year of eligibility, is arguably the biggest adversity. Without Jefferson, Duke is relying even more on Marshall Plumlee, who is still working through the effects of a broken nose.

While Grayson Allen has been a stalwart all season, averaging over 21 points a game and earning first-team All-ACC honors, he and freshman Brandon Ingram have been forced to carry much of the offensive load as the Blue Devils are suffering from a glaring lack of depth in the post.

Although Duke realistically should be able to overmatch UNCW, things will get much tougher in its second game, as the Devils will face either Baylor or Yale. Duke fans should probably root for…