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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

How Did Duke Make It? Even Duke Wonders

ST. LOUIS, Missouri -- With a little less than two minutes remaining in Duke's 69-60 victory over Purdue in the Southeast Regional final in Knoxville, Tennessee, a relocated Cameron Crazy, one of Duke's diehard fans, held up a sign that read, "Hi to everyone back home -- Mom, Dad ... North Carolina." It was the kind of message one would expect from the Blue Devils fans, but it also spoke volumes about this year's NCAA Tournament.

The wrong Atlantic Coast Conference team is going to the Final Four.

While nearly everyone expected the Tar Heels to waltz to Charlotte for a homecourt coronation, the Blue Devils were largely ignored. "Nothing against you guys," Coach Mike Krzyzewski said to his players after the victory over Purdue, "but I'm shocked."

Duke has talent but this year's edition is much different from the 1992 group that bludgeoned opponents with arrogance and little pity. This year's team is fun. They play terrific team defense, run meticulous offensive patterns and feature a modest trio of senior leaders who had to be cajoled into being The Men.

"We're not devoid of talent," Krzyzewski says. "But we had a good chance not to be a Final Four team. After we beat Maryland (March 2), I think we lost who we were for about 10 days and were satisfied with being ACC regular-season champions. Now, we're back to doing the things we did earlier."

Duke arrives in Charlotte with a chance to win its third national championship in four years, a remarkable achievement that would put the Blue Devils in the dynasty class. Even if they do not win, the Blue Devils have still made it to seven Final Fours in the past nine years, an amazing accomplishment in itself.

And, this year, a little unexpected.


To win the national championship, however, the Blue Devils will have to get by Florida, who have a backcourt tandem almost comparable to Arizona's duo of Khalid Reeves and Doug Stoudamire.

If Dan Cross and Craig Brown do not enter the Final Four with the renown enjoyed by Arizona's two guards, it may only be because Florida does not need as much point production from them as the Wildcats do from Reeves and Stoudamire. Florida's inside game takes some of the scoring pressure off Cross and Brown.

For now, Cross (15.8 points per game as the point guard) and Brown (14.9 as the off guard) are concerned with the attitude of the backcourt they will face in Saturday's semifinal. Duke's Chris Collins and Jeff Capel have the Blue Devils' winning tradition behind them, although neither of them has played in a Final Four.

"I expect we'll get a lot of defensive pressure from them," says Brown, whose three consecutive three-pointers and 21 points helped bury Boston College last Sunday. "They're one of those teams that really likes to get after the basketball. We're going to have our hands full."

Florida's ability to disrupt the perimeter offense Duke gets from its guards will be a factor Saturday. Cross and Brown successfully stopped the three-point attack that sent Boston College past Indiana in the regional semifinals, by forcing the action farther into the backcourt. Boston College's guards were eight for 13 from three-point range against Indiana, but four for 15 against the Gators' push-back defense.

Duke, however, presents more problems than either UConn or Boston College did. The Blue Devils can score from any of their five positions. They will likely keep Cross and Brown from their date with Arizona.