Duke is playing its best basketball at the right time. Seeded fifth in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament, the Blue Devils will put their winning streak on the line against No. 12 Oral Roberts on Thursday in Orlando, Fla.
Since losing back-to-back games at then-No. 19 Miami and then-No. 8 Virginia in early February, Duke (26-8) has won nine straight games. That run was capped off with an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title last weekend in Greensboro, N.C. as the Blue Devils beat Pitt, Miami and Virginia on consecutive days.
First-year Duke head coach Jon Scheyer became just the third ACC coach to win a conference tournament in his first season on the job. He is also the first to win an ACC title as a player and a head coach.
This Duke roster is a bit different than the one that went to the Final Four last season in Mike Krzyzewski’s final season at the helm. Scheyer brought in six freshmen and four transfers, with veteran guard Jeremy Roach as the lone returning starter.
One of those freshmen is Dereck Lively, who is heading into the tournament with confidence after averaging 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 2.0 assists in the ACC Tournament.
“Oh, we’re going to be real dangerous coming into the tournament,” Lively told the Raleigh News & Observer. “We’re on a hot streak. We just put our mindset to it. Coming into every game with something to achieve and a chip on our shoulder. That’s how we’re going to keep approaching it.”
Lively isn’t the only Duke rookie playing well. Kyle Filipowski won the ACC Tournament’s MVP after averaging 19.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 66.7 percent from the floor across three games in Greensboro.
“Flip had a look from the beginning that I thought knocked (Virginia) back with how he attacked the basket and how he was moving,” Scheyer said. “It was just at a big-time level.”
Duke is heading to the NCAA Tournament for the 45th time, but for the first time without Krzyzewski on the bench since 1980.
The Blue Devils’ opponent, Oral Roberts, is appearing in the tournament for just the seventh time, but for the second time in the last three seasons. The Golden Eagles were a No. 15 seed in 2021 and upset Ohio State and Florida en route to a Sweet 16 appearance.
Oral Roberts (30-4) is riding a 17-game winning streak and went 18-0 in the Summit League.
Max Abmas was a breakout national star for the Golden Eagles team that went to the Sweet 16 in 2021. He scored 29 points against Ohio State, 26 against Florida and 25 in a 72-70 loss to third-seeded Arkansas.
Abmas leads the team in scoring this season with 22.2 points per game and has buried 117 3-pointers.
“We got to experience what it was like to play at the highest level and to win games in the tournament,” Abmas told Sports Illustrated. “We understand what it takes.”
Oral Roberts is coached by Paul Mills, who is in his sixth season as the Golden Eagles’ head coach. He was previously an assistant at Baylor for 14 seasons.
“We obviously would have been happy with whoever we played, but everybody’s familiar with Duke,” Mills said. “It’s a historical, storied program. Thursday we’ll tip it off and we’ll be ready to go.”
–Field Level Media