Williamson’s return gives Blue Devils top seed

By Adam Rowe Special to the Times
Posted 3/21/19

After cutting down the nets in Charlotte following the ACC tournament and getting back one of its injured starters, Duke earned the No. 1 overall seed in this week’s NCAA Tournament. The Blue …

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Williamson’s return gives Blue Devils top seed

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After cutting down the nets in Charlotte following the ACC tournament and getting back one of its injured starters, Duke earned the No. 1 overall seed in this week’s NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils are slotted in as the top seed in the East Regional, which has them playing potential regional semifinals and the regional final in Washington, DC. 


Duke’s first game in the “Big Dance” comes Friday night at 7:10 p.m. against No. 16 seed North Dakota State, which knocked off Durham’s North Carolina Central in Wednesday night’s “First Four” game to advance to the 64-team field. The Blue Devils are heavy favorites to move on to the second round, where they would face off against either UCF, coached by former Duke point guard Johnny Dawkins, or VCU.


For the second time in three years, Duke has won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, giving the program 21 conference championships. It’s the most wins for any program in the ACC, and second most conference titles for any program besides Kentucky. The Blue Devils ran through Syracuse and North Carolina in the quarterfinals and semifinals, exacting revenge on two of the four programs to beat them in the regular season, before taking down Florida State in the title game. 


While he hadn’t played in nearly a month, Zion Williamson didn’t miss a beat as he returned to action against Syracuse in the ACC quarterfinals. The Sporting News National Player of the Year went a perfect 13 for 13 from the floor, a new single-game record for most shots without a miss by a Duke player, and the best shooting performance in the 66-year history of the ACC tournament. But it wasn’t just shooting, Williamson also become just the third Blue Devil to score at least 25 points, pull down at least 10 rebounds and dish out at least five assists, joining Grant Hill, who did it once, and Christian Laettner (twice) in the 1991-92 season.


After leaving the final regular-season game of the season at North Carolina, starting center Marques Bolden missed all three games at the ACC tournament, but did return to practice as Duke prepared for NCAA tournament play. While there has been no determination as to Bolden’s availability, getting back to practice was the last hurdle to cross before he would be ready to go in a real game. While the team likely won’t need him on Friday night, the big man is a critical piece of Duke’s interior defense and will be a big addition if Duke is fortunate enough to move on.


While his teammate in Williamson gets all the headlines, RJ Barrett is the leading scorer in the ACC and deserves praise of his own. USA TODAY tapped Barrett as its choice for National Player of the Year at the beginning of the week, as he joined Williamson in winning at least one NPOY award — The Sporting News named Williamson its choice last week Barrett not only leads the conference in scoring, but is also seventh in assists (4.12), 10th in rebounding (7.5) and 10th in field-goal percentage (.457).


The Duke gootball program will hold its annual Spring Showcase at 6:30 p.m., on Friday, April 5 at Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium. Admission to the event is open to the public and free of charge. After the game, the Blue Devils will hold a meet and greet with the student-athletes and coaches on the field. At around 8:45 p.m., Duke will host a Family Movie Night at Wallace Wade Stadium, showing Remember the Titans. 


Seven former Blue Devils are expected to participate next week at Duke Football’s Pro Day, LB Joe Giles-Harris, OT Christian Harris, TE Daniel Helm, QB Daniel Jones, TE Davis Koppenhaver, WR Johnathan Lloyd and WR T.J. Rahming. Giles-Harris, Jones and Helm took part in the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this month and are hoping to be picked within the draft’s seven rounds. A good showing at Pro Day would help cement their status as a potential top pick.

Adam Rowe covers Duke basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com. Check out more of his work at duke.247sports.com.