Duke was given the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament Sunday night, starting coach Mike Krzyzewski and his star freshman Zion Williamson on a path to what they hope will be the Blue Devils’ sixth national title.
Duke (29-5) was one of three Atlantic Coast Conference teams to receive top seeds, joining Virginia (29-3) and North Carolina (27-6). It was the second time members of the same conference were named three of the four No. 1s; the Big East did so in 2009.
The fourth No. 1 seed was Gonzaga (30-3), the small stalwart from Spokane, Wash. While the Bulldogs lost the West Coast Conference title game to St. Mary’s last week, they already have a win over Duke on their résumé from a tournament in late November in Hawaii.
Of course, a top seed is no ticket to the Final Four. Last year, for the first time in 136 such games, a No. 16 seed defeated a No. 1 when the University of Maryland-Baltimore County stunned Virginia.
The No. 2 seeds are Michigan State (28-6), Tennessee (29-5), Kentucky (27-6) and Michigan (28-6). The first of these edged the last of these in the Big Ten Conference final minutes before the bracket was released. Yet, it was the defeated Wolverines who received the privilege of placement in the West alongside Gonzaga, while the Spartans landed in Duke’s dreaded quadrant.
The Blue Devils finished the regular season on a 3-3 skid without Williamson, who sprained his knee when his shoe ripped open during a game on Feb. 20. But Williamson, the prospective No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, returned last week, and Duke proceeded to stomp through the ACC tournament.
The selection committee effectively ignored the non-Williamson .500 squad and instead considered the team that has won every game except for a two-point loss to Gonzaga and an overtime loss to Syracuse (20-13). It is Duke’s first No. 1 seed since 2015.
“They earned their right to be there,” said the selection committee chairman, Bernard Muir, when he appeared on CBS’s selection show to discuss the bracket.
But aficionados will be pleased that Belmont (26-5) of the Ohio Valley earned an at-large bid; the Bruins will play Temple in the play-in game on Tuesday.
“They made the most of the opportunities they had,” Muir said. “We just thought they were a phenomenal basketball team, very high on the offensive front – great offensive efficiency.”
St. John’s (21-12) was the last team in; the Red Storm will face Arizona State in an opening game Wednesday.