Midwest Region

Who: No. 15 seed Iona (20-13) vs. No. 2 seed Duke (26-7)

When: 2:45 p.m. Thursday (CBS)

Where: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh

Series: First meeting

Outlook: Duke began the season as the No. 1-ranked team in the country and now is the time to see if the Blue Devils, who are ranked No. 9 nationally, can back up that prediction.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski said his team, which normally starts four freshmen with senior guard Grayson Allen, has experienced an array of situations.

“We’re a team right now,” Krzyzewski said. “We were a group of really good kids and now we’re a team of really good young men. Hopefully, we’ll be deserving of playing really well and advancing in the tournament.”

Duke was bounced in the second round last year and in the Sweet 16 round in 2016 following its 2015 national championship. The Blue Devils are in the tournament for the 23rd consecutive year.

The Gaels are no strangers to recent NCAA Tournaments, making it into the field for the third year in a row as Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions.

Both teams lost to St. John’s this season, but Iona fell to Syracuse while Duke defeated the Orange.

Krzyzewski, whose team has gone 2-2 in its last four games, said it’s easy to focus on Iona.

“Each game is a championship game,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s how I’ve tried to do it.”

Iona was the fourth seed for the MAAC Tournament, so the Gaels have overcome odds.

“You’ve got to play the way you play. You can’t reinvent yourself,” Iona coach Tim Cluess said. “… We know it’s a formidable challenge ahead of us. You’ve got to go play the game. Things can happen on one given day. You have to be better one time.”

Quote: “We’re looking forward to the next step. We’re happy and grateful for the 2 seed.” — Allen, Duke’s senior guard.

Note: Duke is 6-0 in NCAA Tournament games in the state of Pennsylvania, but this marks the first such assignment in Pittsburgh.

What’s next? The winner meets either seventh-seeded Rhode Island or 10th-seeded Oklahoma in Saturday’s second round.

 

— Bob Sutton / Times-News