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Blue Devils Ready To Dance

When this year's sites for the NCAA tournament were set, Duke took a look and zeroed in on the East Regionals at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J.

The Blue Devils used that same arena as a springboard to the Final Four four times 1986, 1988, 1989 and 1990 so their fondness for the site is understandable.

To make a return trip likely, Duke needed to earn the No. 1 seed in the East and was rewarded for a dominating 32-1 season and the ACC tournament championship with that spot on Sunday.

C.M. Newton, chairman of the selection committee, said when the field was evaluated, it was clear the Blue Devils should get their wish. "Duke came out clearly as the top team in the country," he said.

So the Blue Devils draw No. 16 seed Florida A&M at Charlotte, N.C., in the first round and then get the winner of the game between No. 8 College of Charleston and No. 9 Tulsa in order to advance to the Meadowlands.

The trick for the rest of the field was to avoid the Blue Devils bracket.

"Everybody that was watching the board go up there was hoping they weren't going to be in the East," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who escaped to the South bracket.

Somebody had to stay in the region, though, and the selection committee came up with an interesting solution, slipping Cincinnati the only team to beat Duke all season in the same region. The Bearcats are a No. 3 seed and open against No. 14 George Mason at Boston in the other half of the East bracket.

Cincinnati (26-5) has been an early round casualty the last two years and is not anxious to look ahead. Still, the Bearcats wouldn't mind another chance at the Blue Devils.

"The guys started smiling a little bit around the room when we saw that potential match," said Melvin Levett, whose dunk beat Duke in the closing seconds of their game in the Great Alaska Shootout on Nov. 28.

"Of course you want to go out and prove to everybody that the first time was for real. If the day ever came that we do meet, we'll be ready."

Before the Bearcats worry about Duke, they might want to think about potential second-round opponent Temple, a sixth seed in the East, which opens against No. 11 Kent at Boston.

The Owls play a matchup zone, a defense Cincinnati has struggled with in the past. The last time the teams met two years ago, Temple beat Cincinnati by 15 points.

Squeezed between Duke and Cincinnati is Miami, seeded No. 2 in the East after losing in the Big East tournament semifinals to St. John's. The Hurricanes face No. 15 Lafayette at Boston.

Also on the Boston schedule is No. 7 Texas against No. 10 Purdue, a team that limps into the tournament with some late-season problems.

"You'd like all these teams on the uptake," Newton said. "Purdue is 19-12 against a good schedule with some good wins on the road. Losing five of their last six disadvantages them late in the year. That wa a major part of the conversation, comparing them to other teams."

The remaining East matchups at Charlotte have fifth-seeded Wisconsin against No. 12 Southwest Missouri State and No. 4 Tennessee against No. 13 Delaware.

There is one wrinkle in Duke's Meadowlands strategy.

Each time the Blue Devils went from that regional to the Final Four, they lost twice in the national semifinals, twice in the finals. When they won consecutive championships in 1991 and 1992, the came from regionals in Pontiac, Mich., and Philadelphia.


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