Reigning NCAA champ Duke opens ACC Tournament today

Apr. 24, 2014 @ 07:11 PM

The NCAA Tournament is a couple of weeks away.

The ACC Tournament that begins tonight features a field that rivals men’s lacrosse’s championship weekend on Memorial Day.

So, as expected, Duke is playing at a level to make it one of the top teams in the country.

The No. 2-ranked Blue Devils, the reigning NCAA champions, carry an eight-game winning streak into an ACC Tournament semifinal game with No. 4 Syracuse today (5 p.m., ESPNU) at PPL Park in Chester, Pa.

Duke (12-2) won a share of the ACC regular-season title by going 4-1 in league play. No. 5 Maryland (10-2) also went 4-1 and won the ACC Tournament’s top seed based on its 10-6 win over Duke on March 2 in College Park, Md.

The Terrapins take on No. 9 Notre Dame (6-5) tonight (7:30 p.m., ESPNU) in the second semifinal.

To recap, the four-team ACC Tournament field features nothing but top 10 teams. Further, the other two teams in the six-team ACC — No. 6 North Carolina (10-3) and No. 8 Virginia (9-5) — are also top 10 teams.

The Tar Heels and Cavaliers finished fifth and six in the league standings. They will play Saturday night in a non-tournament game at PPL Park that’s part of ACC Tournament festivities anyway.

Meanwhile, Duke looks like a team destined to enjoy championship weekend festivities once again.

“We’re rolling right now, but we still have a long ways to go,” Duke senior midfielder Jordan Wolf said. “We’re coming up on the season, but we still have a lot of strides to make both offensively and defensively.”

Wolf scored six goals in Duke’s 17-8 win over Rutgers last Saturday. He leads Duke with 46 goals in 14 games this season. Fellow senior Josh Dionne, who scored four goals against Rutgers, has 35 goals for Duke this season.

They are two of six Duke players averaging at least one goal per game. The Blue Devils have averaged 40.1 shots and 14.3 goals scored per game.

Since losing 10-6 at Maryland and 14-7 at top-ranked Loyola (Md.) on back-to-back weekends March 1 and March 10, Duke has averaged 16.9 goals per game during its eight-game winning streak.

The only time Duke failed to reach double-figures in goals scored during the streak was in a thrilling 9-8 overtime win over rival North Carolina on March 15.

Duke coach John Danowski said the coaching staff had some pointed words for the team after the Loyola loss. The next day, the Blue Devils went to the White House as part of a ceremony with President Obama that honored national championship teams.

“We challenged them on that Monday morning in Baltimore before we went to the White House,” Danowski said. “We offered a pretty stern challenge to them. It was really just about coming to work every day. It’s the same personnel. It’s just a matter of them coming to play.”

Having played in men’s lacrosse version of the final four in the last seven consecutive seasons, Duke is renowned for coming to play during the postseason. The Blue Devils own two of the last four NCAA titles.

The Blue Devils are ready to work hard once again in the quest for NCAA championship No. 3.

“We just strive every week to get better,” said Dionne. “I know that’s something so simple to say but I genuinely believe that if we trust our coaches we they’ll guide us the right way.”