Duke was the better team from the tip in the Elite Eight. The Blue Devils rolled past Arkansas en route to the Final Four, winning 78-69.
It never seemed as if the final outcome was in question. Mike Krzyzewski‘s team was up 12 points at the half and 18 points with 6:34 to go.
Duke was so good, in fact, that Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman seemed certain after the game that the Razorbacks had just lost to a National Championship-caliber team.
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman had high praise for Duke
It’s never fun to take your medicine and admit that you simply got beat. It’s not easy to do at any level, but it has to be excruciating when you’re one step away from the Final Four.
That’s exactly where Musselman and the Razorbacks found themselves, though.
After a March Madness run that saw Arkansas knock off top-seeded Gonzaga, Musselman’s team ran into the buzzsaw that has become this Duke team.
It hasn’t always been the case for the Blue Devils this season. They’ve taken a few tough losses, including a 94-81 drubbing at the hands of the North Carolina Tar Heels in Krzyzewski’s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke also lost, 82-67, in ACC Tournament Final to Virginia Tech.
Those losses seem far away now that Duke is in the Final Four.
“We got beat by a better team today,” Musselman said, according to 247Sports. “Thought Duke was phenomenal. Would be surprised if they’re not playing to win a National Championship. That’s it.”
Mike Krzyzewski made history with Duke’s Elite Eight win over Arkansas
“Let’s not talk about me,” Krzyzewski said after the win, per ESPN. “Talk about them. They’ve won a regular-season championship and they’ve won the [west] regional championship. They did that. They did it for us. And enough about doing it for the old man here.”
Those are humble words from a man who had just secured his 13th appearance in the Final Four. Perhaps even more notably, this Final Four appearance puts him one ahead of arguably the greatest college basketball coach of all time, John Wooden.
Even that was something Krzyzewski took in stride.
“It’s an honor. Coach Wooden, if he kept coaching, would probably have 24,” Krzyzewski said. “But it’s a heck of a thing. We’ve won a lot in the tournament, and we’ve won a lot of games, but Final Fours are big, obviously, then national championships. That’s what you put banners up for.”
The Blue Devils look hard to beat
Duke will face one of two opponents in the Final Four, and both matchups are about as made-for-TV as you could ask for.
It’s almost like they were dreamed up in a college basketball think tank.
The first option is a rematch with North Carolina. The two programs have one of the best rivalries in college basketball, but incredibly, they’ve never gone head-to-head in the NCAA Tournament.
That would be must-see-TV.
The other matchup would be just as intriguing, though.
If Saint Peter’s can continue its Cinderella run through the tournament, the Peacocks will have to go through one of the most storied programs in college basketball history. They’ll have to beat the Tar Heels.
That would set them up with a date with Duke, which is equally as storied. With tournament wins over No. 1 Kentucky, No. 7 Murray State, and No. 7 Purdue already under their belt, though, Saint Peter’s can’t be counted out in any matchup.
Still, Duke is going to be a tough out from here on out. Houston gave the Blue Devils its best shot and still couldn’t even keep it close for much of the game.
Paolo Banchero is a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. He’s averaged 17.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 3.2 assists this season, and he’s come up big for Duke all tournament long, making elite basketball plays when the game calls for a superstar.
Banchero is averaging 18.5 points, seven rebounds, and 3.7 assists in the tournament.
Though he’s the NBA’s favorite Blue Devil, Duke wouldn’t be in the Final Four without the great play of players like freshman forward A.J. Griffin, sophomore Jeremy Roach, or 7-foot, 242-pound big man Mark Williams.
Griffin led the team in points against Arkansas, scoring 18 on 7-of-9 shooting from the field. He also went 2-of-3 from downtown and was a perfect 2-of-2 at the charity stripe.
Williams put up 12 points and 12 rebounds against the Razorbacks, notching his 8th double-double of this campaign.
Roach has been a spark plug for Duke all tournament long, averaging 12.8 points per game in March Madness, and we haven’t even mentioned a player like Theo John coming off the bench, who’s an instant shot of energy, defense, and rebounding ability.
There’s no doubt that Musselman is right. Duke has rounded into form throughout the last few games and the Blue Devils look like a squad that can win it all.
They also have a ton to play for, and that kind of motivation can’t be overlooked.
“Everybody knows it’s his last season,” Banchero said, referencing Krzyzewski. “We want to send him out on top.”