Kansas and Duke know exactly what they would be watching if they weren’t suiting up for Sunday’s Elite Eight showdown between two of the sport’s biggest brands.
There’s just an unmistakable appeal of the nation’s top-tier programs — and when they’re clashing to reach the Final Four, it becomes a matchup that you don’t want to miss.
After all, when Duke players found themselves casually flipping channels and watching hoops this past season, they ended up seeing Kansas on their TV screens a lot. KU players caught plenty of Duke games as well.
“The same way any other fan would watch big games or big teams play — that’s pretty much what I do,” Blue Devil freshman Trevon Duval said. “And I think that’s what we all do as basketball players.”
So they understand the significance of Sunday here in Omaha.
A Final Four berth is on the line, yes. That’s motivation enough.
But Kansas and Duke are two of the top four winningest programs in college basketball. Two undisputed blue bloods. The coaches, Mike Krzyzewski and Bill Self, are Hall of Famers.
The Blue Devils are third all time in NCAA tournament victories. KU is fourth.
The Jayhawks are looking for their 15th Final Four appearance, which would be the fifth-most. Duke is fourth at 16, vying for No. 17.
“If it’s possible, there’s going to be an even bigger atmosphere around this game just because you know it’s a battle between two big programs, two great coaches,” Duke senior Grayson Allen said.
This doesn’t happen too often.
Duke and Kansas haven’t been placed in the same regional since 2007. They haven’t met in the NCAA tournament in 15 years. They haven’t played each other this deep into March since 1991, when they faced off in the national title game (the Blue Devils won their first championship that night).
But even after they were tabbed as the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in this Midwest Regional, nothing was guaranteed. Not in this year’s unexplainable and unpredictable NCAA tournament.
The No. 1 overall seed , Virginia , was ousted in the first round. Another No. 1 seed , Xavier, went down two nights later. Two No. 2 seeds (North Carolina and Cincinnati) didn’t survive the opening weekend.
No other regional final this year featured its top two seeds.
Duke survived simply by desire and heart. “We don’t want it to end with a sour taste in our mouth,” freshman Gary Trent said.
Kansas avoided upsets by taking each opponent seriously. “We’re not looking at it like we’re playing a 16 seed or we’re playing this (other) seed,” sophomore Malik Newman said. “We’re a 1 seed. They’re a 1 seed. That’s how we’re looking at everybody.”
And now their reward: the chance to claim a starring role in a marquee clash of titans. The winner will cut down the CenturyLink Center nets and advance to San Antonio.
This the sort of opportunity that you dream about. Neither side wants to let it go to waste.
“It’s two blue bloods, two great, historic programs. And two Hall of Fame coaches,” Kansas senior Devonte Graham said. “It’s a pride thing.”