|Duke looks to get on track vs. Iona|
Duke began the season as the No. 1-ranked team in the country and now is the time to see if the Blue Devils can work their way back to that status.
It has been a bit of an up-and-down stretch for the Blue Devils, but they'll take the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region into Thursday afternoon's game against Iona at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski said his team, which normally starts four freshmen with senior guard Grayson Allen, has experienced an array of situations in reaching this point.
"Hopefully everything because there's always something new," he said. "We're a team right now. 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."
Ninth-ranked Duke (26-7) 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.
Iona (20-13) is the No. 15 seed after winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament. The Gaels are no strangers to recent NCAA Tournaments, making it into the field for the third year in a row.
This will be the first-ever matchup between the teams. 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 coach Tim Cluess said there's not time to restructure what his team does for this game.
"You've got to play the way you play," Cluess said. "You can't reinvent yourself. ... We're going to have to play with a tremendous amount of energy and passion."
Iona was the fourth seed for the MAAC Tournament, so the Gaels have overcome odds to reach this point.
"We know it's a formidable challenge ahead of us," Cluess said. "You've got to go play the game. Things can happen on one given day. You have to be better one time."
The Blue Devils are embracing their chance to excel in the postseason after losing in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament semifinals to rival North Carolina. For Allen, whose first college season ended with a national title, the goal is for that to come full circle.
"We're looking forward to the next step," Allen said. "We're happy and grateful for the 2 seed. Iona, that's our first step so we've got to prepare for them."
Duke's freshmen include forward Marvin Bagley III, the ACC Player of the Year. This could be the only NCAA Tournament for some of the highly touted players in the Blue Devils lineup.
"Now you're a part of it and it's real," Allen said of his message for teammates. "Now you have to pick up the extra level of focus, the extra level of dedication you're putting into the game."
Duke is 6-0 in NCAA Tournament games in the state of Pennsylvania, but this marks the first such assignment in Pittsburgh.
The Iona-Duke winner meets either seventh-seeded Rhode Island or 10th-seeded Oklahoma in Saturday's second round.