Duke won the national title last season by playing in front of a crowd rooting heavily for its underdog opponent, so it shouldn’t be fazed by that set of circumstances in an early-season tournament.
The top-ranked reigning national champions will be up against a partisan crowd Tuesday night when they take on No. 4 Kansas State in the CBE Classic championship at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
Duke (4-0) held on for a 61-59 victory over Butler at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis last spring to earn its fourth national title - all under coach Mike Krzyzewski. Although the Blue Devils lost three starters from that game, Final Four Most Outstanding Player Kyle Singler is back and freshman Kyrie Irving has stepped in nicely as the new point guard with 27 assists and eight turnovers.
The Blue Devils will be seeking their fourth straight 5-0 start in front of what should be another purple-clad crowd at the Sprint Center, located about a 2-hour drive from the Wildcats’ Manhattan campus.
“It’s a great opportunity even though it’s early in the season,” Kansas State guard Rodney McGruder said. “This is basically a home game for us, we have a lot of our fans here. It will be a great experience.”
The fans seemed to buoy the Wildcats (4-0) during an 81-64 victory over No. 22 Gonzaga in Monday’s semifinals. Senior All-American Jacob Pullen made four of Kansas State’s season-high 12 3-pointers, and scored 18 points.
The Wildcats improved to 6-2 all-time at the Sprint Center, and turned in a much better defensive effort than they did in Thursday’s 76-67 victory over Presbyterian in which the Blue Hose shot 50.0 percent.
Kansas State center Curtis Kelly saw his first action of the season after being held out of the first three games for reasons coach Frank Martin would not disclose. The 6-foot-8 senior finished with three points and four rebounds.
“It was his first game back. He was a little rusty,” Pullen said. “I told him he was like an old man just picking up a ball again.”
Once he shakes off the rust, Kelly should boost a frontcourt that will look to slow down imposing Duke forward Mason Plumlee, who had a career-high 25 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks in Monday’s 82-77 victory over Marquette.
“Of course you always want the ball as a player,” Plumlee said. “I just wanted to stay within the plays that were called and my opportunities were there. They did a good job of hitting me. … I think it was our defense mainly that pulled it out for us.”
The Blue Devils, winners of 14 straight, led by as many as 14 points in the first half before the Golden Eagles tied it with 10:28 left in the game. Duke responded with nine straight points, capped by two baskets from Plumlee.
“I thought the best seven minutes of the game were from the 10-minute mark to the three-minute mark for us,” Krzyzewski said. “There was a lot of game pressure. The game got tied. I thought our kids responded beautifully to that type of pressure.”