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Around the rim

A big-time brand

Mystique follows Duke to Boston

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / March 26, 2009
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Duke is here. And somehow that makes things different.

When the Blue Devils came to Boston last month, they drew the first legitimate sold-out, raucous crowd at Conte Forum all season. The Eagles' 80-74 victory made it that much sweeter for the home crowd.

Now the Blue Devils are back in town, for tonight's East Regional semifinal against third-seeded Villanova at TD Banknorth Garden, and they appear to be the bluest of the bluebloods of a group that also includes No. 1 seed Pittsburgh and No. 4 Xavier.

Not surprisingly, the word "mystique" was used to describe the Duke program, which brought this response from coach Mike Krzyzewski: "I don't think of our program with the word mystique. But I do think we're a brand that has produced good things. And no one has produced a winning championship every year. But really, for the most part we'll play hard. We try to do it the right way. We show up. I like that. That's how I was brought up in the inner city of Chicago and that's the program that I tried to establish at Duke.

"Having a school with that much excellence while you're doing that puts us in a great position because then the combination of all that Duke has, with who they might be able to attract and then the fact that you are there a long time. Some people like that, the fact that you're going to get the same room, the same view. I think we're one of those programs that has been able to do that.

Coach K says it doesn't give the second-seeded Blue Devils any immediate advantage. "I don't think that helps us at all [tonight]," he said. "But it doesn't hurt us. When we play somebody, nobody is mystified. You've got to beat them. Villanova is a team that they don't lose, you have to beat them. And I would hope that we're the same type of team."

As good as Duke has been, this group of seniors has been to the Sweet 16 only once before (2006). The last time Duke made the Elite Eight was in 2004, which was also the last time the Blue Devils reached the Final Four.

So Krzyzewski is right. Nobody is mystified by Duke right now. Of course, they are in a regional with Xavier, which has never reached the Final Four; Pittsburgh, which has not been to the Final Four since 1941; and Villanova, which hasn't been to the Final Four since 1985.

Search party
The Atlanta-based search firm Boston University hired to help find a coach to replace Dennis Wolff called Bentley coach Jay Lawson last week to gauge his interest.

"It was about a two-minute conversation," said Lawson, who guided Bentley to a 26-7 record this season and a spot in the Division 3 regional finals before it lost to C.W. Post. "That's the extent of it."

As for Lawson's interest? "I will always listen," said Lawson with a laugh. One of the themes of the questions was marketing, with the focus on bringing more fans to games as much as winning games, which Wolff did more often than any coach in BU history.

Another coach who will listen is Pittsburgh assistant Tom Herrion, who also is thought to be on BU's list. "No one has contacted me yet," said Herrion after the Panthers practiced yesterday afternoon at the Garden. "Right now, it's not something I'm focused on. I'm just thinking about us."

Top-notch opposition
Xavier's tournament route includes facing a No. 1 seed for the third straight season and an overall record of 0-4 against No. 1 seeds. The Musketeers lost to Indiana in 1993, Duke in 2004, Ohio State in 2007, and UCLA last season.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.

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