ATLANTA - J.J. Redick is the face of the Duke Blue Devils.
Confident? Go ahead and call him cocky if you like. Hated? No problem, that just goes with the territory. A winner? You bet.
Redick and the Blue Devils find themselves in familiar territory, reaching the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament for the seventh year in a row. Success always spawns a certain amount of backlash — build ’em up, tear ’em down — but Duke doesn’t mind a bit.
In fact, the Blue Devils have settled quite comfortably into the villain role, relishing the notion that so many fans want to see them lose.
“It has a lot to do with the amount of success we’ve had,” said Redick, usually the prime target for opposing fans. “We’re the most dominant program in the ACC. We’ve won a few national championships. There’s a certain amount of jealousy, a certain amount of envy. And we’re portrayed like choir boys. People don’t like that, either.”
Top-seeded Duke (29-5) meets No. 5 Illinois (26-6) in the semifinals of the Atlanta Regional on Friday. No. 3 Texas (25-7) takes on seventh seed Xavier (25-10) in the other game, the winners to play Sunday for a spot in the Final Four.
Look for Redick to be right in the middle of things.
At Georgia Tech, he wound up on his back in front of the home team’s bench during a scuffle with B.J. Elder. North Carolina State’s Scooter Sherrill said before a game that Redick “acts like he’s gay,” then had to issue an apology.
“Just this year, there have been so many incidents,” Redick said Wednesday. “Whether it’s hard fouls during the ACC tournament, or trying to start something with me in front of the other team’s bench, or rude, crude statements from the other team’s fans, there’s a great level of hate for Duke.”
Is that really accurate, or just a convenient motivational technique? Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who willingly discussed the issue before the start of the tournament, has now decided it’s off limits.
“That doesn’t have any bearing on this game,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s true, and I don’t even want to talk about it. What could we do, what would we want to do, to change someone’s opinion? And why? Just be yourselves, play your game and run your program. Let people form their own opinions.
“It doesn’t bother me at all. The only thing that would bother me is if I didn’t like our program.”
Duke and Illinois have plenty of reasons to like their programs, starting with their three-guard lineups. On one side, the Blue Devils have Redick, Chris Duhon and Daniel Ewing. For the Fighting Illini, it’s Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head.
That’s not the only similarity. The Blue Devils cruised through their first two tourney games by an average of 31.5 points. Illinois was equally impressive, routing Murray State and No. 4 seed Cincinnati by a total of 43 points.
Actually, the Illini have been on a major roll since mid-January. They have won 16 of 18 games — both losses were to Wisconsin — since coming to the realization that two point guards are better than one.
One possession, Williams might bring the ball up the court. The next time, it might be Brown. Even Head gets into the act, getting the go-ahead to lead the fastbreak if he spots a chance to run.
“They just kind of decide periodically through the game who gets to bring the ball up,” coach Bruce Weber said. “We’re always looking to push it. That’s one of our strengths. We’re not always looking for one guy to bring it up.”
Duhon bruised his ribs in the ACC title game, but he’s played through the pain. He shut down Seton Hall guard Andre Barrett, and will likely play a key defensive role against the Illinois backcourt.
“I love the kid,” Krzyzewski said. “This is a very painful injury, but he wants to play. I admire him for that.”
Illinois is coming off its best game of the season — a 92-68 rout of Cincinnati. The Illini shot almost 64 percent from the field and committed just four turnovers. Williams matched his career high with 31 points. Brown had 14 points and eight assists.
While Duke has the more impressive resume, Illinois has plenty of tournament experience. For the third time in four years, the Illini are one of 16 teams still alive. These guys aren’t the least bit intimidated by the Blue Devils’ mystique.
“It’s just two teams trying to win a championship,” Williams said.
The other Atlanta game also figures to be a battle of the backcourts.
Xavier is led by senior guards Lionel Chalmers and Romain Sato, both averaging more than 16 points a game. Texas counters with its own senior duo: top scorer Brandon Mouton (13.6 points) and Royal Ivey (4.2 assists).
“It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s a challenge we embrace,” Mouton said. “We love to compete against the best of the best.”
Duke coach said that after winning his second gold medal in men's basketball would be his Team USA finale. That may not be the case anymore.
CBT: Turning the page on the Mike Rice scandal, Rutgers hired Louisville's Julie Hermann as athletic director on Wednesday. But, Hermann has a prior scandal of her own.
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