ESPN analysts weigh in on NCAA WBB Tournament selection for No. 16 Duke

Cheryl Treworgy, Triangle Sports Network
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DURHAM, N.C. – The 16th-ranked Duke Blue Devils await an at-large bid to the upcoming 2015 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Tournament.

They will know when, who, and where they will begin participation in their 22nd postseason tournament and 21st in a row, shortly after 7 p.m. on Monday.

That is when the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Selection Show will be televised on ESPN.

After falling in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Tournament, 54-49, to the second-ranked and eventual champion Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Blue Devils sit with a 21-10 record overall.

Duke is currently ranked No. 14 in the NCAA RPI and boasts one of the top and most-challenging schedules in the nation.

In the latest Strength of Schedule listings, the Blue Devils’ schedule is tabbed No. 4 nationally.

Heading into the postseason, Duke has some work to do, suffering four losses in its last six games.

It’s correctable and could set up for an interesting Tournament run.

Previous to that stretch, the Blue Devils had won seven-of-eight, including their first win (74-67 OT) over North Carolina, ranked 12th at the time, in Chapel Hill, and a big win (66-58) at home over then No. 8 Louisville.

According to ESPN Bracketology expert Charlie Crème, who has been working over the past 12 years to bring the women’s NCAA seeding and matchups clearer into focus until the actual selections are announced by the NCAA Selection Committee, Duke looks to probably enter this year’s tournament as a 3-seed and to host early-round games at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Of course, those specifics may change slightly with remaining conference tournament championship games taking place through Sunday.

According to Creme’s bracket as of Sunday, the Blue Devils are slotted to host in the Oklahoma City Regional to face American, the Patriot Conference champion, along with American Athletic Conference (AAC) Tournament runner-up South Florida, facing Arkansas-Little Rock, the Sun Belt champion.

The NCAA First and Second Rounds will take place March 20-23 at 16 different host sites that will be announced on Monday as well.

Duke has been led by senior Elizabeth Williams a four-time First Team All-ACC selection who enters her final NCAA Tournament run.

Williams has averaged 14.7 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.9 blocks and 1.6 steals for the Blue Devils.

The Duke rookie tandem of Azurá Stevens and Rebecca Greenwell have both made immediate impacts and are also key components to Duke’s success moving forward.

Stevens has totaled one of the best freshman seasons in school history averaging 14.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.9 steals.

She was a four-time ACC Freshman of the Week honoree during the regular season, and enters the NCAA Tournament posting double-doubles in five of her final seven games.

Greenwell has averaged 14.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.9 steals on the season.

Her 62 made three-pointers set a new Duke freshman record.

How far can the Blue Devils go in this year’s Tournament?

ESPN analyst Kara Lawson, who will be involved in her 10th Women’s Final Four, believes that will be determined by how Duke’s playing structure and talent performs.

“They certainly had quite the shuffle,” Lawson said in a conference call on Wednesday, referring to the Blue Devils’ personnel changes and makeup compared to previous years.

“They do play with tremendous size. As what Charlie was saying, that group of teams – the 3-seeds, the 4-seeds, the 5-seeds, and 6-seeds – those teams for the most part, I am not surprised if any of them make the second weekend, make the Sweet 16. Those second-round games, a lot of times are toss-ups. So, Duke to me is a team I wouldn’t be surprised they make the Sweet 16. Their second-round game is gonna’ be a 50-50 game. That’s how similar those seeds are – 3 through 6. It’s just going to be a huge challenge for them.”

“As far as their personnel, I love the growth of Azura Stevens,” Lawson continued.

“I think she really can be a difference-maker for them in the tournament with her length, her athleticism. Obviously, what Elizabeth Williams has done throughout the course of her career – she’s been fairly consistent for them this year. It’s just gonna’ be really important that Rebecca Greenwell makes shots. Going with a little bit more size, that takes away some of the perimeter spacing and the ability to knock down shots. So the pressure, I think, is on her to be able to knock down a few just to take some spacing and some pressure off of those players inside. So, when you go big, having played on teams where you want big, especially at that small forward position, it’s great. It gives you a lot of advantages, but what it can do is make it a little bit harder for your guards to navigate, to drive because there’s not that much space on the court. And because defenses play off of certain players that maybe are usually are 4-players or 5-players and their playing out of the 3-spot.”

Duke owns an all-time record of 53-21 in NCAA action and has advanced to four NCAA Final Fours.

In four out of the last five years, the Blue Devils have reached the NCAA Elite Eight.