Two Still Standing

Exciting postseason concludes with Duke men, Notre Dame women taking aim at national titles

GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – The 2015 postseason has been a record-setting one for Atlantic Coast Conference basketball teams, and a pair of number one seeds – the Duke men and Notre Dame women – remain standing heading into this weekend’s national semifinal games.

The Blue Devils, appearing in the NCAA Men’s Final Four for the 16th time overall and the 12th under Hall of Fame head coach Mike Krzyzewski, face Michigan State on Saturday evening in Indianapolis (6:09 p.m., TBS).

The ACC champion Fighting Irish women, making their fifth consecutive Final Four appearance and seventh under head coach Muffet McGraw, face a semifinal test against South Carolina on Sunday night in Tampa (6:30 p.m. ESPN).

Both the Notre Dame women and Duke men are accustomed to postseason wins and deep NCAA Tournament runs through late March and into early April, but neither takes this year’s success for granted.

Notre Dame lost three starters – including a pair of WNBA first-round draft picks – from last year’s national runner-up squad. While McGraw remained hopeful her squad could develop into another NCAA contender, a 35-2 record and 21-game winning streak heading into Sunday night topped every expectation.

“I think this is the youngest team we've ever taken (to the Final Four),” McGraw said. “Not a senior in the starting lineup. For them to get it together and just keep getting better, it’s been really fun to watch … I think there is a looser feel. I think we’re enjoying it a little bit more. I think that maybe not having the pressure to try to win it for somebody and just play our game and have fun, I think maybe that's going to make us a little bit better and hopefully we’ll enjoy it.”

It is a sentiment echoed by Krzyzewski, who starts three freshmen and saw his team suffer road losses at NC State and Notre Dame in January, along with a homecourt loss to Miami in ACC play. But the Blue Devils continued to learn, continued to improve and now find themselves in Indianapolis having won 33 of 37 games.

“This group has really been like brothers from the beginning in July,” Krzyzewski said. “They have not posed any problems for me.  Over the last couple months, they\’ve gotten maturity through play, the freshmen have developed where they have a comfort level in playing with the rapidity we have to play big‑time games.  That’s a learned experience.  They’ve learned that. But they’ve become closer and closer.  It’s really been an amazing group of kids to work with.”

IMPRESSIVE NCAA MEN’S NUMBERS

When Krzyzewski’s team takes the floor tonight in Indianapolis, it will attempt to improve on some already impressive overall numbers for both the ACC as a whole and Duke in particular.

The Blue Devils are the 60th current ACC member school to reach the NCAA Final Four. With a 15-5 (.750) mark this year, ACC teams have set a league record for combined wins in one NCAA Tournament. ACC teams posted 14 wins in 2004, 1993 and 1990.

With this year’s showing, ACC men’s teams have won at least 10 NCAA Tournament games 14 times, more than any other conference. The ACC has also extended its record non-losing streak in NCAA Tournament play to 28 years.

The 580 all-time NCAA men’s tournament games won by current ACC member schools leads all conferences, as does the ACC’s .658 tournament winning percentage among leagues that have played 20 or more games.

Duke seeks to win the 16th NCAA championship by a current ACC member school. The Blue Devils own four NCAA titles (all under Krzyzewski) and are appearing in the Final Four for the 16th time.  Krzyzewski’s 12 appearances tie legendary UCLA coach John Wooden for the most all-time.

Krzyzewski is the winningest all-time coach in the NCAA Tournament with an 86-26 record and owns the second-best winning percentage in tournament history at .768.

AND ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE …

Notre Dame’s appearance in this year’s NCAA Final Four will be the 20th by a current ACC member school and the 17th by a team representing the conference. The Fighting Irish own a 9-1 record in NCAA tournament play as a member of the ACC.

Notre Dame seeks the ACC’s third women’s basketball national title and hopes to improve on the league’s collective 16-7 record thus far in the 2015 NCAA Championship. ACC teams have posted a combined record of .500 or better in the NCAA Championship each of the past 19 years.

The 2015 Notre Dame squad is the 20th to represent the ACC in the ACC Championship as a No. 1 seed. The Fighting Irish are 24-3 (.889) all-time as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Championship, and 36-5 (.878) all-time as a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament.

While the Fighting Irish are the lone ACC team in the Women’s Final Four, it has been a solid season for the league, which placed a league-record five teams among the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. Eight ACC teams posted at least 20 wins this season, and two teams reached the 30-win plateau. Notre Dame heads into the national semifinals with a 35-2 record, and Florida State closed out the season at 32-5.

This marks the eighth year since the start of the NCAA Women’s Tournament in 1982 that at least one ACC men’s teams and one ACC women’s teams have reached their respective Final Fours in the same year.