PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WNCN) — If any team has experienced the ups and downs of March Madness, it’s been the Duke Blue Devils.
The defending champions won the tournament last year and made it to the Elite Eight in 2013, but had early round surprise losses in 2012 (15-seed Lehigh) and 2014 (14-seed Mercer).
WATCH ON TV: The Duke game airs on CBS North Carolina at 12:15 p.m. Thursday
“Being here for both Lehigh and Mercer, it just goes to show that in the NCAA tournament you can’t take anybody for granted,” said Senior Center Marshall Plumlee. “Everyone who has made it to this point, they’re all winners.”
“My freshman year we lost in the first round and last year we won the championship so I know both can happen,” said Junior Guard Matt Jones. “For this team we have to put ourselves in a position to win each and every game, starting with Thursday against a good UNC-Wilmington team.”
It’s the first time in 10 years that UNC-W has made it to the NCAA Tournament. The Seahawks got an automatic bid after defeating top-seeded Hofstra in the Colonial Athletic Association championship game last week.
Duke veterans say they’re a different team than last year, but have the characteristics to make a deep run. They say they’re also taking a similar approach to last year, never looking ahead and always focusing on the team in front of them.
“We have talented guys and we need everyone to show up every night,” said Plumlee. “It’s been a fun year and I’m proud of our body of work so far and I think this is the start of a special journey, but it starts with a tough game against UNC-Wilmington.”
Playing for a program like Duke, some players say the expectation is always to win a national championship. Despite the high expectations, they still find time to joke around to ease some of that pressure and improve team chemistry.
“I don’t want to give anyone too much credit,” Jones said when asked who he thought was the funniest on the team. “But probably Chase [Jeter].”
“Chase can do impressions of anybody,” said Plumlee. “He’s talented. I’m not going to sell him out so I won’t say which one of the coaches, but he does some of the coaches.”
“I don’t got any impersonations,” Jeter said with a coy demeanor as he and the rest of his teammates laughed.
Jokes aside, the Duke team says things are always more fun when they’re winning, something they hope to do a lot of the next few days.
“At the end of the day, basketball should be fun, “said Plumlee. “It’s fun to go through a whole season together, but the most fun is had when we’re winning so that’s the main focus more than anything.”