GREENSBORO, N.C. — To beat Duke, the Lehigh Mountain Hawks are going organic.
Or so says senior forward Jordan Hamilton.
"We're well aware of Duke's history and the prestige that follows their program," Hamilton said. "But we kind of remove all the hype surrounding it and I think that we're able to approach it from a more sort of organic perspective — approach it as just another game."
Sounds good, except an opening round contest is rarely just another game for the Blue Devils.
They're normally blowouts.
So the 15th-seeded Mountain Hawks will have their hands full Friday when they take on the Blue Devils at Greensboro Coliseum.
Duke pounded Hampton by 42 points last year in the opening round. Arkansas-Pine Bluff lost to the Blue Devils by 29 the year before that. Winthrop, Monmouth and Florida A&M have all suffered 40-point losses to the Blue Devils and made quiet exits from the tournament.
Duke, the No. 2 seed in the South, has won 14 of its last 15 opening-round games rather convincingly — by an average of 26.9 points per contest. The only hiccup came in 2007 when they stubbed their toe against Virginia Commonwealth, 79-77.
Overall, Duke has won 25 of its last 27 first-round games under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
But he'll likely have to win this one without Ryan Kelly.
Krzyzewski said the 6-foot-11 forward will dress, but is not expected to play against Lehigh as his sprained right foot he injured in Duke's regular-season finale is still not fully healed.
That's a tough break for Duke, which relies on Kelly's outside shot to create spacing on offense. The Blue Devils were forced to adjust on the fly entering the ACC tournament and they looked out of sync in a semifinal loss to Florida State.
"It's changed some of our looks," Duke forward Miles Plumlee said. "It's not like we have put in anything too new; it's just different looks, focusing on different actions and getting the floor spread even when we have two bigs in there."
The Blue Devils lost three times this season at home and aren't considered as dominant as some teams Krzyzewski has brought to the dance. But they've still been ranked in the top 10 all season.
That doesn't seem to scare Lehigh coach Brett Reed, who said his team is here for more than a cameo appearance.
The Mountain Hawks were in the NCAA tournament two years ago, but lost to top-seeded Kansas 90-74 in the first round. Reed feels like this time around his team has a different mindset coming in.
"I think our goals go far beyond just participation," Reed said. "Really our goal is to be a competitor in this tournament. We have young men who have a great deal of confidence in themselves, have a great deal of confidence in each other, and a great deal of confidence in our system, and ultimately the things that we're trying to accomplish here.
"I think that confidence really can translate into something that makes this tournament as special as it is and the reason it has the moniker of March Madness. Because upsets happen — anything can happen."
True. But history is just not on Lehigh's side.
Sure there have been No. 15 seeds that have advanced in the tournament before, but Duke is one school that has managed to discard first-round foes like a fast food hamburger wrapper — especially when a high seed.
"Our coaches are great at preparing us for games," Miles Plumlee said. "Regardless of the opponent, we respect each and every one — and we're just ready to play this game."
If Lehigh is to pull what would be a monumental upset, they'll need a big game from the C.J. McCollum, the nation's fifth-leading scorer at 21.7 points per game. He had 29 points, five assists and three steals during in the Patriot League championship and was named the tournament's MVP.
"Any time you're top-five in scoring in the country, you're doing a good job no matter what level you're at," Duke guard Seth Curry said. "So he's a great scorer and he has a lot of responsibility on that team."
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils will be looking to regain their touch from the outside.Comment on this story
They shot just 5 for 20 from 3-point range in their loss to Florida State last week and Curry has made only nine of his last 32 attempts from behind the arc. Lehigh is limiting its opponents to just 32.4 percent shooting on 3-pointers.
The Blue Devils would also like to recapture the chemistry they had two years ago when they won the national championship.
"That team that won, we were brothers that year," Plumlee said. "And we got to play like that this year. We got to trust one another, bring your A game for one another. You can't let your teammate down in any aspect of the game. That was the best thing they had going for them that year.
"The seniors had each other's back and we just followed their lead. If we play like that, we're going to do fine."