If there was 2 seed to be bounced from the NCAA tournament in the opening weekend, it was going to be Duke. This was why a team with nothing to lose, like Lehigh, was able to pull the upset over the No. 2 seed in the South Region on Friday.
It was the sixth time a No. 15 seed has knocked off a No. 2 seed in the field of 64.
Any upset of a No. 15 seed over a No. 2 seed is shocking, but this upset seemed fitting, for the most part, because this was no ordinary No. 15 vs. No. 2 matchup in the NCAA Tournament.
It was no secret that Duke was limping into the tournament.
The loss to North Carolina at home by 18 points was a primary reason for the Blue Devils being battered and bruised entering the tournament, and the loss of Ryan Kelly to injury was not helping.
The loss of confidence occurred again when they had a rematch with North Carolina in their sights during the ACC Tournament, but a determined Florida State team got in their way.
Surprisingly, the selection committee gave the Blue Devils a No. 2 seed in the field of 64 with a matchup against Lehigh, who was a surprise team in their own right this season. The Mountain Hawks had just come off an unlikely upset victory over Bucknell in the Patriot League tournament.
We see it often. A higher-ranked team shouldering little confidence into the tournament has the opportunity to be upset, and losing a versatile forward like Kelly was the real blow to Duke.
It came as no surprise that there was no ball movement against Lehigh, just as there was none in their losses against North Carolina and Florida State. Ball movement comes easily when Kelly is in the game. He has the ability to play outside, as well as inside, setting up good looks for everyone outside the three-point arc. On Friday, the Blue Devils went 6-26 from three, and were forcing up shots when it hit desperation time.
Kelly was clearly a huge loss for Duke.
Credit Lehigh, though, when they defeated Patriot League regular season champion Bucknell—the odds-on favorite to make the NCAA Tournament—they were playing with house money and any team playing with house money in March is scary.
The Blue Devils ran into the wrong team with the right mindset, which caused the upset. Given the way Duke tumbled into the NCAA Tournament at the end of the season and the way Lehigh was riding a high entering Friday, the historic upset should be no surprise.