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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Basketball: Utes aren’t afraid of the Devil

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There is either an extreme hate for the Blue Devils or a devout love. Duke is just one of those teams that you don’t sit on the fence about, but everyone knows and respects the success the Blue Devil program has seen in recent history.


Led by one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time in Mike Krzyzewski, Duke has won the ACC a record 19 times, won four NCAA championships, and in 2008 ESPN named the Blue Devils the most prestigious college basketball program since 1985-86, and that was before they won yet another title in 2010.

It’s safe to say that the Runnin’ Utes know exactly who they are going up against on Friday night in their Sweet 16 matchup — their first since 2005 — but don’t mistake acknowledgement for intimidation.

“For myself, I’ve played against players better than them,” said Delon Wright. “Obviously, I think it’s a mind game. Don’t think about them being a storied program, they are just regular players like us, they just happen to go to a big-name school.”

Freshman center Jakob Poeltl echoed his teammate’s sentiments.

“At the end of the day, it’s still basketball,” Poeltl said. “Just because their name is Duke doesn’t make it a different game. We still gotta play our game, we gotta be aggressive and have our game plan down and do our best and take what happens.”

Duke doesn’t just strike a chord for college basketball fans in America either, evident by Poeltl’s remarks. Despite the basketball scene not being as large in Austria, Poeltl mentioned that “anyone who knows college basketball” knows who the Blue Devils are.

Additionally, fans from our neighbor up north recognize the name as well. Dallin Bachynski, who hails from Canada, was raised under the same roof as a Duke basketball fan in his mother. While the backup center was raised under the watchful eye of a Blue Devil, even he won’t be in awe when he steps on to the court in Houston.

“I don’t think we’re gonna be starstruck just because they’re Duke,” Bachynski said. “They’re a basketball team, we’re a basketball team. They’re a good basketball team, and we’re gonna do everything in our power to play to the best of our abilities.”

The Runnin’ Utes will need the tag team of Bachynski and Poeltl to play to the best of their abilities, as the Blue Devils boast one of the best big men in the entire country in Jahlil Okafor. The freshman center has drawn comparisons to the likes of Tim Duncan and Demarcus Cousins and brings with him an offensive repertoire well beyond his years.

Many have pegged Okafor as a possible No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, and the Wooden Award candidate is backing up those claims with averages of 18.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, all while shooting nearly 68 percent from the field.

In an article published in Bleacher Report after Duke’s third-round victory over SDSU, Lindsay Gibbs wrote that Okafor’s play thus far in the NCAA tournament has resembled a “man among boys,” but Bachynski has other plans for when he squares off against the Duke big man.

“First off, I know I’m not a boy, being a pretty big guy,” Bachynski said. “We gotta make sure we take the fight to him … I know that when I get on the floor, I’m gonna throw my body at him a little bit and make sure I make it difficult for him.”

But Duke isn’t just Okafor, as the Blue Devils’ roster is stacked from top to bottom. Thanks to the recruiting efforts of Krzyzewski and company, Duke currently has eight former high school McDonald’s All-Americans on its team, which has become an annual routine when welcoming in new talent to the Blue Devil program.

Conversely, the Runnin’ Utes don’t have a single former McDonald’s All-American on their squad, but according to Brandon Taylor, those accolades and awards won’t mean a thing when the two teams compete for a berth in the Elite Eight. When comparing himself to Duke guards Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones, Taylor likes his odds.

“At the end of the day, whether you’re a McDonald’s All-American, a top-40 player, four-star, three-star, two-star, I was a no-star and I take pride in that,” Taylor said. “That really doesn’t matter. At this level, this college level, all of those go out the window. You’ve got seniors and juniors that weren’t highly recruited out of high school but are now one of the best players in the country. It’s definitely not a test to see if I line up against them. I know for myself that I’d line up with any guard out there, and I take pride in that.”

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