Between 1983 and 2004, Syracuse advanced to the NCAA tournament semifinals every year, a remarkable accomplishment that may never be matched again. What makes Duke’s seven consecutive appearances in the Final Four nearly as impressive is that the Blue Devils have achieved that in a four-round tournament, which was expanded from 12 to 16 teams for the 2003 season.
But seventh-seeded Duke (14-5), which will tangle with Cornell (14-3) in the first of two national semifinals this Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, is just 2-4 in the Final Four, advancing to the title game in 2007 (losing to Johns Hopkins) and 2010 (defeating Notre Dame in overtime).
Junior faceoff specialist Brendan Fowler said reversing that trend – which includes back-to-back losses to Maryland in the national semifinals in 2011 and 2012 – is a priority for the Blue Devils.
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“We’ve had two years in a row where we’ve sat in the Final Four locker room with a loss,” he said Wednesday. “I think that sits with a lot of guys. I know it sits with me pretty hard. I remember not being able to play last year because I broke my collarbone in the first round [against Syracuse] and I couldn’t play in the Final Four. Just sitting in the locker room and watching the seniors go out, that’s something you definitely don’t forget. I think about that all the time. So going into this weekend, I think the guys are really focused, and we will remember the feeling of the last two years.”
But Duke coach John Danowski said he does not think that the players are feeling saddled with that baggage as they prepare for Saturday’s game against the Big Red.
“Last year was so long ago,” he said. “We never talk in terms of past or history or what happened a year ago. You might have 10 or 11 seniors who might have been on your team last year, you’ve got new freshmen. You hope that what you do remember is the experience of being in these games and not being overwhelmed by the enormity. Last week, we played in front of 7,000 people, and that’s the biggest crowd this group has played in front of all year. The week before, it was 1,500. So you hope that the experience that our guys have gained will be helpful.”