COLUMBIA, S.C. — After a busy opening day, March Madness will kick into high gear when three No. 1 seeds, including Duke and North Carolina, play in Friday's games.
The Blue Devils are the overwhelming favorite and No. 1 overall seed as they chase their sixth national championship under head coach Mike Krzyzewski. North Carolina comes into the tournament with dreams of cutting down the nets for the seventh time in school history.
Duke's locker room was jam-packed with media members anxiously waiting to hear from Zion Williamson before Thursday's practice. The freshman star said he's gotten used to the attention but it's not what he'll remember most about playing at Duke.
"It's nothing bad," Williamson said. "The best part of my Duke experience is being around my teammates. I think we all love each other and I'm never going to forget this team."
Krzyzewski said despite a lot of chatter about Williamson not returning after injuring his knee in February, there was never a question over whether the freshman wanted to play.
"He loves Duke, he loves his team and he's playing great. And his parents are terrific," Krzyzewski said. "Not so much advice, I just told him, 'look, if you don't want to play, if you're concerned, don't play. Don't ever feel like you have to play unless you want to play.'"
Williamson returned, all right. The ACC's player of the year was unstoppable during the ACC Tournament, averaging 27 points and 10 rebounds per game. His first game back against Syracuse started with a huge highlight-reel dunk that set the tone for the Blue Devils' postseason run.
Duke enters the tournament as the biggest favorite since undefeated Kentucky in 2014-15. Krzyzewski said his team isn't bothered by the high expectations.
"We already know what huge means. And we don't have to let the ambience or the environment of the tournament determine that," he said. "We've determined that."
And then there's Virginia. You typically don't think of a No. 1 seed looking for vengeance, but that's exactly where the Cavaliers are after becoming the first 1 seed to ever lose to a 16-seed last year. Tony Bennett's team will meet Gardner-Webb, who are making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament this season.
Gardner-Webb head coach Tim Craft knows his team is a longshot to win Friday but that's not stopping the Runnin' Bulldogs from enjoying every second.
"I think for us, the biggest thing is our guys gotta just play loose," said Craft. "They've gotta go out and play loose and free. Let's just go out and have some fun."
Virginia star Kyle Guy said the loss has been a driving factor for the Cavaliers all season long. He said he actually still gets Venmo requests for money from people saying "they have to pay" for last year's loss to UMBC.
Columbia Regional Friday Schedule
Game 1: 12:40 p.m., No. 8 Ole Miss vs No. 9 Oklahoma
Game 2: No. 1 Virginia vs No. 16 Gardner-Webb (30 minutes after Game 1)
Game 3: 7:30 p.m., No. 1 Duke vs No. 16 North Dakota State
Game 4: No. 8 VCU vs No. 9 UCF (30 minutes after Game 3)