The story line for Navy is much the same as it has been all season. Look at the opponent -- this time, top-ranked and top-seeded Duke -- study the matchups, and Navy has no chance in Sunday's 2 p.m. NCAA East regional final in the Meadowlands.

How can the Midshipmen, game though they are, counteract a Duke back court many say is the best in the nation when Navy's own coach, Paul Evans, says, "Our guards can't beat anybody down the floor"?

How can Navy's only true guard, point man Doug Wojcik, deal with the pressure defense of a Duke team that forced opponents to make nearly 20 turnovers per game this year?

How can the Midshipmen, cerebral as they are, upset a team that is a combination of athletic ability and smarts?

"We have to play a near-perfect game," Evans said today, but he has said things like that before and his team has played accordingly. Navy has 7-foot David Robinson, unquestionably the best player through three games of the NCAA tournament.

But take stock after that. Atlantic Coast Conference champion Duke comes into Byrne Arena with the best record in the nation (35-2), a 19-game winning streak that is the nation's longest, a consensus all-America John Dawkins and a could-be all-America in forward Mark Alarie.

Even Navy's Robinson said, "They're quick, they're smart, they're everything."

And even Alarie said, "Our consistency surprises me. It's remarkable that we could go through an entire season without playing a bad game."

But Navy, which brings an impressive 30-4 record, rarely plays a bad game, and supposedly has been overmatched before -- like last season when a Navy team given almost no chance to win trounced Louisiana State by 23 points, or last Friday in the opening round when Navy beat Tulsa by 19, and like last Sunday when Navy beat Syracuse by 12 in the Carrier Dome.

And the Midshipmen bring a streak of their own -- 16 games, lengthened by Friday night's 71-70 victory over Cleveland State. That victory came after Duke pulled away from De Paul, 74-67.

"You don't get this far and win 30 games with one player," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Navy.

"Navy getting to the final eight is an incredible accomplishment. The service academies rarely get the high school all-Americas. But they have developed, they know how to win and they're accustomed to winning."

The matchups don't favor the Midshipmen, especially on defense. But Evans pointed out that, because Navy plays mostly zone, the concept of matchups is overplayed.

But even in that zone, Navy will have to deal with Dawkins, who averages 20 points and demoralizes opponents with steals and transition baskets.

For Navy to win, Dawkins must have a bad game. "We have to keep Dawkins outside," Evans said. "If he scores on jumpers, all right. But if he starts penetrating and getting offensive rebounds, we're going to be in trouble."

The Midshipmen don't want to devote so much attention to Dawkins that Alarie (17 points per game, 56 percent shooting) silently kills them. And there is also the problem of what to do with 6-foot-5 David Henderson (14.5 points, 54 percent shooting).

The Midshipmen don't have a legitimate small forward. Evans, in more serious a tone than some would think, told a 6-foot-2 writer that he would be as successful against Henderson, one on one, as anybody in a Navy uniform.

Then there are Alarie and Jay Bilas, both 6-8, who continue to defy all logic by outrebounding much larger front-court opponents.

"Rebounding," Alarie said, "is a state of mind as much as anything."

The Midshipmen will need much more than their nimble minds to handle Duke's defensive pressure. The Blue Devils put more pressure on the ball than any team in the country, which may make it tough to get the ball to Robinson.

Navy had few problems Friday night with Cleveland State's press. But the Blue Devils, with Tommy Amaker creating chaos, take perimeter defense to another level.

Evans said he thinks Amaker and Dawkins form the best guard duo in the nation. And to keep them from releasing for quick transition baskets, Wojcik probably will have to lay back and protect.

"We've got our work cut out for us," Navy guard Kylor Whitaker said. "But Pearl Washington of Syracuse was a pretty good back court all by himself."

The blend of confidence and caution that marked Whitaker's comments tells a lot about the Midshipmen's state of mind these days.

They certainly have every reason to be confident. Robinson, who is averaging 23 points and 13 rebounds, readily admits he has trouble against small, quick teams such as Duke.

But Alarie said: "This is a relatively new situation for our inside people, going against a great shot blocker. There'll have to be some adjustments."

Evans made several adjustments Friday night against Cleveland State that were as responsible for Navy still being alive as Robinson's short bank shot with six seconds left.

Twice, when the Midshipmen were trailing, Evans called time and sent Navy back to the floor with set plays that resulted in exactly what he wanted, dunks by Robinson.

And when the Midshipmen needed to stop Cleveland State's Ken (The Mouse) McFadden on one possession in the final minute, Evans employed a triangle-and-two gimmick defense to put pressure on the ball and deny McFadden a shot.

The play worked perfectly, as Clinton Ransey had nobody to pass to and committed a charging foul. Both of these coaches -- Evans and Krzyzewski -- make those kind of adjustments in their sleep.

And it's the kind of deep thinking that will probably occur throughout Sunday's game.