UNCW (25-7) versus Duke (23-10) – 12:15, CBS – Providence, Rhode Island
The basketball gods have chosen CAAHoops to kickstart the madness for a second consecutive season, as the Round of 64 will open with the upstart UNCW Seahawks dueling with the fabled Duke Blue Devils.
You know the Blue Devils, but we’ll pretend you don’t know much about this year’s team. They’ve got one of the best combo guards (and overall players) in the country in sophomore Grayson Allen, a stretch four who could be the NBA Draft’s first pick in Wiz Khalifa lookalike Brandon Ingram, and (per usual) a man named Plumlee.
And while you might be unaware, you’re supposed to lament for the Blue Devils on account of their lack of depth. Coach K gets 21.2% of minutes from his bench, and while Joe Mihalich would kill for such a luxury, Duke ranks a lowly 346th in bench minutes.
It’s noteworthy that, like every other D-I hoops team (sans the few penalized), Duke has the ability to offer 13 scholarships.
Much has been written about how UNCW’s depth and style of play could eventually wear on the Blue Devils’ six-man rotation. However, UNCW’s style is one side of a double-edged sword, as the Seahawks’ physical defensive brand has allowed opponents to tally the second-highest free-throw rate (54.3%) in the country. A Duke team that frequently receives the benefit of the doubt from referees gets to the charity stripe at a solid clip (40.2% free-throw rate, 88th in D-I), and deploys a defensive strategy that has resulted in the 10th lowest defensive free-throw rate (25.4%) in the country.
Knowing these stats, that K berates refs like no other, and that Gray Tripper has proven to be perhaps the least virtuous player (dude gets away with everything) in the country, you realize that UNCW has to post strong field goal percentages to have a chance. We all recognize that the Seahawks are at their best when they can set up their press, and Kevin Keatts’ club might also need to compensate for a large free throw disparity.
While Duke has the star power, I consider UNCW to be better-rounded. They don’t have a Grayson Allen/Brandon Ingram-level superstar duo, but instead possess an intriguing backcourt quartet featuring Jordon Talley, Craig Ponder, Denzel Ingram, and Chris Flemmings. Flemmings will be tasked with guarding Ingram, so one of the smaller guards will need to do his best on Allen. Freshman C.J. Bryce is a good bet to spend time on both players.
Key battles will take place in the post, as C.J. Gettys and Marcus Bryan will need to keep Marshall Plumlee off the offensive glass, and create a few second-chance opportunities for the Seahawks. Both guys have shown the ability to block some shots, and a couple big swats could lead to some easy runouts for the Seahawks.
Although Duke will be running on a full week’s rest, UNCW has the talent and intangibles to create a particularly enticing matchup. And while Duke’s hot three-point shooting often leads to big runs, Keatts has expressed confidence that his team can fight back from deficits when needed.
Nine years ago, the Greg Paulus-led Blue Devils ran into another CAA squad with a great group of guards. It resulted in a game-winning play known as “The Dagger”.
I’m hoping this one will come to be known as Denzel’s Dagger.
Dubmen 79, Dukies 77