Duke’s road in the NCAA tournament starts in Providence Thursday, and if all goes well, the Blue Devils will defeat two teams on the way to Anaheim, Calif., for the Sweet 16. Here’s a look at Duke’s first-round opponent, UNC Wilmington, plus the other two teams the Blue Devils could play – if they beat the Seahawks and make it to the second round on Saturday.
No. 13 UNC Wilmington
Record: 25-7 (14-4 Colonial Athletic Association)
How they got in: Won CAA tournament
Opponents common to Duke: Georgetown (87-82 loss in Washington on Dec. 12)
They’re good at: Playing an aggressive, in-your-face pressing style. Think VCU and HAVOC. Former Louisville assistant Kevin Keatts learned plenty about defense from former boss Rick Pitino, and the Seahawks have 10 players that average at least nine minutes a game to keep the energy level on the court high.
They’re not good at: Not fouling – a side effect of that aggressive defense. UNC Wilmington ranks 350th out of 351 Division I teams in terms of frequency of sending opponents to the free throw line. Duke will need to exploit this.
Their guy: Chris Flemmings, Jr., G, 6-5, 175 (16.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
What to know about him: Was first-team All-CAA; Will draw the assignment of checking Brandon Ingram
Overall threat level: Elevated
Rationale: If shots aren’t falling for Duke and the Blue Devils aren’t getting to the free throw line, the Seahawks will score enough points (averaging 79 points per game) and force enough turnovers to pull the upset.
Storylines you’ll hear about: The Seahawks are a trendy upset pick nationally. Second-year coach Keatts was on staff at Louisville when the Cardinals defeated Duke in the 2013 Elite Eight on the way to the national title.
Duke fans should be concerned because: First off, this is definitely a losable game, and secondly, it looks to be a game that will, at a minimum, consume a considerable amount of energy for a team short on depth.
Duke fans should not be concerned because: Duke, according to coach Mike Krzyzewski, is a 3s and free throws team, and there should be plenty of opportunities at the free throw line.
Final word: There should be enough Lehigh and Mercer fear to keep everyone from looking past this matchup.
No. 12 Yale
Record: 22-6 (13-1 Ivy League)
How they got in: Ivy League champions
Opponents common to Duke: Lost 80-61 in Durham on Nov. 25
They’re good at: Defense in general. The Bulldogs rank 21st nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, surrendering an average of 0.95 points per possession. They limit opponents on the offensive glass well, too.
They’re not good at: Ball security. The Bulldogs rank 296th in turnover percentage, giving up the ball on 20 percent of their possessions. This became more problematic when guard (and senior captain) Jack Montague was expelled from the school on Feb. 10.
Their guy: Justin Sears, Sr., F, 6-8, 205 (15.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg)
What to know about him: Two-time Ivy League player of the year; scored 19 points on 9-of-18 shooting in Durham
Overall threat level: Mild
Rationale: The Blue Devils are plenty familiar with Yale thanks to their earlier nonconference matchup. Yes, Duke had to go to a zone to stop Yale’s drivers, but give Krzyzewski another chance at Yale and expect another win.
Storylines you’ll hear about: The story of former captain Jack Montague, who was expelled after the school found him capable of a female student’s accusations of sexual assault, has made national headlines. The team recently apologized after wearing warm-up shirts with a message of support for Montague before Yale’s game against Harvard on Feb. 26.
Also, Yale is in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1962.
Duke fans should be concerned because: This would be Duke’s opponent on short rest, and the Blue Devils certainly showed fatigue on short rest against Notre Dame in the ACC tournament.
Duke fans should not be concerned because: The familiarity with the Bulldogs should help Duke avoid the upset.
Final word: Yale over Baylor is also a trendy upset pick. Duke should root for that reality to pan out.
No. 5 Baylor
Record: 22-11 (10-8 Big 12)
How they got in: At-large
Opponents common to Duke: None
They’re good at: Offensive rebounding. The Bears rank third nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, pulling down 40.3 percent of their misses. This could be problematic for Duke (see that last UNC game for evidence).
They’re not good at: Beating good teams. Baylor went 0-7 against Kansas, West Virginia and Oklahoma in conference play and also lost a November nonconference game to Oregon. Also 3-point field goal defense is a weakness, which plays to Duke’s favor.
Their guy: Rico Gathers, Jr., F, 6-8, 275 (11.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg)
What to know about him: First-team all-Big 12 is the top rebounder in Baylor history and is built like an NFL tight end.
Overall threat level: Elevated
Rationale: Baylor is strong where Duke is weak (in the paint and on the bench). That’s a daunting matchup on short rest.
Storylines you’ll hear about: Freshman guard King McClure contributes about 13 minutes off the bench and plays with a heart defibrillator. Last summer when his heart condition was discovered, there was some fear that he would never play basketball again.
The Bears may have lost 11 games, but nine came to teams seeded No. 3 or higher in the NCAA tournament.
Duke fans should be concerned because: If North Carolina destroyed Duke on the boards and in the paint, why would a game against Baylor, a better rebounding team, go differently?
Duke fans shouldn’t be concerned because: Maybe Baylor will get beaten by Yale? In all seriousness, this is a tough matchup.
Final word: This should be a high-level game of contrasting styles, should it come to pass.