Preview: Duke v. UNC-Wilmington

The defending national champion Duke Blue Devils will open NCAA Tournament play on Thursday afternoon against UNC-Wilmington in the first round of the West Regional. The game will broadcast by CBS beginning at 12:30

UNC-WILMINGTON SEAHAWKS

25-7 Overall, 14-4 Conference 

PROJECTED STARTERS

C- 23 C.J. Gettys (5.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
G- 00 Craig Ponder (11.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
G- 01 Chris Flemmings (16.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
G- 10 Denzel Ingram (12.5 ppg, 3.4 apg)
G- 12 C.J. Bryce (9.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg)

LINKS: ROSTER | SCHEDULE | STATISTICS  

STAR WATCH

Fourth year junior transfer Chris Flemmings is an active wing player who leads the team in rebounding and scoring.  At 6-foot-5, he plays both the small forward and ‘stretch’ four positions at times for the Seahawks.   He’s a very reliable perimeter shooter, knocking down around 37 percent of his long range attempts.  He’s fresh off a tournament MVP award after leading his team to the CAA title.  The initial defensive assignment on Flemmings will likely fall to either Matt Jones or Brandon Ingram.   

As a whole the entire Seahawk starting backcourt - all four guards and wings - are capable ball handlers and decent shooters.  Starting point guard Denzel Ingram averaged just more than six three point attempts per game and hit 36 percent of his attempts.  He and Flemmings were the iron men of the season for the Seahawks, each playing more than 1000 minutes and they took the majority of the Seahawks’ shots, each launching more 10 field goals per contest. 

While both teams prefer the four out and one in approach with their rosters, the battle inside between Marshall Plumlee and C.J. Gettys could be predictive of the outcome.  Both players know their role is to rebound, bother and block shots, and finish the opportunities around the rim as they may present themselves.  Both have played their parts well as vital cogs, but have also battled foul problems throughout the season.  For Plumlee, when Duke has struggled there is usually a correlation of the fifth year senior either battling whistles or simply not playing well.  Meanwhile, Gettys hasn’t played quite as much (he averages just under 16 minutes per night) and a lot of that has to do with fouls he’s averaging one foul every 5.2 minutes played this year.

THE STORYLINES

DIFFERING DIRECTIONS AND COMPETITION ENTERING MARCH

Duke enters the NCAA Tournament having lost three of the last five games.  Granted, the level of competition is far superior to that of their opponents, but the fact remains that Duke isn’t entering the sudden death portion of their schedule looking less than optimal.  That’s not to say that the Blue Devils don’t have talent.  They do.  A roster full of high school All-Americans, in fact, but the reality is that this team is very young and there’s no real margin for error against any opponent.  If Duke isn’t getting elite performances from Grayson Allen or Brandon Ingram to go with a team effort on the glass, Duke’s likely going to be an easy out.

Meanwhile, UNCW comes into the NCAAs on a high note.   The Seahawks have won five of their last six and should be feeling supremely confident after winning three close games in the CAA Tournament.  The only caveat here is that UNC-Wilmington hasn’t really beaten anyone of note this season.  They did play Georgetown tough back in December with the Hoyas winning at home by five, but since that time they haven’t really seen or beaten any of the nation’s top 75 teams.  

WHO IS THIS DUKE TEAM?

This isn’t a traditional Blue Devil squad. That’s somewhat understandable when you consider that of last year’s top nine players to begin the season, only three remain on the roster.  75 percent of the sophomore class is in the NBA this year.  Duke lost its heart and soul in the form of senior Quinn Cook.  Duke lost Rasheed Sulaimon to dismissal.  Duke lost Amile Jefferson to a season ending injury (though he’ll be back next year).

All that talent departing meant Mike Krzyzewski had to restock the talent pool.  He did so, but this group is young and has proven just how special last year’s recruiting class truly was.  Brandon Ingram - who may very well be the top pick in the NBA Draft next month - wasn’t ready right away.  And none of his classmates have proven ready to contribute at a very high level night in and night out.   

In short, this Duke team has a lot of holes and while they are capable of beating anyone (they beat No. 1 seeds Virginia and North Carolina this year), these Blue Devils can also lose to anyone on a night when one of the two stars is having a bad night or the team’s defense sags, or the rebounding fails.  Sounds a lot like two years ago when Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood’s team lost to Lehigh.  

This team seems to have a lot more fight than the group from a few years ago, but they also have just as much of a razor thing margin for error.  If Duke is knocking down shots from outside and competing/staying even with opponents on the glass then they can run to the Final Four.  But, if they struggle in those areas, they can go home just as early as Parker’s team did.

Notebook:

- Duke has won 75.5 percent of its games in the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship, the best mark of any school in the tournament's history. In addition, the Blue Devils rank third all-time with 105 wins in tournament play.

- Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has won 1,041 games in his coaching career, has guided Duke to 20 or more wins in 20 consecutive seasons. He is one of three coaches in Division I men's basketball to accomplish the feat.

- The Blue Devils faced six non-conference teams which reached the NCAA Tournament (Kentucky, VCU, Yale, Indiana, Buffalo, Utah).  Duke posted a 4-2 record in those games with losses to Kentucky and Utah.

- With 114 offensive boards this season, Marshall Plumlee moves into ninth on Duke’s offensive boards in a season list.

- Grayson Allen registered his 31st double-digit scoring game of the year in the loss to Notre Dame, netting 27 points on 7-of-21 (.333) shooting from the floor. Duke moved to 28-8 on the year when Allen scores 10-or-more points. Allen scored 19 points in Duke’s second round contest, bringing his total points scored in this year’s ACC Tournament to 46 points. Allen’s 46 points through two games of the tournament are tied for the third most in program history with Johnny Dawkins, who accomplished the feat in 1985.

They Said It:

"Our guys are extremely excited about the opportunity. Everyone knows what time of program Duke has and Coach K is one of the best in the business and he does a tremendous job. It's going to be a big test for us.” - UNCW head coach Kevin Keatts

The Prediction

UNC-Wilmington isn’t as battle tested as Duke.  They haven’t played the same kind of schedule and their best win(s) are over Hofstra.  If the two teams played 10 times, Duke would likely win at least eight, maybe nine.  That doesn’t mean much in March, but the point remains that Duke is far more talented.  The Seahawks shouldn’t have an answer for either Allen or Ingram.  The Blue Devils should attack the basket from the opening tip.  Wilmington’s opponents have shot 200 more free throws than the Seahawks this year and Duke should look to continue that trend by getting to the line early and often.  The Seahawks will want to go small for most of the game, which will make Duke work on the perimeter.  It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Ingram at the five with four other guards on the floor at times for Duke in this one.  And while the expedition is that Wilmington will keep this close - perhaps through halftime - Duke should have enough to survive and advance.   And that’s all that matters this month.

Duke - 84
UNC-Wilmington - 74


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