NCCAT Game Preview by @RandyDunson: Duke Blue Devils vs. UNC-Wilmington Seahawks – March 17, 2016

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NCAA Tournament Game Preview (West Region – Round 1)

Duke Blue Devils [23-10] vs. UNC Wilmington (UNCW) Seahawks [25-7]

Thursday, March 17, 2016 • 12:15 PM • CBS • Providence, RI • Dunkin Donuts Center

By Randy Dunson [Note: Please direct comments, suggestions, etc. to @RandyDunson.]


Team Overviews

About the Seahawks

UNCW_Primary_Athletic_Logo_2015The UNCW men’s basketball team’s “Run. Defend. Win.” slogan fits more easily into hashtags and season ticket brochures than pregame speeches and halftime pep talks.

Yet that motto serves as an ever-present reminder that the Seahawks under Kevin Keatts have developed a unique style built to force opponents out of their comfort zone. The challenge facing the coach this week is how to translate it to the NCAA Tournament stage against defending national champion Duke.

UNCW, seeded No. 13 in the West Region of the bracket, launched into preparations for Thursday’s first-round matchup with the fourth-seeded Blue Devils hoping to stick with what’s worked. The Seahawks might not be able to match up man-for-man, so they’ll try to pressure and fast break their way to a bracket-busting upset.

“At this time of the year, everybody has their own identity,” Keatts said. “You are who you are. We’ve got to do a good job of just being UNCW and kind of staying the course the same way we’ve done all year long.”

UNCW’s preferred script is an up-and-down game where its depth can be an advantage. The Seahawks are among the nation’s best at forcing turnovers but also send their opponents to the foul line more than anybody but similarly styled West Virginia. Keatts doesn’t mind going deep into his bench for fresh bodies, and he’s often been forced to do it by foul trouble.

Duke, since the loss of Amile Jefferson in December, has mostly stuck to a six-man rotation. The Blue Devils have gotten by thanks to blue-chip talent and more zone defense than usual to save legs and avoid fouls.

Duke doesn’t necessarily mind playing fast for stretches, but it might have more trouble sustaining that pace for 40 minutes.

“I think over the course of a game you might get Duke tired because they don’t play a lot of guys,” said Elon’s Matt Matheny, who coached against both clubs this season. “To me, that’s one thing that really gives Wilmington an advantage against anybody. They have a system. They believe in their system and they’re going to do everything they can to execute their system, regardless of who they play.”

UNCW, as its zero games against top-50 RPI opponents indicates, hasn’t seen anybody as good as Duke this season.

Chris Flemmings will have to figure out how to check Brandon Ingram, the versatile 6-foot-9 freshman forward from Kinston who might be the top pick in June’s NBA Draft. Flemmings has excelled in the de facto power forward role this season, but he’s not faced a matchup quite like this.

The other UNCW guards will probably take turns on Grayson Allen. The All-ACC guard is as good as anybody in the nation at getting to the rim, making it even more imperative that the Seahawks can guard without fouling.

Then there’s Marshall Plumlee, the senior center who willed Duke to an ACC Tournament win last week despite a broken nose. The Blue Devils are in trouble if their only true post player gets into foul trouble.

It falls on C.J. Gettys and others to try and do it. UNCW’s 7-footer isn’t used to seeing opponents his size in the Colonial Athletic Association, but he did matchup with Plumlee once in AAU ball.

Duke probably got the best glimpse of the style Keatts prefers against Louisville, the program where the coach spent three seasons as an assistant before coming to the Seahawks. The Blue Devils split a pair of meetings last month with the Cardinals.

Keatts had a better idea of his game plan by Monday afternoon. The coach had seen at least parts of 10 different Duke games in the 20 or so hours since receiving the NCAA assignment. He knew he wouldn’t get all the answers until tipoff Thursday at Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, R.I.

“At this point, you’ve just got to look at the film and figure out the best way,” Keatts said. “Our team is so different than most of the teams that they’ve played against. It’s hard to kind of take another opponent and fit them into your style.”

About the Blue Devils

DUKEOne season ago, when everyone expected that undefeated Kentucky would march to the NCAA title, fellow blue blood Duke clipped the nets instead. Can they repeat? That might be a bit much to expect. Thanks to Grayson Allen’s grit and scoring touch, the Blue Devils have had a fine season in the ACC, upsetting North Carolina on the road, but this is not one of Mike Krzyzewski’s better teams. Still, Coach K is one of the best tournament coaches ever, so a Final Four run is not out of the question.

The Blue Devils took a huge hit when they lost Jefferson, a post presence and veteran leader, and their youth has shown at the defensive end. There is plenty of offensive firepower with sophomore guard Grayson Allen (21.6 points) leading the way, but two of the team’s top three, Brandon Ingram (16.8 points, 6.8 rebounds) and Luke Kennard (11.9 points), are freshmen who are unproven on the big stage. Allen, Ingram, and junior guard Matt Jones (10.8 points) all love to shoot from the outside and are the first trio in program history to each make at least 70 3-pointers in a season.

The Duke Blue Devils aren’t the same team they were a year ago, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Being as talented as they were a year ago or not, they will enter the 2016 NCAA tournament with a No. 4 seed, and they still have the goods to make a deep run. Although records, rankings and basically everything in general goes out the college basketball window once the dance begins, UNC Wilmington enters the tourney on a four-game winning streak, while Duke has been dropping games left and right as of late.
As March Madness rolls around, the defending champs come in playing some of their most inconsistent basketball of the season. Duke will have to see if they can flip the switch to get back on track if they hope to defend their crown. Duke is 17th in the nation in scoring offense with 81.5 points per game. The Blue Devils are shooting 45.9 percent from the floor as a team. Duke knocks down 9.3 three-point field goals per game while shooting 38.7 percent from long range. The Blue Devils get to the line 24 times a night this season. Duke is converting 72.2 percent of their chances. Grayson Allen leads Duke with 21.6 points plus 4.5 boards and 3.6 dimes per contest.

The Blue Devils are pretty average on the defensive side of things as they are 182nd in the nation in scoring defense by allowing 72.1 points per game. Opposing teams are hitting 44.5 percent from the floor against the Blue Devils. Duke is giving up 6.1 three pointers per game on 33.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc. The Blue Devils send their opponents to the line 15.7 times per contest and their opponents are knocking down 68.4 percent of those chances. Brandon Ingram (16.8 points, 6.8 boards), Matt Jones, Luke Kennard, and Amile Jefferson are all averaging in double figures. Derryck Thornton and Marshall Plumlee each contribute at least 7.5 points per game. Jefferson played in only nine games before breaking his foot and he’s been ruled out for the year.

Game Notables

  • Duke has lost four of its last seven games following a five-game win streak from February 2 to February 17. The Blue Devils suffered an 84-79 overtime loss against Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament last Thursday.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Blue Devils faced six non-conference teams that reached the NCAA Tournament (Kentucky, VCU, Yale, Indiana, Buffalo, Utah).
  • Duke, the defending national champion, has reached the NCAA Championship game 11 times with five titles (1991, 1992, 2001, 2010, 2015).
  • Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (88-26) is the All-time leader in NCAA Tournament victories, while Wilmington’s Kevin Keatts will coach his first NCAA Tournament game.
  • Brandon Ingram (555) needs four points to pass Luol Deng for fourth on Duke’s all-time freshman scoring list.
  • Wilmington matched the school record for wins in a season set in 2005-06 (25-8).

 Endgame

Mark my words, this will be one of the toughest first round opponents that Duke has faced in its NCAA history. Sure, UNCW is no Kansas or UNC-CH, for while they might not have the stature of these programs, they make up for it with solid, tough, nose-to-the-grindstone basketball

However, here’s why this is a bad matchup for Duke. UNC-Wilmington plays extremely physical basketball. The Seahawks rank 350th in the nation in defensive free-throw rate, only edging out West Virginia in that category. In addition, when you’re putting opponents on the line as often as Press Virginia, you are not a team that a coach with a six-man rotation wants to deal with.

It would be one thing if UNC-Wilmington committed 35 fouls while its opponent stayed out of foul trouble.

In most games, UNC-Wilmington is able to get its opponent to follow suit. Georgetown committed 27 fouls when it faced the Seahawks back in December, and they have played 17 games in which the opponent committed as least 20 fouls.

The Blue Devils barely have enough guys to commit 20 fouls. They committed 25 in the loss to Notre Dame in the ACC quarterfinal and lost Grayson Allen, Marshall Plumlee and Chase Jeter to disqualifications in the process.

Even if the Blue Devils don’t get into foul trouble, UNC-Wilmington will try to push them around and make them uncomfortable. That might be enough to send Duke packing.

UNC-Wilmington is outscoring teams 79-71 this season. The Seahawks are #39 in scoring nationally. UNCW is shooting 45.6% from the field and 33.6% from 3-point range. The Seahawks make 70.2% of their free throws. Opponents are shooting 41.7% from the field and 33.7% from three-point range. Wilmington averages 37.6 rebounds per game and opponents average 33.8. The Seahawks averages 13.4 assists, 11.4 turnovers, 7.5 steals, and 4.4 blocks per game. Opponents average 10.4 assists, 15.2 turnovers, 5 steals, and 3.1 steals per game.

Chris Flemmings averages 16.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Denzel Ingram averages 12.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Craig Ponder averages 11.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. C,J, Bryce averages 9.9 points and 4 rebounds per game. Jordan Talley averages 8.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4 assists per game. Five other players will get significant time in the rotation.

Duke is outscoring teams 82-72 this season. The Blue Devils are #17 nationally in scoring. Duke is shooting 45.9% from the field and 38.7% from 3-point range. The Blue Devils are #22 in three point shooting nationally. Duke makes 72.2% of their free throws. Opponents are shooting 44.5% from the field and 33.9% from 3-point range. Duke averages 36.3 rebounds per game and opponents average 33.4 per game. The Blue Devils average 13 assists, 9.6 turnovers, 6 steals and 4.3 blocks per game. Opponents average 13.8 assists, 11.7 turnovers, 4.3 steals and 3.2 blocks per game.

Grayson Allen averages 21.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Brandon Ingram averages 16.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. Luke Kennard averages 11.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. Matt Jones averages 11.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1 steal per game. Marshall Plumlee averages 8.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Derryck Thornton averages 7.8 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Amile Jefferson is out indefinitely with a foot injury.

Keys to Watch For

Keys for UNC-Wilmington

  • Guard Play
    • If the Seahawks are to defeat the Blue Devils on Thursday, they will have to get excellent guard play from Chris Flemmings, Denzel Ingram, and Craig Ponder
  • Production
    • Flemmings leads UNC Wilmington in scoring at 16.1 points per game while Ingram is averaging 12.5 points and 3.4 assists per contest
  • Shooting the 3-ball
    • Flemmings, Ingram, and Ponder will all need to shoot well from long range since the Seahawks cannot compete with Duke’s athleticism

Keys for Duke

  • Depth
    • While Duke is not as deep as some of its teams in the past, the Blue Devils still have enough talent to win a number of games in this year’s Tournament.
  • Athleticism
    • Grayson Allen (21.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG) and ACC Freshman of the Year Brandon Ingram (16.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG) will likely get the ball early and often to expose UNC Wilmington’s lack of athleticism
  • Protect the Arc
    • If Duke can prevent the Seahawks’ shooters from getting hot from beyond the arc, the Blue Devils should be able to take control of the game very early.

Overall

  • UNC Wilmington has the players and the coaching in former Louisville assistant Kevin Keatts to make life tough for Duke
  • Expect this to not be a cakewalk, but Duke should be able to pull away late by putting the game in hands of Ingram and Allen

Prediction

Duke has to find the dominant nature that they’ve shown in years past if they plan of making much noise in the tournament. Facing a UNC-Wilmington team that can score at a good clip will put pressure on the Blue Devils. Allen and Ingram are going to have to do the heavy lifting for Duke to have success, especially without Jefferson in the low block. It will be a battle, but Duke puts it away late as it fights through certain fatigue and picks up the win, 80-72.