Representing the # 4 and # 13 seeds of the West Bracket, the 23-10 Duke Blue Devils and the 25-7 UNC Wilmington Seahawks will meet in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday afternoon. The Blue Devils are the defending champions and while they will look to repeat this year, the loss of Senior forward Amile Jefferson, who is out for the year with a broken foot has been significant due to how well Jefferson was playing. He was averaging a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds per game when he went down. Duke enters this matchup as losers of 4 of their last 7 and while they have signature wins over UNC and Indiana, They only had 1 win in the ACC tournament before losing to Notre Dame in the quarterfinals. The Seahawks haven’t been to the NCAA’s in 10 years but beat Hofstra in the championship game of the Colonial Athletic Conference Association tournament to earn a berth this year.
Duke is led by Sophomore guard Grayson Allen who is averaging 21.6 points 4.5 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game. After Jefferson went down, Freshmen Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard stepped up and have averaged double digits. Ingram is averaging 16.8 points and 7 rebounds per game while Kennard is averaging 12 points and 3 rebounds per game. They have 3 legitimate outside threats as Allen, Ingram and Matt Jones have each made at least 70 3-pointers this season which is the first time that has ever happened at Duke. Center Marshall Plumlee has been solid this season averaging 8.5 points and 8.6 and could give the Seahawks some problems as they start 4 guards.
UNC Wilmington enters this matchup after winning 16 of their last 18 games. However, the Seahawks have played only 1 opponent this year that was ranked in the top 100 and that was an 87-82 loss to Georgetown. UNC Wilmington starts four players under 6 foot 5 inches tall and their offense is led by guard Chris Flemmings, who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding with 16 and 6 respectively. They also get offensive production from Denzel Ingram who averages 12.5 points per game and guard Craig Ponder who has averaged 11 points per game this season. With 25 wins this season they matched a school record, which was set in the 2005-2006 season, which was the last time they made the tournament.
The Blue Devils have the clear advantage in coaching experience, as Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski is the all-time leader in NCAA tournament victories while the Seahawk’s Kevin Keatts is coaching his first NCAA Tournament game. The Blue Devils are 16-17 against the spread this year including 15-14 when they are favored. The Seahawks were 20-10-1 against the spread this year including 7-1 as the underdog. Duke is 11-point favorites in this matchup even though they have lost 3 out of their last 5 games while UNC Wilmington is riding a 4 game winning streak.
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