NCAA OPENER: Devils wary as they prepare for Bear hunt

Mar. 20, 2014 @ 06:02 PM

Between its higher seed and higher profile, No. 8 Duke looks the part of the overwhelming favorite when it opens NCAA Tournament play.

The third-seeded Blue Devils, though, know those things don’t give them an automatic pass against 14-seeded Mercer in their Midwest Regional game at PNC Arena today (12:15 p.m., WRAL).

The Bears (26-8) have an identical record as Duke (26-8), which enters this year’s tournament with more losses than any season since 2006-07.

Mercer has five senior starters who have played several years together, all working toward this moment — the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1985.

“The amount of respect we have for Mercer and their program is as high as it can be,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We know that tomorrow’s game is going to be a very difficult game, and we hope that we’re ready for it.”

The Blue Devils are playing in their 19th consecutive NCAA Tournament and will seek the 100th NCAA Tournament win in school history today. Duke would have already reached that milestone if not for an upset of historic proportions two years ago that still reverberates through the program.

In the 2012 NCAA Tournament at Greensboro, 15th-seeded Lehigh upset No. 2 Duke 75-70 marking one of the three times in those 19th consecutive tournament appearances that the Blue Devils failed to win at least one game.

Duke will have five players, including seldom-used senior Todd Zafiroski, in uniform today who were in uniform for the Lehigh loss two years ago. Convincing the Blue Devils that they can lose to literally anyone in an NCAA Tournament game became an easier task when that game happened.

“If we’re fortunate enough to win, then we’ll get ready for whoever’s next,” Krzyzewski said. “ That’s the way you got to do it nowadays. It’s not given to you. It’s not given to you. You got to keep earning it.”

Duke will face an experienced Mercer team that is led by senior point guard Langston Hall, the Atlantic Sun Conference player of the year.

“Hall would be an outstanding guard in this league,” Krzyzewski said of the ACC. “I think any team in our league would like to have Hall.”

The Blue Devils possess a deep backcourt where they rotate Tyler Thornton, Rasheed Sulaimon, Matt Jones, Andre Dawkins and Quinn Cook throughout the game. But Hall expects them to all try to slow him down in similar fashions.

“They all want to guard the same way,” Hall said. “They want to pressure up and kind of disturb your offense. Tyler Thornton is a really good defender, Quinn Cook as well. Sulaimon has a lot of length.

I don’t know who is going to be guarding me. We’re going to do a great job of getting open, running the plays as hard as we can, executing.”

A year ago, Mercer was the Atlantic Sun regular-season champion but lost to Florida Gulf Coast in the league tournament final. From there, Florida Gulf Coast pulled upsets over Georgetown and San Diego State to reach the Sweet 16 and capture American’s attention.

Back in Macon, Ga., Mercer’s players and coaches could only watch and think about what ifs.

“It was bittersweet to watch them make a run because it was from our league,” Mercer coach Bob Hoffman said. “We were right there, had won the regular season, and then they beat us on our floor, cut the nets down. And for 365 days, our guys worked harder than any team in the country individually to get a chance to get back to the same moment. It was amazing how they were motivated by what transpired.”

Duke’s task today is to be just as motivated as the underdog Bears. The Blue Devils’ top scorers, freshman Jabari Parker and sophomore transfer Rodney Hood, will be playing their first NCAA Tournament games.

But they’ve already been schooled in what mindset they need to bring to avoid being another March Madness casualty.

“I think it’s pressure if we put it on ourselves,” Parker said. “If we think we’re going to come out and lose, then that mentality is going to stick with us. If we come out positive, we treat it like a No. 1 seed, No. 2 seed, just like they look at us. We can do big things.”

Duke-Mercer Matchup

  Duke MU
Record 26-8 26-8
Avg. Pts. 78.6 79.3
Opp. Avg. Pts. 67.1 66.4
Margin 11.5 12.9
FG Pct. .463 .476
Opp. FG Pct. .453 .400
3-Pt. FG Pct. .394 .385
Opp. 3-Pt. FG Pct. .305 .298
3-Pt. FG-Game 8.9 8.1
Opp. 3-Pt. FG-Game 3.9 6.3
FT Pct. .726 .732
Rebound Margin 1.8 5.2
TO Diff. 2.8 0.8
Avg Steals 7.0 6.0
Avg Blocks 3.1 4.2


Duke Blue Devils Roster

Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

  Pos Ht Wt Yr Hometown
1 Jabari Parker F 6-8 235 Fr Chicago
2 Quinn Cook G 6-2 180 Jr Washington
3 Tyler Thornton G 6-2 190 Sr Washington
5 Rodney Hood F 6-8 215 So Meridian, Miss.
13 Matt Jones G 6-4 200 Fr DeSoto, Texas
14 Rasheed Sulaimon G 6-4 190 So Houston
15 Josh Hairston F 6-8 235 Sr Fredericksburg, Va.
20 Semi Ojeleye F 6-7 230 Fr Ottawa, Kan.
21 Amile Jefferson F 6-9 210 So Philadelphia
34 Andre Dawkins G 6-5 215 Gr Chesapeake, Va.
40 Marshall Plumlee C 7-0 260 So Warsaw, Ind.
45 Nick Pagliuca G 6-3 175 Fr Weston, Mass.
52 Todd Zafirovski F 6-9 245 Gr Lake Forest, Ill.



Mercer Bears Roster

Coach: Bob Hoffman

  Pos Ht Wt Yr Hometown
1 Phillip Leonard G 6-2 200 So Tulsa, Okla.
3 Kevin Canevari G 5-11 165 Sr Charlotte, N.C.
5 Bud Thomas F 6-6 200 Sr Highlands Ranch, Colo. .
10 Ike Nwamu G 6-5 205 So Greensboro, N.C.
12 John Mosser G 6-4 210 Fr Cary, N.C.
14 T.J. Hallice F 6-9 205 Jr Weddington, N.C.
15 Anthony White Jr. G 6-2 170 Sr Indianapolis
20 Jakob Gollon F 6-6 200 Sr Stevens Point Wis. .
21 Langston Hall G 6-4 180 Sr Atlanta
22 Darious Moten F 6-6 195 Jr Bowdon, Ga.
32 James Bento F 6-6 195 Fr Houston
34 Jibri Bryan G 6-3 180 So Savannah, Ga.
45 Monty Brown C 6-11 250 Sr Liberty Mounds Okla. .
52 Daniel Coursey F 6-10 220 Sr Savannah, Ga.



Duke vs. Mercer

NCAA Tournament Second Round

Raleigh, N.C. • PNC Arena (19,772)

March 21, 2014 • 12:15 p.m.

CBS • Blue Devil IMG Sports Network • Westwood One


The Opening Tip

• Duke received the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region and will open its 19th consecutive NCAA Tournament with a second-round matchup against 14th-seeded Mercer Friday at 12:15 p.m. at PNC Arena.

• In NCAA Tournament play, Duke is 99-33 all-time with four national championships, 15 Final Four appearances and 10 NCAA Championship game appearances.

• Head coach Mike Krzyzewski is 82-25 (.766) in the NCAA Tournament and is the winningest coach in NCAA Tournament history. Duke leads all Division I programs with a .750 winning percentage in the NCAA Tournament.

• Duke is ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press poll and No. 6 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. The Blue Devils are 76-17 all-time when playing as the No. 8 team in the AP poll.

• The Blue Devils are 2-0 when playing NCAA Tournament games in PNC Arena.


The Last Time Out

• Jabari Parker scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, but top-seeded Virginia pulled away late to defeat third-seeded Duke, 72-63, in the ACC Championship game Sunday at Greensboro Coliseum.

•  Virginia attempted 38 free throws while Duke attempted just 11. The -27 margin was the largest against Duke in the Coach K era, topping the 14-40 (-26) margin Colorado had against the Blue Devils on Dec. 2, 1982.

• Rodney Hood and Amile Jefferson both scored in double figures with 13 and 11 points.

• Parker earned ACC All-Tournament first team honors, while Hood and Jefferson were named to the second team.

• Duke turned the ball over just six times, thanks in part to the play of Quinn Cook, who dished out six assists without a giveaway in 30 minutes of play. For the tournament, Cook posted an 11:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.


By The Numbers

• Duke is 7-5 against the 2014 NCAA Tournament field, including 4-4 against six teams that received either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Duke is 3-0 against teams in the Midwest Region with two wins over NC State and one over Michigan.

• Duke is the winningest program in NCAA Tournament history in terms of winning percentage, and head coach Mike Krzyzewski is the NCAA Division I leader in NCAA Tournament victories. Duke is 99-33 (.750) all-time in tournament play, while Coach K is 82-25 as Duke’s head coach.

• The Blue Devils are 32-5 all-time when playing NCAA Tournament games in the state of North Carolina. The 37 games played in North Carolina are the most by Duke in any state, leading Indiana (8-2) and New Jersey (10-0) with 10 games each.

• Duke has lost back-to-back games just once since the start of the 2009-10 season and is 26-1 following a loss during that span.

• When coming off an appearance in the ACC Championship game, Duke has advanced to at least the NCAA Sweet 16 in 17 consecutive seasons. Duke has advanced to the Elite Eight in 10 of those years, to the Final Four six times and to the national championship six times.

• Duke has played 10 games against teams finishing the season ranked in the top 25 of the RPI. The Blue Devils went 5-5 in those contests with wins over Virginia, Syracuse, North Carolina, Michigan and UCLA.

• Jabari Parker has scored a team-leading and Duke freshman-record 656 points this season and is just the sixth ACC freshman to reach the 600-point plateau. Parker ranks third on the ACC freshman list for total points and is 24 shy of tpassing Georgia Tech’s Stephon Marbury for second on the list.

• Rodney Hood is approaching the 600-point plateau in his first season at Duke, as well. With 556 points this season, Hood needs 44 more to join Parker as the 11th Duke duo under Coach K to both reach 600 points in the same season.

• Duke has recorded double-digit offensive rebounds in 16 of the past 17 games and is averaging 14.2 offensive rebounds per game during that span. Duke is averaging 16.6 second-chance points per game during that stretch, compared to 9.7 points per game in 17 games prior.

• Jabari Parker has scored in double figures in 17 straight games and 32 times overall this season, breaking the Duke freshman record for double-figure scoring games held by Gene Banks (1978) and Luol Deng (2004).