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2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: (3) Duke vs. (14) Mercer

2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: (3) Duke vs. (14) Mercer

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Duke Blue Devils 26-8, 13-5

The Blue Devils of the ACC are making 18th straight tournament appearance and 38th overall in program history. They’re in search of their fifth national championship and they certainly have the firepower offensively to obtain it. Whether they have what it takes defensively is another story. The Blue Devils score nearly 80 a night, with future lottery picks Jabari Parker (19.2 ppg) and Rodney Hood (16.5 pgg) being among the most difficult covers in the country. Quinn Cook is the team’s top facilitator, dishing out 4.5 assists a night. Rasheed Sulaimon has endured a sophomore slump, but is still a capable scoring threat in his own right, as is Andre Dawkins, who is back after a year away from the team. This is not one of Coach K’s best defensive teams, as they give up 67 a night on 45 percent shooting from the field. They defend the three well, but sorely lack the presence of a solid interior defender, which they lost in Mason Plumlee to graduation and the NBA Draft. They went 6-4 against the RPI top 50, unsurprisingly losing to Kansas, Arizona, Syracuse and North Carolina – all teams with quality big men. To their credit, though, they avenged the losses to Syracuse and UNC when they rematched. With the ability to outscore any team in the tournament and one of the top duos in Parker and Hood, all the Blue Devils have to do is be serviceable defensively in order to go on a deep run.

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Mercer Bears 26-8 (14-4)

For the first time since 1985 and just the third time in school history, the Bears are dancing after winning both the Atlantic Sun regular season and conference tournament championships. They finished out the year on a four-game winning streak, but it did not come easy as they had to hold off USC Upstate in double overtime and last year’s tournament darlings Florida Gulf Coast to help secure a ticket in their final two games. Their top 25 offensive attack is led by senior guard Langston Hall, who is averaging 14.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists a game, but six different Bears average between 5-9 points a game, so they’re far from a one-man show. They’re at their best when they’re on from long range; they made 277 on the year, good for 11th in the country. The Bears gave up 66 points on average while playing the 231st strongest schedule. They went 1-3 against the RPI top 100, with their top win coming against Ole Miss, while they came just shy of upsetting Texas back in early November. With an upperclassmen-heavy rotation, the Bears are as well equipped to make some noise as they can be. However, they’re going to have to be on fire offensively, and they’ll need a strong effort from Daniel Coursey in the interior as well.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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