X Factor: Duke men's basketball vs. Troy
The second-seeded Blue Devils are heavily favored in their NCAA tournament opener against No. 15 seed Troy, but Duke has learned not to take any opponents lightly in March after falling victim to two shocking first-round upsets in the last five years. The Blue Zone takes a look at a player from each team who could be the difference-maker in the game:
Duke: Guard Matt Jones
Jones made the biggest shot of Duke's season with a triple from the wing in the final minute of the ACC championship last Saturday against Notre Dame, but the senior co-captain has made much more of an impact on the defensive end throughout his career. Usually matched up against opponents' top scoring threats, Jones' next assignment will likely be Troy's Jordon Varnado, who averages 16.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
As a 6-foot-6 post player who does most of his scoring around the basket and crashes the glass effectively, Varnado could be just the type of player Jones matches up well with, like Michigan State's Miles Bridges or Clemson's Jaron Blossomgame earlier this year. If Jones can shut Varnado down, the Blue Devils will have size advantages at almost every other position on the court and should be able to contain the Trojans. A 3-pointer or two from Jones wouldn't hurt either, of course, as the senior has been cold all year but could be needed to space the floor offensively later in the tournament.
Troy: Guard Wesley Person
The son of former NBA veteran Wesley Person Sr., Person is the Trojans' top 3-point shooter and could keep them in the game if he gets hot. The 6-foot-3 junior is in the top 40 in the nation in 3-pointers made with 92 and shoots 40.0 percent from deep. Troy is not an exceptional 3-point shooting team at 36.2 percent, but most big NCAA tournament upsets involve the underdog staying in the game from beyond the arc, and Duke will have to keep a close eye on Person.
Person exploded for 39 points on 10-of-15 shooting from deep Jan. 14 against UT Arlington and is averaging 21.8 points per game in his last four contests to raise his season average to 14.8. If he has a game like C.J. McCollum did for Lehigh with 30 points five years ago, the Trojans will have a chance to be this year's biggest bracket-busters.