THE CONTENTS: No. 2 Duke takes on No. 15 Binghamton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament tonight at Greensboro Coliseum. Tip-off is scheduled for 9:40 p.m. You can see the game on CBS with Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg and hear it on 620 AM.
THE EXPOSITION: The Blue Devils enter the Tournament on a high after winning the ACC Tournament for the first time in three seasons. Duke has struggled as a No. 2 seed the last two times it's been in that position, beating Murray State by three in 1997 and Belmont by one a year ago.
The Bearcats are in their first NCAA Tournament ever, having won the America East title. Binghamton, in just its eighth year as a Division I program, enters the Tournament on an 11-game winning streak.
Duke and Binghamton have never met.
THE PROTAGONISTS: The Blue Devils played some of their best basketball of the season in Atlanta, especially in Sunday's final against Florida State. There's a tendency to get too excited about the team's play--it did sneak by BC and Maryland, two thoroughly mediocre teams--but Duke played the kind of defense it did early in the season and got one of its best offensive performances of the year in the finale.
Jon Scheyer isn't struggling anymore, Kyle Singler doesn't look tired and Gerald Henderson still hit some big shots in the Georgia Dome. One thing you don't want to see: Duke settling for threes early on. It hit a bunch against the Seminoles, but the team is playing in the Greensboro Coliseum for the first time this season, and probably won't shoot the kind of percentage it did Sunday. The Blue Devils should use their athleticism early--I'm lookin' at you, Gerald Henderson (who's been settling for a lot of midrange jumpers in the first halves of games lately)--to blitz Binghamton and demoralize the Bearcats early.
THE ANTAGONISTS: By now, you should know a little bit about D.J. Rivera--Binghamton's do-everything leading scorer. Emanuel "Tiki" Mayben, Malik Alvin and Reggie Fuller complement Rivera.
The reason I'm more confident in a Blue Devils' win this year than last year (when, obviously, I didn't think Duke would lose to Belmont, but I could envision a scenario where it would be challenged, if not to the extent it was): Binghamton is a team with tremendous athleticism, for the America East Conference. Unlike Belmont, the Bearcats aren't a team that shoots lights out and runs crisp backdoor plays. So when you defend that athleticism with guys like Gerald Henderson, Elliot Williams and Lance Thomas, it's less effective.
THE CONFLICT: Can Duke win a game comfortably in the Tournament for the first time since...?
DUKE'S FIRST-ROUND HISTORY RECENTLY IS...: Not good. You know about the close call against Belmont and the loss to VCU. But even the year before that, the Blue Devils didn't exactly cruise past No. 16 Southern (70-54 win). Or in 2005 against No. 16 Delaware State (57-46 win). In 2003, a close 67-57 win over No. 14 Colorado State.
BINGHAMTON'S FAMOUS ALUMNI INCLUDE...: Tony Kornheiser!
REAL ORIGINAL. WHO ELSE?: Karl Ravech!
IS BINGHAMTON AN ESPN PIPELINE?: ESPN and SAG: Billy Baldwin and Paul Reiser also graduated from the SUNY school. And don't forget critic Camille Paglia.
WHO OR WHAT IS SUNY?: It stands for State University of New York. Buffalo, Albany and Stony Brook are the other big SUNY schools.
WHAT THE LOCAL MEDIA ARE SAYING: From The Chronicle's Scott Rich:
Despite the expected comparisons to past disappointments, though, this season Duke enters the tournament in a nearly opposite state. Last year, the Blue Devils were conspicuously tired as the season concluded and entered the Tournament after being upset 78-74 in the semifinal of the ACC Tournament by Clemson.
ISN'T THAT PAPER JUST A LITTLE BIASED?: From sports editor Cyril Cheriyan of the Binghamton Pipe Dream:
I think the Bearcats can muster the win. They are on a hot streak right now—third-longest in the nation. They have been through the worst of situations, so they are capable of keeping up with a major team. I have Binghamton defeating Duke on my bracket. I see the Bearcats making a similar play to the AE conference semis against New Hampshire. My dream win right here: Binghamton trails by one with 15 seconds in regulation and the Blue Devils in possession. Rivera makes the steal and dunks to win the game 71-70. Hopefully this will become a reality.
WHY IS THE BINGHAMTON PAPER CALLED THE PIPE DREAM?: Because that's the chance they have to win tonight! Boo-yah.
SERIOUSLY: Oh, I don't know.
THE DENOUEMENT: It wouldn't surprise me if the Blue Devils came out nervous--they've got a lot of pressure on them in this game. Like I said earlier, however, I think Duke's athleticism is too much for Binghamton, which isn't used to playing teams more athletic than it. The 'Cats can keep it close for a half, but the Blue Devils will pull away in the second half.
THE VERDICT: Duke, 83-66.
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