X-Factor: Reliable play from Proctor can push Duke men's basketball through first weekend of NCAA tournament

Tyrese Proctor drives with the ball in Duke's ACC tournament win against Miami.
Tyrese Proctor drives with the ball in Duke's ACC tournament win against Miami.

No. 5-seed Duke opens up March Madness play Thursday against No. 12-seed Oral Roberts, awaiting a potential Saturday date with either Tennessee and Louisiana. The Blue Zone looks at two potential difference-makers in the Blue Devils' opening weekend of the NCAA tournament:

Duke: Tyrese Proctor

Guard play, guard play, guard play. It’s no secret — March Madness is all about the guards. 

Luckily for the Blue Devils, junior captain Jeremy Roach and freshman Tyrese Proctor have proved a strength for this Duke team. When first-year head coach Jon Scheyer reorganized the two, moving Roach off the ball and handing Proctor the point guard role, the Blue Devils hit the ground running. With Max Abmas, the Summit League Player of the Year, on deck, Scheyer will need nearly 40 minutes of an elite Proctor performance. 

The 6-foot-5 freshman has been excellent on the defensive end all year, limiting Virginia’s Kihei Clark to just six points, North Carolina’s Caleb Love to 11 and Pittsburgh’s Jamarius Burton to 13 in three of Duke’s last four games. Proctor’s length and athleticism is evident on nearly every possession, making the ACC’s best guards fight tooth-and-nail for most looks on the offensive end. 

In the round of 64, this trend will need to continue against an efficient Oral Roberts offense that shoots 36.9% from three. Outside of Abmas, fellow guard Issac McBride is a threat, averaging 11.9 points per game on 41.1% 3-point shooting. If Duke is to advance, a likely date with Tennessee and another sharpshooting guard in Santiago Vescovi would be sure to provide another test for Proctor. 

Outside of his defensive prowess, Scheyer will be hoping that Proctor continues to display his offensive talent. Coming into March Madness averaging 9.3 points and 3.2 assists per game, Proctor isn’t Duke’s first option on the offensive end. Nevertheless, the Sydney native leads Duke in assists, and his catch-and-shoot improvements have been instrumental to the Blue Devils’ success, especially in the ACC tournament. 

It’s officially March, and if Duke wants to see the second weekend, Proctor must prove Thursday — and then Saturday — that he is ready for the big stage. 

Oral Roberts: Max Abmas

It’s hard to forget Abmas’ sophomore year upset performance against Ohio State, where his 29 points single-handedly took down the second-seeded Buckeyes in 2021. Two years later, Abmas is still wreaking havoc for Oral Roberts, now averaging an impressive 22.2 points and 4.4 rebounds a game, shooting 37.7% from three. 

While Abmas has stood out in the Summit League, he struggled against top teams this season, shooting 5-of-24 combined from the field against Saint Mary’s and Houston. 

Frankly, Duke’s talent will prove too much for Oral Roberts unless Abmas puts in a signature performance. It will be no easy task for the 6-foot senior, since two elite defensive guards in Roach and Proctor await. The beauty in the NCAA tournament, however, is the unpredictability, and with a couple of nice bounces, Oral Roberts has the roster to compete with the surging Blue Devils.

Abmas’ name was created in March. For the Golden Eagles to repeat history and pull off yet another upset, he must outplay Duke’s five-star backcourt. If he does, it could spell an early exit for the Blue Devils.


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