5 things to know before No. 4-seed Duke men's basketball travels to Dallas for second weekend of NCAA tournament

Kyle Filipowski holds the ball up during Duke's win against James Madison.
Kyle Filipowski holds the ball up during Duke's win against James Madison.

The Blue Devils are still dancing, as they will take on No. 1-seed Houston in the South Region Sweet 16 in Dallas. Here are five things to know about the matchup and Duke’s performance in the tournament thus far: 

McCain madness

Despite not having any March Madness experience, freshman guard Jared McCain has not shied away from the moment. He has a combined 45 points in the first two rounds and demonstrated his ability to score in bunches against two drastically different styles of opponent. Against James Madison, he broke Duke’s record for 3-pointers made in an NCAA tournament game with eight — passing Blue Devil legend Quinn Cook. 

With a team like Houston that plays extremely tough defense, the 3-point shot is a valuable weapon to stretch the floor. McCain’s range is remarkable, and when he is on, even the best defenders have trouble stopping the 6-foot-3 guard. 

In addition to his scoring prowess, perhaps his most valuable addition to the team will be his rebounding ability. The Cougars are 11th-best offensive rebounding team in the country, especially because their guards crash the boards. So McCain — averaging 5.5 rebounds per game this tournament — will need to help box out and not let Houston get key second-chance opportunities. 

The mighty Cougars 

The No. 1 seed in the South is certainly a force to be reckoned with, but the Cougars have looked vulnerable as of late. After getting thumped by Iowa State in the Big 12 Championship, Houston escaped a near-collapse against Texas A&M in the Round of 32 in which all but one starter fouled out. 

The Cougars are led by a triple-headed monster in the backcourt, with L.J. Cryer, Jamal Shead and Emanuel Sharp. Cryer is the best scorer of the bunch, and if he gets hot, it could be a long day for the Blue Devils. Sharp — who is aptly named — is a true sniper from deep, connecting on 7-of-14 triples against the Aggies. Finally, Shead is the leader of the group, a First Team All-American and a true lockdown defender who can make life miserable for Duke’s guards. However, he is not a consistent scorer and could be a liability on offense depending on his shooting. 

Head coach Kelvin Sampson is definitely going to bring a tough bunch to Dallas, and two big keys for the Blue Devils will be the aforementioned rebounding importance and the turnover battle. Houston is relatively undersized, so look for sophomore center Kyle Filipowski to make a big impact. 

Conference pride

Duke is one of four ACC teams in the Sweet 16, despite the conference only receiving five bids in the tournament. Fellow Tobacco Road rivals N.C. State and North Carolina are both in, with the 11th-seeded Wolfpack facing No. 2-seed Marquette in the other South Region matchup. N.C. State has continued its magical run from the ACC tournament to win seven straight contests, while center DJ Burns Jr. has 40 total tournament points. 

In the West, the top-seeded Tar Heels are going up against No. 4-seed Alabama in Los Angeles. The final team in is No. 6-seed Clemson, the only team in the tournament to have won two games as underdogs. The Tigers have played great defense against No. 11-seed New Mexico and No. 3-seed Baylor in wins. Senior guard Chase Hunter has emerged to make this a dangerous group, but they face a tough task in No. 2-seed Arizona.

In any case, the ACC has four opportunities to book a spot in the Elite Eight — a perhaps surprising fact given the down attitude many placed on the conference in the regular season.

Historic opportunity

The Blue Devils and Cougars will face off for the first time ever Friday evening, and there is evidently a lot at stake. Duke is currently a four-point underdog, and has not been this high of an underdog in a tournament game since 1994, where it lost to Arkansas in the NCAA title game. In addition, the Blue Devils have not beaten a higher seed since the same year, when No. 2 -seed Duke defeated No. 1-seed Purdue in the Elite Eight. 

Obviously part of this has to do with seeding, as the Blue Devils have been a top seed a remarkable 12 times since 1996. However, Duke must find a way to triumph given the historical circumstances, upsetting both their own trend and one of the tournament favorites.

Banged-up Blue Devils

Duke is coming into the Sweet 16 after surviving the first two rounds, but the team is not fully healthy. Before the Round of 64, head coach Jon Scheyer announced that freshman guard Caleb Foster would be out for the season with an ankle injury after missing multiple weeks following Duke’s loss to Wake Forest. On top of this, in the blowout win against James Madison, multiple guards were injured: Jeremy Roach injured his left pinky and Jaylen Blakes took a hard fall to his head. Both looked to be okay, but the Blue Devils are already low on depth and can’t afford to lose more players in this second week of the NCAA tournament, especially as they field a limited rotation and stare down a Houston team which plays incredibly physical.

Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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