Plenty of people are trying to bill this game as the Zion Williamson vs. Tacko Fall show. However, this game may come down to how well the perimeter players perform on this stage. Yes, Fall and Williamson are the biggest attractions for a multitude of reasons. Yet, there will be talent littered all over the court when the two teams tip-off on Sunday evening.
9 UCF Golden Knights (24-8) vs. 1 Duke Blue Devils (30-5)
When: Sunday March 24, 5:15 p.m. EDT
Where: Columbia, SC – Colonial Life Arena
Betting Line: Duke -13 – o/u 143.5
The overall No. 1 seed Duke Blue Devils (30-5) come into the round of 32 having won four straight games. They have won 6 of their last 7 games and find themselves 40 minutes away from consecutive Sweet 16 appearances. However, this is a whole new experience with a different cast of characters.
R.J. Barrett leads the Blue Devils with 23 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. Barrett’s versatility allows him to play the 1,2 or 3 position on a regular basis. However, the Blue Devils could go small, placing Barrett at the power forward slot. He has great ability to get into the lane with an assortment of floaters. Sometimes Barrett shoots well from 3-point range. Yet, he is only connecting on 30.8 percent of his 3-point attempts. Keep in mind, he is second on the team with 6.3 3-point attempts per game, only behind fellow freshman Cam Reddish. Barrett produced a monster double-double with 26 points and 14 rebounds in round one.
Reddish is third on the team with 13.6 points per game. For the most part, Reddish has struggled finding his niche on a consistent basis. He is launching 7.6 3-pointers per game. Reddish has tried to attack the paint in recent games, but it has resulted in plenty of offensive fouls. With Fall in the middle of the paint, it will be interesting to see if Reddish learns to pull up from 15 feet and become a knock down shooter. Furthemore, we must see what happens if Duke is not connecting on 3-point shots at all. Reddish is only connecting on 32.7 percent of his 3-point attempts.
Meanwhile, point guard Tre Jones is the worst 3-point shooter of the bunch. He is all the way down at 24 percent from 3-point range. Jones has a great mid-range jump shot, but it has hardly been used this season. He scores 9.1 points per game while leading the team with 5.3 assists per game.
In addition to Fall, the No. 9 UCF Knights have plenty of size to go around in the paint. Collin Smith stands 6’11. That has to be the tallest starting front court in college basketball. Smith will likely get the first call to guard Williamson all over the court. Reserve Chad Brown will also get opportunities to play stellar defense. Yet and still, we must keep an eye on the Knights’ guard rotation.
B.J. Taylor leads the team with 16 points per game. He’s joined by Terrell Allen who is able to run the show efficiently. However, both guards are roughly the same size. Meaning, one is going to have to guard Barrett or Reddish. Aubrey Dawkins will get the other assignment from all accounts. Dawkins is second on the team at 15.1 points per game. He is 1 of 3 players securing 5.1 rebounds per game.
If Duke goes small, they will bring in Jordan Goldwire to apply more pressure defense than usual. Goldwire was the catalyst against North Carolina in the ACC championship game. He played 21 minutes in the first-round matchup the North Dakota State Bison. He even made a 3-point shot when the Blue Devils needed a lift. That’s miraculous because Goldwire is shooting ,091 from 3-point range this season.
However, if the Blue Devils do go small and take out Javin DeLaurier or Marques Bolden, will that affect Fall’s minutes? Fall plays 25 minutes per game and produces 11 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. Fall had 13 points, 18 rebounds and 5 blocks in the first-round win over the VCU Rams.
Although Williamson only had three rebounds in the first game, his imprint was all over the win. He scored 25 points along with one memorable steal. While most people are concerned over whether Zion catches a dunk on Fall, the outcome may rely on Williamson’s ability to hit shots in the mid-range.
UCF Knights vs. Duke Blue Devils Pick
The Blue Devils have been waiting for this moment. They have the best team and should figure out a way to maneuver around the elite Knights’ defense. However, they can’t rely on the 3-point shot if they aren’t falling. Remember, this is a one-and-done tournament and there isn’t enough time for a “my bad.”
Duke 75 – UCF 70