#2 Duke vs. #15 Troy
#2 Duke (27-8, 11-7)
Player to watch: Jayson Tatum
Although Luke Kennard won ACC Tournament MVP, Jayson Tatum might be the toughest player to defend against for opposing teams. Tatum averages 16.9 PPG and 7.3 RPG, and can burn a team in a variety of ways. An excellent driver to the hoop and a good three point shooter, his best weapon is his deadly mid-range jump shot. He averaged 22 PPG in the ACC tournament while sitting on the bench a combined 7 minutes of the tournament. As long as he doesn’t run out of gas, he’s the key to a deep run for Duke.
X-factor: Fatigue and Depth
It took a while, but it seems like Duke has finally settled on a solid seven man rotation, with center Marques Bolden getting spot minutes. During the ACC tournament, both Tatum and Kennard played over 35 minutes each game. A reason Duke was involved in so many close games this year is they would seem to let teams back into games due to fatigue. If Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski can keep his players fresh, they will do well.
# 15 Troy (22-14, 10-8)
Player to watch: Jordon Varnado
Jordon Varnado does a bit of everything for the Trojans. A 6’6 forward, he averages 16.5 PPG on 39.7% shooting from three. He also averages 6.5 RPG and 1.4 BPG, serving as the best post defender for Troy. The younger brother of former Ole Miss stud Jarvis Varnudo (who is the all time leader in blocks in NCAA history), basketball runs in the blood for Varnado. His versatility allows him to guard any Duke player.
X-factor: Shot selection
Troy has the #74 offense according to KenPom, and their offensive numbers are all above average. A key will be inside the arc, where they make 51% of their shots. As long as they keep the pace at a steady pace, they can find shots in Duke’s less than great defense.
Key match-up: Jayson Tatum vs Jordon Varnudo
My two players to watch are my key match-up. If Tatum can minimize Varnudo’s scoring, Duke should not have much difficulty against the Trojans. If Varnudo can shut Tatum down or make him fatigue himself to score, Duke’s offense suffers, and they will have to rely on Kennard, Frank Jackson, and Grayson Allen to step up.
Key stat: 29.5
That is the defensive three point percentage against Duke, the 4th best in the nation. If Duke wants to not get upset, they will have to prevent a surprise hot night for Troy.
Prediction: Duke 80, Troy 65
I hate making predictions, because they make me nervous. But in spite of suffering from a small ACC tournament hangover, Duke has too many weapons for Troy to guard. Duke should win.