Game Time: 7:20 PM EST, Friday, March 17th
Location: Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, South Carolina
Troy Trojans (22-14 overall, 10-8 Sun Belt Conference)
Troy is in the Dance for just the second time in school history after head coach Phil Cunningham orchestrated a historical turnaround. The Trojans had won just 30 games in Cunningham’s first three seasons, including a nine win season last year.
This year, Troy was able to play its way into the middle of the Sun Belt pack and earned a six seed in the conference tournament. Despite having to play four games in five days and playing a higher seed team in each of the last three games, Troy became the unlikely conference champions.
The offensive production has been above average relative to the rest of the country, scoring 110 points per 100 possessions (74th among all teams, Kenpom). This is a major step up from last season’s 97.2 points per 100 possessions (290th).
A key factor in the boost on offense has been the development of sophomore forward Jordan Varnado. Varnado averaged 13.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game as a freshman.
The Tennessee native did not get the sophomore slump memo, averaging 16.5 points per game this year while playing roughly the same amount of minutes as last season. Varnado is shooting 53 percent from the field and 38 percent from behind the three point line, both are improvements over last year.
Complimenting Varnado are guards Wesley Person and Jeremy Hollimon. Person averages 14.8 points per game as the team’s top three point option and free throw shooter. Holliman adds a slashing element to the Trojan backcourt, shooting 52 percent inside the arc.
Defensively, the Trojans were porous in the regular season. Troy allowed 107.3 points per 100 possessions (226th) and 71.7 points per game (166th).
Troy buckled down in the conference tournament though, allowing just 62.5 points per game against four teams that collectively averaged 74.4 against Troy in the regular season.
Duke Blue Devils (27-8 overall, 11-8 ACC)
The blue-blooded Blue Devils roll into the dance on fire. After limping into the ACC tournament coming off three losses in four games, Duke blazed through the tournament with four wins (three over ranked opponents) and a conference title.
Luke Kennard leads a Duke offense that ranks seventh in offensive efficiency with 121 points per 100 possessions. Kennard himself has scorched nets to the tune of 20.1 points per game on 50 percent shooting, 44 percent from three point land.
Forward Jayson Tatum has been the glue for Duke this year, averaging 16.9 points 7.3 rebounds 2.2 assists a block and a steal per game this season. He truly came alive in the conference tournament, scoring 22 points per game across four games on 55 percent shooting.
An under-the-radar player to watch out for, one you have undoubtedly never heard of, is junior guard Grayson Allen. Allen has quietly produced 14.1 points per game this season while taking a backseat to his teammates.
On defense Duke is allowing just 96 points per 100 possessions, a solid number in comparison with the rest of the country (39th) but middling in the ACC (7th). The Blue Devils struggled in road conference games, allowing 76.7 points per game compared to giving up 72.1 at home.
The conference record reflected this as the team went 3-6 on the road and 8-1 at home. This is not necessarily good news for Troy, though. Duke is 8-1 at neutral site locations and playing in Greenville (three and a half hour trip from Durham) isn’t going to feel very neutral for Duke.
Duke has the advantage when it comes to- well, everything. Although, the Blue Devils are susceptible to breaking down on defense and focusing most of its energy on offense. Troy, having multiple options on offense, can take advantage and push Duke a little more than the Blue Devils would like.
Duke 90, Troy 78