(2) Duke vs. (15) Albany
(2) Duke Blue Devils
The Blue Devils (27-5, 14-4) are making their 37th appearance in the NCAA Tournament and aiming for nothing short of a national championship. Senior big man Mason Plumlee has really come into his own during his final year of eligibility, putting up a double-double on average with 17 points and 10 rebounds a night, as well as two assists and one and a half blocks. He’s surrounded by explosive guards who are quality shooters in Seth Curry, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon. Senior center Ryan Kelly, who missed six weeks of regular season action with an injury, rounds out the starting lineup perfectly with his experience and ability to space the floor. As a team, the Blue Devils make nearly eight threes a night at a 41 percent clip. The five of them are relied very heavily on, but the reserves will undoubtedly have to be ready to contribute when needed if the Blue Devils are going to win it all. This is not Coach K’s best team defensively, but they do make life really tough for the opposition out on the perimeter. Beating the Blue Devils requires serious defensive containment on the perimeter and size up front.
(15) Albany Great Danes
After the end of the regular season in the America East Conference the Great Danes (24-10, 9-7) were ranked fourth. However, they won their final three games of the season by a combined seven points to earn their third trip to the NCAA Tournament in school history. The Great Danes have a deep rotation, with 10 guys averaging 10 minutes or more. Seniors Mike Black and Jacob Iati are their leaders, though, combining to average 27 points a game. The Great Danes will have trouble keeping up offensively when they are not on top of their game. They went up against one RPI top 50 opponent all year long, Ohio State, and fell to them 82-60 on the road in the first month of the season. They are not the kind of team that will block a lot of shots or create a lot of steals. On the season they actually averaged more turnovers than they forced while playing a strength of schedule ranked just inside of the top 300. The Great Danes score 64 on average while making six threes a contest at a respectable 36 percent clip. The odds are really stacked against the Great Danes to last in the tournament, but just being a part of the field in itself is a great accomplishment for this program.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: Duke. The Blue Devils are just too talented for the Great Danes to compete with.