Biggest Challenges Duke Faces in NCAA Tourney Matchup vs. Mercer
On Friday, Duke opens up the 2014 NCAA tournament against Mercer, the Atlantic Sun Conference regular season and conference tournament champions. The Atlantic Sun is the conference that gave us last year's NCAA tournament surprise: the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles.
Could the Bears go on a similar miracle run like FGCU did last year? We will find out today.
The Blue Devils definitely do not want to be the team that launches that type of history, though.
Lets look at five challenges that Duke faces as they get set to play the Mercer Bears.
Unless otherwise noted, stats and player information courtesy of ESPN.com
Being Mentally Prepared
No self-respecting Blue Devils fan needs to be reminded of the time when No. 15 Lehigh took down No. 2 Duke in the 2012 NCAA tourney. The sting of that loss should be enough for Mike Krzyzewski and his staff to work extra hard at getting their team mentally ready to play their second-round game against Mercer.
Taking anyone lightly in March Madness can come back to bite any team, no exceptions.
One of the great aspects of the NCAA tournament is that it gives teams that would never play the nation's top squads during the regular season a chance to square off with them in a "win or go home" setting.
Superior talent is not necessarily enough if that superior talent does not mentally prepare.
Mercer does not have a long history of NCAA tournament success. In fact, this is only their third March Madness appearance in history. The last time that the Bears were in the tourney (1985), Ronald Reagan was president.
Regardless, the Blue Devils will do well not to look past Mercer.
Defending Mercer's Balanced Attack
Sometimes, it is easier to defend a team when they have a single star player, because you can do what is necessary to take them out of the game and force that team to beat you with everyone else.
But, if a team has balanced scoring, like Mercer, you just have to go at them as a unit and stop everyone.
Mercer has only one player, Atlantic Sun Player of the Year Langston Hall, who averaged double-figures in scoring this year. Everyone else in the Bears rotation averages between 7.8 and 9.9 points per game, respectively.
Even if the Blue Devils target Hall, they will still need to be mindful of everyone else on the floor, as many players on the Bears roster possess the ability to put the ball in the basket.
Running Shooters off the Three-Point Line
One of the ways that Mercer will work to stay in this one is by hitting their shots from beyond the arc.
This season, the Bears hit 8.1 three-pointers per game (No. 27 in the nation) and shot 38.4 percent from distance (No. 35). No one player is thought of as the team's main outside threat, but almost everyone in Mercer's lineup can hit shots from downtown.
The Blue Devils will need to pay extra attention when some of Mercer's frontcourt players move outside, as they just might be getting ready to put up the next three-point attempt.
Dealing with Defensive Pressure on the Perimeter
Mercer is not only a good three-point shooting team, they also do an excellent job at defending against the three. This season, the Bears held their opponents to 29.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc, which ranked them No. 12 in the nation, per NCAA.com.
The Blue Devils like to shoot the three. As a result, they should be prepared to have a Mercer player right in their face every time that they get ready to put up a shot from downtown.
Playing Against an All-Senior Lineup
Even if this is the first NCAA tournament game for anyone who will be playing for Mercer today, the Bears bring a wealth of experience playing together into today's contest.
ESPN.com's preview of today's contest mentions:
Mercer is the only team in the country to start five seniors in every game, and with seven of them on the roster, ranks as the fourth-most experienced team in the country, according to statsheet.com.
On top of that, this is not a collection of transfer players; almost all of the Mercer starters have played their entire college careers for the Bears.
While they may have some initial March Madness jitters, this team's age and experience may help them rise to the occasion against the Blue Devils.
Since any game could be their last one together, the Bears would like to win and play at least one more after facing Duke.