The Atlantic Sun has evolved into a wretched virus plaguing the immune system of top NCAA Tournament seeds. One year after Florida Gulf Coast dunked all over Georgetown and fast-forwarded basketball’s racial fusion by 20 years, Mercer made it difficult to discern which school was the mid-major in a win over the Midwest Region's third-seeded Duke Blue Devils.
The talent disparity between mid-majors and upper echelon conference teams has dissipated as more powerhouses shuffle one-and-dones or two-and-through players out on a regular basis. As a result, senior-laden mid-major lineups with more experience and better chemistry have begun tipping the scales back in the other direction. However, size remains the advantage for the powerhouse conferences while the three-point line has become an equalizer for perimeter oriented teams.
In the first finish of Saturday’s slate of contests, Mercer used their unique length inside with 6-10 Daniel Coursey and drove through the Duke perimeter defense to outscore the Blue Devils in the paint 26-10. The auspicious calls conspiracy theorists believe Duke receives from officials were non-existent as Mercer attempted twice as many free throws.
Meanwhile, Duke settled in underneath Mercer’s sagging 2-3 zone and settled for impulsive threes. However, they got a little excessive by getting drunk off the arc and took 37 treys while Mercer attempted 13.
One year ago, Florida Gulf-Coast was running wind sprints past Georgetown in transition and dunking on Hoya heads as an exclamation point. Basketball aficionados recognized that Mercer was the conference’s best team. Mercer’s victory wasn’t as emphatic as Dunk City, but they did show some more
The freshman Jabari Parker shot 4-of-14 from the field, but wasn’t alone in his anemic offensive performance. His offensive wingman Rodney Hood was just 2-of-10 from the field and scored six points while Parker was at least creative enough to get to the line seven times where he drained six of his attempts.
It’s highly unlikely that Parker returns for his sophomore season, but Duke will be fine in the short-term. With the nation’s top prep center heading to Durham next season and Marshall Plumlee getting more burn as a sophomore, in addition to point guard Tyus Jones’ arrival the Blue Devils will have the elite post presence and inside toughness they lacked this season on both sides of the floor.
While Coach K picks the crow’s feathers out from between his teeth for criticizing the Atlantic-10’s six bids over the weekend, Mercer epitomized the madness of the Big Dance.