Men of Troy face huge test in Duke

Wesley Kirchharr

Staff Writer

For the first time in 14 years, the Troy men’s basketball team will be taking part in one of the most awaited spectacles in all of sports, the NCAA tournament.

March Madness, as it is often referred to, drew the Trojans into the field of 64 after they captured the school’s first-ever Sun Belt title that sent Troy dancing.

The 15-seed Trojans need one more win to complete the Cinderella run and are set for an East region matchup against one of college basketball’s historic powerhouses, the Duke Blue Devils, with the game to be played in Greenville, South Carolina.

“You think of college basketball, Duke is one of the teams you think about,” said Head Coach Phil Cunningham. “These guys love playing on the big stage, and it doesn’t get any bigger than what they’re going to play in front of Friday night.

“The NCAA tournament is one of the best experiences a student-athlete could ever go through and they’re going to have fun.”

The two-seed Blue Devils (27-8, 11-7 ACC) compete in arguably the best conference in college hoops, the Atlantic Coastal Conference. Known for breeding national championship squads, the ACC has poised Duke as a top contender for the crown once again.

The Trojans (22-14, 10-8 Sun Belt) fall short on paper to the ACC champs, but look to make up for it in hustle and aggressive play. The BPI (Basketball Power Index) has tagged the Trojans at 127th overall, while the Blue Devils sit at sixth.

Bracket makers and analysts alike have overlooked Troy as an upset factor based on play at the defensive end. Troy has allowed an average of 71.7 points per game to opposing squads.

The Trojans potent offense can run up the score in a hurry, reflected by its 78.4 points per game, pacing Duke’s 80.7 points per matchup.

Troy’s performance at the defensive end will be the deciding factor against a high-powered offense headed up by Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The Trojans certainly have their work cut out for them as No. 2 seeds are 120-8 all-time against No. 15 seeds. Middle Tennessee pulled a shocker against Michigan State just last year to pick up the first win by a 15-seed since 2013.

In 2014, third-seeded Duke was stunned by 14-seed Mercer in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The 78-71 loss busted brackets across the nation and reminded everyone that no one is safe come March.

Troy was not a favorite to win the conference and thrived on that adversity. The Trojans picked off heavy favorites time and time again in the Sun Belt tournament and rolled through the bracket, winning 10 of their last 12 and a surprise finish from a No. 6 seed to boot.

The nation will watch the Blue Devils be tested by a hard-nosed Trojan squad who would love nothing more but to send Duke back home. Tipoff in Bon Secours Wellness Arena is set for 6:20 p.m. and fans can watch the game on TBS.

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