UNC Wilmington is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006 when the Seahawks earned a nine seed under now Clemson head coach Brad Brownell. After searching eight years to rekindle the Brett Blizzard magic UNCW used to have under Brownell and Jerry Wainwright, the Seahawks finally found their guy in former Louisville assistant, Kevin Keatts.
Keatts has reenergized Trask Coliseum and has coached the Seahawks to a 43-21 mark in his two years on the Carolina coast. UNCW comes soaring into the NCAA Tournament winning 16 of their last 18 games while earning a 13 seed and a Tarheel state matchup against the Duke Blue Devils.
The two North Carolina schools will officially kickoff the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday with a 12:15 tip on CBS from Providence, Rhode Island. Can the Seahawks upset the Blue Devils? Sure. But it will be a tall task.
Like his former coaching mentor, Rick Pitino, Keatts like to put plenty of pressure on you. The blueprint worked in the CAA, but the Seahawks weren't all that battle tested in the out-of-conference slate as they only played one Top 100 school, Georgetown, and lost 87-82.
Keatts depends on a plethora of guards in Chris Flemmings, Denzel Ingram, Craig Ponder, C.J. Bryce, and Jordon Talley. All of the guards can score, help spread the floor and bring something unique to the table. Flemmings is the Seahawks leading scorer and rebounder with 16.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Talley (4.0 apg) and Ingram (3.4 apg) can both dish and score.
The fundamental question is can the Seahawks shoot well enough from the outside and have sharp enough ball movement to compete with the size and athleticism Duke will bring to the table? Marshall Plumlee should be poised for a double-double on Thursday afternoon and will own the paint if everything goes right for the Blue Devils. Brandon Ingram could also help to subdue the Seahawks if he hits the defensive glass hard. UNCW have the bodies to keep up with Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen, but Ingram and Plumlee will likely be tough for the Seahawks to handle.
Because of their size and athleticism, I'm taking the Blue Devils 78-67 in this one, but don't be surprised if UNCW does their best Mercer impression from a few years ago. Remember that the Seahawks were knocking on the door of some March magic last decade.