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Next Up - Mercer

Don't underestimate this team. Like Belmont, VCU and Lehigh, Mercer is keenly dangerous.

Jabari Parker says he's ready to take it up a notch.
Jabari Parker says he's ready to take it up a notch.

Duke opens tournament play with Mercer, a bit of an unknown to many fans, but an opponent, like you had better take seriously.

Mercer nearly took Texas in the season opener and did beat Seton Hall in double overtime. The Bears also took Valpo to triple OT and won.

This is also a really experienced team: Mercer has seven seniors and two juniors. And coach Bob Hoffman goes deep into his bench - he has a primary rotation of six players, but six other guys get at least nine minutes a game.

Daniel Coursey is a 6-10 center who averages 9.9 ppg and 6.6 rpg. T.J. Hallice is 6-9, athletic, and a native of Weddington. Monty Brown is 6-11 and 250.

But the guy who gets everyone's attention is guard Langston Hall. Another senior (Hallice is actually a junior but the other two big men are seniors), Hall, a 6-4 Atlanta native, is averaging 14.7 ppg and 5.6 apg.

Coach K said this about Hall: "Hall would be an outstanding guard in this league. I think any team in our league would like to have Hall. He’s the player of the year in their conference."

Jake Gollon says this about his coach's system: "We do have a lot of experience, and I think for us the thing that works best (is) that Coach Hoffman's system is really complex. It requires guys that have a high basketball IQ. Definitely, the difference between when he first got here as a coach and now after these four years that we've all spent together is that we've kind of mastered that system."

Duke counters with superior but less experienced talent. Jabari Parker, should he choose to come out this year, is going to be a very high pick. Rodney Hood is a lottery pick. Amile Jefferson, though slender, is a guy who can take over at times, as he did against Virginia for part of that game.

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Since the ACC Tournament, Parker has talked a lot about upping his game, about being more assertive.

There's not really anyone in college quite like him. He can rebound, obviously score from anywhere, and he is really smart about where to send the ball if he's got more than one defender.

Needless to say, Mercer plans to focus on him. The Macon paper, which covers Mercer closely, is all but promising a Mercer victory, and part of that will be shutting down Parker.

Thing is, like Yoda said when Obi-Wan Kenobe said "that boy is our last hope," there is another.

If you double team Parker, you certainly can't double team Hood, and you will have to pay less attention to the elegant game of Jefferson.

Jefferson is at a size disadvantage here - nothing new about that - but he's proven that he can compete against bigger guys.

What Duke needs against a team like Mercer is what Duke has needed all year: solid defense, solid guard play, and to stay out of foul trouble. And, of course, to have composure at the end.

With Mercer's backcourt, it's a chance for Rasheed Sulaimon, Tyler Thornton, Quinn Cook, Andre Dawkins and Matt Jones to make a statement. Sulaimon and Thornton can dictate the terms of the engagement if they come prepared to do so.

But as Parker realizes, this tournament is going to kick things up a rather significant notch. He's a highly unusual player, a truly gifted kid who is about as far from being full of himself as it is possible to be, given the attention that he gets.

Now it's time to embrace what makes him different. Parker is obviously talented, but a lot of his talent is between his ears. What sets him apart is not just his physical gifts but his grasp of the game.

The comparisons to Grant Hill were never ideal, but in one way they are nearly twinned: Hill was completely willing to defer to the older players when he got to Duke. He had to be told it was okay for him to be great, that everyone wanted him to be great.

It's possible that Parker could spend his entire career as a quiet, reserved guy. Not everyone is meant for the center ring.

But if he does decide to be (positively) selfish, to wed his ability and will, then he's going to be a major headache for anyone this side of the Heat.