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A Look At Duke's Opening NCAA Opponent, UNC-Wilmington

We haven't followed them much, but this is a really interesting opponent in many ways.

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The North Carolina ACC teams tend to lord it over the other D-1 teams in the state and to an extent it's understandable.

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Duke has five national championships, as does UNC (the Tar Heels tend to drag out the Helms Foundation Banner when Duke catches up). NC State has two as well.

To an extent Davidson escapes the shadow periodically as has Charlotte, which has a Final Four to its credit.

For the most part though, the ACC teams rule the roost in this state.

Not everyone is crazy about it of course. Dennis Smith and Brandon Ingram didn't seriously consider any in-state schools that weren't in the ACC.

So when schools like Davidson, Charlotte or, say, Wilmington puts together a good team, it's not done the same way Duke, UNC, State or Wake Forest does it. Those teams just dominate the state.

Davidson got a break when it hired Bob McKillop, a gifted coach who is very satisfied to be at Davidson (it got an even bigger break when the rest of the world missed on Stephen Curry).

Wilmington may have gotten a nice break when it hired Kevin Keatts.

Keatts, a former Louisville assistant under Rick Pitino, has been with the Seahawks for two years and he's done a great job to date.

His first year he finished 18-14 and was the CAA Coach of the Year; this year Wilmington is 25-7 and in the NCAA tournament.

He replaced Buzz Peterson, the former UNC guard who was 42-82 at Wilmington.

The Louisville tie immediately made us wonder about the current scandal in Pitino's program. As it turns out, he was there from 2011-2014, which pretty much covers the time sex parties were allegedly scheduled for Louisville recruits.

We have never heard his name mentioned in the investigation.

As we said, Keatts cannot build the same way Duke or UNC can. He inherited players from Peterson of course, but he also has his own guys now - 10 of the 14 on the roster are his.

But Denzel Ingram came over from Charlotte, where he played a lot and was reasonably successful as a freshman.

And Chris Flemming, a Cary native, started at Barton College.

Fifth-year senior Craig Ponder rarely played for Peterson and in one season saw Wilmington lost 23 games.

Ponder is now playing 26.8 mpg and averaging 111.1 ppg. Ingram is averaging 12.5 ppg, up from 8.1 ppg. And Flemmings is pulling 31.7 mpg and averaging 16.1 ppg. He's also averaging 5.9 rpg.

Like his Louisville mentor, Keatts uses a lot of players nine guys get double digit minutes.

Perhaps unlike Pitino though, a big part of Keatts' approach is simply fun and he got his players to buy in and, apparently, to take ownership.

This year, Wilmington had a school-record 11 game win streak.

The Seahawks have victories over Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan and East Tennessee State. That may not sound impressive but those are all pretty solid basketball schools and ETSU in particular has a number of high-level transfers you've heard of at some point - try Deuce Bello (Baylor/Missouri), Ge'Lawn Guyn (Cincinnati) or Peter Jerkin and Hanner Mosquera-Perea, a native of Colombia who was part of a sad bit of recruiting pressure when one assistant threatened to have him kicked out of the country.

Both of the latter two guys played at Indiana.

So high-end talent for ETSU, right?

Wilmington won, 94-73.

Wilmington also pushed Georgetown pretty hard, losing by just five - at Georgetown.

We'll be reading more about Wilmington during the week. From here, though, we can definitely say we're impressed.