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Next Up - Cal State Fullerton In Duke’s 2022 NCAA Tournament Opener

Let’s go Duke!

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 12 ACC Tournament - Duke v Virginia Tech
 BROOKLYN, NY - MARCH 12: Duke Blue Devils center Mark Williams (15) shoots during the first half of ACC Tournament final college basketball game between the Duke Blue Devils and the Virginia Tech Hokies o h 12, 2022 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Duke opens NCAA play with Cal State-Fullerton Friday and it’s not a school that is on the East Coast radar a lot. So let’s start with some basics, starting with East Coast bias.

It is real, but there are reasons, with the primary one being that not a lot of West Coast games are on national TV and many that are come on after 10:00 pm. Those of us on the East Coast are well aware of the major powers - Gonzaga, UCLA, Arizona, maybe Oregon - but not the rest. It’s something people in the West gripe about but most people can’t watch until midnight or 1:00 am and you tend to mentally live where you are. Which is why people in the West pay a lot more attention to the West Coast scene and vice-versa. In the case of the Big West, most of the games nationally stream on ESPN+, usually late, so that’s another obstacle.

Cal State-Fullerton is in the Big West of course, along with several other California state system schools including Long Beach, where Jerry Tarkanian and Lute Olson once toiled. It’s also home to Cal State Northridge where former NC State coach Mark Gottfried just finished wrecking his third program, after Alabama and NC State.

The Titans are coached by Dedrique Taylor who has been there for eight years. He’s made the NCAA once previously and also the CIT twice. He had four straight losing seasons prior to this year but the school has been patient with him which is great. We’d like to see more of that.

Cal State-Fullerton - we’ll call them Fullerton from here on out for convenience - finished 21-10 and 11-4 in the Big West. The best teams they played are Wyoming, losing 79-66, and San Diego State, losing 66-56.

Wyoming was a 12 seed that lost to Indiana; San Diego State is an eight seed in the East. Both are credible teams but neither is great.

Santa Clara has a nice basketball tradition and beat Fullerton in the opener 84-77. Three games were canceled in early January due to Covid.

Fullerton’s best player is probably EJ Anosike, who is thick at 235 but only 6-7. He started off at Tennessee, left for Sacred Heart and is now a Titan. He’s putting up 16.5 ppg and grabbing 8.3 boards a night.

Vincent Lee mans the post. He’s 6-8 and 230 and lives in the lane. He may be small enough to maneuver around Mark Williams but he’s not likely too pull him away from the basket like, say, Virginia Tech’s Keve Aluma. We’ll see how that plays out.

Damari Millstead, Latrell Wrightsell, Tray Maddox, Tory San Antonio, Dante Maddox and Jalen Harris are part of a deep backcourt.

Milstead is a 6-2 senior who leads the team in assists (2.8) and steals (2.0).

Wrightsell and Dante Maddox are 6-2 sophomores. San Antonio is a 6-3 junior. Harris is a 6-1 sophomore.

None of them jump out statistically except for this: San Antonio is the team’s leading shot blocker - at 6-3.

But he’s just getting 0.4 per game. You’d think the bigger guys could manage that too.

The Titans have 225 steals in 31 games. We always tell you to check our math but that works out to 7.2 per game which is not bad. They had eight against San Diego State and five against Wyoming.

The Aztecs are a really good defensive team; they held Fullerton to 21-54 from the field and 22 of those were three point attempts. They made seven. That works out to 38.9 percent overall and 31.8 percent on threes. It’s not a lot to go on but gives you some idea of how they did against a pretty good team.

Fullerton is not particularly good at sharing the ball so keep that in mind.

The Titans are in the field after nipping Long Beach State 72-71 in the Big West tournament. Impressively, the Titans made a 14 point comeback to win.

Fullerton hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1978, when they got to the Elite Eight, losing to Eddie Sutton’s Arkansas Razorbacks and the Triplets (Marvin Delph, Ron Brewer and Sidney Moncrief) 61-58. That tournament is more memorable for Duke fans because of the stunning performance of a young bunch of Blue Devils that got to the title game before falling to Kentucky, 94-88.

Mike Krzyzewski was 31 and coaching at his alma mater, West Point - which he took to the NIT, finishing with a 19-9 record.

ESPN was still a year away from launching.

Duke will have an obvious size advantage across the board. Wendell Moore is only two inches shorter than Lee. Guarding Trevor Keels could be a real problem given his size and power. And then there’s Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin.

We hope that Duke is spectacular on offense of course. We’d like to see them light it up.

More importantly though, we’d like to see them defend the heck out of Fullerton, and to do so without getting into foul trouble because Fullerton is really good at drawing fouls.

Duke is heavily favored in this game - Draft Kings has them at -18.5 - and it would be a massive upset for the Blue Devils to lose (that really would make Fullerton Titans).

Tell it to Virginia.

The Cavaliers were the #1 seed when UMBC pounded them right of the tournament.

Duke should win. But things happen sometimes.

Assuming that things go the way everyone expects, we’ve always appreciated that Coach K uses games that Duke is in control of as sort of a scrimmage. It’s not celebratory or time to stick in the deep reserves. Instead, it’s time to identify weaknesses and work on things that need to be improved. No time is wasted or seen as garbage.

If Duke is in firm control, it’ll be a chance to do that and to iron out some bugs that have popped up lately, which would be good. Because if Duke does advance, they’ll either face Davidson or Michigan State. Both teams are brilliantly - and we mean that most sincerely - by Bob McKillop in Davidson’s case and Tom Izzo in Michigan State’s.