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Next Up - Oral Roberts To Open The 2023 NCAA Tournament

As Duke starts the first NCAA tournament drive under Jon Scheyer

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 11 ACC Championship - Virginia vs Duke
 GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 11: Dereck Lively II (1) of the Duke Blue Devils blocks a shot by Kihei Clark (0) of the Virginia Cavaliers during the ACC Championship on March 11, 2023 at Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, NC.
Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Date 3/16 || Time 7:10 || Venue Amway Center || Video CBS

Duke opens NCAA play with Oral Roberts Thursday evening and it’s a trendy upset pick for some.


Mostly because Oral Roberts is (mostly) smallish, hits threes and likes to run, especially off of turnovers. But perhaps the best thing ORU going for it is something that Duke cannot have, at least not in the same way: experience. Coach Paul Mills says that his players have 24 games of NCAA experience between them and Duke has...a few.

Mills has grown men on his team: his starters range between 21 and 24. That’s a real advantage. We’ve all seen international teams that look pedestrian but can carve you up like nobody’s business. There’s nothing quite like watching a group of Greeks pushing 40 just killing a bunch of young kids.

There is a basic mismatch here though. Other than 7-5 Connor Vanover, Oral Roberts rotation is really small. Of course we just saw the smallest team in the tournament, Fairleigh Dickinson, play a brilliant game Wednesday night despite being so (relatively) tiny.

Vanover is interesting because despite being 7-5, he likes to shoot outside and he does it fairly often. He hits about 33 percent out there but just 48.7 overall. We’d like to see a breakdown of his efficiency inside vs. outside.

He’s had previous stops at Cal and Arkansas and didn’t play much either place. One problem he appears to have is overall strength. At 7-5 and just 227, he’s really lean. Florida State’s Naheem McLeod, for instance, is 7-4 and 255. Purdue’s Zach Edey is 7-4 and 305.

He is a shotblocker but he may have a tougher time with Duke’s big men who are smaller but much more athletic. Dereck Lively is also quite thin but he appears to be much stronger than Vanover and Kyle Filipowski is much more powerful. Vanover averages around 25 minutes a game.

We’re also curious about how Oral Roberts rebounds when their biggest guy spends a lot of time out on the perimeter because the other rotation players are small.

DeShang Weaver and Patrick Mwamba are 6-7, Kareem Thompson and Carlos Jergens are 6-5, Trey Phipps and Isaac McBride just 6-2 and Max Abmas just 6-0.

Of course size can be deceiving and it’s very possible to out quick a team as we’ve seen so often since Texas Western did it so convincingly to Kentucky in 1966. And Abmas and McBride make up a formidable backcourt. Abmas averages 22.2 ppg and McBride nearly 12.

Like most of the Golden Eagles, they shoot threes well - McBride hits 41.1 percent of his while Abmas hits 37.7.

Weaver leads the team at 42.3 percent while Thompson and Mamba hit 39.1 percent.

Clearly you ignore the three at your peril against Oral Roberts.

And experience is priceless. It only takes the slightest hesitation from a young player for a game to slip away.

For Duke, the good news is that Oral Roberts is not a new phenomenon. People saw two years ago that this program was solid and very, very well coached. Abmas is as good as any guard Duke has seen this year and he’s going to be tough to stop. Oral Roberts is not going to sneak up on the Blue Devils.

Everyone is focusing on Duke’s size but the Blue Devils can play small too if needed and we could even see a lineup with Mark Mitchell, Dariq Whitehead, Jeremy Roach, Tyrese Proctor and Jaylen Blakes if needed.

However, Duke would probably prefer to keep Lively in the game because he has become a superb defender around the basket and would allow Duke to extend its defense out to the three point line with a good backstop.

Hopefully we will see from Duke exactly what we have seen these last few weeks: very solid defense and an aggressive offense.

And this is even more important in March: Duke must continue to limit fouls and just as importantly if not more so, turnovers. If Oral Roberts can turn Duke over consistently, height becomes a disadvantage because it’s constantly chasing little guys in the open court and that won’t end well.