Lough: Don't be surprised if Mercer causes problems for Duke

mlough@macon.comMarch 20, 2014 

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Mercer guard Langston Hall (21) dribbles between chairs as the Bears readied for their opening NCAA tournament game against the Duke Blue Devils Thursday, March 20, 2014 at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC.

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com

RALEIGH, N.C. -- They only spent 40 minutes on the court, and it wasn’t just to shoot around, check things out, see and be seen.

Still, toward the end of the court sat some Duke assistants, taking in what was a pretty serious Mercer practice Thursday.

Duke isn’t Duke because it takes anything for granted. And something, anything can be gleaned from a fairly detailed public practice.

Of course, it would have been fun to sneak a peek later Thursday afternoon at Mercer’s second session of the day. Rest assured the nitty and the gritty came together as Mercer got deeper into the Duke scouting report.

And finally, the ridiculous question of “can Mercer win?” -- because it’s a ridiculous question -- will die. It might not have the answer some -- OK, most college basketball fans -- want.

But it might. To ask during March Madness if somebody can win is to have no clue about March Madness. Or, well, sports in general. And to ask that is to clearly have not seen Mercer play a men’s basketball game the past few years.

There are two possible surprises, from this vantage point, for the weekend.

The first would be that Duke hammers Mercer, pulls out a can of “3 Seed Whoopin’ Spray” on the Bears. The line is about 13, not far from the margin of a number of Duke tournament wins against mid-majors.

The second one would be Mercer following a win Friday with a loss Sunday. One day to get ready for the Bears under NCAA tournament pressure is extremely difficult, and Mercer adjusts quicker than opponents.

I do feel sorry for whoever officiates this game. There should be some combat pay involved.

Mike Krzyzewski’s colorful -- more like psychedelic -- eloquence in arguing his position with refs -- as well as the shades of red his face shows -- are well known in the basketball world. And Mercer’s Bob Hoffman is consistently shocked and awed at 87 percent of all fouls called on the Bears and 97 percent of those not called on the opposition.

Look for refs to come out at halftime shedding ice packs from their ears.

That aside, this will be a quality chess match, more than in the usual 3 vs. 14 or tradition program vs. newbie.

The strategists are anxious to see what Mercer does to defend Jabari Parker, and the guess here is we’ll see a lot of matchup stuff, some straying and sagging, switching defenses inside a possession, and a parade of different defenders bringing different skills.

A gut feeling for a few days has been that Monty Brown and/or T.J. Hallice will be of major impact, in part because Duke will try to get Daniel Coursey in foul trouble. It takes no Einstein to want a 6-foot-10 player sitting.

Brown can get physical, and Hallice is athletic. Something says they’ll get chances to show it.

As is usually the case, a game comes down to a few simple -- and in some cases, obvious -- things.

Mercer has to, as ridiculously clear as it sounds, make the good shots. The Bears have missed too many close-in shots or fairly open drives lately, and being a team, they all do it.

If they can’t hit those -- which have had home folks groaning the past few weeks -- they’re in trouble.

Somebody not named Langston Hall will have to pick up the scoring. Bud Thomas has been in a scoring slump, and Jake Gollon and Daniel Coursey are a little up and down. Anthony White Jr. has been hot, so he’ll have Duke’s attention.

Hall will have spells of few good looks, but he’ll find somebody who has one, and they have to score.

Defensively, Duke can’t crack 80.

It’s kind of odd, this other feeling: If Mercer plays Mercer basketball, it wins.

Bizarre, I know. The program that has 1,175 wins all-time can beat the head coach who has 910 wins in his current gig if it sticks to what got it here.

But it’s that funky and maybe that simple.

If the Bears dance with what brung ‘em, they can dance again.

Contact Michael A. Lough at 744-4626 or mlough@macon.com

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