By David Rogers. March 24, 2019. COLUMBIA, SC – Tonight’s the night. Two marquee matchups are on hand for Round 2 of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships in the Colonial Life Arena – and they have two very different storylines (other than who is going to win or lose a basketball game).
COVER IMAGE: At 7-6, Tacko Fall is the biggest, even more athletic opponent that Duke’s Zion Williamson has faced during the 2018-19 basketball campaign.
In the curtain raiser at 5:15 pm EDT, Duke looks to defend its #1 regional seeding against a Central Florida (#9 seed) team that may be able to match the Blue Devils’ strong inside presence. Duke has nine athletes on its roster that are 6-7 or taller, including freshman star forwards Zion Williamson (6-7, 285), Cam Reddish (6-8, 218), and RJ Barrett (6-7, 202).
But while those guys may look like Mt. Rushmore to most of Duke’s basketball adversaries when they are on the court at the same time, the Knights of Central Florida have a player to make the Blue Devils look vertically challenged in 7-6 center and Dakar, Senegal native, Tacko Fall. Against a higher seeded Virginia Commonwealth opponent in Friday’s first round, Fall recorded 13 points, a game-high 18 rebounds, and a game-high five blocked shots.
Duke’s Williamson has a highlight reel full of slam dunks already in his short hoops career, but Fall threw down the gauntlet on Saturday in telling reporters that one of his primary responsibilities is to protect the basket, and that includes against his next opponent.
“I don’t know what his mindset is,” Fall said of Williamson, “so I cannot speak for him – but I can speak for myself. I’m just going to go out there and try to win the ball game and do everything I can to help my team…Basketball plays are going to happen. I’m going to be out there and be aggressive and be the protector that I am.
“Zion is obviously a very talented kid, a great kid,” added Fall. “I’ve seen nothing but positive things about him, and (he has) a great ceiling, too. And he has great teammates, a great bunch of kids, but he is going to do his job and I’m going to do my job. Whatever happens, happens.”
The big man matchup of Williamson vs. Fall is only one of the storylines for the opening game of the night. Central Forward head coach Johnny Dawkins was a star player at Duke from 1983 to 1986, becoming one of the most decorated players to ever play for the Blue Devils’ living legend of a head coach, Mike Krzyzewski. Dawkins went on serve as an assistant coach under Krzyzewski for 10 years before – after playing in the NBA for nine seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers, and Detroit Pistons.
After cutting his coaching teeth with Krzyzewski mentorship, Dawkins went on to a first head coaching gig in directing Stanford to four, 20-win seasons. He took over the Knights program in 2016 and has fashioned nothing short of a turnaround couple of seasons. Friday’s win over Virginia Commonwealth was the Knights’ first ever NCAA tourney win.
But the Duke-UCF storyline goes even a little deeper in that Dawkins’ son, redshirt junior Aubrey Dawkins, is a 6-6 guard and a transfer from Michigan. During Saturday’s off-day press conference, the younger Dawkins was asked by a reporter about any special memories from his father’s days on the staff at Duke.
“I spent a lot of time around the (Duke) guys, especially growing up,” Aubrey shared. “Chris Duhon, Dahntay Jones, all kinds of playeDrs I can list off. And just seeing them as I worked out and worked out in the gym after practice was, or working out in the college gym…So, yeah, a lot of good memories. It was good for my foundation to see that.”
While the elder Dawkins at one time had the all-time scoring record at Duke, the younger version is no offensive slouch. He scored 36 points earlier this month (March 9) at Temple, and on February 24th was one of five Knights in double figures vs. Southern Methodist (SMU). During the regular season, he was twice named the American Athletic Conference (AAF) offensive player of the week and named Second Team All-AAC. He scored in double figures his first 18 games as a Knight and in 28 of 32 games this season.
Tacko (with 81 dunks of his own this season) vs. Zion (a living dunk highlight reel). Dawkins vs. Krzyzewski. Two strong programs against each other. This should be fun.
Virginia vs. Oklahoma
After letting Gardner-Webb get out front in the first half in their Round 1 matchup, Virginia settled down and made a statement in carving out a convincing, 71-56 win over the smaller, but game Runnin’ Bulldogs.
We look for Oklahoma to push the pace faster in Round 2, and Virginia to slow it down. After Friday’s Round 1 game, Virginia’s Ty Jerome noted to reporters, “They (Oklahoma) probably want to play a little faster than us. We’re really about getting the be18 poinst shot, and we want to keep teams out of transition, so sometimes the game will be slower if we have a preference.”
Oklahoma will challenge the Cavaliers with the emergence of 6-7 junior forward Kristian Doolittle, who tallied 19 points, 15 rebounds and a pair of steals for the Sooners against the higher-seeded Rebels of Ole Miss in Round
With four players, all starters, in double figures – including 20 points apiece by senior guards Christian James and Rashard Odomes and sophomore forward Brady Manek with 18 points and three steals – Oklahoma’s 95 points in Round 1 was their highest offensive output of the year.
So this game may evolve as offense vs. defense, as Virginia is noted for its strong defensive presence.
BOTTOM LINE: Basketball fans in Columbia have an interesting – and potentially exciting – night of a hoops twinbill ahead.