For the second year in a row a low seed from the Atlantic Sun Conference has flipped March Madness on its head. The Mercer Bears have pulled an upset of the Duke Blue Devils in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Following in the steps of their conference mates from Florida Gulf Coast University, the Bears were supposed to be outmatched in every area, from shooting to athleticism to defense, but managed to come out on top in a tight game.
Mercer is the latest team to prove themselves to have been underrated due to their conference. The Bears were a very good offensive squad all season, and by point differential they were actually the 10th best team in the nation. Now they will be advancing to the third round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
The tournament upset pulled by Mercer will leave a lot of questions to be asked by Duke, who have now been undercut by lower seeded teams in the first or second round four times since 2007. Foremost is who is going to fill the shoes of their young phenom, Jabari Parker. The freshman is expected to enter the NBA draft this year, where he will likely be one of the first three selections. Parker had an incredibly successful year in spite of his poor shooting performance against Mercer–something that should not be held against him, because he did bring tremendous effort in the game. Duke does have several more top flight freshman recruits, including two of the top four national prep players in Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones. Expect them to bounce back strong next season.
After this game, and all until their next game, Mercer is the top story. In a round full of big upsets, such as Dayton over Ohio State, Harvard over Cincinnati, and North Dakota State over Oklahoma, there was no one seeded as low as the Mercer Bears to win a game. Coming in to the tournament as the fourteen seed in the Midwest, Mercer is only the 18th school in NCAA Tournament history to beat a three-seed as a 14-seed.
The game was close throughout, particularly in the second half when there were numerous lead changes and ties. After Tyler Thornton was fouled on a three point attempt and made all three shots to give Duke a 63-58 lead, it looked like the Blue Devils were poised to pull away. Mercer, however, quickly answered with an 11-0 run as they gradually ran the clock down on Duke’s season.
The Mercer Bears have very little time to celebrate. Their next opponent will be decided Friday as well, when UMass takes on Tennessee. Expect the squad to get a jump on scouting by watching the game. They will take on their next opponent on March 23rd in Indianapolis, which means the team has a bit of traveling to do as well. After pulling the upset against Duke, the Bears have to have all the confidence in the world that they will be able to take down whoever their next opponent is and advance to the Sweet 16, as only two 14-seeds have ever done.
Commentary by Brian Moore