Duke won the ACC Championship on Saturday night and was promptly reminded that in modern college basketball, Power 6 conference tournaments matter less and less.

Duke received a 5 seed from the Selection Committee on Sunday, despite winning its conference championship and its final 9 games of the season. The seeding is a mystery, given Duke’s relatively strong metrics: a strength of schedule ranked 15th, per Warren Nolan’s ELO metric, a No. 21 efficiency ranking in KenPom,  and a Bart Torvik efficiency ranking of 13th since Feb. 1. Given Virginia, who Duke defeated in the ACC Championship, received a 4 seed, it’s safe to say the ACC Championship meeting between the two teams meant little. The Blue Devils were also not rewarded with a local regional. Instead of staying in Greensboro as a protected top 16 seed, they were shipped to Orlando. That’s not a terrible trip, but it won’t give the Blue Devils the advantage of the Duke army of supporters that would have naturally followed a 4 seed in Tournament Town.

Will Duke use the seeding slight as motivation? The team seems plenty motivated regardless, playing some of the best basketball in the country as the NCAA Tournament gets set to begin in earnest on Thursday.

Another Final Four run is very possible for this deep, versatile team, but a tricky round one matchup against a veteran Oral Roberts team that knows how to win will test the Blue Devils out of the gate.

Scouting Oral Roberts

Overall: 30-4, Summit League Champions 

Like Duke, the Golden Eagles are underseeded. Logic and history suggest that a low to mid major league champion, such as Summit League winner Oral Roberts, will rarely receive a seed better than the 12 the Golden Eagles were handed by the committee on Sunday. The question is whether that is fair, especially when a mid-major team is as good as Oral Roberts. Coached by the marvelous Paul Mills, who led the Golden Eagles to the Sweet 16 just 2 NCAA Tournaments ago, Oral Roberts enters with the nation’s longest winning streak, a 17-game stretch of dominance that started after a Jan. 9 loss to New Mexico at The Pit. The Golden Eagles start 5 upperclassmen and won’t be bothered by the stage or a big name opponent like Duke. They have been there before and beaten brands (Florida in 2021 ring a bell) in the NCAA Tournament before.

Top Player: Max Abmas, Guard

Abmas was just a sophomore when he earned All-Regional Team honors leading the Golden Eagles to the Sweet 16 two seasons ago. Paul Mills convinced him to stay at Oral Roberts and as a senior, he’s still a walking bucket. Abmas averages 22.2 points per game and shoots 38% from beyond the arc. He will pull up- and can make it- from the logo, and his range will earn him NBA looks. Abmas had 26 points and 11 assists in Oral Roberts impressive 34 point win over perennial Summit League contender North Dakota State in the Summit League final, showing he’s March Madness ready.

What the Golden Eagles do best is: Shoot

They’ve shot 59% from inside the arc and 37% from 3 since Jan. 1. That’s staggering, and they just played perhaps their most efficient game of the season, posting an otherworldly 1.33 points per possession in the Summit League Championship win over North Dakota State. Most teams would love to have 2 players in the top 150 of national offensive rating metrics. Oral Roberts has 4: Abmas, 7-5 Arkansas transfer Connor Vanover, senior wing Kareem Thompson, and junior point guard Isaac McBride. The result is a team that ranks 23rd in the country in KenPom Offensive Efficiency– outstanding production given the algorithm on efficiency is designed to reward efficiency vis-a-vis quality of competition.

Best Win: South Dakota State (twice)

Oral Roberts has trouble getting buy games against elite teams. That’s what happens when you win as much as Paul Mills has at Oral Roberts. Mills has stated openly he thinks he can build a Gonzaga-style powerhouse at Oral Roberts, but he’s learning first-hand what Gonzaga did as they built a program: it’s tough when no one wants to play you. The Golden Eagles best wins are in their league, and they include 2 over South Dakota State, a perennial NCAA Tournament contender. One of those wins was by 39 points, on Oral Roberts’ home floor in December.

Most Important Thing to Know About Oral Roberts: 

The experience will matter against Duke, but the most important thing to know is that they aren’t small. Duke can eat smaller mid-majors alive because Filipowski and Lively II are so big and even Duke’s backcourt, with pieces like 6-5 Ty Proctor and 6-7 Dariq Whitehead, can disrupt you with length. With Carlos Jurgens, Kareem Thompson, and Connor Vanover, Oral Roberts goes 6-5, 6-6, and 7-5 at the 3, 4, and 5, and their flashy, fast guards each create their own space, offsetting their diminutive nature. There is also height on the bench, as primary reserves Pat Mwamba and DeShang Weaver each go 6-7. In other words, the Golden Eagles will be smaller than Duke because everyone is, but it won’t be glaring.

Prediction: Duke 74, Oral Roberts 70

This game will be one of the best in the first round, and Oral Roberts will push the Blue Devils with their ability to score and their ability to at least hang on the glass. In the end, Duke’s talent will win out, but the real story will be the value- priceless value- in this close a game for a young Duke team that has the ability to go on a deep run in this tournament.

Beyond the Opener: A Tennessee team with an injured star?

Assuming Duke survives a scary first-round matchup with Oral Roberts, the path to the Sweet 16 is clear. Tennessee isn’t the same team without All-SEC point guard Zakei Zeigler, who was lost for the season last month with an ACL injury. Tennessee may not even survive a date with Louisiana, which is 1 of 2 13 seeds in the field (Furman) with a better than fair chance at upsetting a 4 seed. The Blue Devils match up favorably with the Vols inside, and should bully their way past Tennessee and into the Sweet 16, where a tough matchup with Zach Edey and the Boilermakers of Purdue would likely wait in the wings.