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UNC Wilmington Seahawks vs. Duke Blue Devils: NCAA Tournament First Round Preview and Prediction

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For the Duke Blue Devils, playing games in March has become a regular routine. After all, they are the defending national champions and Mike Krzyzewski's team has played in the NCAA Tournament 21 years in a row.

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For the UNC Wilmington Seahawks, playing this late in March is a bit of a surprise for their fans.

On Thursday afternoon, the Seahawks will play in their first NCAA game in 10 years as they will take on the Blue Devils in the first round of the West Region in Providence. Can the champions of the Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA) upset one of the biggest college basketball programs of all-time?

No. 13 UNC Wilmington Seahawks (25-7) vs. No. 4 Duke Blue Devils (23-10)

When: 12:15 p.m. ET (Thursday)

Where: Dunkin Donuts Center (Providence)

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TV: CBS

Line: Duke -11

Keys for UNC Wilmington

If the Seahawks are to defeat the Blue Devils on Thursday, they will have to get excellent guard play from Chris Flemmings, Denzel Ingram and Craig Ponder. Flemmings leads UNC Wilmington in scoring at 16.1 points per game. Ingram is averaging 12.5 points and 3.4 assists per contest. Flemmings, Ingram and Ponder will all need to shoot well from long range since the Seahawks cannot compete with Duke's athleticism.

Keys for Duke

While Duke isn't as deep as some of its teams in the past, the Blue Devils still have enough talent to win a number of games in this year's Tournament. Grayson Allen (21.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and ACC Freshman of the Year Brandon Ingram (16.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg) will likely get the ball early and often to expose UNC Wilmington’s lack of athleticism. If Duke can prevent the Seahawks’ shooters from getting hot from beyond the arc, the Blue Devils should be able to take control of the game very early.

Final Analysis

UNC Wilmington has the players and the coaching in former Louisville assistant Kevin Keatts to make life tough for Duke. Expect this to not be a cakewalk, but Duke should be able to pull away late by putting the game in hands of Ingram and Allen.

Prediction: Duke 73, UNC Wilmington 65

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)