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Jabari Parker, Duke better be wary of Mercer

Duke's Jabari Parker goes up dunk during practice NCAA college basketball tournament Raleigh N.C. Thursday March 20 2014. Duke plays

Duke's Jabari Parker goes up to dunk during practice at the NCAA college basketball tournament in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 20, 2014. Duke plays Mercer in a second-round game on Friday. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) ORG XMIT: NCCB106

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Updated: April 22, 2014 6:40AM

A guide to Friday’s NCAA tournament second-round action

One and done for Duke?

What a freshman season it has been for Duke’s Jabari Parker. The forward from Simeon captured the nation’s attention back in November, has held it ever since and will continue to do so until the Blue Devils’ tournament run ends. Which could happen right off the bat against Midwest No. 13 seed Mercer.

You think we’re kidding?

Win or lose, Parker will be expected to become a one-and-done NBA lottery pick. And then there are the Bears, who will have to rebuild almost from scratch after this season because they’re the only team in the country that starts five seniors — and those seniors can really play. Duke will learn that as Langston Hall, Bud Thomas and the Bears move the ball with precision and knock down quality shots.

The Wiggins show

Parker has stood a bit taller among the nation’s freshmen than Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, but Wiggins has an opportunity to live up to the massive hype that accompanied his arrival in Lawrence. Part of the college game’s leading freshman duo along with center Joel Embiid, Wiggins has exploded since Embiid was sidelined with an injury.

South 15-seed Eastern Kentucky will have to try not to look on in amazement at the acrobatic Wiggins, who averaged 31 points over his last three games and had his three high games all season in shots attempted.

“I do think he has a flare for the moment, and I think that goes way back,” KU coach Bill Self said Thursday. “That doesn’t guarantee playing great or anything like that, but it gives me a lot of confidence that he will be very aggressive.”

Fan favorite? Not Kentucky

Kentucky is the seeded eighth in the Midwest — the lowest seed of any tourney team John Calipari has coached in his career. With four freshmen in their starting lineup, the Wildcats, who were ranked No. 1 in the preseason, have been major disappointments, ­losing 10 times. They’ve got a tough opening matchup against Kansas State.

“There’s a lot of people that don’t think we can make a run at it,” said 7-foot sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein. “And, you know, a lot of people don’t want to see us make a run at it.”

That’s undoubtedly true. Calipari’s program is a turnstile from the McDonald’s All-American Game to the NBA, and a lot of folks just don’t like it.

Back from the dead

Baylor and Nebraska are the two major-conference teams that did the most in February and early March to save their seasons, so it’s fitting that they’re playing each other.

At one point, the Bears, seeded sixth in the West, were 14-9 overall and a pathetic 2-8 in the Big 12. Not long before that, the Huskers bottomed out at 9-9 overall and 1-5 in Big Ten play. The teams turned it around with 10-1 and 10-2 surges, respectively.

“I wouldn’t have bet you any amount of money that we were going to make it [to the ­tournament],” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said.

The winner likely will face Creighton in the Round of 32. The Bluejays are from Omaha, so we could be looking at hoops paradise for Nebraskans.

Get smart

The West’s 8-9 matchup might be even more intriguing than Kentucky-Kansas State. Gonzaga — a No. 1 seed in 2013 — takes on Oklahoma State, which has to be one of the more talent-laden 9s in tournament history.

The Cowboys player everyone wants to see get after it is wondrously gifted guard Marcus Smart, who took an infamous turn when he shoved a loudmouthed Texas Tech fan and got himself suspended. “Redemption” is one of the most overused words in sports, but it seems to fit Smart’s situation.


Twitter: @slgreenberg

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