Men's College Basketball
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Top-seeded Duke begins NCAA title quest against Southern

(Sports Network) - The Duke Blue Devils have earned the top overall seed in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, and they are set to take on the 16th-seeded Southern University Jaguars in the first round. The winner will battle either eighth-seeded George Washington or ninth-seeded UNC-Wilmington in the second round on Saturday.

Southern won the SWAC regular-season title and went on to beat Arkansas- Pine Bluff by 13 points in the conference tournament championship game to earn the league's automatic bid. The Jaguars last participated in the NCAA Tournament back in 1993, and they knocked off Georgia Tech in the first round that year.

As for Duke, it has earned the top spot in the final AP poll for the fifth time in the last eight years. The Blue Devils have won seven of the last eight ACC titles, and they are coming off a thrilling victory over Boston College in the league championship game. Duke is making its 30th NCAA Tournament appearance, and its 83-26 record at the event is the best all-time in regard to winning percentage. The program has three national championships to its credit and 14 Final Four appearances.

This game marks the first-ever meeting between Southern and Duke on the hardwood.

Southern's Peter Cipriano captured SWAC Tournament MVP honors, and his strong play in recent weeks has clearly taken some pressure off Chris Alexander and Deforrest Riley-Smith. Alexander continues to lead the Jaguars in scoring with 15.4 ppg, and Riley-Smith checks in with 11.0 ppg. Cipriano is posting 9.9 ppg and 8.6 rpg overall, but his averages were clearly more impressive in league games (11.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg).

Southern is netting 65.0 ppg this season while surrendering 66.0 ppg to opponents on just 40.2 percent shooting from the floor. The strength of this team has been rebounding, especially within conference play. Unfortunately, the Jaguars have committed 486 turnovers this season while dishing out considerably fewer assists (328). They were blown out by the likes of LSU and Texas earlier this year, so it is understandable that they enter tonight's game as heavy underdogs.

It comes as a surprise to absolutely no one that Duke's J.J. Redick was named MVP of the ACC Tournament. Redick nailed 7-of-11 three-pointers in the championship game against Boston College, and he continues to add accolades to a remarkable senior season during which he has become the ACC's all-time leading scorer. The Blue Devils lead the league in scoring (82.5 ppg), field goal percentage (.494) and three-point percentage (.396), and Redick is largely responsible for those numbers. He is netting 27.4 ppg and has become a complete player at the offensive end.

Teammate Shelden Williams is sometimes overlooked because of Redick, but the standout forward continues to be a force on a regular basis. In addition to his 18.4 ppg on 58.4 percent shooting from the floor, Williams is pulling down 10.3 rpg to go along with 122 blocked shots. Sure, there isn't another double-digit scorer in the lineup for Duke, but there are at least four other players capable of netting 20 or more points on any given night.

03/16 10:51:00 ET