Duke’s matchup against UCF on Sunday at 5:15 p.m. (EST) on CBS will draw the attention of fans across the country for a reason many outside of Durham and Orlando will care about more than the fact there’s a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
The Blue Devils have Zion Williamson. The Knights have Tacko Fall. And everyone’s eager for that moment Williamson barrels toward the basket, rises up toward the hoop and comes face-to-face with his 7-6 nemesis.
What happens then? That is anyone’s guess. Williamson is 7-6 and 285 pounds and has such a knack for high-flying dunks he could posterize an opponent on a moment’s notice. Fall, well Fall is 7-6 and 310 pounds. There’s no easy way elevate above that and slam one home.
Here’s how each player views the other and why their play could determine who advances:
Tacko on Zion
Fall is laughing Friday as he’s talking to NCAA.com basketball expert Andy Katz.
“I won’t allow it,” Fall is saying. “I won’t allow him putting me on one of his highlight tapes.”
Katz is asking just how hard it is for someone to dunk on Fall and Fall is playing along. He’s defending himself against the prospect one of the nation’s most electric and perplexing talents could show him up on the nation’s biggest stage. It’s all in good fun. Because Fall plays closer to the rim he even says it might be easier for him to dunk on Williamson, although the flow of the game can lead to a number of situations.
But quickly he’s touching on what matters more — winning. While the game may never have seen a player quite like Williamson, he’s also just one person.
“Dunking is a great highlight,” Fall said. “But, we’re going to go out there and try to win the game, which is more important.”
Zion on Tacko
Williamson talks about Fall with the same level of appreciation Fall talked about Williamson.
Duke’s star respects that Fall, at that size, can move the way he does with the skill he has. Williamson will continue to think about what the Blue Devils will have to do to stop him right up through game time. And in no way does he take offense to Fall’s comment.
“What is he supposed to say?” Williamson told reporters Saturday. “Is he supposed to say like I’m going to dunk on him? He said the right thing, but I’m not really focused on that. I’m just focused on trying to help my team win the game.”
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Fall’s size reminds Williamson of Florida State big-man Christ Koumadje, who is 7-4 and 268 pounds. It’s not often anyone plays against someone that tall. But just as Williamson wasn’t intimidated by Koumadje or Fall, he doesn’t expect Fall to fear playing him.
“Nobody’s going to be intimidated on the court,” Williamson said. “I mean, it’s not like he came out and just said it himself, like that’s the media asking him those questions. Like I said, he’s not going to sit here and say, ‘Yeah, he’s going to dunk on me.’ Like he’s a competitor, so obviously he’s going to say he’s going to block my shot. Like that’s just basketball.”
Both Fall and Williamson recorded noteworthy performances in their opening games of the NCAA tournament.
Fall had a double-double against VCU with 13 points and 18 rebounds. Williamson dropped 25 points on North Dakota State.
Neither player had to sweat a close finish, but each showed in the moments they played just how critical they were to their team’s success. Williamson’s energy is undeniable. It rubs off on his teammates and helps them play to their potential, as the Blue Devils did when they won the ACC tournament. Fall’s presence is an asset. It can force opponents to change their offensive game plans and allows the Knights to dominate the paint when they have the ball. There's an obvious difference in how the teams play when they aren't on the floor.
Whichever team can get its opponent’s star off his game will put itself in a position to win.