NCAA B

Duke's Jahlil Okafor wants nothing but No. 1

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First impressions are hard to overcome.

That's especially true for Duke center Jahlil Okafor, who has made the case all season that he should be the top player selected in next June's NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-11, 272-pounder is a beast beneath the basket. He's averaged 17.7 points and 8.7 rebounds a game this year. And did I mention that he did all of this while shooting 67 percent from the field?

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Simply put, Okafor has all the tools to be an NBA superstar. But even more than pure athletic talent, the Blue Devils stud has rare awareness and basketball instincts for a big man. 

This is no brute. Okafor is as polished as any 19-year-old to grace the hardwood.

With a Final Four berth wrapped up after Sunday's action, he will have at least one more chance to prove himself before scouts on college basketball's biggest stage.

Here's guessing that he'll put on another show in a season full of them.

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Skilled post player

The freshman's offensive repertoire is refined beyond his years.

He is likely college's most skilled offensive big man, regular utilizing a mix of twists, scoops and up-and-unders to get past the opposition and break toward the basket. Of course, it also doesn't hurt that he's stronger than most opponents and can also bully them in the paint.

Duke didn't need to rely on their lottery-pick center much in its 66-52 over Gonzaga. He managed nine points and eight rebounds, a solid if unspectacular effort while matching up against Bulldog center Przemek Karnowski.

But Okafor has been a spark-plug on offense all season; 14 times he's scored 20 points or more, including a 28-point game against Notre Dame on March 13.

He started off the postseason strong, scoring 21 points against Robert Morris in Duke's opener and then 28 against San Diego State in the third round.

Judging only by the first stretch of this season, there's no doubting that Okafor would likely be the number one pick.

Fading down the stretch

While Duke has remained dominant, Okafor has been uncharacteristically quiet in his team's last two tournament wins.

Before struggling against Gonzaga, where he shot 4-for-10 from the field, the star center only put up six points against Utah in the Sweet 16. 

The Blue Devils will face Final Four upstart Michigan State next. 

By all means, Okafor should feast on the Spartans' small-ball lineup. Forward Gavin Schilling, at 6-foot-9, will probably be forced to match up against him, but the sophomore is barely a threat on the offense end.

That means Okafor will be able to rest a bit on the defensive end, saving energy for what should be a scoring bonanza in the paint -- if he can get back to his early season groove.

If not, Duke may be lined up for another postseason letdown. And it would certainly be a black spot on what has been an impressive year for Okafor.

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NCAA B
March Madness

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