(5) Utah vs. (1) Duke
Opening Odds: DUK -6
Odds (3:45 PM): DUK -6
Time: 9:45 PM ET
Betting odd c/o Bovada
Sweet 16 play will begin tonight, and the Duke Blue Devils will face the Utah Utes as 6-point favorites in the affair, according to college basketball oddsmakers at Bovada. The over/under is set at 134 for the game, which will be televised on CBS.
The regular season ended in disappointment as Coach Mike Kryzewski and the Devils fell in the ACC tournament to then-No. 11 ranked Notre Dame. Since then, the team has thrived in the NCAA tournament.
Duke turned it around (predictably) against No. 16 seeded Robert Morris. The Devils won by 29 points, covering the 22.5 point spread set by college basketball oddsmakers. Coach K unsurprisingly rested Jahlil Okafor about half the game, but that didn’t stop him from amassing 21 points in 21 minutes, missing just two of his 11 field goal attempts.
Duke led by 17 at the half, and cruised throughout the second. It gave a couple walk ons a few minutes on the court, while also getting a chance to take a closer look at Amile Jefferson, who responded quite well with 10 points and six boards. The Devils shot 63 percent from the floor and held Robert Morris to 36 percent. This is the stuff of 16 vs. 1s that we’ve grown accustomed to.
Duke guard Quinn Cook is ordinarily a dead eye shooter, but he hit just 2 of 12 vs. the Irish and though Justise Winslow turned in a strong double-double, outside of Okafor and Winslow the rest of the Duke squad shot just 9 of 34 from the floor, which is woeful help for Okafor. He’s the type of talent that can definitely carry a team, but it won’t be enough against the tough squads on the other side of the bracket (Wisconsin, Arizona and Kentucky most specifically).
Cook got it together last game against Robert Morris, knocking down 6 of 10 from behind the arc, and it seems to be a good sign that his stroke is back. He’s a consistent and deadly shooter and key behind Duke’s success, notwithstanding that Okafor’s the supreme talent on the team.
And at its best, there is plenty of help for Okafor. Duke had four players average 11 points or more this season and Okafor posted 17.7 points and nine rebounds per game while also coming up with 2.2 blocks/steals. He’s not a shot blocker, but he is a shot changer. That, combined with Winslow’s propensity to hit the boards, and Duke is rendered pretty strong on the interior.
Combining that with five shooters hitting 37 percent or better from three, and Duke will have the skills to blow out opponents. Prior to that disappointing loss to the Irish, Duke had reeled off 12 consecutive wins, four of which came against top-25 teams. Notre Dame was a tough opponent for Duke this year though, winning two of the three contests against a very formidable Coach K led team.
Duke knocked of San Diego State in the round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16. The game was never close with the Blue Devils thriving and building a 13 point lead by the half. Okafor dominated once again with 26 points, 6 rebounds , 2 assists, and 4 steal/blocks. All Blue Devils starter saw big minutes, with Quinn Cook leading the pack sitting all but two minutes in the game. Coach K is not taking chances at this point, preferring to trust his starters, and with good reason , as the team shot 54.5 percent from the floor while accruing 16 assists on 30 field goals, which is a good conversion rate on its passing.
The No. 5 seeded Utah Utes finished the regular season 24-8 with a 13-5 Pac-12, but has since won two straight to advance to the Sweet 16. Getting into the elite 8 could prove far more difficult.
Utah may be a tough team, but there’s no guarantee of victory in what are typically upset classics between 5 and 12s. SF Austin compiled a 29-4 record in its (very) weak schedule, losing just one game in its 18-game conference schedule to boot. Utah knocked of S.F. Austin in the second round, then advancing to face No .4 Georgetown, and it knocked off the Hoyas 75-64.
The game with Georgetown was tied at the half, but Georgetown fell apart in the second and allowed the Utes to put up 43 points. The Utes did it on the talents of a balanced scoring attack, placing five players in double figures, including all starters except forward Chris Reyes. The Utes shot 57.9 percent from the field and an even better 8 of 14 from three-point range.
Despite winning, the Utes must do a better job on the boards, notwithstanding that Georgetown was an excellent rebounding opponent holding a plus-6 advantage on the glass.
It fell badly to Xavier, Baylor and even Texas A&M community college, so there’s no reason to get overly excited about the Lumberjacks here. It is a team that led the NCAA in assists per game while ranking top-10 in scoring, but it played a JV-like schedule and is now dancing with the big boys. Can it keep pace?
Utah held its own in a much weaker conference than Duke, and because of its star guard senior Delon Wright.
The 6’5” 190 pound backcourt stud averaged 15 points per game this season and closed the season strong, posting 17.8 points per game over his past five contests and connecting on 8 of 14 from three-point range over that span.
Wright shot 37.1 percent from three-point range this season while hitting 52.9 percent from the floor. While his field goal percentage has decreased from a year ago, it’s come at the benefit of having added a much more prolific three-point shot. In addition to that, he’s dishing over five assists per game, and the adage is that good guard play helps teams advance in March.
Utah lost to Oregon on a buzzer beating three last time out, even though it got 16 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block from Wright. The Utes also received 24 points on 9 of 15 shooting from guard Brandon Taylor, who dialed up six threes in the game and was one of three Utes to see over 30 minutes in the game (36).
Taylor seems to be saving his best for this tournament, after having struggled prior to the Oregon game but increasing his marksmanship steadily leading up to it.
For the season, he’s connected on 75 threes at a 43.9 percent clip, and he’s an experienced junior having been a big minute player since his freshman season in 2012-13. Between Wright, Taylor and Jordan Loveridge (10 points and four rebounds per game), the Utes are going to have a lot of trouble containing Okafor, who promises to be a top-2 or top-3 pick this June in the NBA Draft.