NCAA Tournament Picks — Duke Blue Devils vs. Kansas Jayhawks
The Duke Blue Devils are another of those programs that has gone the “one and done” route these days, and it is paying big dividends. They may have the best freshman in the country, and he may lead this team to the Final Four, if Coach K and his crew can get by the challenge put forward by the Kansas Jayhawks in the Midwest Regional championship game, to be held at 5:05 PM ET at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha.
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Duke, which had all it could handle dealing with the matchup zone of Syracuse the other night; one way they tried to attack it was to go “long,” but they were successful on only five of 26 from beyond the arc. You can get inside at times as well against that kind of defense, and freshmen Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter were able to get 19 free throws.
Bagley, of course, was right up there with the most highly-touted players in high school last season, and re-classified himself so that he could be part of the incoming frosh class of the 2017-18 season. As he has been a “20-10” guy, he is a viable player of the year candidate. And other first-year players like Carter, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent round out a young rotation. In fact, Kentucky is the only team in the country that is less experienced.
In the odds at BetAnySports upon which we will make our NCAA Tournament picks, Duke is the favorite:
Duke Blue Devils -3
Kansas Jayhawks +3
Over 155.5 points -110
Under 155.5 points -110
It is imperative that Kansas get something out of its big people. Udoka Azubuike is back in action, and he is productive when he is in the game. Coming off an MCL sprain, he has played 47 minutes over two games. Malik Newman has been a hot hand; he has averaged over 24 points a game over his last six. Devonte’ Graham, the player of the year candidate, has NOT been hot; he has made just five of his 19 field goal attempts over the last two games. We know he is more capable than that, though, as evidenced by his 17.5 ppg average.
There is a challenge for Kansas facing the Duke zone, which has held eleven of the last 18 opponents below 40%. Coach K has found some real success with a defense he had used sparingly, and Bagley, whose injury had brought this on in the first place, has fit into it nicely. Kansas, at just above 40%, can shoot over this zone, but will they threaten enough on the inside to create room on the perimeter?
The one area where Duke is going to have an advantage here is on the boards. And we mean their ability to get second-shot opportunities, as they are the #1 team in the country with Offensive Rebounding Percentage. Kansas hasn’t done a great job of defending itself there, so laying a trio of points with the Blue Devils isn’t a particularly bad idea.
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