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Posted at 1:00 PM EST.
Sweet 16 of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament - CenturyLink Center Omaha -Omaha, Nebraska
9:37 PM EST. How Syracuse's 2-3 zone stymied Michigan State in the Round of 32 has been a major talking point heading into this Sweet 16. The Orange limited the #5 team in the country to just 53-points, which was well below the Spartans' 80.2 points per game average this season. In the last 5:43 of that game, MSU scored just five points. The Orange held State to 25.8% shooting from the field, and the Spartans three-point shooting was even worse (21.6%). Despite all that, Michigan State was still in a position to win that game, which seems to be a fact that does not fit the Syracuse as Cinderella narrative. This year's NCAA Tournament has been a paradise for underdogs with multiple double-digits seeds advancing out of the first weekend while a pair of #1's fell including Virginia, which was the first top seed to lose to a #16. With the big boys going down left and right, taking back a big number like this is going to look appealing, but don't be fooled. Unlike the Spartans, Duke is no paper tiger.
Former head coach Pete Gillen said it best, "Certainly Duke is Duke and they’re on TV more than 'Leave it to Beaver' reruns." The opinion that the Blue Devils get way more than their due with regards to television coverage and consideration from the poll and selection committees is not Gillen's alone. Duke is one of those programs that many in the market love to hate. They're the Evil Empire of college hoops and coach Mike Krzyzewski, while by most accounts a nice guy, is Darth Vadar to Duke's vast group of haters. Earlier this season, the Blue Devils were struggling defensively allowing 72.8 points per game before Krzyzewski pulled the plug, as he's apt to do when his preferred style of man-on-man is not efficiently implemented by his team. 11 games ago, the Dukies switched to a zone and have only given up 61.7 PPG since. As ACC rivals, these two teams have already played this season, and it was after the Blue Devils went to the zone. In that game, Duke limited the Orange to just 31.5% shooting, while forcing 17 turnovers in a 60-44 win and cover as 13½-point chalk. The Blue Devils already had arguably the most talented offense in the nation (6th in scoring offense and 9th in field goal %), and now their defense is holding up, which is bad news if you have trouble scoring like Syracuse does. We've already seen this movie on a night when Duke shot 2-of-18 from beyond the arc and was held to 25-points below its season shooting average, and the Blue Devils still won by 16-points. If the Dukies offense comes correct tonight, this one has the potential to get very ugly. If it doesn't, covering this number is still on the table, as the Orange, who own the 317th-ranked scoring offense in the nation, might not score 50. Swallow the points.
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Duke -11 +102 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.04)