Utah-Duke Friday Preview
SO FAR, SO GOOD FOR COACH K AND DUKE, CAN THIS GROUP LIVE UP TO HYPE?
You longtime readers of the NOTEBOOK know that we're generally skeptical of Duke in the Big Dance. They tend to be too soft inside to survive the month of March, too reliant on three-point shooting to be trusted to run the table, and too-reliant on officiating in the regular season to know what to do when they aren't getting the calls.
But, in 2015...so far so good. Duke is one of the few teams to barely break a sweat amidst a 2-0 start straight up and against the spread. Other top seeds Kentucky and Wisconsin are both 0-2 vs. high prices. Villanova isn't even around any more! Duke ran away and hid from San Diego State last weekend. On the immediate horizon:
*A Friday night game vs. a Utah team that struggled away from home vs. quality, and couldn't beat Oregon in the Pac 12 semifinals.
*A Sunday encounter that's expected to be against a Gonzaga team that also has a poor recent history when it comes to living up to its seed.
The bracket-makers smiled on Duke to be sure. But, they have been legitimately playing well on the heels of their ACC loss to Notre Dame (who is still alive themselves, while failing to impress against expectations in wins over Northeastern and Butler).
So, is Duke ready to make a statement in the Final Four? Or, are they just another team tagging along waiting for their eventual come-uppance? Let's see what JIM HURLEY'S key indicator stats have to say about the Blue Devils and the Utes.
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
Duke: 122.2 per 100 possessions (#6 in the nation)
Utah: 113.7 per 100 possessions (#18 in the nation)
Duke usually isn't as efficient in the Dance as their regular season numbers would suggest. They stop getting calls and can't count on treys falling every game. Again, so far so good. Utah wasn't as good as #18 would have suggested once you got them away from their home floor. They did take command of the Georgetown game this past weekend though, and didn't sweat Stephen F. Austin to the degree many had expected. Probably an edge to Duke at a neutral site, with neither being as good as those numbers moving forward.
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
Duke: 95.5 per 100 possessions (#45 in the nation)
Utah: 90.4 per 100 possessions (#7 in the nation)
If you focus on Utah when playing quality away from home, it's impossible to see them as a top 10 defense. They really do clamp down against bad offenses and allow them nothing. Playing home games at altitude doesn't hurt. The Utes deserve the edge in this category...but they're not as scary defensively as that stat makes it look in terms of tournament basketball. Ask Oregon about that. Important to pay attention to Duke's defense and rebounding, because that's usually what turns the team mortal when they get upset by the likes of Mercer or Lehigh, or get bullied by powers like Louisville. Can you lay points with that kind of defense in Duke's first foray against a Power-5 conference opponent?
Some very good pace battles this week...with Duke being the fast team in this matchup against the very slow Utes. Slow is good for a dog because it keeps them within striking distance as long as they can make some shots. Duke will try to run away and hide early again here, because it's very tough for slow teams to play catch up. You saw that with SDSU this past Sunday. If Utah slows things down, then works for good shots against the vulnerable Duke defense, we could easily have an upset. If the game is played at medium pace, or Duke's pace...the Blue Devils might have their third straight easy win.
Against the Spread
Both teams have been money-makers this season. That's particularly impressive for Duke, because they're always priced very high as a public TV team. It's easy to remember the lapses. But, "squares" have been making money with the Blue Devils. Utah caught the market by surprise early and through Pac 12 play. But, that ATS mark is heavily influenced by bullying a soft schedule. The success rate is much less impressive away from home vs. quality.
Las Vegas Line: Duke by 5.5, total of 135
Duke has been bet up from an opener of -5. The fact that it didn't go all the way to six may be telling. Pac 12 money may be looking to come in at +6. Remember that Vegas sharps got to see Utah up close and personal in the Pac 12 tournament.
We hope you've been hooking up with JIM HURLEY every day through the Dance. You can purchase the final word for Friday's Sweet 16 action right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453 during normal business hours. We've devoted most of our NOTEBOOK coverage to college hoops this month. Don't lose track of the NBA stretch run and the start of Major League Baseball. Check on full season packages when you call.
Back with you Saturday and Sunday to preview Elite Eight action through the lens of JIM HURLEY'S favorite indicator stats (which you can study for all teams at Ken Pomeroy's stat website). We'll review the weekend Monday, then preview the NIT Final Four Tuesday, and the NIT Championship game on Thursday.
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