Representing the # 1 and # 5 seeds of the South bracket, the 31-4 Duke Blue Devils will take on the 26-8 Utah Utes on Friday night in the round of 16. Both teams advanced with the # 5 Utes upsetting the # 4 Georgetown Hoyas 75-64 and the Blue Devils had no problems crushing the San Diego State Aztecs 68-49. While Duke coasted to its victory, Utah had to overcome an 11 point first half deficit to come back and dispose of the Hoyas.
Utah played all 10 of their scholarship players in their win over the Hoyas and their depth helps keep their best players fresh down the stretch which is not a luxury that Duke enjoys. They had 5 players score in double figures and were led by Brandon Taylor with 14. Offensively they were very efficient making 58% of their shots including 8 out 14 three pointers. They were the much more aggressive team as they took 32 free throws while the Hoyas only went to the line 9 times. If there is a weakness with the UTES it is their rebounding. They have been out rebounded in both games of this tournament but the biggest disparity comes from offensive rebounds. Their opponents have grabbed 21 offensive rebounds the past two games while they were only able to grab 8. They got back 7 foot center Dylan Bachynski from an ankle injury and he contributed right away with 9 points and 8 rebounds.
Duke has won both games so far convincingly and looked really good on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. In their win over the Aztecs, they held them to 33% shooting including 15 % from three point range. Offensively they were led by Jahlil Okafor’s 26 points and 6 rebounds. Forward Justice Winslow had the most complete game filling up the stat sheet with 13 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks. If Duke has a weakness it is their lack of depth and their Youth. The Blue Devils only received 5 points from their bench in their win over the Aztecs. Each starter played at least 33 minutes and as the competition gets better, you can only expect those minutes to rise even higher. Duke also has 3 freshmen in their starting lineup and their lack of experience could become a factor. With such a short bench, Duke will need to stay sharp physically and mentally down the stretch and if the Utes can keep the game close, they will have a chance at pulling the upset.
Both of these teams have been good against the spread this year as Duke has gone 20-14-1 and Utah has gone 22-11. They have also covered in each game of this tournament. Each team has a potential player of the year candidate in Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Utah’s Delon Wright who are capable of carrying their team to victory. Whichever team does a better job of shutting down the other teams star player has the best chance to advance.
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