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College Football Pick
It becomes clearer by the day that we shouldn't have anointed Duke champions before the season began as the Blue Devils already have three losses and were outmatched in both of their ACC road games. With a trip to Louisville this Saturday, there's no guarantee that they'll have a winning conference record five games into the ACC slate.
But that's not to say Louisville is playing as good as Florida State, who had reached 12-straight wins after the Duke result. The Cardinals are a bit different, already with two ACC losses, one of them coming at home to Virginia. Like most years, this is an up-and-down Louisville team that usually thrives on certain matchups. They've beaten Kentucky, Purdue and Indiana, so it's evident their peak is still pretty high.
These two teams split the series last year with both home teams winning and that could easily be the case in this one. Of course, these are two very different teams, but the main question for Duke is the status of Amile Jefferson. He missed Tuesday's loss with a bone bruise in the same foot he fractured a year ago. Without Jefferson against FSU, they severely lacked a presence in the paint and once again were on the wrong end of the rebounding margin in a 16-point loss.
After Duke's first two road losses, both by double digits, there's no guarantee how they'll look in this game, no matter the status of Jefferson. Without Jefferson, the problem is fairly clear as Louisville is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country with athletic, lengthy guys like Jaylen Johnson, Ray Spalding and Mangok Mahmoud. And due to their swarming, often full-court defense, the Cardinals lead the nation in defensive efficiency, while only allowing opponents to shoot 27.5% from long range.
If Duke can't have success from deep, similar to the FSU game, then their chances of winning will be slim in another road game. At this point, it looks like Jayson Tatum and Luke Kennard are the only consistent players for the Blue Devils. Grayson Allen was a no-show against the Seminoles, failing to make a three, while Harry Giles and Frank Jackson combined for eight points. Against another similarly long defense, Duke could have problems yet again.
To win this game without Jefferson would require Duke to make their shots as well as have fewer than the 18 turnovers they had in the loss at Louisville last season. But one thing that could keep Duke around in this game is its defense, although they gave up 88 at FSU and 89 at Virginia Tech already. This is the same Cardinals offense as usual, with poor shooting and super active guys that create points off turnovers and offensive rebounding.
That said, Donovan Mitchell has taken over in ACC play as of late, scoring at least 20 points in the three games following the Virginia loss and he'll be key in this game against the mediocre backcourt defense of Duke. Quentin Snider brings plenty of experience and his goal is to run the show and play solid defense against the likes of Kennard and Matt Jones. And then filtered throughout the rest of the Louisville roster is long, lengthy players with some considered shooters and others just rebounders.
If Jefferson can't go, this could easily be marked as another loss for the Blue Devils and Jeff Capel. But even if Jefferson plays, this isn't an easy game and Louisville has the pieces to win either way.
Our Pick - Louisville by 12
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