Pick with Analysis
The only thing people will be talking about in this Game is Coach K’s 1,000th win. Does that mean Duke will get up for this Game more than usual to give their coach that big win? Very possible. St. John’s was ranked No. 15 in the country less than a month ago and since then has been exposed.
The Blue Devils hit a rough patch of their own with back-to-back losses against NC State and Miami (FL) after giving up 87 and 90 points, respectively. Coach K switched things up and went zone on defense and they allowed just 52 points at Louisville in their next Game. Now, after two straight wins, Duke will start possibly its hardest stretch of the year. After traveling to St. John’s, they get two more road Games against Notre Dame and Virginia, two Top 10 teams.
As for the Johnnies, after a hot 11-1 start with wins over Syracuse and Minnesota, they lost Four of their first five Conference Games. While none of those Games have been easy, if you want to be a Tournament team, you need to win Games at Depaul or home against Butler. They just won their first home Conference Game on Wednesday in a comeback against Marquette. Obviously, they don’t want to be the team that Coach K beats for his 1,000th win, but is there anything they can do to stop that?
This is the type of Game where depth can hurt St. John’s as they only use six players, with five guys averaging at least 29.4 minutes per Game. If they get into foul trouble trying to deal with Jahlil Okafor, there isn’t much experience on the bench that they can go to.
There hasn’t been one team yet that has stopped Okafor if that says anything about how dominant the freshman is. In Duke’s losses, Okafor stepped up even more and those were probably two of his better Games of the year as he played more minutes. Defending Okafor is a pain because of his wide range of moves, and his size is a problem on the other end.
The Red Storm aren’t a big team, and of the six players they use, only one guy is above 6-6. That could be a major problem here and we might see the use of some other guys off the bench. But to start, the task goes to Chris Obekpa, who is more of a defensive player averaging 3.5 blocks per Game. Blocking Okafor is another story though.
In addition to Okafor, Duke’s Amile Jefferson could be in for a nice day, just because the Johnnies only have one true big who’s going to be exclusively on Okafor. One thing that the Johnnies have is a bigger backcOurt and that could be the one way they have a shot in this Game.
D’Angelo Harrison is averaging 20 points per Game and could give all kinds of fits to the smaller guards of Duke. The Storm only shoot 32% from long range, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them play some zone again to bait them into shooting threes. Even if Harrison has a big Game, someone else will likely need to step up as well. That could be either Ryseheed Jordan or Phil Greene, who have both scored at least 17 points in the last two Games.
As for Duke, Tyus Jones is coming off a huge 22-point Game and he’s flanked by Justise Winslow and Quinn Cook, all of whom can shoot from distance.
St. John’s will need a big Game from its guards, but for that to be enough to grab an upset, they’ll need to somehow limit Okafor’s opportunities. If they get into early foul trouble though, it could be a long day for the Johnnies.
Our Prediction Duke by 6