Pick – Analysis
This is the Sweet 16 matchup most people expected even with Utah being the No. 5 seed. Both of these teams got through their first two Games without much trouble, as they are two of the only teams that are 2-0 ATS in the Tournament. Duke has some bulletin board material to work with as a -5.5 point favorite after Utah’s Dakarai Tucker shouted into the camera after their last win, “We’re not done yet.”
That’s a pretty bold statement to make considering they are playing the 1-seeded Blue Devils. Utah has seen top competition throughout the year, but Arizona had their number. They beat Wichita State and barely lost to Kansas, but the Utes also have a loss to San Diego State on their resume. The same Aztec team that Duke just dismantled.
SDSU and Utah are similar in a lot of ways, mostly defensively, but there is no doubt that the Utes have a better offense, which is needed against Duke. Utah may not be elite, but they are efficient. Delon Wright does close to everything on offense, leading the team in points (14.7 ppg) and assists (5.2 apg) and is second in rebounds (4.9 rpg). This is a team that really plays team ball as seen in the last Game when they had 75 points with six different players getting at least nine points.
And if you thought Duke shot a lot of threes, Utah has only made six less on the season. The Utes are a surprisingly solid three-point shooting team at a 40.8% rate, which is 7th best in the country. Wright can shoot a little, but he prefers to dish it up to more efficient guys like Brandon Taylor, Jordan Loveridge and Dakarai Tucker off the bench.
The Utes also have plenty of size, considering Wright comes in at 6’5″ at the point. The fun matchup to watch will be between a couple freshmen in Jakob Poeltl and Jahlil Okafor. Okafor has the edge, but Poeltl does have the body to give Okafor a fight. Poeltl got into foul trouble last Game, and they still have another 7-footer off the bench in Jordan Bachynski. This will be Okafor’s toughest test of the Tournament thus far after dropping 47 points in the first two Games. Loveridge will probably get the task of Justise Winslow, another NBA lottery prospect.
Utah has the guys to compete with the Blue Devils, that’s why the line isn’t bigger. Duke’s backcOurt is obviously another threat between Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook, but Utah is a tough defensive team. They’ve already played against some of the best teams in the country and won’t be scared.
The difference for the Utes in this Game, and why they have a chance, is the inconsistency of Duke’s defense. It’s unlikely the Blue Devils will try a zone against a team that can shoot like Utah, and Duke isn’t great at playing man. That’s why they have losses to NC State and Miami (FL). Their defense can be beat and if Utah is hitting their shots, like they have all season, this Game could come down to the wire.
Tyus Jones really hasn’t been needed in a scoring sense yet in this Tournament, but if this Game is close, expect him to step up, like we have seen throughout the season. It’s hard to go against Duke with how they’ve looked, but Utah will be a real test.