Duke is the talk of college basketball and will continue to get the majority of bets no matter who is injured, which is why it’s best to dive into their matchups. Pittsburgh isn’t a great team, but it’s proven to be better than most expected at this point under new coach Jeff Capel, namely the recent home wins over Louisville and Florida State. Maybe most intriguing is that it’s the first meeting between Capel and Coach K. In fact, Capel recruited a lot of the freshmen on the Duke team so he’s extremely familiar with them, not that it matters when matching up against Zion Williamson (21.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg) and RJ Barrett (23.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.1 apg).
Pitt’s defense has been its main route to success with solid efficiency numbers at least in terms of shooting. The problem is that the Panthers rank as one of the worst at defensive rebounding, while guys like Williamson and Marques Bolden feast on the offensive glass. If Duke can rebound all of its misses, it’s going to be an obvious issue. The other issue is that Pitt’s offense doesn’t do many things well outside of get to the free-throw line. Inconveniently, Duke doesn’t foul a ton. Then there’s the stat of Pittsburgh getting its shots blocked more than almost anyone in the country while Duke blocks almost more than anyone.
Even if Tre Jones (8.1 ppg, 5.7 apg) doesn’t play, Pittsburgh has an uphill battle. The first task will be to stop Williamson and Barrett from getting too many easy looks and given its overall size, that may not happen. The Panthers often have Four guys at 6-foot-6 and shorter on the cOurt at all times, while Duke often has Four guys taller than that at all times, including fellow freshman Cam Reddish (13.0 ppg). That’s part of the reason Pitt isn’t a good rebounding team and why Williamson could be in for a huge double-double. The hope for Pitt is that centers Terrell Brown (18.7 mpg) and Kene Chukwuka (17.5 mpg) can do a little more than usual on the glass. Otherwise, everything will be left to guys like Au’Diese Toney (9.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg), who is most likely to be matched up with Williamson. Then again, it wouldn’t be surprising if Pitt went mostly zone, though that would leave even more offensive rebounds.
Pittsburgh’s best chance of covering is if Jones misses another Game because he’s the guy that stops opposing point guards. Without Jones, Xavier Johnson (17.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.6 apg), Pitt’s best player, could be in for a nice performance. The freshman does a little bit of everything from shooting and drawing fouls to setting up teammates. If he can repeat what he’s done in recent ACC Games, Pitt has a chance to cover. Of course, covering would also require a good day from Trey McGowens, who has 63 points in the last two home Games, but just 14 in the last two on the road. It’s unknown how Duke will play defense on those two guys without Jones so there could be an advantage there for the Panthers.
If Jones doesn’t play, there will be an opportunity for Pitt to at least stay competitive at home, something it’s already done against solid teams. But if Jones is in, that improves Duke’s defense, which will mean trouble for Pitt. Either way, Duke will get its points from Williamson and Barrett and that could be enough either way.
Our Pick – Pitt +13.5