(20) Duke Blue Devils at (18) Louisville Cardinals (-6.5, 144 o/u)
The Duke Blue Devils (20-6, 9-4 ACC) notched their best win of the season on Wednesday, knocking off their arch rival, no. 5 North Carolina, in Chapel Hill (74-73); the Blue Devils will try to keep their ascension of the top-25 going this Saturday when they visit the Louisville Cardinals (20-6, 9-4 ACC) at the KFC Yum! Center (12:00 PM Eastern).
The win over the Tar Heels was the fifth straight for Duke. After briefly falling out of the polls for the first time since 2007 – thanks to four losses in five games – the team has responded with aplomb, winning five straight. That streak includes a 72-65 victory over (then-no. 13) Louisville just two weeks ago, and a top-ten win over (then-no. 7) Virginia.
Grayson Allen, the hero of last year’s title game, came up huge for Mike Krzyzewski’s crew in Chapel Hill, notching 23 points to lead the team. Prized freshman Brandon Ingram also had a monster game with 20 points and ten boards.
The big nights from the starters was crucial. Duke lost guard Matt Jones to a sprained ankle in the first half and basically rolled with the same five guys for the final 20 minutes.
Krzyzewski praised their performance in the aftermath of the upset. “They’ve done an incredible job. At one time we had four freshmen and a sophomore out there. To have the toughness that they displayed with that youth is incredible,” said Krzyzewski to the Associated Press.
Duke can’t afford to let their effort slip at all over the final stretch of the regular season. Though they’re just a game back of first in the ACC, they actually trail four other teams (Miami, North Carolina, Virginia, and Louisville), and only four squads get all-important byes in the first round of the ACC tournament.
The Cardinals have removed themselves from March Madness contention in light of an ongoing investigation into a sex scandal. That makes the ACC race the Super Bowl of their season. They stayed a game back of the conference leaders with a 72-58 home win over Syracuse on Wednesday, snapping a two-game losing streak.
Louisville trailed by 12 in the early going, and it was a one-point game at the half, but the second frame was all Cardinals as they poured in 44 points to win going away. The offensive outburst was something of a rarity for the Cards, who usually rely on their stout D (60.7 PPG, seventh in the nation).
The team’s two leading scorer, Damion Lee (16.5 PPG), was kept in check the first time Duke and Louisville met. He had 11 points on just 3 of 15 shooting to go along with six boards. His totals weren’t much better against Syracuse – 15 points and six rebounds – but he wasn’t trying to do too much, either, hitting on 6 of 14 from the floor.
The supporting cast chipped in nicely with Trey Lewis adding 14 points and Chinanu Onuaku posting 13 to go along with an obscene 15 boards.
These two programs have met four times since 2012; Duke won and covered the spread in three of those four meetings.
Pick: Duke (+6.5).
(Photo credit: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Flickr: 06) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)