As the NCAA Tournament heats up, the Duke Blue Devils will face off against the Tennessee Volunteers in what promises to be a highly competitive game. The March Madness odds are in favor of Duke, with the Blue Devils being favored by 3.5 points (-105 FanDuel) and the Over/Under set at 126.5. But can Duke continue its hot streak and overcome a tough Tennessee defense?
The Injury Factor: Zeigler’s Absence and Roach’s Leadership
One major factor that could impact the game is the injury to Tennessee’s Zakai Zeigler. Zeigler was a high-level perimeter defender and the heart and soul of Tennessee’s defense, earning him a spot on the All-Defensive Team. Without him, the Vols may struggle to contain Duke’s guard Jeremy Roach, who is playing his best basketball of the season and leading the Blue Devils in the postseason.
Filipowski’s Bounce-Back Game
Duke’s Jeremy Roach has been getting a lot of attention lately, but don’t sleep on freshman forward Kyle Filipowski. He had a relatively quiet game against Oral Roberts, but he should bounce back against Tennessee, especially considering the Vols do not have a rim protector as big as Oral Roberts did. Filipowski’s performance could be key in helping Duke overcome Tennessee’s stifling defense.
Duke’s Momentum vs. Tennessee’s Struggles
Duke is peaking at the right time, having won their last ten games and coming off an impressive 23-point win against Oral Roberts in the first round. The Blue Devils started the season as national title contenders, but their lack of experience was a major obstacle. However, with four freshmen starters and another serving as the sixth man, they have been steadily improving and are starting to gel at the right time.
On the other hand, Tennessee has been trending in the opposite direction, going 6-7 straight up and 4-9 against the spread since the start of February. They were the highest-rated team in the country at the end of January, but their adjusted offensive efficiency has dipped since then while their adjusted defensive efficiency has slightly improved. The season-ending injury to Zakai Zeigler has also left the team vulnerable.
The Verdict: Duke to Win and Cover
Despite Tennessee’s formidable defense, Duke’s momentum and balanced attack should help them secure the win and cover the spread. Tennessee’s struggles on offense could prove to be their downfall, especially without Zeigler to anchor their defense. My pick is that Duke wins by at least fix points, so take the Blue Devils to cover the 3.5-point spread and continue their impressive run in the tournament.
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