After Syracuse and Wichita State (shockingly) busted more brackets and booked their tickets to Atlanta, where the Final Four awaits, Michigan, Florida, Louisville, and Duke all hope to punch their tickets to the Final Four on the second day of Elite Eight action. Now, it’s time to predict the second Elite Eight matchup of the day in Duke vs. Louisville.
(2) Duke Blue Devils vs. (1) Louisville Cardinals
How Duke Wins
Offense is to Duke as spinach is to Popeye. The Blue Devils run as its offense runs, there’s no doubt about that, and scoring just about 80 points per game and shooting nearly 50% from the field, the offense will need a big day, especially against Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals, who give up just 58 points per game. Can they penetrate the vaunting force that is Louisville’s D? Of course. Duke has the perfect mix of perimeter offense and weapons in the post. Seth Curry, Quinn Cook, and Rasheed Sulaimon lead a backcourt that shoots 40% from behind the arc, 5th in the country. The dynamic
Dukies also boast a 1.36 assist-to-turnover ratio, 17th in the nation. Their underrated frontcourt can penetrate the Cardinals as well. Mason Plumlee has had a breakout season, averaging 17 points and 10 boards. Forward Ryan Kelly has been a huge X-factor for the Blue Devils this year as well. In fact, Kelly, who missed 13 games with a foot injury, has been the most influential player on any team in the country, as Duke has lost just one game this year with Kelly playing. Kelly also stretches the floor, as a player who can dominate in the paint and shoot 44% from three-point range. And let’s not forget that roaming the Blue Devil sideline is Mike Krzyzewski, arguably the greatest college basketball coach of all time. If Duke can use its strengths (offensive efficiency, three-point shooting, spreading the floor, attacking the paint) to its advantage, Coach K may very well be headed to his 12th Final Four.
How Louisville Wins
Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals are the number-one overall seed in the tournament for a reason. The Cardinals, who are on a 13-game win streak, boast the nation’s second-best turnover differential margin and average 11 steals per game. If the havoc-wreaking Cardinals have anything to say, Duke will have a rough time getting the ball down the court. Duke thrives in the half-court offense, but Louisville will certainly make this a full-court game. Russ Smith and Peyton Sive will dictate the game and dominate Duke’s backcourt, as they are two of the most dynamic offensive and defensive players in the country, with Smith
averaging 19 points per game and both averaging two steals per game. The backcourt doesn’t operate on its own, though. Gorgui Dieng, averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds per game, can overpower both Kelly and Plumlee. In addition to their stars, Louisville boasts a highly-dependable supporting cast, led by Kevin Ware, Luke Hancock, Chase Behanan, and Wayne Blackshear, a quartet that delivers 30 points per game. Louisville’s recipe to win: Make it a full-court game, win the turnover battle, and dominate the paint, three aspects of the game that they have consistently mastered all year.
21 years since the now infamous “Christian Laettner game” (the last tournament meeting between Pitino and Coach K), Pitino will finally get the better of Krzyzewski. The Cardinals defense is much too opportunistic and suffocating and their mix of a near-perfect backcourt and a forceful frontcourt make them an offensive unit nearly impossible to defend. Louisville wins.
Louisville 79, Duke 65