UCF Knights vs. Duke Blue Devils Pick
Central Florida Knights (24-8 SU, 19-12-1 ATS) vs. Duke Blue Devils (30-5 SU, 18-17 ATS)
When: Sunday, March 24, 2019 – 5:15 PM ET
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, S.C.
Point Spread: UCF +13.5/DUKE -13.5 (WagerWeb)
Total: O/U 143.5
Last Time Out: Central Florida beat Virginia Commonwealth 73-58; Duke beat North Dakota State 85-62.
Scouting the Knights:
How will the Knights handle success? That’s yet to be determined after Central Florida broke through for its first NCAA tournament win against Virginia Commonwealth. What’s known is that Tacko Fall projects to be a massive obstacle at center, as the 7’6” big man presents an intriguing matchup for Duke freshman Zion Williamson. However, it’s guards B.J. Taylor and Aubrey Dawkins who really help carry Central Florida, as they’re both solid shooters from anywhere on the court, they make good decisions with the basketball, and they’re accurate from the free throw line. In short, this is a good team that can really scare a higher seed.
Scouting the Blue Devils:
It was a tale of two halves for Duke against North Dakota State, as the Blue Devils simply weren’t ready to go and sleepwalked through the first half, allowing the Bison to win over some fans and get people wondering briefly if Duke could follow Virginia a year ago. Duke then came out and blasted North Dakota State in the second half, proving that it knew what it was doing the entire time. However, there is the concern that the Blue Devils aren’t going to land the kind of knockout blows that are necessary to cover the spread, making them a tough team to trust on the spread.
The Blue Devils also have the factor of being dominated by their freshmen, and that can make it a challenge to get them to put aside their concerns and play the way that they can. As great as Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett are, they haven’t faced any real adversity in a one-and-done situation yet. Without senior leadership, it’s tough to prepare yourself to play in that kind of atmosphere, and it showed in the opener. Duke has the physicality it needs for success in this tournament; now it needs to develop the mindset, which it seemed to do in the second half.
The coaches. This is the kind of matchup that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski refuses to play unless he has no choice: a game against one of his former players. Johnny Dawkins was Krzyzewski’s first major recruit back in 1982, and it’s entirely possible that had Dawkins not come to Duke, Krzyzewski wouldn’t have survived as the Blue Devils’ coach in the early 1980s. Not only that, Dawkins was Krzyzewski’s top assistant on Duke’s third championship team in 2001, with Krzyzewski once saying of his assistant’s scouting ability, “If you want an opinion on a great wine, you go to a wine connoisseur in France. If you want an opinion on a great basketball player, you go to coach Johnny Dawkins.”
These two men know each other inside and out, and while Dawkins hasn’t coached at Duke for a while now, he knows precisely how Krzyzewski likes to coach and knows how to prepare his team for what it will face in this matchup. By the same token, Krzyzewski knows Dawkins and knows what kind of challenge facing him will present. These chess matches often result in a bit of a stalemate, helping the lesser team stay in the game.
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Central Florida will Cover if:
Tacko Fall can win his duel with Zion Williamson and land the Duke freshman a couple of early fouls. This is the weapon that Central Florida has that no other team does: a post player who can give Zion Williamson a run for his money in physicality. Fall’s size changes the game and could force Williamson to change the way he plays as well. The key to beating Duke is to get Williamson out of action, and Fall could be the way for UCF to get that done. He doesn’t have to win the battle, but if he can force a change in Duke’s frontcourt strategy, it’ll make a world of difference.
Duke will Cover if:
The Blue Devils play with the same focus and energy that they showed against North Dakota State in the second half. Duke was scary at how efficient it was at the start of the second half, outscoring its first-half total by the halfway mark of the second half. The Blue Devils need to carry that feeling and strategy with them as the games get bigger and better. A half like what Duke showed in the first half, however, will lead to an early exit.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
Like North Carolina, Duke simply needed a wake-up call during its first-round game, and that’s exactly what it got. Without the Tar Heels around in Columbia to buy all the tickets, Duke doesn’t have to worry about the second-round crowd and can simply play its brand of basketball.
That’ll be a welcome sight for Duke fans and a worrying one for opponents because when the Blue Devils are on, almost nobody can handle them. I’m not willing to bet that UCF is going to be the team to break that bit of history. Tacko Fall might be a big obstacle, but not one that Duke can’t overcome. Give me the Blue Devils here; Duke’s just got too much of an ability to strike quickly to go against them in this contest.