No. 10 Duke takes on No. 6 Illinois Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m. in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, with the Blue Devils going in as a four-point favorite. Our beat writers make their predictions for the highly-anticipated matchup.
Evan Kolin: Duke 76-72
Logic tells me to pick Illinois in this one. Duke hasn't looked nearly as sharp offensively as the Ayo Dosunmu-led Fighting Illini, and the Blue Devils don't really have a legitimate answer for Kofi Cockburn inside (given that freshman center Mark Williams has totaled just 23 collegiate minutes). Nevertheless, I just can't see Coach K and company losing back-to-back high-profile matchups in Cameron Indoor Stadium, even if there are no Crazies.
Shane Smith: Illinois 71-65
The Fighting Illini’s best player is Ayo Dosunmu, but the biggest impact threat Tuesday will be Kofi Cockburn, who will give Mark Williams all he can handle and then some. Ultimately, Duke’s offensive struggles are too big of an issue to be fixed this early, and against a team like Illinois, the Blue Devils will need an elite shooting night to take this one home.
Glen Morgenstern: Illinois 78-75
There’s a pretty small sample size here, but both teams have shown they’re not invulnerable. Duke has a shot at victory if it shoots the lights out again, but Illinois has the size and experience to give it an edge. Tune in for a nail-biter.
Derek Saul: Duke 79-75
I very much believe both of these teams are overrated in the AP poll, as neither Duke nor Illinois has anything close to a top-10 resume right now. These are two of the most talented rosters in the nation, but neither team looks completely in sync yet. Having said that, I think the Blue Devils have been more impressive so far, and their more balanced offensive attack will prove to be the difference Tuesday night.
Conner McLeod: Duke 68-59
The Blue Devils will finally find their groove against Illinois, with the help of 7-footer Mark Williams protecting the paint against the Illini’s lethal slashers. After getting into early foul trouble the past two contests, Jalen Johnson will clean up his game and get back into All-ACC form, leading Duke to its third win of the season.
Jake Piazza: Illinois 76-69
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While I am concerned about Ayo Dosunmu as well, the reason I am going with the Fighting Illini is Kofi Cockburn. The 7-footer plays a physical style that Duke is yet to see this season and even with Mark Williams’ size, I think Cockburn is going to have his way in the paint. Regardless, an important takeaway from this game will be Matthew Hurt’s ability to defend Cockburn, as that should be a good indicator of whether or not Hurt can be this team’s small ball center.
Max Rego: Illinois 82-74
Both of these teams have displayed some early season rust and an overreliance on their top scorers (Dosunmu and Hurt). However, Illinois is clearly closer to a finished product, and while Duke will fight hard on its home floor, the Fighting Illini are just playing with more rhythm right now.