The Blue Zone is back with our usual prop bets, only as football season ends we will transition to giving you our can't lose prop bets for every Duke men's basketball matchup:
Duke (-3.5) vs. Michigan State
All logical signs in this matchup point towards the visiting Spartans being able to cover this number with ease. A veteran, defensive-minded roster facing off against a team led by a group of talented, yet turnover-prone freshmen? Upon first glance, it appears almost too good to be true.
Mike Krzyzewski, however, has heard all this before: in back-to-back years, the Blue Devils pulled off seemingly improbable victories in the Champions Classic, smothering Kentucky to usher in the Zion Williamson era and narrowly topping a veteran Kansas squad that ended the shortened 2019-20 campaign at the top of the AP Poll. Michigan State, on the other hand, has lost all three bouts with Duke at the Champions Classic since the event’s inception in 2011. In fact, Tom Izzo and company have bested Duke just once this decade, with the lone Spartan victory coming by a single point and the Blue Devils posting an average margin of victory of 9.75 in eight victories since 2010. So, while all logical signs may indicate a statement victory for the green and white, history clearly explains why the Blue Devils are finally favored entering the early season fixture for the first time since 2017.
With this in mind, Tuesday night’s showdown feels like a wonderful “buy low” spot for the Blue Devils and an appropriate moment to “sell high” on the Spartans. Krzyzewski has, year after year, demonstrated an incredible propensity to top experience with star power, and Michigan State’s so-called veterans–most of whom spent last year in the transfer portal, on the bench or rehabbing from injury–may not display such a strong level of cohesion against an upper echelon opponent. Of course, one could argue that Duke’s youngsters may be the more likely side to crack under the pressure of high-level competition, but I am confident enough in the historical evidence to push this thought aside.
I am comfortable taking Duke and the points at -5 or better. Keep in mind that the early season college basketball market is especially volatile in recent years due to an increase in one-and-done players necessitating massive roster reconstruction, meaning that this line could, and most likely will, change in whichever direction receives a larger portion of the bets before tipoff. Knowledgeable bettors, such as yourself, should take advantage of this—wait and see which direction the line moves, and take the Blue Devils to cover at the best number available.
Pick: Duke -5 or better
Over/Under 152.0 points
As mentioned earlier, college basketball scores can be hard to predict, even for bookmakers. Roster turnover and an ever-evolving offensive style across basketball change everything about a team’s playing style from year to year, making point totals especially tricky to pin down. Far too often, these lines reflect the capabilities of the same team one year prior, once again leaving attentive bettors with a grand opportunity to take advantage.
Tuesday’s high-powered matchup of college basketball giants fits the bill, with two teams wholly different from their predecessors. While both teams remain in the top ten of adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom, neither team is quite as strong on defense as they were in last year’s campaign. Regardless of either team’s experience or inexperience, it is quite clear that both sides are taking time to gel on the less glamorous end of the floor, opening the door for the stars to light up the scoreboard.
Sitting at 152.0, the total seems to have accounted for much of this defensive instability. Even so, this year’s contest figures to go down to the wire, and games of this nature between teams of such high caliber tend to favor late-game free throws and heroics that provide a final flurry of points before the clock runs out.
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As of Monday night, bets on the total are fairly split, but a disproportionate amount of money has landed on the over. Such discrepancies are often a telltale sign of what is to come, and should be just one more reason to back the scoreboard here.
Pick: Over 152.0
Jalen Johnson Over/Under 1.5 Blocks
After Duke’s victory over Coppin State in the season opener this weekend, Jalen Johnson’s monster double-double (8-8, 19 points, 19 rebounds) was the talk of the town. And while much has been made of his shooting percentage, his athleticism and even his seven turnovers in the days since, his paint presence was arguably the most welcome surprise of his long-awaited debut, as the newcomer collected four blocks on the day. Even if the Blue Devils roll out a bigger lineup with a true center such as Mark Williams or Patrick Tapé, Johnson’s rare blend of size and athleticism makes him the most natural candidate to complement Duke’s big men around the rim. Until the budding star shows otherwise, I am confident in his ability to surpass this number against just about anyone.
Pick: Over 1.5 Blocks
Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.