The Blue Zone gets you ready with some can't-miss bets for Duke's matchup against Syracuse.
Syracuse vs Duke (-5.5)
Both Duke and Syracuse are on three-game winning streaks, are coming off emotional wins and need this victory equally badly if they hope to make the NCAA tournament. To make matters more interesting, these two teams look very similar on paper. Both have explosive offenses averaging over 75 points per game, and both also have struggling defenses, giving up over 70 points per game.
This being said, Duke’s defense seems to be improving rapidly. The Blue Devils have looked like a completely different team as of late, winning their last three games through their defense, one of them being against then-No. 7 Virginia. Although the Orange are also on a hot-streak, they look minimally different. Their defense is still being exposed, as they allowed Notre Dame to score 46 points in the first half Saturday, and their offense is still making up for it, as has been the case all season.
If this was the Duke team of three games ago, I would strongly advise betting against the Blue Devils and taking Syracuse’s side of the line. But this isn’t the same Duke team. The bottom line is that if the Blue Devils play the quality of defense that they have on this winning streak, they will comfortably cover. However, it is crucial to note that the impressive performance we saw against Virginia was a Saturday Duke team. The Blue Devils have performed quite well in the spotlight Saturday scenarios this season, as they won comfortably against Clemson, N.C. State, Wake Forest and Coppin State, lost narrowly to tournament-projected teams in Louisville and North Carolina and knocked off an elite Cavalier squad. It is rather the early in the week, hangover style games that have haunted Duke this season, with losses to Michigan State, Illinois, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Miami and Notre Dame on Monday and Tuesday games.
With this game being played on the Monday immediately following an emotional and undoubtedly taxing battle with Virginia, I expect the Blue Devils to struggle with this deceptively challenging Syracuse opponent. I expect Duke to win, but not by six points or more. Take Syracuse here.
Pick: Syracuse +5.5
Over/Under: 151 points
To hit the over on this statistic, Duke and Syracuse will both need to post 76 points, or have one or the other make up for any deficit with their opponent. This is conveniently exactly what these teams are averaging this season, with the Orange scoring 76.5 points per game and the Blue Devils 75.3.
These season-averages do not give enough weight to current trends, and this Duke defense is performing better than it has all season. Syracuse has elite scorers in Alan Griffin, Buddy Boeheim, Quincy Guerrier, Marek Dolezaj and Joseph Girard III, who are all averaging double-digit points per game.
I expect Duke to reach in the neighborhood of 75 or 76 points, while riding their momentum and home-field advantage—which has been surprisingly present despite the absence of fans, as Duke is 7-4 at home and 3-4 on the road—holding the Orange to just under this mark. Take the under.
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Jaemyn Brakefield Over/Under 10 Points
This is a feat that the 20 year-old freshman has accomplished just four times this season. However, again, season statistics do not give enough weight to the current picture. Since freshman forward Jalen Johnson opted out of the remainder of the season, Brakefield has seen increased minutes. To say that Brakefield has capitalized on this opportunity would be an understatement. He has been phenomenal, providing the Blue Devils with energy and physicality on both ends of the floor.
Players’ offensive abilities are often neutralized in games where they have difficult defensive assignments. On Saturday, Brakefield was guarding the much-taller Jay Huff, one of the most elite players in college basketball. His scoring did not seem to notice, as he logged 11 huge points. Syracuse has superb forwards such as Dolezaj, Griffin and Guerrier that will pose difficult matchups for Brakefield, but the way I look at it is simple: if Brakefield just posted double digits against Virginia’s stingy defense, he will have no problem doing it again against an Syracuse squad struggling to defend.