Ahead of the Blue Devils' season opener against Kentucky, the Blue Zone brings our can't-lose prop bets for the game:
Duke (-2.5) vs. Kentucky
The college basketball season’s earliest stages can be tough to forecast these days, and this year’s Duke and Kentucky teams could be even tougher to understand after a pair of uncharacteristically poor seasons in 2020-21. Neither side lived up to expectations, setting the stage for an oddly poetic tipoff to the upcoming season when the Blue Devils and Wildcats meet Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Typically, any modern-era clash between these two programs has been somewhat of a litmus test for two untested, yet talented, teams. Duke passed that test in the last matchup in 2018, as the Zion Williamson-led Blue Devils thrashed the Wildcats in a season-opening top-five matchup, but this year’s Champions Classic features two teams with more experience than fans may have come to expect over the years. Kentucky boasts its most experienced team in years with a slew of incoming transfers, and, while the Blue Devils will depend on some talented freshmen, three of five starters for Duke return from a year ago.
It makes sense, then, that oddsmakers have this game marked as a de facto coin flip, but I would argue that the Blue Devils should be more heavily favored. With a legitimate, albeit unproven top option in superstar freshman Paolo Banchero and a tantalizing combination of size and shooting, there should be no reason to bet against the Blue Devils until they offer one up. Tuesday’s season opener has all the makings of a great game, but things should continue to click for the Blue Devils, and they should head back to Durham win in hand.
Pick: Duke -2.5
Over/Under 148.5 points
Even before they hit the floor for their first official regular season contest, it’s clear that these Blue Devils can—and want—to play fast. Duke’s lone exhibition game, a 106-38 win at home against Winston-Salem State, reaffirmed this: the Blue Devils came out hot, consistently picking up ball-handlers beyond half-court, getting out in transition and firing off quick triples in a masterful display of pace and energy. Preseason play often means little, but it certainly felt as if tempo was a high priority for the Blue Devils in that limited sample size.
The Champions Classic has been a low-scoring event in recent years, with the under hitting in all four games over the last two seasons. The last over came in that most recent Duke-Kentucky battle, however, and with the pace at which the Blue Devils play, there’s certainly reason to believe that these two teams will fill up the scoreboard once again. Add in Kentucky’s experienced backcourt and own assortment of scorers, and you might just have a recipe for the over.
Pick: Over 148.5 points
Double result: Kentucky (1H) / Duke (Final)
I may be siding with the Blue Devils to come out on top after the full forty minutes, but I’m less confident about Duke’s early game prospects against a high-energy Kentucky team. Regardless of how ready Duke’s important freshmen may be, it’s a big jump to the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, and Kentucky’s depth of experience may shine through—at least early on. The Blue Devils will still have enough in the tank to win the day, but there’s value to be found for bettors in coupling a slow start by Duke with a strong finish, especially at favorable odds.
Pick: Kentucky/Duke +550
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.