No. 1 Duke men's basketball takes on Ohio State on the road in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge Tuesday night, so the Blue Zone is back with our can't-miss prop bets for the matchup:
Duke (-3.5) vs. Ohio State
Duke is the top team in the country and Ohio State is unranked, but this game will be closer than many expect it to be.
Both of Duke's away games have been neutral-site games, and there has been a formidable Blue Devil contingent in both New York and Las Vegas that isn't likely to be present in diehard Buckeye territory. In the past week, Ohio State basketball lost on a buzzer-beater to Florida and Ohio State football lost to Michigan. Expect the Buckeye faithful to turn out in droves to avenge their university's name against college basketball's No. 1 team.
Duke is proven under the bright lights, but hostile ones are a whole different beast. Add in its travel time and exhaustion after taking on Gonzaga Friday where cramps were again an issue, and Duke's uphill climb only gets steeper.
However, consider this. Even if the Blue Devils are shaky and tired surrounded by a sea of red and white, they just upended then-No. 1 Gonzaga while shooting 60.0% from the line, well under their season average of 78.3% coming into the game, and while having two starters go a combined 5-of-24 from the field. Duke can shoot suboptimally and probably still be fine, as long as it plays good defense, which is likely.
Ohio State only has one player averaging more than 10 points per game: forward EJ Liddell, who is currently averaging a ridiculous 22.5 points per game. However, Duke has done an admirable job all season of locking down the interior. In its first half against Gonzaga, the Blue Devils held star forward Drew Timme to just nine points and top-recruit Chet Holmgren to six. If they can replicate that defensive strategy against Ohio State and Liddell, the Blue Devils likely go home with a win. And since the books seem to have accounted for the adversity of a road game with a small spread, it's likely they'll cover, too.
Pick: Duke -3.5
Over/Under 147 points
Now let's talk about a more fun question: Will the over hit? I'm going to go with yes.
For the reasons I posited above, I don't think Duke will play its best game of the season Tuesday. It will contain Liddell to an extent, but the Buckeyes will be able to exploit some sloppiness. Through their last three games—two against ranked opponents, plus Xavier, which briefly cracked the top 25—the Buckeyes have averaged just under 73.7 points per game, and that likely holds.
Keep in mind, the combined average point total from both teams has to be just 73.5 for the over to hit.
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On the other hand, while Duke may be a little shaky in Columbus, it simply has too much firepower to be contained that much. Three players are averaging over ten points per game, and Mark Williams is averaging 9.9. Combined through their last three games, the Blue Devils have averaged 93 points. Easy over.
That includes a 107-point outlier against The Citadel, you say? Okay, then. Against more comparable opponents, Kentucky and Gonzaga, the Blue Devils averaged 81.5 points. Subtracting a few for shakiness gives us, in my opinion, a pretty reasonable estimate of how Duke will perform against Ohio State. The over still hits.
But just for fun, let's be really robust while estimating Duke's scoring. The team's season average for points per game is 85.6 with a standard deviation of 11.4. If we assume the Blue Devils' scoring is approximately normally distributed (bear with me here), we can say that there is about an 84% chance that Duke will score at least 74.2 points, a full standard deviation below its season average.
So, even in an unlikely worst-case scenario where the Blue Devils score well below their average while also conceding Ohio State's recent clip, the over still hits, if just barely.
Men lie, women lie, but statistics don't. The over will hit.
Pick: Over 147 points
Team to score first
You've made it this far, so I'll keep this one short. Ohio State is going to score first, even if Duke ends up winning.
The Buckeyes are coming off nearly a week of rest and they will have an electric crowd supporting them. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils will likely have a slow start for the reasons discussed above. As such, Ohio State will make good on its home-court advantage to score first. Maybe this whips the Blue Devils into shape and they go forward scoring at their usual rate. However, for the opening basket, I'm picking the home team.
Pick: Ohio State -115
Sasha Richie is a Trinity junior and the Blue Zone Editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.