No. 2-seed Duke has its first game of the NCAA tournament Friday against No. 15-seed Cal State Fullerton. The Blue Devils come in as 18.5-point favorites leading up to their 7:10 p.m. tipoff against the Titans in Greenville, S.C.
Piazza: Duke 86-69
So everyone is already thinking about the possibility of another 2-seed falling to a 15-seed. I am here to say that is not going to happen in this one. Cal State Fullerton checks in at 149th in KenPom rankings, and I just do not think they have the size to compete with the likes of Mark Williams and Paolo Banchero. I'm not super high on this Duke team right now, but ultimately its superior talent is going to be enough for the win.
Rego: Duke 84-61
One thing I’m interested in is how Duke communicates defensively, especially after the Blue Devils were shredded on ball screens and dribble handoffs against North Carolina and Virginia Tech, respectively. Wendell Moore Jr. implied in media availability Thursday that the Blue Devils were getting back to their foundation of getting into their opponents’ chests and forcing live-ball turnovers. Look for EJ Anosike, the Titans’ leading scorer, and Paolo Banchero to go back and forth a little bit early on, but Mark Williams is going to be the differentiator in this one. The Virginia native goes to work on both ends, and Duke moves on in fairly stress free fashion.
Jackson: Duke 88-66
Duke is really looking for a bounce-back game here. After getting out-hustled in the ACC championship game, the Blue Devils lost out on a shot at 1-seed and got stuck in a quadrant with No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga.
I think Cal State Fullerton doesn’t really stand a chance against a Duke squad that is seeking vengeance. The Titans had one of the worst strength of schedule rankings and are a bottom-140 team in both offensive and defensive efficiency. I know people are looking at this as a possible 15-2 upset but this should be a game in which Duke’s reserves see minutes.
Kolin: Duke 102-64
After seeing Kentucky fall to No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s Thursday, I think Duke comes out of the gates ready to play in this one. The Blue Devils have talked a lot the past few days about revamping their defense ahead of this tournament, so look out for Krzyzewski and company to take pride in that end of the floor in an opening-round win.
Morgenstern: Duke 85-65
The Blue Devils aren’t the same dominant Blue Devils we have seen in the past. Still, they are as close to a lock for a Round of 64 win as you can get. Duke’s talented trio of Paolo Banchero, Mark Williams and Wendell Moore Jr. will batter Cal State Fullerton early. The Titans have experience but are severely limited by a lack of size. The only question here is how much Duke will win by. I think that depends on how early Coach K puts in the walk-ons—after all, he won’t have another chance to sub his grandson into the NCAA tournament.
Richie: Duke 87-71
March has delivered on the Madness so far, so I’m not ready to call this one a lock. However, how many times can a No. 15 seed really upset a No. 2 seed? It’s happened 10 times in history. Twice in one tournament would be nuts, and I can’t imagine Coach K’s career ending at the hands of Cal State Fullerton, so I’m sticking with Duke. I’m not going to lie and say my bracket is perfect, or good, but I stand by my pick on this one. The Blue Devils have maybe the most talented roster in the tournament on paper, and they will likely come out with fire trying to avenge two big recent losses. And if it can put all the pieces together, Duke can make this one an easy win to prime itself for its goal of a deep run.
Levitan: Duke 81-59
The Blue Devils snuck their way onto the No. 2 line for the tournament, and as a reward received a favorable matchup to start off their NCAA tournament journey. The Titans are no joke—just take a look at the last minute of their conference tournament championship win against Long Beach State—but the Blue Devils are bigger, more talented, more battle-tested, you name it. This is March, and every matchup should gain excitement, but Friday night’s matchup won’t add much to the first-weekend craziness.
Hurewitz: Duke 85-64
As St. Peter’s showed Thursday, no No. 2 seed is safe, no matter if they have a likely Wooden Award winner manning the paint. Like Kentucky, the Blue Devils enter the NCAA tournament off a tough loss, but something is telling me that Duke will come out of the gates a little more motivated to kick off its tournament run with a statement victory. With nearly a week of rest, the fatigue we observed in the Duke defense in that brutal second half against Virginia Tech is gonna be in the rear-view and guard Trevor Keels will be back to himself shooting the ball with a revitalized Paolo Banchero and Mark Williams inside. It’ll be the battle of NBA talent against a mid-major that just barely squeaked in the Big Dance. Duke will also have a clear size advantage so this should be no trouble for the squad, motivated as ever to send Coach K off with a championship.
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Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.
Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.
Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.
Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.
Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.