Beats' picks: Will Duke men's basketball survive NCAA tournament's East Region to reach Final Four?

Head coach Jon Scheyer in Duke's ACC tournament semifinal win against Miami.
Head coach Jon Scheyer in Duke's ACC tournament semifinal win against Miami.

On Thursday, the NCAA tournament begins in earnest, and that evening, No. 5-seed Duke begins a new NCAA tournament run, this time with a new head coach but the same goal of a sixth national title banner in Cameron Indoor Stadium. 

Before the first Round of 64 games tip off, The Chronicle's beat writers tackle their predictions for the East Region, Final Four and national championship game, including how far the Blue Devils will make it in pursuit of a second-straight trip to the sport's biggest stage.

Jonathan Levitan

V. 118 Sports Editor

Round of 64:

(1) Purdue over (16) Fairleigh Dickinson

(8) Memphis over (9) Florida Atlantic

(5) Duke over (12) Oral Roberts

(4) Tennessee over (13) Louisiana

(11) Providence over (6) Kentucky

(3) Kansas State over (14) Montana State

(10) USC over (7) Michigan State

(2) Marquette over (15) Vermont

Round of 32:

(8) Memphis over (1) Purdue

(5) Duke over (4) Tennessee

(3) Kansas State over (11) Providence

(2) Marquette over (10) USC

Sweet 16:

(5) Duke over (8) Memphis

(2) Marquette over (3) Kansas State

Elite Eight:

(5) Duke over (2) Marquette

The Blue Devils may have deserved a top-four seed, but should they survive a tough opening weekend in Orlando, Fla., the rest of the way to Houston is manageable. Neither Purdue nor Marquette was expected to be within a stone's throw of a top-two seed back in the preseason, and that would historically suggest that the East is open for business. The Boilermakers never make it to Duke, and the Golden Eagles end a valiant run in the Elite Eight.

Final Four:

(1) Alabama over (5) Duke

(1) Houston over (3) Gonzaga

For as shaky as the top of the college basketball landscape was this regular season, things have evened out just in time for the postseason. The selection committee made the right call in naming Alabama and Houston the top overall seeds, and not even some resistance here from college basketball's most consistently excellent programs can prevent a rematch of their thrilling nonconference duel. This has an inevitable feel to it, similar to the Gonzaga-Baylor final in 2021.

National champion:

(1) Houston over (1) Alabama

Kelvin Sampson's Cougars have been as good as anybody for three seasons running, and they have been a steady March team, too, with a Final Four appearance in 2021 and an Elite Eight loss last year. If Houston can survive in the early going without a fully healthy roster and get to its home city for the final weekend of the season, it is difficult to pick against a team that has been on the doorstep for some time now — even against the deserving top seed.

Sasha Richie

V. 118 Sports Managing Editor

Round of 64:

(1) Purdue over (16) Fairleigh Dickinson

(8) Memphis over (9) Florida Atlantic

(5) Duke over (12) Oral Roberts

(4) Tennessee over (13) Louisiana

(11) Providence over (6) Kentucky

(3) Kansas State over (14) Montana State

(7) Michigan State over (10) USC

(2) Marquette over (15) Vermont

Round of 32:

(1) Purdue over (8) Memphis

(5) Duke over (4) Tennessee

(11) Providence over (3) Kansas State

(2) Marquette over (7) Michigan State

Sweet 16:

(5) Duke over (1) Purdue

(2) Marquette over (11) Providence

Elite Eight:

(5) Duke over (2) Marquette

While Tennessee is a tough draw for a second-round matchup, I don’t think Duke struggles too much with it. Since downing No. 1-overall seed Alabama in February, the Volunteers have won one meaningful game, against Arkansas. After that, I think Duke will get its revenge against Purdue. When the two faced off at the PK85, Duke was missing a lot of things, but most importantly the versatile, stalwart defender Dereck Lively II would become after initial struggles. With a real answer to Zach Edey this time, I don’t think the Blue Devils make the same mistake twice. 

This brings us to the Elite Eight. After ending Providence’s party, Marquette will advance to face Duke, bringing with it an incredibly efficient offense. The Golden Eagles really struggle against big teams with a powerful paint presence; Duke not only has those things but runs two 7-footers in its starting lineup. The size advantage the Blue Devils have, plus their ability to get their own second chances and take away Marquette’s, will send the team to its second Final Four in a row.

Final Four:

(5) Duke over (2) Arizona

(2) Texas over (1) Kansas

Texas has beaten Kansas twice in the past two weeks by a combined 36 points; it’s a pretty easy decision for me to predict that the Longhorns can do that again. The Blue Devils, on the other hand, will have to face yet another fast-paced offense in Arizona. In fact, the Wildcats have the third-highest points per game in the entire NCAA. In addition, Arizona has comparable size to Duke, led in scoring by starters 6-foot-11 forward Azuolas Tubelis and 7-foot center Oumar Ballo. Ballo is dealing with a lingering hand injury, however, and overall, I think Duke is the more cohesive team. The Wildcats can be turnover prone, and they allow their opponents nearly seven more points per game than Duke does. With that in mind, I think Duke will exploit a comparatively weaker defense and less controlled style of play overall to advance to the championship. 

National champion:

(2) Texas over (5) Duke

In the finals, I’m going with the more proven team. As beautiful as the basketball the Blue Devils are playing right now is, the best team they have tried it against in the past month is Virginia, maybe Miami. Neither of those teams is in the same stratosphere as the Longhorns. Only one team has more Quad 1 wins than Texas — Kansas — and the Longhorns at their best are as close to unbeatable as you can get at this level. They share the ball, anyone in the lineup can create a shot, they are explosive and their defense has shut down some of the best teams in the nation. Thus, in a little bit of Tobacco Road poetry, the Blue Devils come up just short of a championship in Scheyer’s first year. 

Micah Hurewitz

V. 118 Sports Managing Editor

Round of 64:

(1) Purdue over (16) Fairleigh Dickinson

(8) Memphis over (9) Florida Atlantic

(5) Duke over (12) Oral Roberts

(4) Tennessee over (13) Louisiana

(11) Providence over (6) Kentucky

(3) Kansas State over (14) Montana State

(7) Michigan State over (10) USC

(2) Marquette over (15) Vermont

Round of 32:

(1) Purdue over (8) Memphis

(5) Duke over (4) Tennessee

(11) Providence over (3) Kansas State

(2) Marquette over (7) Michigan State

Sweet 16:

(5) Duke over (1) Purdue

(2) Marquette over (11) Providence

Elite Eight:

(5) Duke over (2) Marquette 

Madison Square Garden and two red-hot teams looking to prove themselves in March? Yes, please. An enormous Blue Devil crowd could fuel the Scheyer-led squad past Purdue as they continue the revenge tour, and the matchup with Marquette will be one of Duke’s toughest defensive tests yet. But I think Duke’s offense of late has what it takes to outmatch the Golden Eagles and head to back-to-back Final Fours for the first time since a five-peat ending in 1992.

Final Four:

(1) Alabama over (5) Duke

(3) Gonzaga over (1) Houston

National champion:

(3) Gonzaga over (1) Alabama

I have this feeling that this is the year Gonzaga finally cuts down the nets with a national championship. The Bulldogs own the No. 1 offense per KenPom and finished off their season with a commanding victory against fellow tournament team Saint Mary’s, and some big-time wins within their region against UCLA and UConn could have them primed for a run in Houston. Tons of experience and endless scoring options — I think Gonzaga has what it takes.

Jake Piazza 

V. 117 Sports Editor

Round of 64:

(1) Purdue over (16) Fairleigh Dickinson

(8) Memphis over (9) Florida Atlantic

(5) Duke over (12) Oral Roberts

(13) Louisiana over (4) Tennessee

(6) Kentucky over (11) Providence 

(3) Kansas State over (14) Montana State 

(10) USC over (7) Michigan State 

(2) Marquette over (15) Vermont 

Round of 32:

Purdue over (8) Memphis 

(5) Duke over (13) Louisiana 

(6) Kentucky over (3) Kansas State 

(2) Marquette over (10) USC 

Sweet 16:

(5) Duke over (1) Purdue 

(6) Kentucky over (2) Marquette 

Elite Eight:

(5) Duke over (6) Kentucky 

I don’t see a team with more momentum than Duke right now. The Blue Devils are massively under-seeded at the five spot and are going to have a relatively easy path until they run into Purdue. Duke avenged every ACC loss that it had a second chance at, and Purdue is going to be next in line. After that, I believe the Blue Devils will overpower Oscar Tshiebwe and the Wildcats and get to the Final Four again. 

Final Four:

(5) Duke over (1) Alabama

(1) Houston over (1) Kansas 

I know I have picked three of the four No. 1 seeds, but I just don’t see any of the three of them losing — that is, until the Final Four comes around. Kansas proved its mettle directly to Duke earlier this year with its 69-64 win, and Alabama and Houston have both won under pressure all season long. Duke is definitely the weakest team in this bunch resume-wise, but the Blue Devils' late-season surge has me believing they can be the outlier of the group. 

National champion:

(5) Duke over (1) Houston 

It’s important to remember that Duke had only played a handful of games at full strength until the final stretch of the season. That, combined with the growth of the freshmen, has me believing that the Blue Devils can get to the championship. Beating Houston will not be an easy task, but Scheyer has proved his valor this year as a coach and I think it’s going to be enough for national championship No. 6.

Max Rego

V. 117 Sports Managing Editor

Round of 64:

(1) Purdue over (16) Fairleigh Dickinson

(8) Memphis over (9) Florida Atlantic

(5) Duke over (12) Oral Roberts

(4) Tennessee over (13) Louisiana

(11) Providence (6) Kentucky

(3) Kansas State over (14) Montana State

(7) Michigan State over (10) USC

(2) Marquette over (15) Vermont

Round of 32:

(8) Memphis over (1) Purdue

(5) Duke over (4) Tennessee

(11) Providence over (3) Kansas State

(2) Marquette over (7) Michigan State

Sweet 16:

(5) Duke over (8) Memphis

(2) Marquette over (11) Providence

Elite Eight: 

(2) Marquette over (5) Duke

Two of the hottest teams in the country at Madison Square Garden. This will be a doozy. To get to this point, Duke will have taken care of formidable Oral Roberts, struggling Tennessee and veteran-laden Memphis, while Marquette is equipped to steamroll Vermont, Michigan State and conference foe Providence. Over 40 minutes of hard-nosed basketball, the backcourts will go at it, making for a highly entertaining contest. In the end, though, the Blue Devils will have some issues with the Golden Eagles’ ball pressure and falter slightly down the stretch. More than a decade after his run with VCU, Shaka Smart will return to the Final Four.

Final Four:

(1) Alabama over (2) Marquette

(1) Houston over (3) Gonzaga

Four heavyweights will find themselves on Super Saturday in Houston. Alabama clearly has a leg up on the rest of the South Region, and will ride Brandon Miller, Noah Clowney, Jahvon Quinerly and its 3-point-reliant attack to the title game. Concerns are aplenty surrounding Marcus Sasser’s groin injury, but Jamal Shead and Jarace Walker will pick up the slack while the First Team All-American gets into a rhythm in the early rounds. By the Final Four, Sasser will be Sasser once again, and while Gonzaga and Drew Timme will fight, the Bulldogs’ 76th-best KenPom defensive efficiency will make it difficult to get over the top. For the second time in three years, a pair of No. 1 seeds will face off for all the marbles.

National champion:

(1) Houston over (1) Alabama

This feels written in the stars. The Cougars have been oh-so-close the last two years, losing in the Final Four and Elite Eight to Baylor and Villanova, respectively. Sampson is one of the best coaches in America without a national title, the Final Four is in NRG Stadium in Houston and Houston alum Jim Nantz is calling his final NCAA Tournament for CBS. In a championship game that delivers all the goods, two elite defensive units (and two of the best scorers in the country in Miller and Sasser) go blow for blow the entire night. Yet I trust the Cougars to get a couple more key stops late than the Crimson Tide, and in a 75-70 thriller, the Sampson reclamation project is completed.

Alex Jackson

V. 117 Sports Features Editor

Round of 64:

(1) Purdue over (16) Fairleigh Dickinson

(8) Memphis over (9) Florida Atlantic

(5) Duke over (12) Oral Roberts

(4) Tennessee over (13) Louisiana 

(11) Providence over (6) Kentucky

(3) Kansas St. over (14) Montana St.

(7) Michigan St. over (10) USC

(2) Marquette over (15) Vermont

Round of 32:

(5) Duke over (4) Tennessee

(1)Purdue over (8) Memphis

(3) Kansas St. over (11) Providence

(2) Marquette over (7) Michigan St

Sweet 16:

(5) Duke over (1) Purdue

(2) Marquette over (3) Kansas St

Elite Eight:

(5) Duke over (2) Marquette

Duke is the hottest team in the country right now. I think its toughest matchup could be in the first round against an Oral Roberts team that is an even better version than its last March Madness squad. If the Blue Devils can get past the opening-round jitters that will likely follow a freshman-heavy team and continue their run, they could be on a path to success and another trip to the Final Four. Duke will almost certainly face some heavy hitters in its path, but the team’s size will work in its favor against Tennessee and Marquette. As for Purdue, the Blue Devils know what the Boilermakers look like at their best, but Purdue has no idea what Duke looks like when firing on all cylinders. The much-anticipated rematch will give the Blue Devils a chance to show they are a completely different team than when they last faced off. 

Final Four:

(1)Alabama over (5) Duke

(2) Texas over (2) UCLA 

The Final Four is where Duke will ultimately meet its demise. Alabama, despite the controversy, is a near-unstoppable force and will be coming off some dominant wins in its region. The mixture of experience and skill will ultimately be too much for the Blue Devils to overcome. Foul trouble or an off shooting night will likely be the end of the road for Duke.

Texas and UCLA have been two of the best teams all year long. Each of them has hit its own bumps in the road but rebounded effectively. Texas is coming off a thrashing of No. 1 seeded Kansas in the Big 12 championship and that can very easily propel them to the final.

National champion:

(2) Texas over (1) Alabama

Much of my rationale pertaining to Texas’ victory over UCLA applies to how it will topple Alabama. Both are great teams, but the Longhorns' physicality and defensive prowess will ultimately give them the edge against Miller. Once Miller has been limited, Texas’ explosiveness on offense will be too much to handle, especially if they can get out in transition. There is little anyone can do to stop this team when playing at the level it has been.

Andrew Long

V. 118 Blue Zone Editor

Round of 64:

(1) Purdue over (16) Fairleigh Dickinson

(9) Florida Atlantic over (8) Memphis

(5) Duke over (12) Oral Roberts

(4) Tennessee over (13) Louisiana

(6) Kentucky over (11) Providence

(3) Kansas State over (14) Montana State

(7) Michigan State over (10) USC

(2) Marquette over (15) Vermont

Round of 32:

(1) Purdue over (9) Florida Atlantic

(5) Duke over (4) Tennessee

(6) Kentucky over (3) Kansas State

(2) Marquette over (7) Michigan State

Sweet 16:

(5) Duke over (1) Purdue

(2) Marquette over (6) Kentucky

Elite Eight:

(5) Duke over (2) Marquette

Fire builds fire, and Duke is by far the hottest team in this region.

After sending Tennessee and Purdue packing, the Blue Devils’ biggest test will be overcoming an incredibly well-coached and dangerous Marquette team in the Elite Eight. The Golden Eagles stormed to the Big East title in a ruthless way and show no sign of slowing down against their potential Power Five opponents. The thing Marquette does best is score nearly 80 points per game, and with that kind of firepower, Smart’s team will never be down and out. Throughout its nine-game winning run, though, Duke has shown itself to be offensively prolific as well, while also locking the post behind a Lively-shaped vault door and the arc behind a Proctor- and Roach-guarded moat. That kind of defensive acumen wins championships, and with the streak these Blue Devils are on, I can’t bring myself to pick against them. Scheyer’s honeymoon continues — destination, Houston. 

Final Four:

(1) Alabama over (5) Duke

(1) Kansas over (2) Texas

While some may consider a Duke run to the Final Four Cinderella-esque, the clock hits midnight here. Alabama, on paper and by the eye test, is probably the best team. The Blue Devil defense keeps it close, but the Crimson Tide just find that extra pint of gas to push them to the title game. On the other side of the bracket, Texas rides its Big 12 tournament romp to the Final Four on home turf, but succumbs to Kansas this time around. The Jayhawks, despite some injury issues and concerns over head coach Bill Self’s health, still have one of the country’s top rosters, one of the Big 12’s best players in Jalen Wilson and supplemental star power in players like Gradey Dick and Kevin McCullar Jr. They are well-rounded and consistent — just what March requires. When the dust settles, it’s two No. 1 seeds, and maybe the best two on the ballot.

National champion:

(1) Kansas over (1) Alabama

When it comes to games like this, where both teams are loaded and have probably the two best resumes in the country, finding the winning formula is a bit like splitting hairs. Nonetheless, Kansas has 17 Quad 1 wins and a squad that has been there and done that just a year ago, and for that mix of experience and proven aptitude, I can’t look past them. The Big 12 title loss to the Longhorns was a wake-up call, but that was without McCullar — Kansas’ third-leading scorer — and Self, and after winning the best conference in basketball’s regular-season title. I don’t doubt that the Crimson Tide could pull this one out. But the Jayhawks know what winning looks like, should be healthy and were in this exact position a year ago.

Rachael Kaplan

V. 118 Assistant Blue Zone Editor

Round of 64: 

(1) Purdue over (16) Fairleigh Dickinson

(8) Memphis over (9) Florida Atlantic

(5) Duke over (12) Oral Roberts

(4) Tennessee over (13) Louisiana

(11) Providence over (6) Kentucky

(3) Kansas State over (14) Montana State

(10) USC over (7) Michigan State

(2) Marquette over (15) Vermont

Round of 32:

(8) Memphis over (1) Purdue

(5) Duke over (4) Tennessee

(3) Kansas State over (11) Providence

(2) Marquette over (10) USC

Sweet 16:

(5) Duke over (8) Memphis

(2) Marquette over (3) Kansas State

Elite Eight:

(2) Marquette over (5) Duke

When looking at the East, stick with what’s working. The college basketball season is long, but at the end of the day, all that matters is March. Duke and Marquette both boast nine-game win streaks and conference tournament titles entering the Round of 64. No matter their seeding, they are the ones to beat, and that will show. The top-seeded Boilermakers’ play has declined from their early-season dominance, making them vulnerable to a team like Memphis who is coming off an AAC tournament championship win against Houston. Kentucky’s inconsistency makes it a prime upset target, and while a first-round exit as a No. 6 seed doesn’t compare to last year’s loss to No. 15-seed Saint Peter’s, the Blue Blood is not ready to make a title run. 

Final Four:

(2) Marquette over (1) Alabama

(1) Houston over (3) Gonzaga

While every team has shown its cracks this season, Alabama has hidden its own surprisingly well. Aside from their off-the-court controversy, the Crimson Tide closed out their regular season 4-2 in their last six, with two of those wins coming in overtime. While their talent is unmistakable and their will to win known, I just don’t think this is a national champion team. All it will take is one down night from Miller and Alabama is out. Gonzaga has yet to prove it can win on the biggest stage, and Houston is going to come back after its conference tournament loss with a vengeance. 

National champion:

(1) Houston over (2) Marquette

It is Houston’s year. The Cougars have been right there for so long, and this season the stars may have finally aligned. No team is ever perfect, but this season seems to have taken that to the extreme. The top spot in the AP Poll, after leaving North Carolina’s hands, has flip-flopped between Houston, Purdue and Alabama. With Sasser likely back from injury by the time the Final Four rolls around, the Cougars will be the team to beat. Marquette’s win streak has to come to an end at some point, and a healthy Houston squad is just the program to do it. 


Max Rego profile
Max Rego

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 C. Piazza

Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.


Sasha Richie profile
Sasha Richie | Sports Managing Editor

Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


Micah Hurewitz

Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity senior and was previously a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.



Jonathan Levitan

Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


Rachael Kaplan profile
Rachael Kaplan | Sports Managing Editor

Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


Andrew Long profile
Andrew Long | Recruitment/Social Chair

Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and recruitment/social chair of The Chronicle's 120th volume. He was previously sports editor for Volume 119.

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