After winning its last nine games and claiming an ACC tournament title, No. 5-seed Duke begins its NCAA tournament journey Thursday evening against No. 12-seed Oral Roberts at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla. Before the 7:10 p.m. tipoff, The Chronicle's beat writers make their predictions.
Jonathan Levitan: Duke 73-60
Duke’s road to March was rocky, for the most part. Oral Roberts’ road was about as clean as can be, with the Golden Eagles going undefeated in Summit League play and all but one of their losses coming to NCAA tournament teams; they were unable to hang with the two top-five seeds they faced (No. 1-seed Houston and No. 5-seed St. Mary’s).
This early in the tournament, defense wins with remarkable consistency. The Blue Devils beat a pair of top-five seeds with confidence in last week’s ACC tournament and have gone 26-4 when holding opponents below their scoring average. Oral Roberts will not be able to keep pace, and Duke gets its first win at the Big Dance under Jon Scheyer.
Micah Hurewitz: Duke 81-66
There is a lot of hype around this matchup mainly because of the memories of the 2021 Golden Eagles team that took down Ohio State and advanced to the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed. Max Abmas is still around and playing as well as ever and Oral Roberts adds Connor Vanover, who may very well give Dereck Lively II some trouble inside. But when it is all said and done, the Blue Devils are the better team and will likely outrebound their opponents, helping them to a solid winning margin despite the popular upset selection. And when looking at the resumes, sure the Golden Eagles are on a 17-game win streak, but Duke has beaten three field-of-64 teams in their last three games, which is three more than Oral Roberts has beaten all season.
Sasha Richie: Duke 84-71
Oral Roberts is a sneaky hard first-round opponent because of how explosive it is on offense. Only a handful of schools in the country score at a faster clip. Still, as is the case with most power-mid major matchups, Duke has a significant athleticism advantage. At every position, the Blue Devils have some of the best players in the game. Add in that as of late all of those positions are flowing as a complete unit, and I wouldn’t bank on a less talented Oral Roberts team to play spoiler to Scheyer’s tournament debut.
Max Rego: Duke 79-67
A major question going into this one is whether Vanover can lure Lively out of the paint enough to open up the lane for Abmas and company. Well, considering that the freshman center is more than capable of defending on the perimeter and recovering to still protect the rim, the Blue Devils should be fine in that regard. Abmas is sure to get his, but Tyrese Proctor will make it difficult enough to allow Duke to go on a couple key runs. As usual, Jeremy Roach will do his thing down the stretch to keep the Golden Eagles at arm’s length, and Scheyer wins his NCAA tournament debut.
Alex Jackson: Duke 78-68
This game has the potential to be one of Duke’s toughest challenges this tournament. Four starting freshmen will likely be rattled heading into such a daunting environment against such a dangerous team. I believe Roach will be the spark this team needs to settle down and play the level of ball the Blue Devils have during these past nine games. Oral Roberts is no joke: Abmas is up there with the best players in the country and he rained chaos down on March Madness two seasons ago. But if Proctor is able to face guard him, Duke stands a good chance. This Duke team has become so fundamentally sound on both sides of the ball that I believe they can cover the spread, but it will not be be easy.
Andrew Long: Duke 75-61
While Abmas is a bonafide star and Oral Roberts has serious upset potential, a Duke win here ultimately comes down to squad depth and deeper talent. When the Golden Eagles surged to the Sweet 16 in 2021, Abmas showed out, sure, but it was also the elevated play of Kevin Obanor that helped them down Ohio State and Florida and keep it close against Arkansas. This time around, only one of those pieces remains and the Blue Devils are playing their best basketball of the year. Can one standout player topple the game-on-game output of Kyle Filipowski? Or best Lively in the paint? Or outshine the Proctor-Roach combo that has terrorized backcourts throughout the last month? I’m inclined to think not. Duke is a No. 3- or No. 4-seed masquerading as a No. 5-seed, and its talent and its players are too much for a first-round exit.
Rachael Kaplan: Duke 77-63
The 2021 Cinderella returns against college basketball’s greatest villain. If Oral Robert could do it against No. 2-seed Ohio State, who’s to say it won’t happen again this year? However, the Blue Devils are not the Buckeyes. While Duke is young, it has a seasoned veteran in Roach and a head coach in Scheyer who won a title as a player. The Blue Devils have all the pieces — Lively's defensive pressure, Proctor’s ball-handling and court vision, Filipowski’s knack for finding the basket. As long as Duke can hold Abmas to a less-than-superhuman performance, it should skate through to the second round.
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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.
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.
Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.
Andrew Long is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.