With 10 consecutive wins to its name and a first-round victory against Oral Roberts in the books, No. 5-seed Duke meets No. 4-seed Tennessee in Orlando, Fla., Saturday afternoon with a trip to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 on the line. As tipoff nears, The Chronicle's beat writers make their picks.
Jonathan Levitan: Duke 64-53
After the Blue Devils’ destruction of Oral Roberts and Tennessee’s narrow win against Louisiana, it should be clear — if it wasn’t already — that Duke is the team to beat here, regardless of seeding.
Specific to this matchup, though, I’m curious to see how the Volunteers — playing with a Zakai Zeigler-sized hole in the backcourt — set up the offense against Duke’s Jeremy Roach and Tyrese Proctor. Guard play is so often the catalyst to March Madness success, and the Blue Devils’ junior-freshman duo has been thunder and lightning on offense and defense, respectively, in recent outings. There are other reasons to be confident in Duke, but that’s what I’ll choose to hang my hat on as the Blue Devils take care of business in Orlando.
Micah Hurewitz: Duke 60-55
The Blue Devils showcased one of their finest defensive performances yet Thursday night, and Tennessee is known for its defense — but Duke’s offense looks like it can turn a couple of notches higher, especially following Tennessee’s tight win against Louisiana. It won’t be a high-scoring game, but Roach’s latest run plus a more involved Kyle Filipowski could put Duke ahead of the Volunteers — with a chance to take on either Florida Atlantic or Fairleigh Dickinson in New York next week.
Sasha Richie: Duke 68-62
After a Round of 64 full of upsets, it’s somewhat reassuring for Duke that it was one of the few contenders to put away its first opponent immediately. Still, Tennessee is a completely different beast than Oral Roberts, and the Blue Devils will need to crack one of the country's best defenses in order to emerge victorious. Duke has its own stout defense to counter with, though, and has excelled in its previous slugfests, like the ACC championship against Virginia. Scheyer will be able to put Dereck Lively II, Mark Mitchell and Proctor on the Volunteers’ most dangerous scorers and let the trio of Filipowski, Roach and Dariq Whitehead do what they do best and create their own shot. It’ll be close and not all that pretty, but I think the Blue Devils get it done.
Jake Piazza: Duke 76-68
Duke is coming off its 10th-consecutive win, with its most recent one very much being a statement. The Blue Devils smothered Oral Roberts from the field and spread the ball well on offense, which they are going to do once again against Tennessee. The Volunteers turned the ball over 18 times, and with Duke’s defense right now, that is not something its opponents can afford to do. The Blue Devils are going to force a ton of turnovers again and punch their ticket to the second weekend.
Max Rego: Duke 69-59
One team is playing its best basketball of the season. The other is, well, not. Roach is in March form, Dereck Lively II has become a sturdy backbone on the defensive end and head coach Jon Scheyer is handling his first NCAA tournament as a head coach like a seasoned pro. Tennessee will battle, no doubt, and look for Santiago Vescovi and Josiah Jordan-James to keep the Volunteers in it for 30 minutes. But Duke is just rolling, and this run will continue to New York.
Alex Jackson: Duke 72-66
Duke and Tennessee both showed off their defensive capabilities in their first-round wins. However, neither offense was spectacular. Most will look at this game as a defensive battle, but I see the Blue Devils breaking through that narrative with their transition game. Duke is starting to build the ability to turn defense into quick offense, and I think Tennessee falls into the turnover trap. With Lively patrolling the paint, the Volunteers will face a level of interior pressure they are not used to seeing. This will be a close game, but I have to give the edge to Duke with its offensive weapons. Assuming Filipowski returns to his normal self, Tennessee won’t be able to stop the Blue Devils' ability to attack from all areas on the floor. The only way the Volunteers win is if Duke beats itself.
Andrew Long: Duke 63-58
Duke’s strength all year has been its defensive resolve, and over the last month, its offense has caught up, too. The Blue Devils smoked Oral Roberts and look as good as any team still dancing right now. Meanwhile, Tennessee’s defense is still top-three in the country, but its offense is labored without Zeigler and its first-round triumph against Louisiana was anything but comfortable. Lively’s size inside will force the Volunteers beyond the arc, and if they shoot anywhere near the 4-for-16 rate they logged against the Ragin’ Cajuns, it will be a tough afternoon for head coach Rick Barnes and his team. Tennessee’s defense will keep it tight, but a lack of offensive connectivity costs it against a Duke unit that is similarly astute on defense and is offensively firing on all cylinders. Proctor and Roach cause more problems, Filipowski gets out of his funk and Whitehead continues to produce. The result? The Blue Devils keep dancing.
Rachael Kaplan: Duke 61-56
Duke and Tennessee’s first rounds looked very different. While the Blue Devils eased past Oral Robert 74-51 after jumping out to a 15-0 lead, the Volunteers fought tooth and nail for their 58-55 victory against No. 13-seed Louisiana. The close win, however, says less about the Ragin’ Cajuns' effort and more about Tennessee’s lackluster offense. The Volunteers shot just 25% from three and turned the ball over 18 times. This game is bound to look similar to Duke’s two low-scoring, defensive grinds against Virginia. The big question is the Blue Devils — can they get their offense going up against the Volunteers' third-ranked scoring defense? With Roach in prime postseason form, Whitehead producing off the bench and Filipowski’s nerves out of his system, Duke advances.
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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.
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.