On Saturday evening, Duke makes its return to the NCAA tournament with a Round of 64 matchup at home against No. 14-seed Iona. Before tipoff at 9:30 p.m., The Chronicle's beat writers predict whether the Blue Devils' season will stretch to Monday.
Em Adler: 60-45 Duke
Here’s why Iona could quite feasibly win: The Blue Devils are at least the third-best defense in the country and don’t take threes; meanwhile, the Gaels shoot the lights out from three, have been dominant on the interior defensively and play very slow. Here’s why Iona almost certainly won’t win: They are led by a 6-foot-2 center, a 5-foot-9 2-guard who took only 3.7% of her threes off the dribble and a point guard who is better on defense than on offense. All of those things match up horribly with Duke.
Leah Boyd: 60-42 Duke
Iona did not play a top-25 team all season, so its highly touted scoring defense and 3-point percentages aren’t convincing enough for me to give it a chance here. Combine that with the fact that this is the Gaels’ first NCAA tournament appearance since 2016, and I don’t think they are prepared for a matchup with Duke in such a high-stakes atmosphere. On the other end, I’m optimistic that Duke has been cleaning up on the offensive end over the last two weeks, as Mia Heide said Sunday.
Franck Djidjeu: 64-51 Duke
Iona is one of the hottest teams in the country, winning 20 of 21 after going 6-5 to start the season. What makes the Gaels dangerous is their ability to shoot lights-out with incredible efficiency. They are second in the nation in 3-point percentage at 40.1% and top-10 in field goal percentage at 47.4%. If Duke comes in without energy, Iona could truly make the home team pay. However, the Gaels have not seen a team with Duke's level of intensity. I believe that the Blue Devils will take away Iona's shooting and feed off the home crowd for a win.
Dom Fenoglio: 61-48 Duke
The Blue Devils, who are coming off a two-week rest, are in desperate need of offensive success. In its last 10 games, Duke has scored more than 60 points just twice. Iona may come out strong, and the lack of experience among the Blue Devils may spell trouble on offense. However, in the end, Duke will ride a home crowd to its best offensive performance since a 77-62 victory against N.C. State Feb. 23 and settle in heading into the second round.
Martin Heintzelman: 53-43 Duke
Iona has not faced a Power Five team this year, and this will likely be a rude awakening for the Gaels. Even other ACC teams have at times struggled to acclimate to what has been a stifling Blue Devil defense, so an Iona squad that has not seen much in the way of ranked competition will struggle tremendously on the offensive end of the floor. Iona’s scoring defense has fared relatively well this season, so look for this to be a low-scoring game with Duke coming out comfortably on top.
Ranjan Jindal: 61-47 Duke
This is an intriguing first-round matchup because of the defensive abilities present. Both Iona and Duke are top-15 nationally in scoring defense, and this is primed to be a low-scoring battle. Despite not ranking highly offensively, the Gaels have the second-best 3-point percentage in the country, so it will be essential for the Blue Devils to limit these opportunities. That said, Iona’s level of competition has been inferior to Duke’s, and I believe that Lawson will have the offense ready after a subpar ACC tournament. This may be close initially, but the Blue Devils should pull away in the fourth quarter.
Sophie Levenson: 65-54 Duke
The No. 1 team in the MAAC has not faced an ACC defense this season. It certainly has not dealt with senior guard Celeste Taylor, recently crowned Defensive Player of the Year in her conference. The reality is that this team does not deal with the high-caliber competition that Duke does all throughout the regular season, so while the Gaels will certainly knock down some shots — they are killer from beyond the arc — the Blue Devils are going to have this one in the bag.
Garrett Spooner: 68-46 Duke
In what is Lawson’s first NCAA tournament game as a head coach, the Blue Devils will likely be fired up in front of what should be a loud Cameron Indoor Stadium crowd. Iona gives up just 54.4 points per game, yet Duke’s scoring ability is unlike any other team that Iona has faced in the MAAC. On the other side, Duke has been elite defensively all year. However, 26 wins is not an accident, and if the Blue Devils overlook this Gaels’ team, they will get burned. Perhaps Iona keeps the game close going into the second quarter, but Lawson’s squad will have enough to advance.
Mackenzie Sheehy: 57-51 Duke
Lawson’s NCAA tournament debut as a coach is poised to be an all-out defensive matchup. Ranked 13th in the country for scoring defense, the Gaels have held their opponents to an average of 54.4 points per game while also earning the second-best 3-point percentage in Division I. That being said, Iona has not come across an opponent of Duke’s caliber this season. The Blue Devils’ full-court pressure has put even the best offenses in a sticky situation, and the Gaels will likely struggle to put together any real threats. With the roar of the Cameron Crazies on their side, Duke should take advantage of the luxury of home to pull out the victory.
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Leah Boyd is a Pratt senior and a social chair of The Chronicle's 118th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 117.