Beats' picks: Can No. 4-seed Duke men's basketball win opening round of NCAA tournament against Vermont?

Mark Mitchell attempts a jump shot against against N.C. State in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.
Mark Mitchell attempts a jump shot against against N.C. State in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.

No. 4-seed Duke awaits an evening tipoff with No. 13-seed Vermont in Brooklyn, N.Y. to open its NCAA tournament run. The Chronicle’s beat writers offer their takes of how the Blue Devils will fare Friday against the Catamounts:

Andrew Long: Duke 78-68

By all measures, this should be pretty straightforward. But a two-game slide and notable off days from Duke’s backcourt in the last week or so have led to this matchup being tabbed as a potential upset in the NCAA tournament’s opening round. I, as you can see by my prediction, disagree. 

Vermont is a talented team that has made itself somewhat of a postseason mainstay the last few seasons, sporting a deep, well-disciplined rotation that makes few errors and selects good shots. What the Catamounts don’t have, however, is a 7-foot Kyle Filipowski playing his best basketball of the season. Normally I’m hesitant to attribute a win (or a predicted one) to a single player, but the recent All-American Second Team honoree is playing more physically, decisively and efficiently now than he has for most of the campaign, presenting a stern test for an undersized mid-major. On top of that, I foresee Jeremy Roach and Jared McCain rediscovering their scoring touch after off-days against N.C. State in the ACC tournament, helping carry Duke’s offensive effort. Vermont’s ability to control pace and grind games down will keep this one close, but the Blue Devils’ talent should see them through without too many bumps.

Rachael Kaplan: Duke 79-65

I don’t know what to expect out of this Duke team in this tournament, but I do think that’s something we learn Sunday. Vermont is an opponent the Blue Devils can and should handle with ease. I don’t know if it will be quite on the same level as the beatdown of Oral Roberts in last year’s opening round, but that is what Duke should strive for. Filipowski is in peak postseason form and can likely carry this team through the first round, even if it hasn’t fully found its footing again. So long as McCain doesn’t have another head bonk in warmups and get more stitches right above his eye, I think he’s due for a big game as well. 

Mackenzie Sheehy: Duke 78-65

In their last two contests, the Blue Devils have looked off-kilter and underperformed. Yet with a week of rest and an ax to grind after a loss to its rivals as well as an early exit from the ACC tournament, I think Duke comes into this game hungry and ready to prove it shouldn’t be counted out of the conversation. While Filipowski has been excellent, my eyes will be on the backcourt’s response after a loss to N.C. State where neither Roach or McCain really showed up to play. If those two can bounce back, the Blue Devils will be hard to beat. Vermont will certainly put up a fight and force Duke to be dynamic on the offensive end in order to evade its tough defense, but ultimately, the Blue Devils are the better team. More importantly, I think they will be fired up to snap their losing streak and return to the victory column.

Ranjan Jindal: Duke 73-60

This past week of rest will be crucial for the Blue Devils, and I think they come into this game focused. Duke has a big size advantage on Vermont, and if there is one positive about the past couple of weeks, it has been the play of Filipowski. The stat I will be watching is offensive rebounds, because the Catamounts are one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country and force tough shots. If the Blue Devils are able to get second-chance opportunities with Filipowski and Ryan Young, this game could get ugly. But if Duke is stagnant offensively and doesn’t take good shots, Vermont could keep it close for a while. I like the Blue Devils to win a comfortable matchup and advance to the round of 32.  

Dom Fenoglio: Duke 76-62

The key to this game will be the backcourt. The Catamounts bring a trio of strong guards, including shooters, playmakers and interior bruisers. Staying disciplined and out of foul trouble on the defensive end will make or break things for Duke. On the other side, Roach and McCain have struggled to shoot efficiently in recent outings. Their confidence level and shot-making ability will be a barometer for the rest of the Blue Devils’ attack. Luckily for Duke fans, Roach and McCain might be the two best players to bet on coming off a cold spell. Roach has the veteran experience and already earned his tournament chops, and McCain has remained steady and unbothered throughout his entire rookie campaign. Therefore, I see the Blue Devils coming out significantly stronger than they have in their past two losses and advancing past Vermont.

Sophie Levenson: Duke 71-65

The Blue Devils losing to the Wolfpack doesn’t look so bad now — N.C. State is officially making a play in the Big Dance on a hot-streak that also took out the regular season ACC champs. Still, Duke can’t go into this matchup with any kind of an attitude — if it’s going to win, it needs a productive backcourt like it had before the last few games. The loss of Caleb Foster is a big one for the Blue Devils, but at this point, they should be getting used to the freshman’s absence in the guard rotation. Roach has a good history in the tournament (see: 2022) so, despite his recent lackluster performances, he should be a weapon against Vermont Friday night.

Jonathan Levitan: Duke 77-63

Last season, Duke’s first-round matchup against Oral Roberts forced head coach Jon Scheyer to account for one of the sport’s best scorers in Max Abmas. This year’s opponent is very different: The Catamounts are methodical (350th in adjusted tempo, per KenPom) and lack the go-to scorers you need to pull off the upset against a team as complete as this year’s Blue Devils.

Don’t overthink this one. I expect that Filipowski, who has been excellent the past few weeks, paces Duke to a comfortable win against a very good Vermont team that simply doesn’t have the tools or style to put the favorites on their heels. 

Micah Hurewitz: Duke 80-69

Vermont is an impressive No. 13 seed. The Catamounts are riding a 10-game winning streak and have dropped just one game this calendar year, so they are entering the tournament with a winning mentality. However, Duke has what it needs to win in 7-footer Filipowski to take on a John Becker-coached team which struggles on the offensive glass and whose tallest starter is just 6-foot-8. The Blue Devils could also profit from strong backcourt shooting from Tyrese Proctor, McCain and Roach to counter Vermont’s poorer outside scoring. 

It will be important for the Blue Devils to stick to their strengths and play as hard as they showed they could three weeks ago against Virginia with Vermont’s defense. Turning the ball over and taking poor shots will come to bite them — the Catamounts rank in the top 50 of both 3-point and two-point shooting defense, limit second chances and really like to slow the game down. It’s a matchup that certainly poses some risk to No. 4-seed Duke, but it's nothing the Blue Devils cannot handle.

Jonathan Levitan

Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports 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.

Rachael Kaplan profile
Rachael Kaplan | Sports Managing Editor

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

Dom Fenoglio | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Mackenzie Sheehy profile
Mackenzie Sheehy | Blue Zone editor

Mackenzie Sheehy is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Andrew Long profile
Andrew Long | Sports Editor

Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


Share and discuss “Beats' picks: Can No. 4-seed Duke men's basketball win opening round of NCAA tournament against Vermont?” on social media.