All previews: click here for the full 2015 NCAA tournament schedule
Duke Blue Devils
Date: Friday, March 27
Time: 9:45 pm Eastern
Location: Houston, TX
Utah has the size, 3-pt. shooting, and defense to topple the Blue Devils.
SportsRatings Power Ratings
Strength: #4 Strength: #8
Median play: #2 Median play: #7
Other Power Ratings
Sagarin(predictor):#4 Sagarin: #7
Pomeroy: #6 Pomeroy: #8
Offense: #2 Offense: #16
Defense: #44 Defense: #7
LRMC: #6* LRMC: #9*
BPI: #7 BPI: #9
Power Rating Derivatives
2nd half/season: #5 2nd half/season: #6
Last 6 games: #2 Last 6 games: #18
Consistency: #345 Consistency: #313
Utah comes oh-so-close to Duke in several power ratings/derivatives—they're within one spot in Pomeroy now, and in play over the 2nd half of the season. They're in the top ten in every other power rating, and Duke is in the top five. Where Utah will have to close the gap is by being dominant on offense over Duke's sometimes-sketchy defense; their own defense is very capable but must withstand the #2 offense. But looking at the Consistency numbers, just about anything can happen in this game.
- Wins vs. tournament teams (12): =Michigan St.+10, @Wisconsin+10, Wofford+29, @Louisville+11, @St. John's+9, @Virginia+6, Notre Dame+30, North Carolina+OT, @North Carolina+7, =North Carolina St.+24, Robert Morris+29, San Diego St.+19
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (7): =Michigan St.+10, @Wisconsin+10, @Louisville+11, Notre Dame+30, North Carolina+OT, @North Carolina+7, =North Carolina St.+24
- Losses to tournament teams (3): @North Carolina St.-12, @Notre Dame-4, Notre Dame-10
- Other losses (1): Miami FL-16
Key Info: Duke's first game was a 113-44 win and technically, that's the best they ever did. Realistically, their wins over Michigan State, Stanford, and especially beating 1-seed Wisconsin 80-70 in Madison were more impressive. For a time the Blue Devils looked unstoppable but then they were stopped by North Carolina State, and shockingly by Miami at home, 90-74. Duke rebounded to win 15 of their next 16, and even that loss, 77-73 at 3-seed Notre Dame, was a strong game. Their only weak game in the stretch was game 28, an overtime win at Virginia Tech that almost spoiled their 1-seed bid. They held onto that despite the final loss to Notre Dame playing in Greensboro. Due to beating both Big Ten reps and all 4 of the other ACC reps, Duke has 7 wins over the Sweet Sixteen.
As always Duke has tons of weapons but by far the most important is 6-11 freshman center Jahlil Okafor, whose 17.7 ppg and 9.0 rebounds have made him a leader for the Wooden Award. He scored 21 against Robert Morris but Quinn Cook led with 22, hitting 6 of 10 3-pointers. Okafor added 26 against San Diego State.
- Wins vs. tournament teams (5): Wichita St.+OT, @BYU+4, UCLA+32, =Stephen F. Austin+7, =Georgetown+11
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (2): Wichita St.+OT, UCLA+32
- Losses to tournament teams (7): @San Diego St.-4, @Kansas-3, @Arizona-18, @UCLA-10, @Oregon-11, Arizona-6, =Oregon-3
- Other losses (1): @Washington-9
Key Info: Now we can see why Utah's recent play didn't decline despite their late losses—two monster performances (beating Arizona State 83-41, and Stanford 80-56) kept their Last 6 Games average very high (#12), despite losing three of those games—but now the biggest one has fallen off of the "Last 6". If anything, Utah is getting more schizophrenic lately—able to beat anyone, but vulnerable to upset. The Utes' "Last 5 Games" ranking before the tournament was just #34.
On defense the Utes hold their opponents to the 5th lowest effective field goal percentage in the country. On offense, Utah's slow tempo (#331 in average possession length) means that only three players average in double figures (and just barely). Guard Delon Wright (14.9ppg) is shooting 53% from the floor. Against the Lumberjacks Jakob Poeltl led with 18 points. Brandon Taylor was tops with 14 against Georgetown.
Game Analysis: Utah is a trendy pick to upset Duke, and it's not very far-fetched; they're nearly as good, and they're certainly a much better defensive teams than the Blue Devils. With their two 7-foot centers have the height to deal with Okafor.
As we noted before, the teams that beat Duke did so with offense, not defense. They either hit an extreme amount of three pointers, or they were Notre Dame (#3 offense in nation). Utah doesn't have an elite offense but they are 8th in the nation in three-pointers, making it plausible that they can go on a spree and come out on top. Their slow tempo will naturally compress the game, too.
Both teams are pretty inconsistent, both prone to having 'dud' games that are well below their normal quality level—it's why both rank better in "median" game play than average game play. The possibility of a blowout either direction exists. But Duke has another kind of consistency—how they've played against the very best teams. The Blue Devils are 7-3 against the Sweet Sixteen field, including a win at 1-seed Wisconsin. Utah is much less accomplished, going 2-2, with wins over a 7-seed and an 11-seed.
Duke by 5
Power rating: spread
Duke by 2.4
Game-comparisons: % Chance to win
Duke is a bigger favorite with Vegas than the Strength power rating, which, when converted to game ratings, gives the Blue Devils a 58% chance of winning (historical 1 vs. 5 seed odds are 80%). Clearly Utah is a better 5-seed than normal, and with both teams' inconsistency co-mingling the results, there are plenty of possible outcomes where Utah wins.
Bottom line: Utah has a lot of elements needed to either beat Duke or keep it close, and even if those fail, they might just catch Duke on a bad day. But Duke tends to play their best against the best, so until they face another top five team we think they'll prevail.
Final prediction: Duke 69, Utah 67
More previews: click here for the full 2015 NCAA tournament schedule.