Tight Game expected for Duke-Tennessee in Round Two of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament

Big showdown awaits between Duke, Tennessee after both teams win in opening round
from Eric Smithling, with YardBarker.com/www.yardbarker.com

Duke is playing as well as anyone in the country while its next opponent, Tennessee, has been mediocre over the past month and a half. But that doesn’t mean people who had Duke advancing to the Sweet 16 in their bracket should celebrate just yet.

The Blue Devils are riding a 10-game winning streak, winning its opening-round game against 12-seed Oral Roberts 74-51. During its 10-0 stretch, Duke is averaging 75.2 points per game while allowing 62 points per game, which over the course of a full season would have ranked 15th in the nation.

Duke’s come-up has coincided with the Volunteers playing their worst basketball of the season.

Tennessee built a 48-30 lead over 13-seed Louisiana but wasn’t able to put the Ragin’ Cajuns away, managing to pull out a 58-55 win to improve its record to 6-7 over the past 13 games.

While allowing an average of 57.9 points per game for the season — third-best in the country — Tennessee is giving up 63.5 points per game since Feb. 1 while only scoring 66.5 points per game, nearly five points below its average for the entirety of the season (71.4).

Per Oddschecker, both Duke and Tennessee are in the top half of the remaining teams in terms of odds of winning the national title, despite Tennessee’s recent struggles. The Blue Devils (+2100) have the ninth-best odds while the Volunteers sit at 12th (+2800).

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index still ranks Tennessee as having the best defense in college basketball, 12.6 points better than the average opponent per 70 possessions on a neutral court.

Due to its strength on that end, the Volunteers rank third in total BPI with an expected 18.5-point neutral court advantage. The Blue Devils are no slouches in their own right. They are 14th overall and are more balanced in the metric, ranking 21st in defensive BPI (6.8) and 27th on offense (6.2).

Saturday’s Duke-Tennessee game pits two teams that are capable of winning the championship, with one guaranteed to fail at reaching the second weekend.

A win for the Blue Devils would crank up the buzz around Jon Scheyer potentially winning a national championship in his first year as head coach while the Volunteers could prove their late-season swoon was just a hiccup en route to a serious championship run.

Oddsmakers expect the game to be close, with Duke favored anywhere between 2.5 and 3.5 points, the lowest point spread of any of the eight confirmed round-of-32 games.