After each earning wins on Wednesday, Duke and Arizona indulged in a little Thanksgiving – New York City style – ahead of the NIT Season Tip-Off Championship at Madison Square Garden Friday. In the semi’s Wednesday, #6 Duke Blue Devils took care of Alabama and #4 Arizona eked out a win against Drexel to set up the matchup most anticipated at the start of the tournament between two Final Four hopefuls. The early line slates Duke as a small 2 point underdog.
This game features a classic matchup of two supremely talented teams playing to the other’s relative weakness. While Duke will rely on its perimeter game, ‘Zona’s strength lies in its interior. Of course, neither team is particularly weak anywhere but the analysts will certainly point to Duke’s perceived weakness down low against the Wildcats’ size.
While Arizona has some terrifying size, it doesn’t exactly run its offense through the bigs. Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley have each improved in their own right in their sophomore years but neither warrants many designed plays when one considers the talent Arizona boasts elsewhere. Coach K’s uncanny ability to maximize rebounding production from his guards will play a huge role here. If Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon chip in five, six, seven combined boards Duke should be okay.
Everyone is buzzing about the Jabari Parker/Aaron Gordon matchup, and why not? It’s arguable these two freshman have positioned themselves 1-2 in next year’s NBA Draft if the season ended tomorrow. In terms of playing style, these two compare much more closely than Parker and Wiggins with an amazing blend of size, strength and just pure ability. Gordon relies a little more on his athleticism but his raw skills have impressed many in the early going – myself included.
It’s always a bit of a crapshoot to forecast how fouls will impact a game but it seems fair to consider that Duke may gain an edge in the most talked about facet of the college game in the first month of the season. For as good as both Tarczewski and Ashley can be, both can be prone to get a little over-aggressive in spots. For Duke, Hairston is a senior and Parker might as well be. Look for the Blue Devils to show a little more maturity and stay out of foul trouble in a game where fouls very well may dictate a winner.
One of the more overlooked factors in this one is that it’s Duke’s second biggest test of the season while the ‘Cats haven’t faced that top-notch opponent yet, despite getting some early tests. The Blue Devils already fell to Kansas, which not only potentially gives them a little added incentive to avoid a second loss but also gives them some familiarity with a game of this magnitude. Early on in a season this certainly plays a role and it should only help Duke.
Duke is looking to get its first major win that it puts atop the resume while Arizona approaches this game in a little more of a measuring stick-type mentality. Not to say Arizona doesn’t come out trying to win this game as much as Duke but there’s a bit more uncertainty there. The maturity and 2013 experience of Duke should shine through in this spot. Handicapping the talent on the floor is relatively impossible. But the mentality of each team going into this one makes it tough not to like the Blue Devils. The extra two points leaves only one play in what should be one of the best games of the season. Soak this one in. You’re not going to find more talent on the same floor at the collegiate level.
Free Play: Duke +2