Duke and Pittsburgh, both coming off big wins over the weekend, meet in a Big Monday matchup with ACC Conference implications aplenty. The two sides have combined to win six straight games but one must lose tomorrow. The home Panthers have the nod in Vegas at the moment with oddmakers favoring them by 3.5 points against the pre-season conference favorites.
Duke didn’t get off on the best foot in ACC play. Losing two of its first three games – both of which came on the road – raised a lot of questions surrounding the Blue Devils. But Duke has written the ship of late with four straight wins over Virginia, North Carolina State, Miami and Florida State. Some of Duke’s success has correlated with an adjustment to the starting five. Rodney Hood, the team’s second-leading scorer and captain, no longer starts alongside Jabari Parker on the frontline. But the talented scorer now plays just as big of a role off the bench for the Blue Devils. The move has opened up space in the starting lineup for Andre Dawkins and has provided some more balance in rotations with both Hood and supremely-talented sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon coming off the bench. Sulaimon has found his stroke as of late and has provided Duke with the lethal outside shooting and third scorer it so desperately needed during its struggles. If Sulaimon continues to shoot it well, the Blue Devils could make a big statement in the biggest week of basketball they will play until the ACC Tournament begins. Duke takes on Pitt on Monday before traveling for another road game against Syracuse Saturday for College Gameday in one of the most hyped-up matchups on the college basketball schedule.
Pittsburgh comes into this game undefeated at home and hungry to take it to a relatively soft Duke team with their extremely physical brand of basketball. Talib Zanna and Lemar Patterson headline a frontline for Pittsburgh that likes to play aggressive, bruising basketball and get into the paint. While Jabari Parker should be able to provide as much resistance as any defender will on Patterson all season long, the key for Duke becomes whether or not the bigs can neutralize Zanna, who has the ability to completely dominate a game on the offensive glass. Amile Jefferson will likely assume most of the responsibility but he will need help. Jefferson’s tall, skinny frame doesn’t figure to matchup well against the width of Zanna. If he can keep him off the offensive glass, Duke has a decent shot to steal one on the road.
A matchup between two great teams that are both playing good basketball, this game is extremely tough to predict. I’m going to give the nod to Duke here as a team that was once a Final Four contender looking to play its way back into the national spotlight in its biggest week of the season. Coach K.
Free Pick: Duke +3.5