Utah Has Size To Upset Top-Seeded Duke In Sweet 16
South Region No. 1 seed Duke has had little trouble reaching the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, but the Blue Devils haven't seen a team with the size of No. 5 Utah, which has two 7-footers to deal with ACC Player of the Year Jahlil Okafor. Still, Duke is a 5.5-point favorite at Bovada with a total of 133.
Blue Devils Rolling
Duke (31-4) advanced with a 68-49 over a good San Diego State team, one of the nation's best on defense. Okafor scored 18 of his 26 points in a dominating first half. Okafor scored 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting against the seriously undersized Colonials then made 12 of 16 shots against the Aztecs -- who had size to wrestle with him but no way to stop him. Freshman Justise Winslow added 13 points and 12 rebounds for Duke, which shot 55 percent against the eighth-seeded Aztecs two days after shooting 63 percent against 16th-seeded Robert Morris.
Duke entered the game with the nation's third-best offensive efficiency (1.21 points per possession) and San Diego State entered with the third-best defensive efficiency (0.87). The Blue Devils averaged 1.11 points per possession, the third most the Aztecs have allowed this season. Duke's effective field goal percentage (60.0%) was the highest allowed by San Diego State this season. The Aztecs entered the game with the fifth-lowest effective field goal percentage allowed in the nation (42.8%).
Utes Have Faced Iffy Opposition
Utah (26-8) moved on with a 75-64 win over Georgetown. Brandon Taylor scored 14 points and Delon Wright added 12 as the Utes beat the No. 4 Hoyas to earn the team's first Sweet 16 berth in a decade. Utah saw the return of 7-foot center Dallin Bachynski, who missed the tournament opener after tweaking his ankle earlier in the week. Utah needed him against the bigger and heavier Hoyas. The Utes also have one of the best young big men in the country in 7-footer Jakob Poeltl. Matched against a Stephen F. Austin roster that had just one player over 6-foot-7, he dominated with eight rebounds, five blocks and 18 points. Against Georgetown, he flummoxed the Hoyas’ 350-pound Josh Smith, going 5-6 from the field and finishing with 12 points.
Finding a way to stop -- or even slow down -- Duke's offense is priority No. 1 for Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. If the Utes cannot live up to their defensive billing against Okafor, Winslow and the dynamic backcourt of Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook, this could turn into another long day for a Blue Devils opponent.
If Utah handles all that, the matchup to watch is at the other end of the floor. Though All-American point guard Wright is extremely effective in transition -- scoring 1.436 points per regular-season possession on the fast break, tops nationally according to Synergy Sports -- Utah will be best served turning this into a half-court game. The longer the possessions, the better. As advanced as Okafor has been on offense end this season, his defense has been exposed at times, particularly in the pick-and-roll when he's drawn away from the basket and forced to move laterally.
Duke struggled to stop ball-screens -- a major part of the Utah offense -- in January losses to N.C. State and Miami but has tightened the screws defensively since. If the Blue Devils pay too much attention to Wright, his teammates will make Duke pay. The Utes led the Pac-12 in three-point shooting this season at 40.8 percent. What could hurt the Utes against the Blue Devils is Utah's inability to crash the boards despite all that size. Utah was outrebounded in its tournament victories over Georgetown and the opening-round win over Stephen F. Austin.
Duke is 5/4 at Bovada to win the South Region and Utah 4/1.
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