NCAA Basketball Pick: Arizona -2½ over Duke

LT Profits Sports Group

Friday, November 29, 2013 5:00 AM UTC

Friday, Nov. 29, 2013 5:00 AM UTC

It is a great marquee matchup in the NIT Season Tip-Off Championship Game, and the size and experience of Arizona should make the difference vs. Duke on Friday.

It is a battle of Top-6 teams in the NIT Season Tip-Off Championship Game Friday evening, and more experience and size should give the edge to the fourth ranked Arizona Wildcats (6-0, 1-0 away) as they take on the sixth ranked Duke Blue Devils (6-1, 0-0 away) from Madison Square Garden in New York, NY at 6:00 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN.

The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Arizona as a modest favorite for this contest with the current line at -2½ with odds of -112.

Arizona lost leading scorer Mark Lyons from the team that lost by just three points to Ohio State in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in March, but the Wildcats do return three starters this season, with another starting spot filled by Brandon Ashley, who played significant minutes as a freshman last year. Add to that one of the best freshman recruits in the country in Aaron Gordon and you get a 6-0 start including advancing to this prestigious final.

Speaking of top freshman recruits, Jabari Parker of Duke has become the first freshman since Kevin Durant in 2006 to score at least 20 points in his first seven career college games. Parker is already the leader of a young Duke team that starts only one senior, and that would be probably the team’s most limited contributor among the starters in Tyler Thornton. That inexperience hurt in the Blue Devils’ loss to Kansas and it may bite them again tonight.

Arizona was almost caught napping in its narrow 66-62 semifinal win over the underrated Drexel Dragons, falling behind 27-8 in the first half before a 25-4 run spanning both halves finally gave the Wildcats the lead. While Arizona shot just 37.7 percent for the game, that shooting percentage was 46.7 percent in the second half after getting its wake-up call, no doubt helped by a stern message from Coach Sean Miller at halftime.

The Wildcats are ranked 10th overall on the Pomeroy Ratings early on with great balance, as they rank 18th in offensive efficiency and an identical 18th in defensive efficiency. Perhaps the biggest key for Arizona here though is its size, which has the Cats ranked 12th in the land in defensive rebounding percentage. Their seven-footer Kaleb Tarczewski had 10 rebounds to go along with 15 points in the win over Drexel while the freshman Gordon added 10 points and 13 rebounds.

Despite all the young faces at Duke, the make-up of the Blue Devils seems the same as past seasons as they are ranked fourth in offensive efficiency and fifth in effective field goal percentage, but they can be pushed around under the boards. They need to hit a high percentage of shots because they do not get many second opportunities, ranking 239th in offensive rebounding percentage.

Well, the Blue Devils got pushed around on the glass in their first marquee matchup when they were outrebounded 36-21 by Kansas, and the end result was a 94-83 loss despite shooting 51.7 percent from the field. Duke figure to get dominated on the glass again here and it may not have its usual shooting touch either vs. an Arizona defense that is yielding a miniscule effective field goal percentage of 38.7 percent, which is fourth best in the country.

Also Duke had not been all that great defensively this season where it ranks just 114th in efficiency, so its sixth ranking in the polls may have more to do with the name in front of the jersey than its performance on the floor. In fact, the Blue Devils are ranked only 22nd on Pomeroy overall.

Arizona simply looks like the better team at this point in time, so unless Duke shoots an insane percentage from the field vs. a quality defense, the Wildcats should prevail in the NIT Season Tip-Off Final on Friday.


NCAA Basketball Pick: Arizona -2½ (-112)

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