Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Free NCAAB Pick: Panthers ATS
Best Line Offered: BetOnline
The biggest question surrounding Duke’s trip to Pitt on Tuesday is whether or not Blue Devils point guard Tre Jones will be available. He suffered a separated shoulder last Monday against Syracuse, and Duke looked lost on offense and defense without him.
The Blue Devils bounced back with a win over Virginia on Saturday night. Jones was in street clothes but was high-fiving teammates and fans with his “bad’ arm, so he could be close to a return. Coach Mike Krzyzewski sounded pessimistic about Jones returning against Pitt.
Without Jones, Duke becomes even more reliant on superstar freshmen studs R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson. Before Jones’ injury, the pair was responsible for 48 percent of Duke’s points and 46 percent of the team’s shots. In the two games since, that’s gone up to 71 percent of points and 65 percent of shots.
With Barrett and Williamson carrying so much of the load in what Krzyzewski admitted was a “tumultuous week,’ the team is due for a letdown. And a trip to the team that’s been the league’s doormat the last few years seems like the perfect place for that to happen.
New coach Jeff Capel has led a remarkable turnaround at Pitt. The Panthers have already won more games overall and in the ACC than last year, and the Panthers are 9-3 ATS at home.
Capel is also a former Duke assistant who helped Krzyzewski recruit Barrett, Williamson, Jones and fellow freshman Cam Reddish, in addition to coaching the Blue Devils’ upperclassmen. Krzyzewski has struggled against another former assistant, Notre Dame’s Mike Brey, going 5-5 overall and ATS against him (2-3 overall and ATS in road games).
The Panthers are led by freshman guard Xavier Johnson, who leads the team in scoring, steals and assists. In other words, he’d be the perfect candidate for a healthy Jones – Duke’s defensive key – to neutralize.
Of course, the Panthers have no one that can match up with Williamson. Pitt has just two players over 6-foot-7 and neither plays more than 19 minutes per game. Look for Capel to try zone to clog things in the middle, a defense that led Duke to take a school record 43 three-point attempts in its loss to Syracuse.
Even if Duke doesn’t lose outright, look for the Blue Devils to sputter. After a week that included two Top 25 foes, an overtime loss and two key injuries (Williamson was poked in his eye in the FSU game), the Blue Devils are due for a low-energy game.
Duke and Pitt have gone ‘under’ their last four meetings and have only been ‘over’ five times in 17 games this season. The Panthers have been ‘under’ 10 times in their 18 games this year as well.
While Duke is due for a letdown, this will be Pitt’s Super Bowl, with the home arena packed and ready to storm the court after an upset. That might be too much to ask, but a Pitt win against the spread sure isn’t. Look for the game to go ‘under’ as well.