Duke Blue Devils @ Louisville Cardinals – Preview & Best Bet 1/23/21

Spread: Louisville -2.5
O/U: 141.0
3:00pm Central – KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, KY

Duke Blue Devils (5-4, 3-2)

Duke has lost two straight games—both on the road—heading into this afternoon’s game at Louisville. The Blue Devils are in danger of dropping to .500 both on the season and in ACC play with a loss today, and their chances of picking up signature wins to impress the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee are dwindling quickly. Duke is 1-2 on the road thus far, with their only victory coming at Notre Dame by 10 points. Over the past two weeks, the Blue Devils have dropped games at Virginia Tech and at Pittsburgh by 7 and 6 points, respectively. Duke is 1-2 ATS on the road, which is actually an improvement over their home record ATS, which currently sits at 0-6.

The Blue Devils under Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski historically do a great job of getting to the line (no surprise there given the state of ACC officiating), but this year’s team struggles to do that. The Blue Devils are 325th in the nation in the FTA/FGA stat, and even when Duke does get to the line, they’ve been subpar as they’re shooting 66.7% from the charity stripe—good for 267th in the country. That puts Duke in the bottom-40 in FTA/FGA and in the bottom-100 in FT%.

Sophomore forward Matthew Hurt leads this team in scoring and rebounding at 18.9 PPG and 8.2 RPG. The Blue Devils also recently got freshman forward Jalen Johnson back from injury, as he missed Duke’s three wins over Notre Dame, Boston College, and Wake Forest. While Johnson is a superb athlete and player, the Blue Devils are just 2-4 with him in the lineup.

Louisville Cardinals (9-3, 4-2)

Louisville also enters today’s contest having lost two straight games, both in ACC play. The ‘Cards fell at Miami last weekend in a surprising result, then they were outclassed on their home floor by Florida State this past Monday by a final score of 78-65. FSU led almost wire-to-wire, as they broke a 2-2 tie with 18:10 left in the first half and never looked back. While both losses hurt, Louisville simply ran into a Miami team that got hot at home and a Florida State team that has been an absolutely wrecking crew on offense over the past two weeks. Coming into their game with Louisville, FSU had scored 105 and 82 points in victories over N.C. State and UNC since returning from a COVID pause. Duke, on the other hand, has its limitations offensively and is shooting just 33.3% from three as a team, including 28.1% (16-57) over their last two road losses. I wouldn’t expect Louisville to face a scoring onslaught from the Blue Devils today.

The ‘Cards are led by a solid backcourt duo of senior grad transfer Carlik Jones (17.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.7 APG) and sophomore David Johnson (13.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.8 APG). Johnson’s mysteriously taken a backseat in the offense in recent weeks. He managed just 5 points in the loss at Miami, and while he poured in 15 in the loss against FSU, he was held to just 1 assist. He’s seen his assists/game numbers decline significantly in the last two games, and Louisville will need to get him involved in the offense early and often, whether through scoring or facilitating, to have their best shot of winning this afternoon’s game. Johnson caused Duke fits in these two teams’ only game last season in Cameron Indoor, as his 6’5″ height created matchup problems all night en route to a 19 point, 7 assist performance and a Louisville victory. While Johnson has taken a backseat in the offense over the past week, freshman forward Jae’Lyn Withers (10.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 62.2% FG%) has stepped up in a big way to help fill the void. Withers scored a combined 32 points while going 14-18 from the field in the Miami and FSU losses. If Jones plays his normal game, Withers continues his stretch of good play, and Johnson reverts to form, Louisville can get right back to where it was before this recent two-game skid.

Best Bets

This isn’t groundbreaking analysis, but to beat the Blue Devils, Louisville will need to hit its outside shots. The ‘Cards are only shooting 32.3% from deep as a team this season, which ranks them 222nd in that category. Their last two games haven’t helped matters, as they’re a combined 7-36 (19.4%) from deep in their pair of losses. They’ll need to turn that around today, because Duke is very prone to giving up wide open looks from deep as a defense. While Duke’s opponents only attempt a three on 1/3 of field goal attempts, opposing teams are shooting 37.3% on those attempts, giving Duke the 292nd ranked defense in terms of 3PT FG% allowed. While the ‘Cards aren’t a deadly shooting team, their two most prominent guards in Jones and Johnson are shooting 36.4% and 43.5% from downtown, respectively. In order to take this game, Louisville will need these two to knock open looks down when they get them. If they do, that should open things up inside, where the ‘Cards are much more comfortable, as they shoot 53.6% (61st in the country) from inside the arc as a team.

On defense, the ‘Cards will need to keep the Blue Devils off of the glass. Duke is ranked 45th in the country in offensive rebounding rate, and Louisville is severely hampered in the size department without senior Malik Williams available due to a foot injury that’s kept him out all season thus far.

Louisville’s had a tough past week, especially with a double-digit home loss to FSU, but Duke’s offense doesn’t scare me the way Florida State’s does. I like the ‘Cards to bounce back on defense, and I expect them to shoot better than 25% from deep on their home floor, especially against a Duke team that can give up some wide-open looks. Take Louisville -2.5 (-110).

Mac is 12-12 on the season. All picks are one unit. A $100 bettor has a loss of $110.

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