NCAA Basketball Game of the Week: #2 Ohio State hosts #4 Duke

Can Ohio State's returning crop of talent earn a big home win tonight against the Duke Blue Devils?

Something has to give on Tuesday night, as the 2nd-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0) host the #4 Duke Blue Devils (7-0) in an exciting battle of two top unbeaten teams in NCAA Basketball. While Ohio State has had the luxury of playing all their games thus far on home court, and will certainly have the advantage of playing their once again tonight, they’ll undoubtedly face the biggest challenge of the year against Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and his talented crop of elite basketball players, who come into this match-up after winning their 5th straight Maui Invitational by defeating #15 Michigan and #14 Kansas in succession. Despite the pedigree of the Blue Devils, who are laced with talent across the court as usual and continue to improve team play as the young season progresses, tonight’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge presents Duke with their first underdog billing of the season, as they match-up against a Buckeyes team that may indeed have even more overall talent than they do.

Duke has shown good progress after a relatively slow start to the 2011-12 NCAA campaign, getting consistently improving performances out of their freshman sensation Austin Rivers (14.4 points/game), and top scorer Seth Curry (15.1 points, %51.6 shooting). Coming off two straight victories against ranked opponents, Duke is continuing to show their usual poise under duress that comes along with the leadership of Coach K, albeit without showing off all-too impressive stats on either the offensive or defensive side of the ball. While all Duke squads over the years have been known for their hounding defense against opposing shooters, the Blue Devils may have their work cut out for them against an Ohio State team that is shooting at a blistering 51.5 percent thus far, utilizing a balanced offense with great passing, and solid rebounding. That area in particular will be a key to the game tonight for the Blue Devils especially, as their rebounding efforts have left much to be desired despite a host of tall, lengthy forwards including the Plumlee twins and Ryan Kelly. Averaging 6 boards less per game than their Ohio State counterparts, Duke is going to need to see improvement in this area come quickly for tonight’s game against an OSU team that is pulling down 40 rebounds a game, especially from Ryan Kelly (who at 6’11” is only averaging 4.6 rebounds/contest), and from their guards, of whom only Seth Curry is hauling in more than 3 rebounds per game.

At the heart of the inside presence for Ohio State lies the 6’9″ sophomore forward Jared Sullinger, last year’s NCAA freshman of the year winner, who has gotten off to a torrid start this season averaging almost 19 points and 11 rebounds per contest. A talented all-around shooter, Sullinger can make opponents pay with his quickness on the boards and his physical style of play, which often results in him getting to the free-throw line if his contested inside shots don’t fall. Sullinger’s strong shooting prowess at the free-throw line (shooting 85.4 percent on the season) has him contributing roughly 6 points per game from the stripe, and if he can take advantage of the slower Duke bigmen guarding him to generate ‘And-1′ situations’, this will give OSU a key advantage in tonight’s match-up. Make no mistake however, the Buckeye’s talent pool doesn’t stop here. With experienced senior guard William Buford throwing up 17.7 points per game this season, along with Deshaun Thomas adding 12.3 points and the shifty Aaron Craft contributing 9.2 points, 5.5 assists, and 3.5 steals, this is a well-balanced young team that at 85.5 points per contest is a tough match-up for any defense or offense to contend with. Though OSU’s game has a number of bright spots offensively, what’s been even more impressive has been their shutdown, smothering defense so far this year, which is holding opposing teams to just 54.7 points per outing. If the Buckeyes can slow down the scoring offense of Duke and win the battle of the boards tonight at home, their billing as the favorite team will certainly live up to standards, and produce a victory for the hot-shooting Ohio State.

It has to be mentioned that this match-up tonight is the first in which Duke finds itself at a general disadvantage almost entirely across the board. With the Buckeyes averaging 6 points more per game, 6 more rebounds, 8 more assists and giving up 13 points less per game to the opposition, the Blue Devils are going to have to find a couple areas to exploit in tonight’s match-up, which may be quite a tall order in a hostile environment like the one at Value City Arena in Columbus, OH. It can be said that OSU’s opening schedule hasn’t been as daunting as Duke’s has, as the Blue Devils have already knocked off top talent like Kansas, Michigan and Michigan State, but after 6 straight games at home for the Buckeyes, there’s no questioning that confidence will be very high for Ohio State in their 7th straight game in friendly confines. Therefore Duke is going to have to find a way to disrupt the flow of the game for OSU, and that starts with shutdown defense around Jared Sullinger, and swarming the Buckeye guards to force mistakes. The turnover margin will be a key factor in this match-up tonight, and Duke will have to step up from its 7 steals/game average (OSU is averaging 11), to create some opportunities on the fast break. While a fast-paced game may not entirely work in Duke’s advantage, as both sides are pretty equal in speed and guard play, a slower paced game most certainly does not, as allowing Ohio State to run their offense and work down low to Jared Sullinger will create many headaches for the Blue Devils, who while bigger, are also slower and not as proficient at rebounding. Thus, pushing the ball ahead and relying on outside shooting may be essential for Coach K’s Blue Devils tonight, while their defense must find ways to hold down big games by Sullinger, William Buford and Deshaun Thomas.

Betting lines for #2 Ohio State vs. #4 Duke:

There’s not going to be too many opportunities this season to take the Duke Blue Devils as an underdog, and for tonight’s game one of those rare occurrences pops up as Duke gets an underdog big at sportsbook, with +290 odds to win in the face of the favorite OSU’s -360 billing. Not only just a slight underdog, at +290 odds we don’t think the Blue Devils will see anywhere close to these odds in the near future, at least not until their match-up with #5 North Carolina on the road in February, 2012. Thus, it’s a great time for those on the Duke bandwagon to push all-in, as a road victory tonight would vault them into the #2 ranking behind Kentucky, with no ranked opponents on the schedule until meeting UNC. In a must-win game for both teams, it’s interesting to see that Duke gets a lofty +7.5 points against the spread at -105 odds, with Ohio State having to cover 7.5 points at home with -115 odds. That also seems to favor a push towards Duke, as with a scrappy offense that is used to playing away from its home building, the Blue Devils look primed to keep this one close even in a hostile environment. Lastly, with the over/under at 143.5 points (-110 odds either way), the bookmakers are expecting a more run-and-gun style of play to overcome defensive efforts, and in a game that we could see head to extra time between two offenses that can run and shoot well, it’s understandable. However, as both sides will look to contain the scoring of the other tonight, at least throughout the first half and into the second, I like a scoring situation that finds both teams in the high 60’s by the final buzzer, with a good probability that the under total points wager is the right bet to make with defense a key factor in the game.

Our Pick to Win:

This is a perfect NCAA Basketball match-up between a program that has always been elite, and one that is quickly rising to that same standard. While I give Duke a little bit of a nod in the coaching department, expecting Coach K to have a well drawn-up game plan for shutting down OSU’s best assets, I have a hard time favoring Duke against a Buckeyes squad that is playing its 7th game in a row at home, with tons of hot-shooting young talent, and is known already for playing great defense. However, this is Ohio State’s first big test at home against a team that can win anywhere on any given night just by staying scrappy and pulling out late victories. Duke does not, and will not give up this evening, even if they find themselves trailing for most of the game. With scoring coming in double digits from 5 players, I like Duke’s offensive balance a little better than OSU, who could find themselves searching for points if the Blue Devils can shut down (or at least contain) Jared Sullinger inside and William Buford on the perimeter. Though Ohio State has the better numbers on the season on a per game basis, we’re backing the overall pedigree of the well-rounded and better tested Duke Blue Devils to not only cover the spread, but score a close victory 70-68 on the road over the Buckeyes. No doubt either way this one ends up though, it’s going to be a great game to watch, and the best option for online sports betting at one of the best online sportsbooks reviewed right here.

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