After dismantling Oral Roberts 74-51, #5 Duke faces a wounded #4 Tennessee squad that narrowly won 58-55 against Louisiana. Despite the slightly worse seed, Duke is a three-point favorite here, and the 128 total is on the lower end for the Saturday slate. My prediction aligns with Duke’s designation as favorites as I expect them to win by a decent margin and cover.
Duke vs. Tennessee Prediction
Duke is scorching hot as they have won ten straight including wins over Miami, Virginia, Pittsburgh, and NC State. Their success can largely be attributed to a sensational half-court defense that locks down the paint, deters catch and shoot attempts, and forces lower quality off the dribble jumpers. Dereck Lively II (2.4 BPG) is the backbone of this defense because he’s a mobile 7’1” center that excels as a rim protector and in isolation.
Tennessee’s offense leans heavily on perimeter catch and shoot attempts, which allows them to cut frequently since teams overplay the shooters. They also love to post up and crash the offensive glass as a counter inside. However, Lively will often erase their cuts and post ups, so Tennessee likely needs to rely on their poor 32.8 3PT%. Considering the Volunteers are already 62nd in KenPom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, facing a defensive game-changer like Lively is concerning.
Zakai Zeigler’s injury cannot be ignored either. He established the rhythm for Tennessee’s offense as a crucial ball handler and playmaker. Plus, he was second in scoring. Without him over the past few games, Tennessee’s offense often devolved into turnovers and inefficient shots.
Zeigler also earned All-SEC Defensive Team because he expertly navigated picks and shut them down. Duke runs a pick and roll heavy offense and loves to attack the basket, so Zeigler’s absence will be felt. Tennessee still owns an elite defense, but it’s not the brutally suffocating unit it used to be.
Overall, Duke’s offense, Zeigler’s injury, and Lively’s defense and rebounding will be the difference here. Tennessee’s defense and Santiago Vescovi’s shot-making can keep the game close, but Duke should prevail. I would play this up to Duke -5.5.
Duke vs. Tennessee Prediction: Duke Moneyline & Duke -3
Duke vs. Tennessee Odds
The spread is Duke -3, and their -161 moneyline may be a popular addition to parlays. For Tennessee’s +145 moneyline to hold a positive expected value, they must win this game at least 41% of the time.
Neither team has shined against the spread this season; Duke is 16-19 ATS (45.7%) while Tennessee is 17-17 ATS (50%). However, both have routinely cashed the under. It’s 21-13-1 (61.8%) in Duke games this season and 20-13-1 (60.6%) in Tennessee games. These strong trends help explain why the total is so low at 128 points.
Duke vs. Tennessee Key Matchups
Offensive rebounds are extremely valuable because they often lead to layup, dunks, or open threes – shots that have a massive expected points per possession. Tennessee (7th) and Duke (10th) both dominate in offensive rebound percentage, and it’s especially vital for Tennessee because they are not an efficient jump-shooting team. The team that ends opponent possessions via defensive rebounds and extends possessions via offensive rebounds will gain a huge edge.
I would call it an even matchup, but Duke’s offense can survive without them while Tennessee’s outlook is hazier. Therefore, it’s one of the reasons I have Duke covering -3 in my Duke vs. Tennessee prediction.
Tennessee 3PT Shooting
40.3% of Tennessee’s FGA are 3PA, which is 103rd in the country. However, their 32.8 3PT% is 259th, so they take a lot of threes but don’t convert them at a high clip. Tennessee will struggle to find daylight in the paint, so it’s imperative that they knock down their attempts. If they fail to do so, the Volunteers’ offense will have a difficult time trying to match Duke.
Blocks in the game:
D Live- 6*
*4th-most by a Blue Devil in the Big Dance (most by a freshman) pic.twitter.com/IGuu4L7QWS
— Duke Men’s Basketball (@DukeMBB) March 17, 2023