It’s been two years since the Duke basketball team lost an NCAA Tournament game, and the Blue Devils hope to keep their streak going on Thursday night. The defending national champs are the No.4 seed in the West Region, and they’ll face No.1 Oregon in the Sweet 16.
Coming off their worst regular season in nine years, Duke finds itself as an underdog in their attempt to reach the Elite Eight. The Blue Devils had three players drafted in the first round, and they’ve been defeated 10 times this year. But coach Mike Krzyzewski has Duke alive in the second weekend of the tournament with a chance to become the first team to top a No.1 seed in 2016.
The Blue Devils were tested in both games last weekend, defeating No.13 UNC Wilmington by eight points and holding off a late surge by No.12 Yale for a second straight victory. Grayson Allen led the team with 29 points on 10-of-15 shooting, and he’s one of the top scorers in the country at 21.8 points per game. The sophomore guard has played all 80 minutes of Duke’s tournament games.
Brandon Ingram is projected to go No.2 overall in June’s NBA Draft, and he’s second on the team with 17.1 points per game. Five Blue Devils average double-digits in points, and Duke is one of the tournament’s top offensive teams at 81.5 points per game this season.
If Duke wants to defeat Oregon, however, they’ll have to defend, as well. Oregon puts up 78.9 points per contest, and their defense has been stellar of late. The Ducks have given up 58 points per game in the tournament, following an 88-57 victory over No.3 seed Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Against such a well-rounded Oregon team, Marshall Plumlee will be especially key for the Blue Devils. With Plumlee heading into Thursday’s game averaging 8.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, Krzyzewski said the senior center is Duke’s most important player.
“He’s done a great job being our emotional leader,” Allen said, via ESPN.com. “He plays with a lot of fire down there. He makes plays that are effort plays: ripping down rebounds, coming over and blocking shots. Then he shows his emotion and it really fires us up and brings us all energy.”
As a 3.5-point favorite at Las Vegas sportsbooks, Oregon is the smallest favorite of any No.1 seed in the Sweet 16. It was a surprise to many when the Ducks were named a No.1 seed instead of Michigan State, but the Spartans were ousted in the first round and Oregon has a good chance to reach their first Final Four since the tournament expanded to 64 teams.
Oregon breezed past No.16 Holy Cross in the first round, but they had a tough battle with No.8 St. Joseph’s. The second-round game was tied with 90 seconds remaining, but an 8-3 run helped seal the victory for the Ducks. Dillon Brooks led the team with 25 points, and he’s their leading scorer on the season at 16.8 points per contest.
Start Time: Approximately 10:07 p.m. ET
TV Channel: TBS
Online Stream: NCAA March Madness Live