There are plenty of choices for a spotlight game on January 18, as there are over 140 games on the betting board. The goal is typically to find a late game that makes some sense to cover. That becomes hard when the spotlight game of the day is Louisville vs. Duke in the 6 p.m. window.
We’ve got a little less lead time than usual, but how can we not talk about a game like that? Louisville is getting eight points at Cameron Indoor and the total is 137.5 for this major ACC clash. The Blue Devils are the only team in the Ken Pomeroy rankings that rate top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency, so they are very much deserving of the top spot at his site.
Louisville is rated 10th at KenPom and 11th at Bart Torvik’s website, so Chris Mack has himself a legit contender as well. These two teams have a strength of schedule discrepancy of 25 spots per KP, so Duke’s impressive résumé against higher-end competition certainly stands out. All in all, though, these are two of the country’s best and are coached by two of the best in the nation, so this should be a very enjoyable game all the way around.
The trend line for Louisville is slumping a little bit. After a thoroughly impressive start to the season, including a blowout road win at Miami and a dominant defensive performance at home against Michigan, Louisville is just 5-3 over the last eight games, including feeble efforts against Texas Tech and Florida State at home. Louisville has had some serious scoring issues of late, particularly on two-point shots. The halfcourt offense is going through something right now and that doesn’t bode well for a matchup against Duke.
The Cardinals continue to light it up from 3 with a 38.2% success rate on triple tries, but they are at 50.6% on two-point efforts and just 45.2% from two-point range over the last eight games. To narrow it down even further, Louisville is at 39.5% from 2 over the last four games. Duke is not the type of team that you break out of an offensive slump against.
In fact, one of the reasons why the Blue Devils are viewed in such high esteem is their defense. Torvik is decidedly lower on Duke, as the Blue Devils rank 14th in adjusted defensive efficiency there, but KenPom has Mike Krzyzewski’s team listed fifth on defense. Any way you slice it, Duke has been great on defense. Opponents only have a 45.7% eFG% and Duke has a TO% on defense of 23.2%. We know that the Blue Devils have a lot of one-and-dones year in and year out and somebody the defensive end of things never comes together. That is far from the case this season.
That said, there have been some lackluster performances, none of them worse than what we saw against Clemson earlier in the week. The Tigers had 1.075 points per possession and finished 22-of-34 inside the arc. It was a rare letdown from Duke, but there was some semblance of a look-ahead factor to this huge date with Louisville to be sure. It can serve as a learning experience this early in the season.
Louisville also had issues in its look-ahead spot by needing overtime to beat Pitt on Tuesday. Pitt is one of the weaker squads in the ACC this season and Louisville was taken to the brink of upset by shooting just 11-of-35 on two-point shots. Three days prior at Notre Dame, Louisville also struggled badly in the halfcourt. This is a major area of concern in this game as well as moving forward, though Louisville has some time to figure it out before a stiff test from NC State on February 1.
Louisville has been a strong defensive squad themselves this season. The Cardinals are 15th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Torvik, even though they rate 317th in TO% on defense. Louisville hasn’t forced turnovers, but they’ve been a tough riddle to solve in the halfcourt. Opponents are only shooting 29.5% on threes and 41.7% on twos. That 2P% defense ranks 10th in the nation.
Something else that stands out about these two teams is the enormous FT% discrepancy against. Opponents are shooting 72.5% at the free throw line against Louisville. That ranks 275th. Opponents are only shooting 61.6% against Duke at the charity stripe, which ranks sixth. Keep an eye on that to regress. It’s not like you can defend a free throw. Maybe the Cameron Crazies deserve a nod for that one, as opponents are shooting 56.9% on free throws in Durham this season.
Jordan Nwora is a reason why Louisville’s two-point percentage has suffered. The team’s leading scorer is only 9-of-22 inside the arc over the last three games, but has still dropped 19, 20, and 14 points. He’ll need to be on point in this one because Louisville just doesn’t have enough consistent scoring options. Duke has a bunch of them, featuring an entire lineup shooting 49% or better from 2 and several guys at 40% or better from 3.
This looks like a big number for a top-15 battle, but I don’t think it is. I just think Duke is better is every facet of the game and looks like a #1 caliber team, the most recent performance aside. They have tons of scoring threats, play really well on defense, and Cameron Indoor is a hellhole for most opponents.
Pick: Duke -8