East Region First Round Prediction & Free Pick: #1 Duke vs. #16 North Dakota State

Date | AuthorAdmir Aljic

Last Updated: 2019-03-21

The Summit League champions North Dakota State Bison and the ACC champions Duke Blue Devils will lock horns in the East Region First Rounds showdown at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina, on Friday, March 22, 2019. The No. 1 seed Duke is a massive 27-point favorite to grab a win, playing in its neighborhood just 235 miles away from home, while the No. 16 seed North Dakota State is a +8000 money line dog with the total at 149.5 points. These two schools will meet each other for the first time ever.

The North Dakota State Bison is coming off a 78-74 victory over the North Carolina Central Eagles in the East Region First Four this past Wednesday. They shot 48.1% from the field and 45.0% from beyond the arc, turning the ball over just six times, while Tyson Ward led the team with 23 points, six rebounds, and three assists. North Dakota State earned its spot in the NCAA Tournament by winning the Summit League championship tournament, while the Bison ended the regular season at the 4th spot of the Summit standings with a 19-15 record and 9-7 in the conference play. North Dakota State is the No. 222 at the NCAA NET Rankings.

The Bison is scoring 106.6 points per 100 possessions (116th in the country) on 53.9 effective field goal percentage (50th) and 37.0% shooting from beyond the arc (also 50th). On the other side, they are struggling defensively, allowing 109.2 points per 100 possessions (286th) on 53.5 effective field goal percentage (298th), although their strength of schedule was 237th in the country. The Bison met Gonzaga on November 26, 2018, losing 102-60. The junior guards Tyson Ward and Vinnie Shahid are leading the Bison this season and will be the biggest threat for Duke’s defense. Ward is tallying 12.6 points per contest on 48.6% shooting from the field, while Shahid is averaging 12.9 points and 2.7 dimes per game.

North Dakota State is playing its fourth NCAA Tournament, recording two wins and three losses so far and is 2-3 ATS in those five games. The clash with Duke will be the Bison’s first matchup with the No. 1 seed, while in 2015, they lost to the No. 2 seed Gonzaga 86-76 in the second round.

The Duke Blue Devils finished the regular season at the 3rd spot of the ACC standings with a 29-5 record, while they went 14-4 in the conference play. However, the Blue Devils dominated their rivals at the ACC championship tournament, defeating Syracuse 84-72 in the quarterfinals, North Carolina 74-73 in the semis, and Florida State 73-63 in the finals to earn their place in the Big Dance. Duke enters the NCAA Tournament as a No. 3 at the NCAA NET Rankings.

The Blue Devils are playing at a very fast pace, averaging 74.0 possessions per 40 minutes (18th in the country). They are scoring 119.4 points per 100 possessions (8th) on 53.4 effective field goal percentage (59th) and 30.2% shooting from deep (338th), surrendering 88.2 points in a return (6th) on 44.6 effective field goal percentage (9th). The Blue Devils’ strength of schedule was 6th in the country, and they suffered a couple of regular-season losses to North Carolina. Zion Williamson is leading this Duke team, averaging 22.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game while making 69.3% of his field goals. Another freshman R.J. Barrett is posting 22.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest, while the third rookie Tre Jones is adding 9.3 points and 5.3 assists per game. Coach K has plenty of talented players among his roster, so the Blue Devils are the strongest favorites to win the National Championship.

Duke has won the National Championship five time so far, reaching the Final Four on 16 occasions, while this will be the Blue Devils’ 44th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. They have a 111-36 record, winning all their 13 first-round matchups with the No. 16 seed, while the Blue Devils are 7-4 ATS in their previous 11 first-round games as a No. 1 seed.

Pick: Duke Blue Devils -27.0

With healthy Zion Williamson in the lineup, the Blue Devils are playing like a well-oiled machine. They will undoubtedly smash the Bison, and I’m backing them to cover this massive spread, as the Blue Devils are 5-1 ATS in their last six NCAA Tournament games when listed as favorites by 20 or more points. Also, North Dakota State’s defense is struggling all season long, and after a 42-point defeat to Gonzaga, I’m expecting to see another heavy loss for the Bison.

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