Despite a tournament that’s been largely defined by upsets, the top two seeds have survived in the Midwest Region. The top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks will take on the no. 2 seed Duke Blue Devils in Sunday’s regional final in Omaha for the right to face either Villanova or Texas Tech in the Final Four. Unlike some of the other Elite 8 matchups in this year’s tournament, both programs are well accustomed to still be playing at this stage in the tournament, making this a highly-anticipated heavyweight matchup.
After cruising through the first two rounds of the tournament, the Blue Devils finally got a challenge in the Sweet 16. A gritty Syracuse team held Duke to under 40% shooting and under 20% from three-point range. If not for the Blue Devils forcing 16 turnovers on the defensive end, they may not have survived.
Kansas, meanwhile, has had to sweat it out in all three of their games. Penn proved a little tougher than expected in the first round, while both Seton Hall and Clemson made a strong push late in the game, forcing the Jayhawks to hang on by four points in each contest. However, Kansas has proven in both games that they can build substantial leads and have the toughness to hold onto them. Duke is -3 over Kansas on Sunday.
Duke Blue Devils
The Blue Devils continue to be led by Marvin Bagley III, who is averaging more than 20 points per game. He will be a handful for the Jayhawks to handle in the paint, especially with Wendell Carter Jr. giving Duke another big man who can crash the boards and score inside. Of course, the Blue Devils also have plenty of options on the perimeter who can fill it up on any given night. Grayson Allen, in particular, is someone the Jayhawks have to worry about stepping up and having a huge game on the big stage.
Duke also has a few tricks up their sleeve on the defensive end. The Blue Devils have had success for much of the season playing a 2-3 zone. But Coach K won’t hesitate to switch to man-to-man if the Jayhawks start making shots. Against Syracuse, Duke also showed a willingness to pressure in the backcourt, which helped them create key turnovers against the Orange.
The biggest key for Kansas against Duke may be Udoka Azubuike, who provides most of the size inside for the Jayhawks. He’ll be tasked with trying to keep both Bagley and Carter off the boards. If Azubuike gets into foul trouble while trying to defend Duke’s inside duo, Kansas could have a hard time defending the paint.
At the same time, the Jayhawks may have the shooters who can crack Duke’s zone. Kansas has shot over 40% from the three-point line in each of their three tournament games. Both Devonte Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk can shoot it from deep and must be watched closely. Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick are also capable of getting hot and becoming zone busters.
Battle of Goliaths
Despite being the top seed in the region, Kansas enters Sunday’s game as 3-point underdogs. But neither team should be looked at as a heavy favorite over the other in a matchup between two of college basketball’s blue bloods.
This game figures to be a clash of styles, with Kansas being the better perimeter team and Duke having an edge inside. Ultimately, look for the experience of the Jayhawks to win out over the freshmen-heavy Blue Devils. Kansas has been to the Elite 8 the past two seasons, losing both times. But the third time will be the charm for seniors Graham and Mykhailiuk. Bet on the Kansas Jayhawks +3. Bet on the Kansas Jayhawks at MyBookie.