By Matt Youmans
VSiN senior editor
On paper, it was college basketball’s superteam. But that was November, this is March, and Duke’s downfall is no longer breaking news. Grayson Allen’s childish antics are no longer surprising.
It’s just surprising when this happens to a team coached by Mike Krzyzewski.
A whirlwind of conference tournament action continues today, with the spotlight on the Atlantic Coast Conference in Brooklyn. Duke-Louisville is as good as it gets, a pair of coaching stars leading teams with Final Four potential.
The Blue Devils, ranked No. 1 in the preseason, are the tournament’s No. 5 seed. The fall from grace is from a combination of factors — various injuries, Allen’s emotional meltdowns and Coach K’s midseason absence after back surgery.
When these teams met in Louisville on Jan. 14, Krzyzewski was missing and forward Amile Jefferson was out with a foot injury. So, there is not much to take from the Cardinals’ nine-point win almost two months ago. This will be a different game, not necessarily a rematch.
Allen scored 23 points in that game. On Wednesday, when Duke covered 6½ in a 79-72 victory over Clemson, Allen went scoreless in 12 minutes and was hit with a technical for angrily slamming the ball to the floor. He’s a sore loser playing on a sore ankle.
Sophomore guard Luke Kennard and freshmen Jayson Tatum and Frank Jackson are the Blue Devils’ most reliable players. Krzyzewski is using a small-ball lineup and rarely going to his reserves.
Louisville has an obvious size advantage with forwards Deng Adel, Jaylen Johnson, Mangok Mathiang and 7-footer Anas Mahmoud. Cardinals guards Donovan Mitchell and Quentin Snider can dribble penetrate Duke’s soft defense. The Blue Devils still have more scoring firepower, but they are running into one of the nation’s top defensive teams.
It’s not as if Duke (24-8) has become a disaster. This remains a dangerous team. But it’s also a tired team, and Krzyzewski might be better off losing this game and resting players for next week’s NCAA Tournament.
Louisville (24-7) is healthy, and Rick Pitino is in this tournament to win it. The Cardinals are my play as 2-point favorites, and they drew money when the line opened at 1.
Five more plays today:
Penn State (plus-6) over Michigan State: In desperate need of the win, the Spartans will probably find a way to get it. The Nittany Lions find ways to lose close games. But I backed Penn State on Wednesday, when it never trailed and held off Nebraska in overtime, so I’ll ride this team again. The Lions have a shot with hot-shooting guards Tony Carr and Shep Garner.
Texas-El Paso (plus-2) over Rice: Miners coach Tim Floyd has turned around what was a terrible team in early January. UTEP has covered 13 consecutive games, including a 79-71 win as an 8-point road underdog to the Owls in mid-February.
Vanderbilt (-3) over Texas A&M: The Commodores have won five of their past six, and the loss came when they blew a 19-point lead at Kentucky. Vanderbilt, led by guard Matthew Fisher-Davis and 7-foot-1 Luke Kornet, won both meetings this season and has a slight advantage with the Southeastern Conference tournament being staged in Nashville.
New Mexico (plus-3) over Fresno State: This looks like a coin-flip game, with a coaching edge going to the Bulldogs’ Rodney Terry. Still, the Lobos have the best scorer on the floor in junior guard Elijah Brown, and the return of senior forward Tim Williams is a boost.
Cal State Fullerton (-3) over Cal State Northridge: When these teams met five days ago, the Titans won by eight. Fullerton has five legit scorers, topped by senior guard Tre Coggins. Northridge coach Reggie Theus is steering a team on a five-game skid.
Last week: 2-2-3 against the spread