Both teams are trying to avoid a three-game losing streak as the Duke Blue Devils pay a visit to the Louisville Cardinals in a Saturday afternoon matinee. At home, the Cardinals are a slim one-point favorite over the Blue Devils, with the over/under listed at 140 points.
This has been far from a typical season for the Blue Devils, who have seen their season disrupted by COVID-19 precautions on multiple occasions. Of course, that’s not the only reason for Duke’s struggles this season. In any event, the Blue Devils are just 5-4 on the season after back-to-back losses to Virginia Tech and Pitt, putting them on the proverbial NCAA Tournament bubble at the moment.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are a little more secure in their tournament hopes. Louisville scored a couple of impressive non-conference wins and then started ACC season 4-0.
However, back-to-back losses to Miami and Florida State have knocked the Cardinals out of the top-25 and into the middle of the pack in the ACC. With those losses, Louisville is now growing desperate for a win to get back on track.
Mr. Jones and Who?
Louisville has been grateful for the play of Radford grad transfer Carlik Jones this season. Jones is averaging close to 18 points per game this season while also leading the team with 4.7 assists per game. However, Jones has been the only reliable player for the Cardinals, who only have seven players who play meaningful minutes.
While sophomore David Johnson and freshman Jae’Lyn Withers both average double figures, both have been inconsistent since the start of conference play. The same can be said of big men Samuell Williamson and Dre Davis. Their scoring has been wildly erratic from one game to the next, meaning Jones isn’t sure where he’s going to get help from one game to the next.
Plus, Johnson is the only Louisville player who averages more than one made three-pointer per game. That makes Louisville dependent on Jones carrying them if their young frontcourt players don’t play well.
A Sign of Things to Come
Despite losing two in a row, the Blue Devils are hopeful that freshman Jalen Johnson has finally arrived. He missed over a month of action because of a foot injury but came alive for 24 points and 15 rebounds in the loss to Pitt earlier in the week.
If Johnson continues on that trajectory, he and Matthew Hurt could give the Blue Devils an elite frontcourt. Hurt is leading Duke with 18.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, establishing himself as the team’s go-to guy during Johnson’s absence.
However, guard play has been Duke’s downfall thus far. Jeremy Roach is starting to show some consistency, but fellow freshman DJ Steward isn’t there yet. He had another bad game against Pitt, which was a big reason why the Blue Devils lost.
Outside of Hurt, Steward is the team’s best perimeter shooter, although he’s shooting just 30.8% from outside at the moment. But unless senior Jordan Goldwire can become more than just a defensive whiz, the Blue Devils will live and die with Steward and Roach.
Something’s Gotta Give
As the spread indicates, this game is a virtual tossup, with both teams losing two in a row. However, Johnson coming alive in Duke’s last game is a great sign.
He and Hurts are more talented than the Louisville frontcourt and should help cancel out everything Jones does for the Cardinals. Bet on Duke beating Louisville on Saturday.