The #2 ranked Duke Blue Devils tips off against the #12 ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders at 7pm in the Madison Square Garden. The Ameritas Insurance Classic. College basketball usually isn’t this exciting in December, but this is a matchup that we may see again in the Final Four in March.
Duke enters the game with a 10-1 record and the second-best offense in college basketball. Texas Tech enters the game undefeated and looking to make a statement with the best defense in college basketball. Although the Red Raiders are only ranked 12th in the AP Top 25, Texas Tech has such as different approach to the Blue Devils that this game could go either way.
Texas Tech leads the NCAA in opponents field goal percentage (32.2) and opponents points per game (51.2), with the fourth best opponents 3-FG percentage (25.0). They are a defensively minded team with an average margin of victory of 26.3 points per game. This number tells two stories, though. While holding opponents to the fewest points per game in college basketball, they also have the 350th most difficult schedule (out of 353 teams) so far this season according to KenPom. They also have faced the 352nd ranked (out of 353 teams) opponent’s adjusted defensive efficiency ranking. So while they remain one of just nine undefeated teams in college basketball, they are yet to be truly tested until today. Their schedule is the best reason as to why, despite remaining undefeated, they dropped from 11th to 12th in the AP Top 25 this week. They need to prepare for this game like it’s an elimination game in March, because it could be a deciding factor for the selection committee down the line.
Duke is a polar opposite of Texas Tech. This team focuses on offense and do a fantastic job of scoring in the flashiest ways possible. Having the potential first four picks of the 2019 NBA draft on your team certainly helps as well. Unlike Texas Tech, Duke has already been tested against top teams as well. They defeated former #2 Kentucky to open their season, in addition to a win against former #8 Auburn and a close loss to former #3 Gonzaga. The Blue Devils have a fast-paced offense and consistently spread the court with quick passes and powerful inside moves. They have the best margin of victory in the NCAA, averaging a 29.4 more points per game than opponents – and that’s with their 2 point loss to Gonzaga. This will be an NCAA leading fourth game against a top 15 team this season. With a five game win streak against some fairly unimpressive teams, Texas Tech will give Duke a taste of what good basketball is like again. Just a reminder, Duke’s most recent victory is a 101-50 win against Princeton on Tuesday. (The craziest stat from their last game: Princeton led for the first 13 minutes and 58 seconds of the game. Duke finished the game on an 85-31 run.) Defensively, Duke isn’t so offensively minded at the end of the day, either. They have the fifth best defensive efficiency according to KenPom, and again KenPom adjusts their defensive efficiency rankings for each opponent as well. So those blowout victories against Yale, Princeton, and others don’t entirely overshadow Duke’s defensive highlights against Kentucky and Auburn, two teams in the top 15 for offensive efficiency.
Players to watch: There shouldn’t be any shocking names here. Duke has three players averaging double digit points per game (RJ Barrett with 24.5 ppg, Zion Williamson with 20.1 ppg, and Cam Reddish with 14.0 ppg) and freshman point guard Tre Jones is averaging a 8.3/3.2/5.6 line right now as well. For the Red Raiders, their offense moves through sophomore guard Jarrett Culver. He leads the team in points per game (19.1), rebounds per game (5.7), and assists per game (4.5), and continues to be the key player to watch on the court. Defensively, senior guard Matt Mooney is averaging a team best 2.2 steals per game while 6’10” forward Tariq Owens is averaging 2.7 blocks per game (13th best in the NCAA). Mooney is one of the biggest reasons why their defense is praised so often, while also averaging 11 points per game on offense.
Bottom Line: Duke is favored by 8.5 points according to Vegas. This matchup is going to come down Texas Tech’s ability to keep up with Duke’s offense. Defensively, both teams will hold their own, but the Blue Devils are so aggressive on offense that Texas Tech may not be able to equal them for all 40 minutes. My money is on the Blue Devils for this one, especially with their history of consistently winning at Madison Square Garden (34-18 all time record at MSG).