Free Pick Breakdown, Odds & Prediction: March Madness - #5 Duke vs. #4 Tennessee (3/18/2023) - Taking Vegas

Free Pick Breakdown, Odds & Prediction: March Madness – #5 Duke vs. #4 Tennessee (3/18/2023)

By TakingVegas Staff Writer
March 18, 2023
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#5 Duke Blue Devils vs #4 Tennessee Volunteers (3/18 @ 2:40 PM EST)

Spread: Duke -3.5
Moneyline: Duke -160 / Tennessee +140
Total: 128

Overview and Betting Info

The #5 Duke Blue Devils (27-8) will take on the #4 Tennessee Volunteers (24-10) on Saturday in the NCAA Tournament’s East Region second round. Duke finished third in the ACC but won the conference tournament, while Tennessee finished fifth in the SEC. These two did not meet during the regular season.

Duke is 16-19 against the spread this season and have covered their last five games. They’ve gone over the total 13 times but have been under in four of their previous six games.

Tennessee is 17-17 versus the spread but have covered just two of their last five games. They’ve gone over the total 13 times, buy have gone under in three of their previous five games.

Duke Blue Devils

Duke followed their ACC Tournament win by cruising past Oral Roberts in the first round for their tenth straight win. It’ been an impressive run and included wins over five tournament teams. A big reason for this run is the improving play of their offense, as they are averaging 74.9 points in those ten games. Though they struggle to shoot the three, they are creating good shots from the field that allow them to overwhelm teams. They are young, but this Duke team has shown they can beat anybody. The Devils have gone 9-5 against tournament teams this season.

Defense has been the calling card for the Blue Devils, making up for some of their offensive deficiencies. They were second in the ACC in opponent scoring (63.6 PPG), field goal percentage (40.6%), and three-point percentage (30.1%). They also have a ton of size, which helped them rank third in blocks (4.5 BPG) and second in rebounds (38.9 RPG). Their play on offense has been better of late, but they finished ninth in the ACC in scoring (72.6 PPG), seventh in field goal percentage (45.2%), tenth in three-point percentage (35.0), and eleventh in turnovers (11.9 TO/G). They use their size well on offense, leading the ACC in offensive rebounds (12.2 ORPG).

Duke has been led by a duo of Kyle Filipowski (15.1 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.3 SPG) and Jeremy Roach (13.6 PPG). Filipowski had an off night against Oral Roberts but finished the season hot by averaging 18.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 1.8 steals over their final five games. The Freshman’s three-point point shot is still developing (29.4%), but he has been able to get hot recently. Roach had an incredible performance against Oral Roberts, making 52.9% of his shots for 23 points. The guard now has 46 points in his last two games with a field goal percentage over 54%. He can be a very streaky shooter, but when he’s hot, the Blue Devils are challenging to beat. Watch out for center Dereck Lively II (5.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.4 BPG), as the big man was tenth in the country in blocks and had six in their first-round win. 

Tennessee Volunteers

The Vols stumbled at the end of their season by losing six of their final ten games. That includes a loss to Missouri in the SEC quarterfinal game. It was a brutal way to end the season after rising to #4 in the country with an 18-3 record. Despite the tough ending, the Vols have one of the best resumes heading into March Madness, highlighted by their wins over Alabama, Texas, and Kansas. All three were top-ten teams this season, with Alabama earning the top seed for the NCAA Tournament. They struggled in their opening game against Louisiana but were able to fend them off for a 58-55 win. Tennessee went 9-7 against tournament teams this season. 

Tennessee’s play on defense is the reason they have had so much success against the nation’s top teams. They are third in the country in opponent scoring (57.9 PPG) and are first in three-point percentage (26.4%). The Vols also led the SEC in opponent field goal percentage (37.0%), were fourth in steals (8.3 SPG), third in rebounds (38.6 RPG), and second in turnovers forced (14.7 TO/G). Their offense has struggled a bit, ranking eighth in the SEC in scoring (71.4 PPG), sixth in field goal percentage (43.7%), fifth in three-point percentage (32.8%), first in assists (16.9 APG), and sixth in turnovers (12.2 TO/G).

The Volunteers have been led by the play of Santiago Vescovi (12.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.8 SPG), Olivier Nkamhoua (10.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 51.1% FG), and Josiah-Jordan James(10.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.1 SPG). Vescovi is the team’s top scorer and one of the most dangerous shooters in the SEC. However, he was held to just three points against Louisiana on Thursday to go along with three turnovers. He only took three shots, but it was still his worst game of the season. Nkamhoua has been a solid rebounder that has contributed more on offense over the last two months. He doesn’t provide much in blocks, but his 51% shooting percentage makes him an essential piece of this team. James is one of their most prolific three-point shooters, but he makes just 31.6% of his attempts this season. He was terrible in their first-round win and will need to find his shot against Duke for the Vols to win. Even when all three are playing well, the Vols are without their star point guard Zakai Zeigler (10.7 PPG, 5.4 APG, 2.0 SPG), whose season ended with an injury a few weeks ago. His absence is a reason the Vols have been struggling, and it may prove too much to overcome against Duke on Saturday.

Free Pick: Duke -3.5

This one will be a slugfest that Duke will lead for most of the game. It could be a different story if Zeigler were healthy, but you must make threes to beat this Duke team. The Devils have too much talent down low to try and go head-to-head with them. While the Vols’ defense is arguably the best in the country, it was barely enough to hold off the #13 Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. We see Tennessee struggling to keep Filipowski under control, which will open up more shots for Roach and their shooters. On the other side of the ball, the Vols will need somebody to step up and score. They had just two players score in double digits and were held to 58 points against a Cajuns team that allowed an average of 77.4 points this season. 

We’re happy to give up the points to roll with Duke on Saturday.