Fresh off their primetime win over Virginia Saturday night, the Duke Blue Devils will hit the road as they face the Pittsburgh Panthers Tuesday night. Duke is listed as a 12.5-point road favorite.
After losing at home to Syracuse last week, the Blue Devils were able to avoid back-to-back losses by knocking off previously undefeated Virginia Saturday, squeaking out a 2-point win. With the win, Duke is now 15-2 overall and one of five teams tied at the top of the ACC with just one loss in league play.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is doing far better than expected in their first season under Jeff Capel, a former Duke player and assistant coach. The Panthers were winless in ACC play last season, but they’ve already scored wins over Louisville and Florida State this year. Also, Pitt’s 12-6 overall record is already a huge improvement from last year’s 8-24 campaign.
The Fantastic Freshmen
Duke freshmen Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett will surely be the top two picks in this summer’s NBA Draft. In the meantime, the duo is tearing up the ACC, combining for over 45 points per game. Both seem to be getting better even with the step up in competition since the start of conference play. Williamson has scored at least 25 points in four of the team’s five conference games, including 35 points in the loss to Syracuse. Barrett, meanwhile, has scored at least 30 in two of his last three games. Not even Virginia’s vaunted defense could slow them down, as the pair is close to unstoppable.
However, one freshman who is likely to miss Tuesday’s game is Tre Jones. After hurting his shoulder during the loss to Syracuse, Jones missed Saturday’s game against Virginia. The Blue Devils managed fine without him offensively. But Jones is an impact player on the defensive end of the court, and his absence will surely be felt on that end of the court, which was the case against Virginia despite the Blue Devils winning.
The Other Freshmen
While Duke’s freshmen have gotten a lot of publicity, lost in the shuffle is the dynamic duo leading Pittsburgh this season, Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens. The freshmen backcourt tandem is combining for 31 points per game, becoming the backbone of a Pitt team that is loaded with underclassmen but capable of punching their weight class.
Of course, with youth comes inconsistency. McGowens has gone off for over 30-plus points in wins over both Florida State and Louisville. However, he’s also been held to just seven points in recent losses to Syracuse and NC State. Fortunately for the Panthers, Johnson has been remarkably consistent scoring the ball for a freshman. However, if he doesn’t get support from McGowens or Jared Wilson-Frame, the lone senior in Pitt’s rotation, the Panthers usually have a tough time keeping up.
Closer Than You Think
The Panthers are going to have a hard time stopping Williamson and Barrett from scoring. However, the Petersen Event Center can be one of the more raucous environments in the ACC. The Panthers have also won their last two home games against Louisville and Florida State. With Jones unlikely to play, Pitt’s top scorers will all be in a position to have a good outing. Bet on the Panthers scoring enough to beat the 12.5-point spread, even in a loss.