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NCAA Tournament Second Round Betting Pick and Prediction: Duke Blue Devils vs. UCF Knights

The Duke Blue Devils, the top seed in the East Region, will try to punch their ticket for the Sweet 16 when they face the 9-seed Central Florida Knights. The Blue Devils are favored by 13.5 points over UCF.

Top-seeded Duke was challenged for at least a half against the 16-seed North Dakota State on Friday night. The Blue Devils only led by four points at the half before seizing control in the second half and winning 85-62. After winning three games in three days at the ACC Tournament last weekend, Duke will look to keep up that momentum and finish off another weekend with a win.

Of course, Central Florida was also impressive in their first-round game. The Knights held VCU scoreless for a 10-minute stretch across both sides of halftime to take full control of the game and win comfortably 73-58. While they played in a mid-major conference, UCF has an impressive 24-8 record on the season and will feel good about their chances to upset the Blue Devils.

Big Men

One asset the Knights will have against Duke is their incredible size. Senior center Tacko Fall is 7’6’’ and 310 pounds. He holds the key to UCF slowing down Duke’s Zion Williamson. No team has found an answer to slowing down Williamson this season, but at the same time, Williamson hasn’t gone head-to-head with a 7’6’’ defender who actually weighs more than him. The Knights also have reinforcements inside with sophomore forward Collin Smith, who is 6’11’’ and gives them even more size.

Of course, Fall is not just a defensive presence. He’s a capable scorer who averages 11 points per game. He also has the confidence of a player who went off for 13 points and 18 rebounds on Friday against VCU. The Knights also have quality guard play on the offensive end from B.J. Taylor and Aubrey Dawkins, who both average over 15 points per game. The Blue Devils have one elite defender in Tre Jones, but Jones can’t guard both Taylor and Dawkins at the same time, so the Knights may be able to exploit a Duke team that has had plenty of defensive struggles this season.

The Duke Duo

On the other hand, Duke is more than just Williamson. Fellow freshman RJ Barrett has been just as impressive this season. He also racked up 26 points and 14 rebounds during the first-round victory against North Dakota State. Even if Fall can slow down Williamson, the Knights still need someone on the wing who can contain Barrett.

The Blue Devils will become even more dangerous if they get offensive contributions beyond Williamson and Barrett. Jones is a capable scorer, but he struggles as a jump shooter and doesn’t always fill the points column on the stat sheet. Meanwhile, Cam Reddish is another player who can give UCF problems, although his production has been up and down all season.

Safe Bet

Central Florida certainly provides an interesting matchup for Duke. But keeping up with the Blue Devils for 40 minutes is no easy task. It just takes a few minutes for Duke to run away with a game. With that in mind, bet on Duke to cover the 13.5-point spread against Central Florida.

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