Both of these teams are very talented but win on different styles. Duke has played with very little height with Jabari Parker playing significant minutes at center. Arizona starts three big men including center Kaleb Tarczewski and fourth ranked freshman Aaron Gordon. After the start of each half, Arizona changes to a three guard set with Aaron Gordon switching to a power forward. Before the season, I predicted Arizona to win this game but I may have a different prediction at the end of this article.
Duke’s change to put Tyler Thornton in the starting lineup should pay dividends for this game. Arizona has an explosive backcourt of senior Nick Johnson (averaging 17.3 ppg), TJ McConnell (6.2 ppg and 6.2 apg) and Gabe York (10.0 ppg). Duke will need to slow down Nick Johnson and they will likely throw many different defenders at him. Duke’s guards may not outscore these trio but they will need to keep it close. Quinn Cook has scored efficiently this season and will need to help out Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker in the scoring department. Rasheed Sulaimon has struggled so far this season and Duke will need him to score this season. An x-factor this game could be Andre Dawkins. He is not Duke’s best defender but has had many explosive games at Madison Square Garden. Both teams have a talented group of guards but Arizona looks to have a slight advantage.
The forwards appear to be the one major advantage for Duke. Aaron Gordon (12.5 ppg and 9.7 rpg), Brandon Ashley (10.7 ppg and 7.2 rpg) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (9.0 ppg) are all extremely talented players but are not as talented as Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. Aaron Gordon is talented but is a step below Jabari Parker. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is another talented freshman and will be used as a defender a lot on likely Rodney Hood. He will not be able to shut down Hood but will be a great option to slow him down. Ashley will able to get his point in the paint but will struggle to cover Duke’s forwards on the perimeter. With Arizona’s talent at the guard positions, Duke will need big games out of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. Good thing for Duke, those two have not shown any reason to think they will not step up.
At center, Arizona has the advantage but will need to capitalize. Kaleb Tarczewski has the height advantage over both Amile Jefferson and Josh Hairston and should be able to score in the post. He may force Duke to use Marshall Plumlee at center, who has not played in Duke’s last few games. Duke will need to be aggressive and work as a team to control Arizona on the glass. Arizona has a very talented group of rebounders in their forwards and center and Duke will need to limit the advantage. It will be interesting to see if Arizona can take advantage of their advantage in the post or if Duke’s athleticism will force them to play small for parts of the game.
In the end, I believe Arizona’s height will be a huge advantage for them as well as the play of Nick Johnson. Hood and Parker will both have great games but will end up being less efficient due to Arizona’s defense. Duke will struggle to guard Nick Johnson and they will struggle to hold off Arizona down low. Duke will put up a fight but will ultimately lose the game. It would not be a terrible loss to lose to this talented Arizona team and they will have the chance to win another big game in the Big 10 ACC challenge against Michigan. In the end, I expect Arizona to win a close game 83-74.