[NOTE: Cross posted over at UFR.]
Well, the St. Mary’s game didn’t go at all as expected, with the Gaels not really putting up much of a fight. There’s no way the same thing happens with Duke. Let’s take a look at what the game will be like when the Blue Devils have the ball:
One of the knocks against Duke the last few years has been that they lack toughness and size, but this year’s team is better in most of the toughness/size categories. They’re 7th nationally in effective height, and 8th in OReb%, both of which are the highest they’ve ranked since Pomeroy started keeping track. The one area where they still seem to suffer is 2P shooting percentage, where they’re ranked 198th This is partly due to getting their shots blocked at a high rate – 209th nationally – which means Udoh may be in for a big defensive game.
Duke has subpar shooting for a supposedly elite offense, but they make up for it with all those offensive rebounds, and by rarely committing turnovers. Those happen to be Baylor’s defensive weaknesses, so the Blue Devils will be able to play exactly the kind of game they want. I expect them to do well offensively. Baylor will need to solve Duke’s defense in order to win:
In keeping with the theme, this year’s Duke defense is tougher as well – this is their lowest 2P% allowed since 2005, and their best defensive rebounding in the Pomeroy Era (2004-present). They’ve paired this with their usual excellent perimeter defense (ranked 1st in 3P% against, and 8th in 3PA/FGA), and the result is the 3rd-best adjusted defensive efficiency in the country. However, despite being improved on the defensive boards, they’re still only 120th nationally – and offensive rebounding is one of Baylor’s biggest strengths on offense (they rank 15th). They’ll probably need a very big game on the offensive boards if they want to win.
To Baylor’s advantage is the fact that they’re not over-reliant on three pointers. Duke can shut teams down from outside, so it’s good that Baylor has a balanced inside/outside attack, ranking in the top 25 in both 3P% and 2P%, and right at average in 3PA/FGA. Duke will try to shut them down on the perimeter, but Baylor’s guards should be able to drive or get it to Udoh or Acy in the post. If the Baylor bigs can get the job done against Brian Zoubek, the Bears have a chance.
Vegas has Duke as a 4 point favorite, and my system basically agrees. The straight efficiency stats show Duke as 5.5 point favorites, but the similar opponents analysis shows that Baylor has done better than expected offensively against teams whose defenses are similar to Duke’s. I see no reason to disagree, so I’ll go with the similarity prediction here, and say that Baylor should be able to hang close, but Duke is still the clear favorite.