While there are plenty of good teams and great match-ups remaining in the NCAA Tournament, you could argue that the three best squads left in the field are Kentucky, Wisconsin and Arizona.
What do those three teams have in common? They’re all on the left side of the bracket.
Yes, with Villanova and Virginia bowing out in the East Region, No. 1 Duke is the favorite to advance not only to the Final Four, but also to the national title game. The Blue Devils (31-4) face No. 5 Utah (26-8) in the Sweet 16 this Friday at 9:45 p.m. ET. If victorious, they will face the winner of No. 2 Gonzaga versus No. 11 UCLA.
But if Duke has a fatal flaw, what is it?
“Free-throw shooting comes into play with their bigs,” Westwood One college basketball analyst Kelly Tripucka said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “That’s definitely (a concern). They have two guards that shoot 88 (percent) or better – and that’s a good thing because obviously when you get the ball in-bounds, those two guys are quick.”
Those two guys are senior Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones. Jahlil Okafor, meanwhile, hovered around 51 percent from the foul line this season; Justice Winslow hovered around 61 percent.
That’s not good.
Still, the Blue Devils, who beat No. 16 Robert Morris and No. 8 San Diego State by a combined 48 points, have a couple of things going for them.
“They run as well as anybody,” Tripucka said. “I’m telling you: They’re impressive in person. I’ve seen them a lot this year, but to see them in person – the transition they make from turnover to offense is a blur. They get the ball out, they pressure you, they create turnovers and they’re gone. They don’t run for two. They’ll get twos, but they run for threes. They get down the court and find (open shots.)”
Okafor has been Duke’s best player this year. He led the team in scoring, rebounding and blocks during the regular season, and he has 47 points, nine rebounds, five blocks and three assists through two tournament games. He’s shot 21-of-27 (77.7 percent) from the floor and 5-of-8 (62.5 percent) from the foul line.
“Jahlil Okafor is the real deal,” Tripucka said. “He’s a real center. What a pleasure to watch and see him develop. He’s still got a ways to go. He’s going to get only better. He’s just scratching the surface, but boy that kid can play. He is very good.”
But if there’s one thing that could catch up with Duke, Tripucka said, it’s their depth.
“They have eight players – eight scholarship players, eight McDonald’s All-Americans. If Okafor gets in foul trouble, that’s going to be a big problem. They got to stay out of foul trouble, particularly him. And if they have an off night shooting, that may be a problem as well.
“But they’re pretty darn good, I’ll tell you that.”