After taking down the vaunted Gonzaga Bulldogs in Las Vegas last week, the Duke Blue Devils have established themselves as the new No. 1 team in college basketball. At 7-0, Duke has looked like a juggernaut again, and that is great to see if you are a Blue Devils fan. With legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski retiring after this season, it would be great for the program to be left in such a lucrative state for Jon Scheyer to come in with such enormous shoes to fill. The team already has two signature wins over Gonzaga and Kentucky on neutral courts, and deserves this ranking after taking down then-No. 1 Gonzaga.
Superstar and freshman sensation Paolo Banchero finished with 21 points and five rebounds in Friday's 84-81 win over Gonzaga. He has been everything that the Blue Devils envisioned and more, and he outshined fellow top NBA prospect Chet Holmgren, his primary competition to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. Banchero is averaging 18.8 points and 7.6 rebounds, both leading the team.
Coach K's team looks the part of the best team in the country, and they have the resume to back it up. They can't mess up, however, as the Purdue Boilermakers are right on their heels at No. 2 with an equally impressive resume that also warrants a No. 1 ranking. It will be interesting to see what happens as we continue down this path to the NCAA tournament.
While Duke has impressed early in the season, you could say the opposite for the Ohio State Buckeyes. They are 4-2 so far after a win vs. Seton Hall, but single-digit losses to both Florida and Xavier have knocked the Buckeyes down the national rankings. Junior forward EJ Liddell is the best player on the team, and he is averaging a career-high 22.5 points through the first six games, along with 6.2 rebounds. He's the star here for the buckeyes at home, and he will need to have a fantastic game in order for Ohio State to pull off an upset.
Aside from Liddell, the supporting cast needs to step up here in the face of the ultimate challenge. Forward Kyle Young has a fantastic motor, and is a hard worker on the glass. He is Ohio State's leader in rebounding with 6.4 per game, and also contributes by putting up 9.6 points per game. Young is also great at the line shooting free throws, where he has hit a fantastic 93% from the stripe. Jamari Wheeler is the main point guard for the Buckeyes, and he can do a little bit of everything. He averaged 6.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.5 apg and 1.8 spg for Penn State last year, and is now on Ohio State as a transfer. He is fantastic defensively, which is his biggest strength.
Ohio State will need big games from all three of these players to pull off the upset against the best team in college basketball. That is a tough environment for Duke, and if they lose focus, Ohio State could take advantage.
Liddell is a superstar for Ohio State, and the team around him has more veterans who are better equipped to handle this sort of game than the young Blue Devils. They don't have the talent that Duke has, but they are a scrappy team that plays its best basketball at home. In this environment, a tough task is ahead for Coach K and the Blue Devils. I think this game will be very close for the first half, but in the end, I think the overall top talent of Duke will be too much for Ohio State to handle. The game will be closer than you think, but I'll take Duke (-3.5) over Ohio State.
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