A look at why Duke is favored tonight against Kansas
Kansas made it to the Elite Eight in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, where eventual national-champion Villanova bounced the Jayhawks in a close game.
Duke exited the tournament in the Sweet 16 in a 14-point loss to Oregon.
Kansas has added the No. 1 recruit in the nation, according to Rivals rankings, and Duke’s three highest-rated recruits, Nos. 2, 3 and 11, are expected to be sidelined tonight because of injuries.
Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden were not selected in the NBA draft. Duke’s Brandon Ingram was the second overall selection.
So why is Duke favored by 2.5 points? Good question and one that is not without legitimate answers.
The experience factor — Duke has 7,779 minutes of Div. I play in its rotation, Kansas 7,449 — is virtually equal.
As for hot-shot recruits, Josh Jackson will start for Kansas and Harry Giles (knee), Jayson Tatum (foot) and Marques Bolden (lower leg) are sidelined. Even though he was ranked fourth among Duke’s recruits, guard Frank Jackson was ranked 12th in the nation and is off to a great start (19.5 points per game) as sixth man.
Another key factor in why Duke is better than when it was bounced from the tourney: Post player Amile Jefferson, limited to nine games by injury last season, is back, giving Duke 4 of 5 double-figures scorers back from last season, compared to 2 of 4 for Kansas (Frank Mason and Devonte Graham), which lost its top two scorers, Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden.
Duke’s current starting five combined last season for 57.1 points per game, led by leading national player of the year candidate Grayson Allen’s 21.6 scoring average. The four returning players in KU’s starting five last season averaged 39.2 points.
All of those numbers speak only to scoring. Kansas will need to play its signature tough man-to-man defense to make Duke take contested, hurried shots. It’s a lot to ask this early in the season, but it can be done.
That’s one key. The other is that someone other than Allen will need to be the best player in the game tonight, the way Graham was the best player in the game last February in Norman.