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Duke’s 2019 March Madness Odds Get EVEN Shorter: What The F— Is Going On?

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski huddles with his players.
Mike Krzyzewski has the best recruiting class in the nation, but also faces the challenge of replacing his entire starting five. Photo: public domain.
  • Duke just massacred three overmatched Canadian teams and now their March Madness odds are absurdly short. 
  • The only things we really learned about the Blue Devils from the Canada tour are cause for concern. 
  • Find out why Duke may be fatally flawed when it comes to the 2019 national championship. 

I’m usually the measured one around here, evaluating wagers with unceasing equanimity. I’ve never needed a sober second thought because my first take was born and raised in Lynchburg, Tennessee. But the latest 2019 March Madness odds have me hot under the long-sleeve t-shirt that I stole from JP Macura.

Recently returned from their Canada tour, where they crushed Ryerson (86-67), Toronto (96-60), and McGill (103-58), Duke’s 2019 national championship odds continue to get shorter, rising from +630 all the way to +475 over the last two months.

They have soared clear of Kansas and Kentucky even though the only new information we have is that RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson are considerably better than Canada’s second-tier collegians.

Ducking Canada’s best team is funny, but ultimately unimportant. What matters is that the Canada tour did not establish Duke as the outright March Madness favorite they have become. They cruised to three easy wins because they were bigger, stronger, and faster. It was what you would expect if you took the best high-school players from across the continent and matched them up against a team of players almost good enough to play DI ball.

It produced some epic highlights and not much else.

Actually, that’s not true. It produced some concerning realizations for Duke, a team that lost its entire starting five.

1. Duke needs freshman point guard Tre Jones to be healthy all year

Jones didn’t play on the Canada tour due to a lingering hip injury and his absence was felt. The Blue Devils turned the ball over 13.33 times per game on the Canada tour, nearly matching their assists-per-game total (16.0 APG).

Jones’ backup, Jordan Goldwire, is a three-star recruit ill-suited to run the offense. He shot 4-14 from the field with just eight assists and five turnovers in three games in Canada.

Jones’ hip injury is something that’s bothered him since he arrived on campus this summer and its persistence should give bettors ample reason for concern because …

2. Duke needs Tre Jones to play like a veteran

Not only does Duke need Jones on the court, it needs him to play with a wisdom and efficiency that belies his age. The last team to win the title with a freshman as its primary ball-handler was 2012 Kentucky, a team that also had Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Not every recruiting class is created equal. As good as RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson are, they will not dominate March Madness the way The Brow did. When crunch time arrives, the Blue Devils will need Jones to be safe with the ball while simultaneously facilitating for his teammates. It’s not something many freshman are able to do under the bright March Madness spotlight.

3. Duke is not going to shoot the three very well

None of Duke’s heralded recruits comes in with a reputation as a three-point assassin, and that played out in Canada. The team shot 26-82 (31.7%) from north of the arc while north of the border. That would have ranked 329th in the country last year, just behind Rice and Bethune-Cookman.

Last year’s Final Four teams all shot better than 36.9% from three, and three of the four shot roughly 40%.

Kansas 40.3%
Villanova 39.8%
 Loyola Chicago 39.8%
Michigan 36.9%

It’s extremely hard to string together six wins in the tournament without decent three-point production and the floor-spacing that comes with it, let alone survive the gauntlet that is the ACC regular season.

If you were ranking terms in order of sheer, individual talent, Duke deserves to be at the top. But if you’re ranking teams qua teams, it’s a different story. Duke has a bunch of really nice looking puzzle pieces, but they don’t necessarily fit together all that well and a couple may be falling apart.

When CBS Sports surveyed 100-plus coaches on which team would be the best this season, Kansas was the runaway favorite (38%), followed by Kentucky (18%) and then Duke (15%).

The fact that the Blue Devils are currently being given a 17.4% chance to win March Madness — nearly 4% higher than Kentucky and 6% higher than Kansas — is bonkers.

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Sascha was a hockey player in his youth, a lawyer in his capricious mid-20s, and has been SBD's lead oddsmaker/number cruncher since 2014. He writes about everything you can possibly put odds on. He's happiest when those things are football, baseball, hockey and basketball (in that order).