The KFC Yum! Center is going to be packed and rocking on January 17th, when Rick Pitino’s sixth-ranked Louisville Cardinals host the fourth-ranked Duke Blue Devils. The epic battle between Pitino and Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski takes center stage, but this game will be white hot thanks to two top-10 teams clashing, as well as some future NBA talent gracing the floor.
The Pitino versus Coach K battle is a huge reason why Louisville Cardinals tickets are up to $180.24 on average ($65 to get in the door) for Saturday’s game, which happens to be a $76 spike for Louisville’s season average. Duke Blue Devils tickets, on the other hand, drop down a bit away from home despite the magnitude of the clash, as their fans get a nice $80 discount. Overall, fans from both sides are still getting into one of the top college basketball games of the year at a solid price.
The Blue Devils had been fantastic to tip off the 2014-15 college basketball season, soaring to the top of the nation with a ridiculous 14-0 run. Duke has faltered over their last two contests, however, losing to two ACC rivals (who happened to be unranked). Both North Carolina State and the University of Miami exploited Duke’s shaky perimeter defense, using elite guard play to out-shoot the Blue Devils at their own game. Giving up 87+ points for the third game in a row in Louisville could be a reality, but it’s not one the Blue Devils can really afford.
Unfortunately for Duke, they’re not running into a bad Louisville squad, as the Cardinals are equally as talented and are extremely well coached. The lone bright spot may be that Louisville hasn’t exactly been burning rubber on offense, as they come into this contest as just the 53rd best scoring offense in the country. That wasn’t necessarily the case in the last meeting between these two teams, when the Cardinals out-ran the Blue Devils in a 85-63 blowout win, but a 76-71 Duke win in the battle the previous season (2012) showed that if they’re hitting their shots, Duke can run with the Cards’. Given that they enter with the nation’s 7th best offense that may be what Duke sets out to do on Saturday.
Louisville may not be a top-10 scoring offense, but they still have some serious star power via Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell, who have both carried Louisville this year. It’s not their offense that has gotten them to a hot 15-2 start, though, as their impressive 15th-ranked defense has been one of the more smothering units in all of college basketball. Louisville will surely have a tough task on their hands to put that defense to work and stop Duke big man Jahlil Okafor (18.9 points per game), but the numbers suggest they’ll at least have a solid chance.
The aforementioned history is very much on Louisville’s side. They dispatched the Blue Devils fairly easily in the NCAA tourney two years ago, while Louisville has successfully claimed four of the last five meetings between these two teams. Pitino has only been around for three of those battles, but he holds a 2-1 edge over Krzyzewski when it comes to these two teams going to battle. If Pitino’s hold rings true, Louisville could hand Duke a third straight loss and have a shot at tying for first place in the ACC.