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Utah to be a stiff challenge for Duke

The top-seeded Duke Blue Devils have rolled through their first two games en route to the Sweet 16. The opening-round matchup as a 1/16 was expected to be a formality, but the Blue Devils were especially impressive in their Round of 32 beat down of San Diego State. Duke won 68-49 behind 26 points from Jahlil Okafor and a superb all-around game from Justise Winslow, two players expected to go in the top 10 of the upcoming draft.

But things likely won’t come as easy for Okafor, Winslow and Co. against the fifth-seeded Utah Utes on Friday night in the Sweet 16. The Utes finished the season 3-4 and had some issues dispatching 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin in their opening-round game, but Utah looked strong in a 75-64 win over Georgetown in the Round of 32.

While Duke boasts two elite NBA prospects in Okafor and Winslow, Utah has two high-level NBA prospects as well in Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright. Both players are currently projected to be first-round picks, per DraftExpress, and Poeltl is slotted for the tail end of the lottery.

Russell Isabella/USA TODAY Sports

Russell Isabella/USA TODAY Sports

Okafor has been able to dominate the first two rounds thanks to a huge size advantage, but Poeltl is a legit 7-footer who could cause a bit more problems with his height and length. Okafor still has Poeltl by a good 30-plus pounds, but it won’t be as easy to dominate against that size. It should be a fascinating matchup, and Okafor will have to reach deep into his bag of tricks (and it’s a deep bag) to have a lot of success against Poeltl.

Wright is a versatile guard who can do a bit of everything. He’s averaging 14.7 points, 5.2 assists and 4.9 rebounds while shooting 51.8 percent overall and 36.1 percent from three. Some of his averages are down from last year (his first at Utah after transferring from junior college), but the senior guard has significantly improved his three-point percentage, from 22.2 percent to that respectable 36.1 percent mark.

Duke and Utah will feature an elite offensive team against an elite defensive team. The Blue Devils are fourth in the country in offensive rating, per Sports-Reference.com, while the Utes are ninth in defensive rating.

Duke opened as a five-point favorite over Utah, although that spread has increased to 5½ points at some sports books.

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