The Duke Blue Devils suffered a lopsided defeat to rival North Carolina Wednesday night, but it wasn’t the 88-72 loss that had Blue Devil fans concerned afterward. What did have Duke fans -- and sports bettors -- fretting was the uncertain status of star forward Zion Williamson, who suffered a knee injury less than minute into the game and was unable to return.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told the media after the game that Williamson had a mild knee sprain and that his knee is stable, but did not provide a timeline on when or if the heralded freshman would return. Williamson’s uncertain status had an immediate impact on Duke’s odds of winning the national championship, according to Las Vegas bookmakers, with the caveat that the Blue Devils remain the consensus favorite to win the program’s sixth title.
Caesars Palace initially shifted Duke’s odds from +200 to +250 following Williamson injuring his knee. That line then moved back to +200 after Krzyzewski provided an optimistic update post-game along with a likely market correction from bettors looking to take advantage of the increased odds on Duke (23-3) winning the national championship.
Additionally, Caesars Palace improved the odds of Gonzaga, Virginia and Kentucky winning the national championship. Gonzaga moved from +700 to +500, while Virginia and Kentucky each went from 800 to +700. Tennessee, the team with the fifth-best odd, remains listed at +1000. Gonzaga (25-2) beat Duke in the Maui Invitational in Hawaii earlier this season, while Virginia (22-2) is tied with Duke and North Carolina (20-5) for first place in the ACC.
Among bettors, Duke has been the most attractive pick to win the national championship, according to ESPN. Of the money that has been wagered at the Caesar Palace and William Hill sportsbooks, more than twice has been placed on the Blue Devils than any other team as of Wednesday.
Williamson’s injury occurred 33 seconds into game when he attempted to change direction but as he did so his Nike sneaker blew out with the sole separating from the side of the shoe, causing him to fall awkwardly and hyperextend his knee. Williamson then limped back to the locker room.
Duke will provide an update on Williamson’s status on Thursday after he undergoes an MRI. But even if he is medically cleared to return to game action, there stands a chance Williamson may elect not to again play for the Blue Devils and instead focus on preparing for the 2019 NBA draft rather than risk further injury. The majority of experts project the 18-year-old Williamson to be the No. 1 overall pick.
Williamson’s presence generated even more hype than the usual high volume that ensues whenever the Blue Devils play their Tobacco Road rival whose campus is only 10 miles from theirs. President Barack Obama was in attendance and sitting courtside for the nationally televised game and could be seen pointing out the issue Williamson had with his shoe.
Duke’s next game is at Syracuse on Saturday. The visiting Orange defeated the Blue Devils 95-91 in January.