The Gonzaga Bulldogs have made light work of all their challengers this season. The Zags hope to keep the momentum going in yet another marquee matchup when they take on the No. 5 Duke Blue Devils at T-Mobile Arena (aka The Desert Kennel) in front of a sold out crowd. Both teams enter the game undefeated, and the Zags have an opportunity to hand Coach K his last first loss of the season and ensure that his farewell tour has a few bumps along the way as the early 5.5 point favorite per DraftKings. These two teams squared off three years at the 2018 Maui Invitational which saw the Zags take down the Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett edition of the Blue Devils in a thrilling championship game. Perhaps these teams will combine for another nail-biter...
Meet the Opponent
Duke Blue Devils, 6-0, KenPom #8
Coach K has assembled another strong team headlined by (Deluxe) Diaper Dandy Paolo Banchero, who very nearly opted to stay home in the State of Washington and play for Gonzaga. Banchero starred in Duke’s season-opening tilt against Kentucky, which is the only game that the Blue Devils have played outside the confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium and the only opponent ranked in the KenPom top 100. The next best opponent that Duke has played was Campbell (KenPom #161) who gave their neighbors a tough game in a 67-56 contest less than two weeks ago.
Banchero has been as advertised, averaging 17.8 ppg, 8 rpg, and 2 apg, and is considered by many to be Chet Holmgren’s primary competition to be taken first overall by some lucky NBA franchise in next summer’s draft. He is joined in the starting lineup by fellow freshman Trevor Keels (13.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.7 apg), sophomores Jeremy Roach (9 ppg, 3.7 apg, 2.8 rpg) and Mark Williams (807 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.2 apg), and junior forward Wendell Moore Jr. (17.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 5.7 apg) who is enjoying a breakout campaign after earning McDonald’s All-American honors in the Class of 2019 when he was ranked as a top-25 recruit.
What to watch out for
Can Duke slow down Gonzaga’s interior scoring?
This is becoming a recurring topic in these game previews, probably because it’s the first question every coaching staff that will see the Zags this year is asking themselves. Duke has some size—Williams is a 7-footer, Banchero is 6’10”, and Theo John is 6’9”—but the Timme/Holmgren duo is a different animal. While the Blue Devils defend well inside of the arc—holding opponents to a 43.5% clip on 2PTFG%, good for 53rd in the country—it’s unlikely that they will be able to completely shut down Gonzaga’s interior game. After all, the Zags are converting two-point field goals at a comically high 67.2% rate which is the best mark in the country by nearly 4%. That’s not all Timme and Holmgren of course, as Gonzaga’s roster features a plethora of excellent finishers. To pull off the upset, however, Duke’s defense will have to put together a stellar 40-minute effort and force Gonzaga into a perimeter shooting game while hoping that the Zags have a cold shooting night.
Who wins the transition battle?
Gonzaga is absolutely lethal in transition, as UCLA learned very quickly on Tuesday night, but the Blue Devils might actually have the horses to run with the Zags. To avoid being run out of the gym, Duke will have to be extremely disciplined with ball security, shot selection, and controlling the glass to avoid live-ball turnovers and long rebounds that turn into run outs. A transition opportunity is pretty much an automatic bucket the other way for Gonzaga. On the flip side, Duke pressures the ball well and forces steals on 13.3% of possessions, which is a strong mark, and they have strong finishers of their own. Trevor Keels, in particular, showed in the Kentucky game that he can be a load in transition in his own right. He’s a physical presence in the backcourt who can easily finish through contact and will be a tough test for Gonzaga’s wings.
Holmgren v. Banchero
This is the battle within the battle that every fan and NBA scout wants to see, and it’s likely we’ll see them matched up throughout the evening. Both are extremely skilled and versatile for their size, with the ability to play inside-out and handle the ball. At this stage, Banchero is more advanced as an isolation scorer than his counterpart and doesn’t show down from physical battles on the glass, but Holmgren’s ability to affect a game in so many different ways is unmatched and he’s mature enough not to get too caught up in a mano-a-mano battle that he starts playing outside of Gonzaga’s structure. I’m excited to see how each of them fares against the other, and it will be a good litmus test for both players as they continue working on their development in preparation for the next level.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.