As we get into the Duke-Gonzaga betting odds for Friday night, I do think that it is worth pointing out at the very top that Gonzaga, to date, has been utterly dominant.
What the Zags have done this season is, at minimum, on a par with what they did at the start of last season. So is this group better than the team that won 31 straight games and came a 40-minute war with Baylor away from finishing last season undefeated?
I actually think that they are. At the very least I think this team probably has a better chance of winning the national title than last year’s team did. For starters, there is no Baylor in college hoops this season. My hottest take is that the Bears would have finished last season undefeated if they had not caught COVID in February. But that’s neither here nor there. Gonzaga looks, at least on paper, like the best team in the country.
But the other part of it is that Gonzaga is actually defending this season. They currently rank 7th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They allowed 27 first half points to Texas. They gave up 63 points on 71 possessions against a UCLA team that is great at winning one-on-one matchups. The difference is Chet Holmgren, who is the best rim protector in college basketball and who allows Gonzaga’s wings to get out and pressure on the perimeter without having to worry about giving up layups. There is an eraser waiting in the paint.
Duke, however, has some talent. They may be the most talented team in college hoops, and Paolo Banchero is the ultimate difference maker.
So where does the value lie tonight?
GONZAGA vs. DUKE BETTING ODDS
GAME TIME: 10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
MONEYLINE: Gonzaga -375 ML, UCLA +290 ML
SPREAD: Gonzaga -8
GONZAGA vs. DUKE PREDICTION
I’m going to do it. I’m going to fade Gonzaga again.
The biggest reason why is Paolo Banchero. I think that he, and not Chet, is the best prospect in college basketball. I think that he is one of the few players in the sport that is capable of matching up with either Drew Timme or Chet, which is important because if you look at the rest of Duke’s frontline, it’s like that he’s going to be asked to guard both at times. Mark Williams and Theo John are two guys that are big enough and physical enough that they should be able to give Drew Timme similar problems as UCLA did. You’re never going to stop him — he played “bad” against UCLA and finished with 18 points and eight boards — but you cannot let him go nuts like he did against Texas. Duke should be able to do that.
I also think that their ability to defend on the perimeter will be massive. Duke can switch 1-through-4 when they go big and 1-through-5 in the lineups with Paolo is at the five. AJ Griffin is a terrific defender, as is Wendell Moore. Trevor Keels has enough size and physicality that Andrew Nembhard won’t be able to body him. On paper, they should be able to limit much of what Gonzaga does in half court.
The key is going to be slowing down their transition game. That’s where Gonzaga kills you. They are so unbelievably good at turning missed shots into open layups and threes, even if you don’t send bodies to the glass. Duke is going to send bodies to the offensive glass.
What I will say is this, however: The best way to slow down a transition game is to make that team take the ball out of the net. Gonzaga has not yet had to deal with a team that can overpower them physically, both up front and on the perimeter.
Put another way, I think that this Duke team is a top three team in college basketball right now. And laying eight points against a team that is this good is just too many points.