NCAA Game Preview by @RandyDunson: Duke Blue Devils vs. Gonzaga Zags

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Game Preview

Duke Blue Devils (32-4] vs. Gonzaga (35-2] Zags

Sunday, March 29, 2015 • 5:05 p.m. (ET) • CBS • Houston, Texas • NRG Stadium

By Randy Dunson

1. Snapshot

Duke

Duke (32-4, 15-3 ACC) faces Gonzaga (35-2, 17-1 WCC) Sunday, March 29 at NRG Stadium in Houston. Tipoff is set for 5:05 PM (ET) with Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill and Tracy Wolfson calling the action for CBS. The Blue Devils were tabbed the No. 1 seed in the South Region. Duke has received a No. 1 seed 13 times, second most in NCAA Tournament history. Duke is 102-34 (.750) all-time in NCAA Tournament play, including an 85-26 (.766) mark under head coach Mike Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils enter Sunday’s game ranked No. 4 in the AP Poll and No. 5 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Duke is 78-15 (.839) overall when ranked No. 4 in the AP Poll. Duke is 8-2 on the year against ranked opponents, including a 4-1 mark against teams ranked in the top 10 of the AP Poll. The Blue Devils are 5-4 in NCAA Tournament play in the state of Texas, including a 4-1 mark in Houston. Duke moved to 3-0 at NRG Stadium after Friday’s win over Utah. Mike Krzyzewski has led Duke to the Elite Eight 14 times, most among NCAA active coaches.

 

Gonzaga

Gonzaga is in its 17th consecutive NCAA Tournament and 18th overall. The 17 straight is the fourth-longest current streak in the nation (Duke, Kansas, Mich. State). Gonzaga is now 22-17 all-time in 18 NCAA Tournament appearances with its sixth trip to the Sweet 16 and second trip to the Elite Eight.

GU is 19-15 in the NCAA Tournament under head coach Mark Few with an appearance in all 16 seasons of Few’s career. Gonzaga has been a top-four seed five previous times (#1 once, #2 once, #3 twice, #4 once). Gonzaga is now 5-1 in NCAA games in Seattle, Wash., and 1-0 in NCAA games in Houston. Gonzaga is 0-6 all-time against No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga’s balanced scoring attack is led by WCC Newcomer of the Year Kyle Wiltjer’s 16.8 points per game. He is among six Zags that average at least 8.3 PPG. Gonzaga is ranked No. 1 in field goal shooting in the nation at .522. The Zags rank No. 5 in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.59), No. 6 in assists/game (16.5) and No. 7 in scoring offense (79.4). GU is the only team in the NCAA Tournament in the top 25 in FG% and FG% defense.

2. Last Time Out

Duke

In its last outing, Duke posted a 63-57 win over Utah to advance to the Elite Eight for the 20th time in program history. Justise Winslow scored a game-high 21 points and added 10 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the year. The Houston native was 8-of-13 from the field, including 3-of-4 from three-point range, and added two blocks and a steal in the win. Tyus Jones (15) and Quinn Cook (11) also scored in double figures. The backcourt tandem combined to go 16-of-18 from the free throw line against Utah. Duke held the Runnin’ Utes to 35.0 percent (21-of-60) shooting from the field, including 29.6 percent (8-of-27) in the opening half of play.

 

Gonzaga

In its last outing, Przemek Karnowski had 18 points and nine rebounds and second-seeded Gonzaga used a big run early in the second half to pull away for a 74-62 win over No. 11 UCLA on Friday night in the Houston Regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament. UCLA (22-14) opened the second half with a 6-0 run to get within 35-34. Gonzaga got going after that, scoring the next 12 points, thanks to the powerful inside game of 7-foot-1, 288-pound Karnowski to make it 47-34. The Bruins could not find any offense as Gonzaga built its lead early in the second half. A jump shot by Kevon Looney came after their big run to end a five-minute scoring drought and cut it to 47-36 with 13 minutes left.

 3. Head-to-Head

GU is 0-2 all-time against Duke, with both losses at Madison Square Garden (December 2006 & December 2009). In terms of a few key offensive and defensive statistical parameters, it has been a long time when an opponent had the edge in virtually every category. This gives Gonzaga a solid statistical edge head-to-head.

 

Duke 2014-15 Regular Season Key Stats Comparison Gonzaga University
                     79.9 (+15.3) PPG (Scoring Margin) 79.4 (+17.8)
64.6 Opponents PPG 61.5
57.2 Effective FG% 58.7
50.5 FG% 52.2
42.2 Opponent FG% 39.1
38.9 3PT FG% 40.3
31.4 Opponent 3PT FG% 32.8
37.1 (+5.9) RPG (Rebound Margin) 38.0 (+7.5)
31.2 Opponent RPG 30.4
15.6 APG 16.5
7.1 SPG 6.1
11.3 (1.2) Turnovers Per Game (Margin) 10.4 (1.1)
12.5 Opponent TOPG 11.5
3.8 BPG 3.3

 

4. Four Factors to Winning

[If you wish to learn more about how the four factors are calculated and implemented, a description can always be found here, http://www.dukeblogger.com/four-factors-winning/.]

Duke-Zags 4Fs

 

Though Gonzaga dominates in the overall stats above, the teams are fairly evenly matched when it comes to the four key factors. Duke has a significant edge in offensive rebounding is 36.9% vs. 34.3%. When it comes to getting to the free throw line, the teams are even at 39.2%. Gonzaga is shooting the ball more efficiently (eFG%) at 58.7% vs. 57.2% and handling the ball better (15.8% vs. 16.9%).

5. Key Points to Consider

First, a few points regarding both teams’ overall profile at this point:

Duke

  • Two main scorers (Cook/Okafor); Jones/Winslow close behind
  • Makes the most of its possessions
  • Does not send teams to the line often

Gonzaga

  • Makes the most of its possessions
  • Hard to score against
  • Commits few fouls

Now, a few key points to consider. These may often carry over to future games but keys specific to a current opponent will always be mentioned.

Free Throw Shooting (Emphasis on Okafor) [I choose to leave this as a key as it applies for all of Duke’s remaining games in the NCAAT]

    • This has been Duke’s Achilles Tendon at times this year. Unfortunately, Okafor can be a huge detriment here.
    • Okafor will need to prove he can hit at a respectable rate from the line if Duke is to threaten for the national title.
  • Frontcourt Match-up
    • National POY candidate Okafor is clearly the best player on either team but he is just one man.
    • The Zags’ frontcourt of junior center Przemek Karnowski, seven-foot-one, 288 pounds, and six-foot-10 freshman forward Domantas Sabonis are coming off of a clinical trouncing of UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen. Sabonis comes off the bench, typically replacing Karnowski, to play up front alongside all-America candidate junior forward Kyle Wiltjer.
    • Aside from Okafor, the Blue Devils do not have the pieces to match up with the Zags down low. We will likely need to play Plumlee for extended minutes to help defend the tall and talented bigs of Gonzaga.
    • Duke has the best player; Gonzaga has more great players. I have to give the upper hand to the Zags in this category if only because of their depth.
  • Backcourt Match-up
    • Gonzaga’s losses in the past (not just this year) have often come by the hot hand of a big guard. Duke’s guard combo of Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook are both capable of getting hot, but neither is big. At six-foot-one and six-foot-two respectively. Gonzaga counters with seniors Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos, the WCC Defensive POY and POY respectively.
    • Both teams have depth behind their starting backcourts, in Grayson Allen and Matt Jones for Duke and Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis for Gonzaga.
    • The Zags uncharacteristic, and likely venue-induced poor shooting night against UCLA (3-19 from long range) turns this match-up from one that was clearly a Gonzaga advantage into a wash.
  • ‘Midcourt’ Match-up
    • There is the final match-up of combo-forward Justise Winslow for Duke and senior small forward Byron Wesley for Gonzaga.
    • Winslow is coming off a 21 point, 10 rebound performance in the Sweet 16. The six-foot-six Winslow will likely have to contend with the six-foot-five Wesley on defense.
    • While Winslow is the better player, Wesley is a calming influence on offense who can slash to the bucket with ease and a stellar defender alongside Bell on the perimeter or inside with the bigs.
    • If the shooting woes continue for the Zags’ guards this could well end up being the match-up that decides the game.
  • Defense [Holdover from Utah]
    • Duke’s defense, particularly transition, has been called into question at times.
    • Overall, the suspect transition defense may not matter as Gonzaga likes to keep a slow pace, which might work into Duke’s favor
  • 3-point Shooting [Holdover from Utah]
    • When Duke has struggled, it is because the Blue Devils are not connecting on the three-point shot.
    • As a team, Duke is averaging just a hair under 39 percent from deep, while Gonzaga has held opponents to an average of just 31.4 percent from behind the line.
    • Even with a dominating presence like Okafor inside, when Duke is not hitting 3-pointers, results like its 74-64 loss to Notre Dame in the ACC tournament semifinals can happen.

6. Endgame

The chalk hit in the South Region, with No. 1 seed Duke and No. 2 seed Gonzaga advancing to the regional final. The Blue Devils took care of Utah 63-57 on Friday night while Gonzaga handled UCLA 74-62. The Blue Devils will be looking to advance to their first Final Four since they won the national title in 2010, while Gonzaga is aiming for its inaugural Final Four appearance. The winner of this game will see the winner of Louisville-Michigan State in Indianapolis next Saturday.

Duke bucked a subpar offensive night by Jahlil Okafor on Friday, as the Blue Devils eked out a 63-57 win over the fifth-seeded Utah Utes. Okafor finished the game against Utah with only six points, a very disappointing output considering that he entered Friday’s contest averaging 18.1 points per game. Fortunately for Duke, Justise Winslow was there to pick up the slack, scoring 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting. The backcourt pair of Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones also added 11 and 15 points, respectively.

Winslow is averaging 12.1 points per game thus far this season. Cook and Jones, meanwhile, chip in 15.8 and 11.4 points per game, respectively.

Expect Winslow to play extra tough on both ends of the floor against Gonzaga, as aside from contributing on offense, Duke will also look for him to contain Kyle Wiltjer. The Bulldogs’ leading scorer is putting up 17.1 points per game on 47.9 percent shooting.

Although Duke survived Utah despite Okafor’s near absent scoring, the team cannot afford to have the same kind of offensive performance from the big man. Duke’s offense will always revolve around Okafor, who will have to establish his dominance inside early to open up spaces for the team’s outside shooters. With Okafor struggling against Utah, the Utes’ defenders were able to focus more on Duke’s three-point shooters, who went just 3-of-9 from beyond the arc. Duke takes 19.5 three-point attempts per game.

Gonzaga is still kicking. The ‘Zags booked their tickets to the regional final for just the second time in program history by beating No. 11 UCLA Bruins on Friday, 74-62.

Przemek Karnowski was a beast in the game against UCLA, as the 7-1 center scored 18 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and added two blocks. Domantas Sabonis, meanwhile, came off the bench and fired 12 points to go along with his eight rebounds. Karnowski and Sabonis highlight one of Gonzaga’s keys to success versus the Blue Devils: a frontcourt that knows how to bully its way.

Mark Few has at his disposal a roster with four players that stand at least 6-8,  including Sabonis who is a 6-10 power forward, which he could throw at Duke’s defensively susceptible frontcourt. Unfortunately,  Duke has a mediocre rim protection, as evidenced by its opponents’ high 58.1 percent shooting at the rim.

Karnowski is averaging 12.7 points and seven rebounds per game over the last three games. Sabonis, meanwhile, is putting up 12.3 points and collecting 9.3 rebounds per game during the same stretch.

Gonzaga, however, will have to see better scoring production from star Kyle Wiltjer to keep in step with Duke. After scoring 23 and 24 points against North Dakota and Iowa, respectively, the 6-10 stretch four made just eight points against UCLA. The Bulldogs will be hopeful that Wiltjer can get it going again against Duke defense that gives up 64.8 points per game.

In the end, I am predicting Tyus Jones and Justice Winslow to be the difference, and for Duke to move on to yet another Final Four. With that in mind, as noted above let us remember that Duke is the No. 1 seed and Gonzaga the No. 2 seed. Both teams are very capable of coming away with the win, and we will be seeing some serious talent battling it out for a spot in the Final Four. This game has all the makings of a potential instant classic, and it should go down to the wire. I will take the Blue Devils by a hair (65-61) as they punch their ticket to Indy.