Gonzaga vs. Duke Prediction: Can the Zags Win Another Early-Season Final Four Preview?

Gonzaga vs. Duke prediction and pick for Friday's early-season top-5 battle in college basketball. Who will win this battle of the unbeatens? Mike Spector breaks it down
Mike Spector |
Fri, November 26, 10:54 AM EST | 4 min read
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Gonzaga vs. Duke Prediction: Can the Zags Win Another Early-Season Final Four Preview?

Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Duke Blue Devils

Spread: Gonzaga -8

Total: 154.5

Game time: Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET

Where to Watch: ESPN

Gonzaga vs. Duke odds

Gonzaga vs. Duke Prediction

Just three days after the Gonzaga Bulldogs won their No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown with UCLA, they face their third top-five opponent of the season. While the Gonzaga-UCLA matchup was hyped historically as just the 43rd regular-season matchup of the country’s top two teams, this matchup against Duke is special for other reasons. Fans will be able to watch the likely top two picks in the NBA Draft, as Chet Holmgren shares the floor with Paolo Banchero. Is this the game’s most important matchup, or will the game be deciding among other factors?

There were many impressive parts about Gonzaga’s dominating 83-63 win over UCLA, most notably their play on the defensive end. The Bulldogs held the Bruins to season lows in points (63), field goal percentage (35%), and 3-point field goal percentage (17%). Many (myself included) pointed to UCLA’s experience of all their starters from last year’s Final Four team returning (minus the injured Cody Riley) as to why the Bruins would be successful against Gonzaga. However, the Bulldogs did not seem to miss Jalen Suggs, Joel Ayayi, or Corey Kispert one bit. Instead, players like Andrew Nembhard have seemingly made the leap to stardom, as he looks like the best point guard in the country at the moment. His ability to get out in transition and break down defenders in the half court is a big reason Gonzaga ranks No. 1 in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 2 in 2-point shooting percentage (67.2%), per KenPom.

The Duke Blue Devils have had a cakewalk ever since their opening night win in the Champions Classic against Kentucky. Duke has won their last five games by an average of 27.2 PPG, with their only tight game coming against Campbell on November 13th. They rank in the top-20 in the country in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency and do a great job of taking care of the basketball. The Blue Devils commit turnovers on just 12.4% of their possessions (sixth-best in the country), and ball security will help slow down a relentless Gonzaga transition attack. Duke has three players averaging double figures, two of which are true freshmen, Paolo Banchero (17.8 PPG) and Trevor Keels (13.3 PPG).

There was some luck involved in Gonzaga’s defensive performance against UCLA, as the Bruins picked the wrong day for their worst shooting performance. However, Chet Holmgren manning the paint was a big reason for UCLA’s struggles. Holmgren’s ability to defend the post one-on-one and alter many close-range shots allows Gonzaga’s perimeter defenders to extend out on shooters and gamble more in the passing lanes.

In addition, Gonzaga exploited the absence of Cody Riley, as UCLA did not have enough size to contend with both Holmgren and Drew Timme. Duke has a lot more depth in that regard, with 7’0” Mark Williams, 6’10” Paolo Banchero, and 6’9” Theo John to rotate on Gonzaga’s bigs. It will be interesting to see how Coach K uses Banchero defensively, as routinely matching him up against Timme is a recipe for quick foul trouble.

Duke needs to weather the early storm in this game, as Gonzaga has led each of their first two top-five opponents by 20 points at halftime. In UCLA’s case, starting 3-for-19 from the field did not help that cause. However, the Blue Devils are not known for their long-range prowess, as they have knocked down just 33.6% of their 3-point shots this year. Duke has made eight or more 3-pointers in each of their last five games, but that was against inferior competition and not against a team as aggressive defensively as Gonzaga. Without a plethora of shooters to space the floor, Gonzaga should employ similar defensive success as they have in their other two high-profile games.

The main difference between the UCLA game and this game tonight will be Duke’s ability to better limit Gonzaga’s transition offense. Gonzaga got whatever they wanted in the first ten minutes against UCLA, and Coach K will likely not send as many guys to the offensive glass to better protect his team on the other end. In addition, Duke’s taller and deeper frontcourt will make Gonzaga’s Timme and Holmgren work harder for what they get. Lastly, their ability to take care of the basketball will turn this game into more of a half-court grind.

While we are tempted to lay the points with Gonzaga, all these factors discussed suggest the under is the safer play. The under is 3-1-1 in Duke’s last five games and has cashed in five of Gonzaga’s last seven. We are an aesthetically pleasing grind between these two talented teams.

Gonzaga vs. Duke Pick

  • PICK: UNDER 154.5
Mike Spector
@MikeSpector01

Mike Spector brings unmatched knowledge and insight into the game of football, and more importantly the process of betting on NFL football. Mike is the #2 ranked expert in FantasyPros' NFL betting contest

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