Consider the anticipation for Duke-Gonzaga in hyperdrive.
In 40 eye-popping minutes Tuesday night, the Bulldogs thoroughly outclassed No. 2 UCLA at both ends, leading to an 83-63 romp. The duo of Andrew Nembhard and Drew Timme were a tour de force on screen and rolls, punishing the Bruins in the half court. Plus, freshman sensation Chet Holmgren was a rim protecting menace and shot 50% from long distance. Add in Julian Strawther and Rasir Bolton combining for 21 points and boom, you got yourself a 20-point win for the Bulldogs.
Naturally, those inclined to root for and bet on the Blue Devils during Friday night’s collision between Duke and Gonzaga might be a little gun-shy in the wake of that show the Bulldogs just put on. But basketball is defined by specific matchups, and Duke, well let’s just say it is infinitely better suited to face off against the top-ranked team in the land than UCLA was.
First off, the Bruins were missing their top frontcourt piece, senior Cody Riley. No concerns in that department for Duke, as Paolo Banchero is coming off Monday’s 28-point, 8-rebound outing, Mark Williams is rounding into form and Theo John is as steady as can be coming off the bench.
Moreover, to knock off this Gonzaga group, you have to be able to get on the break. I’m not saying Duke should turn this into a full-on track meet, but the length and size that Holmgren and Timme present inside is no joke. Easy buckets early and often would be a major, major plus for the Blue Devils—especially for Jeremy Roach and Trevor Keels, who would both benefit from not having to deal with the twin trees on every drive to the hoop.
Thankfully for Duke, it shifts between up-tempo and half court at a much higher proficiency than the Bruins thanks to the presence of four ballhandlers on the court at any given time. Combine that with the Blue Devils' athletic personnel, and Duke presents a different challenge to Gonzaga that the Bulldogs are not as well equipped for.
Even in UCLA’s comeback win over then-No. 4 Villanova just over two weeks ago, head coach Mick Cronin elected to settle things down and let Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez use slow-developing high ball screens. Just a wee-bit different from Banchero and Wendell Moore Jr. snatching a rebound and forcing the issue, something that we have seen in recent outings.
Blending flash and grit is typically what makes up championship DNA, and Duke has shown that it might have the ideal combination of the two. That may not be enough to beat the version of Gonzaga that already has two top-five wins, but when you boil it all down, Duke has the personnel and style to pull it off if the chips fall in its favor.
When you’re going up against Gonzaga, which might as well be considered the house in this matchup, that's about as good as your odds are going to get.
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Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.