The Gonzaga Bulldogs play host to the Duke Blue Devils today in the finals of the Maui Invitational. This game features two of the best teams in the country this year as Duke is number one in both polls and Gonzaga at number three. The winner of this game is sure to be the number one team in the country when the rankings come out next week and will have the inside track to the number one overall seed come March.
The Zags earned their spot in the finals by beating Illinois in the first round and Arizona last night. Both of those games were competitive with the Bulldogs pulling away late for the wins. Last night’s game was especially tough for GU as Arizona had a thirteen-point lead early in the second half as many of the Gonzaga players were in foul trouble in the first half and missed action. The Zags put the foul issues behind them in the second half and saw four players score at least eighteen points in what turned out to be a bit of a lopsided victory.
Duke came into this tournament as the consensuses top team in the nation, and they have certainly looked every bit like the best team in the land in the tournament so far. Duke pounded a solid San Diego State team by twenty-six points in round one and then found some resistance for the first time this year as Auburn put up more than a fight last night in the semifinals. Duke had a comfortable lead most of the game, but the Tigers went on a tear late to make a game of things and cut the lead all the way down to six points before coming up short. The Blue Devils hadn’t had a game closer than twenty-two points before Auburn gave them all they could handle in the semis.
The Blue Devils are -7-point favorites. The game total over-under is set at 164.5 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 2:00 PM PST from the Lahaina Civic Center in Maui.
Wow, what a game we have in store for you today! The Maui Invitational never fails to impress, and this year’s field featured three of the top ten in the nation. And we ended up with the finals matchup we all wanted, Gonzaga versus Duke. In my estimation, there are three teams that stick way out above everyone else this year. Duke, Kansas, and Gonzaga. To me, these three teams are just head and shoulders above the rest of the nation. To see two of these teams, match up like this, is a college basketball fan’s dream.
We have talked all season long about how immensely talented this Duke team is. They have the best recruiting class I have ever seen, and I can’t remember a team that had more raw talent than this squad. All three of their trio of freshman superstars, Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, and RJ Barrett are going to be lottery picks and difference makers on the next level. But we saw some little cracks in the facade last night as Auburn stepped up and gave the Dukies a run for their money.
It’s not that Auburn is a bad team, they are actually really good and could win the SEC this season, so seeing them perform well wasn’t all that shocking. But they may have exposed Duke’s weakness on the defensive side on the court. Duke gets to the rim anytime they want, and their offense is truly elite. But on defense, they give up more good looks than they should. Coach K will likely get that tightened down by the time the tournament rolls around, but right now this team is a little bit vulnerable on defense.
And if you are looking to make a case for Duke to lose a game, this would be it. This is the tail end of three games in three-day run that has seen Duke pushed to the limit. The one downside to having such a young team like Duke has this year is the lack of experience to get you through tough spots like these. And when you look at this Gonzaga team, they have plenty of experience on their roster.
Rui Hachimura is getting all the hype in Spokane, and deservingly so, he is a monster on both sides of the court and a lottery pick level talent. But the guy that I see as the difference maker for Gonzaga in this one is Branden Clarke. Clarke was a transfer from San Jose State and is a big physical body that can score and is a huge defensive presence as he is one of the best shot blockers in the country. Clarke’s ability to keep Zion Williamson in check will be a key for Gonzaga if they want to get the upset victory.
I just can’t bring myself to make a pick in this game. Duke is really, really talented, but so are the Zags and the seven-point number feels like a sharp one. But the one area that I do see that I like, is the game total of 164.5 points. Both of these teams feature elite offenses. The Zags are third in the country in points per game and Duke is thirteenth coming into this game.
We saw what this Zags offense can do when they are clicking on all cylinders when they averaged 112 points a game in their first two games of the season. And we saw more of that last night when they dropped fifty-four points on a tough Wildcats defense in the second half. The lowest point total on the year for Gonzaga is eighty-four points, and they haven’t scored below ninety-one in any of their other four games. This team can flat out score the ball.
And the case for Duke has been the same. Duke has played a much tougher schedule than Gonzaga this year, already having faced two top ten teams, and they can absolutely score the ball as well. They dropped 118 points on the number two team in the country, the Kentucky Wildcats in the season opener. They have three different guys that can score twenty or more points, and all of them are going to be matchup nightmares for Gonzaga today.
164.5 points is a lot for a college basketball game. But when you have two elite offenses like we have tonight, they could very easily sail over. I would be shocked to see this game end anywhere below the mid-seventies for either team, and they have both shown they can drop a hundred plus points if they get hot. I expect a back and forth game where both teams are content with trading baskets that ends up coasting to the over. As far as who wins the game? Tough spot. If pressed, I would lean towards Duke, but don’t be shocked if this turns out to be an all-time classic game and a preview of the Final Four! Give me the over 164.5 points today in Maui!