All previews: click here for the full 2015 NCAA tournament schedule
Duke Blue Devils
Conference: West Coast
Date: Sunday, March 29
Time: 5:05 pm Eastern
Location: Houston, TX
Gonzaga goes for their first ever Final Four; Duke their 16th.
SportsRatings Power Ratings
Strength: #4 Strength: #6
Median play: #2 Median play: #5
Other Power Ratings
Sagarin(predictor):#4 Sagarin: #7
Pomeroy: #6 Pomeroy: #7
Offense: #3 Offense: #4
Defense: #27 Defense: #30
LRMC: #6* LRMC: #4*
BPI: #7 BPI: #4
Power Rating Derivatives
2nd half/season: #5 2nd half/season: #8
Last 6 games: #4 Last 6 games: #8
Last 3 games: #2 Last 3 games: #7
Consistency: #343 Consistency: #126
This is an extremely close game according to all the power ratings, but almost all of them place Duke slightly ahead of Gonzaga. Strength, Sagarin, and Pomeroy all give the Blue Devils the edge, and Duke is even slightly more efficient on both offense and defense. The two power ratings that are affected by teams winning a lot of games, LRMC and BPI, have Gonzaga slightly in front (LRMC is pre-tournament). As usual, Duke's sore thumb is inconsistency, but as we've noted, they tend to be pretty consistent against good teams. Also note that Gonzaga's offense is #4, and Duke lost twice to Notre Dame (#2 offense).
- Wins vs. tournament teams (13): =Michigan St.+10, @Wisconsin+10, Wofford+29, @Louisville+11, @St. John's+9, @Virginia+6, Notre Dame+30, North Carolina+OT, @North Carolina+7, =North Carolina St.+24, Robert Morris+29, San Diego St.+19, =Utah+6
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (8): =Michigan St.+10, @Wisconsin+10, @Louisville+11, Notre Dame+30, North Carolina+OT, @North Carolina+7, =North Carolina St.+24, =Utah+6
- Losses to tournament teams (3): @North Carolina St.-12, @Notre Dame-4, Notre Dame-10
- Other losses (1): Miami FL-16
Key Info: Duke's first game was a 113-44 win and technically, that's the best they ever did. Realistically, their wins over Michigan State, Stanford, and especially beating 1-seed Wisconsin 80-70 in Madison were more impressive. For a time the Blue Devils looked unstoppable but then they were stopped by North Carolina State, and shockingly by Miami at home, 90-74. Duke rebounded to win 15 of their next 16, and even that loss, 77-73 at 3-seed Notre Dame, was a strong game. Their only weak game in the stretch was game 28, an overtime win at Virginia Tech that almost spoiled their 1-seed bid. They held onto that despite the final loss to Notre Dame playing in Greensboro. Due to beating both Big Ten reps and all 4 of the other ACC reps, Duke has 8 wins over the Sweet Sixteen, and even more remarkably, they've beaten 4 of the Elite Eight.
As always Duke has tons of weapons but by far the most important is 6-11 freshman center Jahlil Okafor, whose 17.7 ppg and 9.0 rebounds have made him a leader for the Wooden Award. He scored 21 against Robert Morris but Quinn Cook led with 22, hitting 6 of 10 3-pointers. Okafor added 26 against San Diego State. Utah denied Okafor (6 points) but Justice Winslow picked up the slack with 21 points.
- Wins vs. tournament teams (10): SMU+16, =Georgia+12, @St. John's+7, @UCLA+13, Texas Southern+40, @BYU+7, =BYU+16, North Dakota St.+10, =Iowa+19, =UCLA+12
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (2): @UCLA+13, =UCLA+12
- Losses to tournament teams (2): @Arizona-OT, BYU-3
- Other losses (0): none
Key Info: Gonzaga's very best performances were early on, when in addition to beating Sacrament State 104-58 and St. Joe's 94-42, they topped 6-seed SMU 72-56 and 10-seed Georgia 88-76. Even their loss to Arizona—in overtime, on the road—was a highlight. They continued to reach those heights occasionally again throughout the year but after topping UCLA 87-74 they only played one more NCAA-bound team. They beat BYU 87-80 on the road to kick off the WCC season, but lost at home to the Cougars 73-70. They won the rubber match in the tournament, 91-75. BYU didn't even make the field of 64, as it turns out. UCLA, however, made the Sweet Sixteen, the only team of that ilk the Bulldogs beat.
Gonzaga is one of the tallest teams in the country with a 6' 10", 7' 1", 6' 10" front line. They are led by transfer forward Kyle Wiltjer's 16.7 points; he adds 6 rebounds; he had 23 against the Bison and 24 against Iowa. Center Przemek Karnowski led with 18 in the rematch win over UCLA.
Game Analysis: It's hard to be objective in this game; is there anyone outside Durham who wants Duke to win and go to yet another Final Four, while denying Gonzaga their first trip? By every measure Duke is a better team, but by the slimmest of margins. In a basketball landscape where 14-seeds can beat 3-seeds 50% of the time, there's not nearly enough space betwee these teams to declare any outcome a foregone conclusion.
In previous games we've looked at the types of teams that beat Duke and what they did to do it. Our conclusion was that teams have beat Duke with offense, either by just being very, very good on offense (Notre Dame beat Duke twice) or going temporarily crazy with 3-pointers (NC State, Miami). We declared that San Diego State just wasn't good enough on offense to beat Duke, and that Utah could pull it off if only if they shot the 3 well (they shot 25%). Gonzaga is both good at 3-pointers (#7 in the nation) and very strong on offense (#4 in efficiency) that they double-qualify as a team that can definitely upset the Blue Devils.
But now let's look at the other side of the coin: what have teams done to beat Gonzaga? The Bulldogs have lost just two games—to Arizona and BYU. The Wildcats won with defense, more or less, and Duke is not a great defensive team. But BYU is a terrible defensive team and they beat the 'Zags at home. So it's fair to say that Duke, a team basically on the same level as Arizona and with a better offense and defense than BYU, is very capable of becoming the 3rd team to beat Gonzaga.
The teams match up well inside and outside; both have two very tall players underneath and shoot the three well.
Duke by 2 1/2
Power rating: spread
Duke by 1.7
Game-comparisons: % Chance to win
Duke is a slight favorite with the power ratings and with Vegas. Interestingly, in Elite Eight matchups of 1-seeds vs. 2-seeds, the 2-seed has won 52% of the time. In all matchups including the Final Four, 1-seeds have won 54%.
Bottom line: Gonzaga has all the elements Utah had toward beating Duke: good 3-point shooting, height, and tough defense. But in addition to that they have one of the best offenses in the country. Still, it's hard to favor the Bulldogs considering that Duke has wins over Elite Eight teams Wisconsin, Louisville, Michigan State, and Notre Dame—it just seems like they're going to add Gonzaga to that list. Gonzaga will probably be more "hungry" trying to get to their first Final Four than Duke will to get to their 16th, but Duke tends to be a dream-killer. Like everyone else we'll be rooting for Gonzaga but even though it would be nothing more than a minor upset, we can't quite believe in it.
Final prediction: Duke 78, Gonzaga 72
More previews: click here for the full 2015 NCAA tournament schedule.