Duke - Gonzaga Showdown - Are the Zags Tough Enough?

Mike HendersonCorrespondent IIDecember 17, 2009

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 21:  Matt Bouldin #15 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs goes to catch the ball as he is covered by Sergio Kerusch #1 of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers during the second round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Rose Garden on March 21, 2009 in Portland, Oregon. The Bulldgos defeated the Hilltoppers 83-81 to advance to the Sweet 16.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

It’s one of the most exciting match-ups of the season to date. No. 7 Duke hosts No. 15 Gonzaga Saturday in what will be the ‘Zags biggest test to date. The Blue Devils have fallen on the road to Wisconsin - a team Gonzaga beat in Maui - for their only loss, while the Zags have lost to Michigan State and Wake Forest.

The Blue Devils have looked good so far this year. Kyle Singler is one of the best forwards in the college game. Jon Scheyer is a very underrated player who does all things on the court very well. The team shoots threes and free throws for high percentages. They turn the ball over about 11 times per game while dishing out 17 assists, a very good team ratio.

On the other side, the Zags have some interesting team stats. While not a good offensive rebounding team, they do take care of their own end, averaging nearly 30 defensive rebounds per game. Their assist to turnover ratio is terrible, as they average almost 2 more turnovers than assists per game. The Zags shoot a high field goal percentage but from three point range only 38%. While Duke is terrific from the free throw line, Gonzaga shoots 69% as a team.

So, Duke will win in a blowout. Possibly. But, there are a couple of big keys to this game apart from the obvious "turnover" key, which, for most people, is relevant in every game.

First, it will be the defensive rebounding of Gonzaga versus the offensive rebounding of Duke (14 / game). Gonzaga needs to control second-shot opportunities. Duke has struggled at times shooting - games against Arizona State and Connecticut were both, however, wins. Giving them second or third chances is not an option.

Second, Gonzaga needs to get to the foul line, whether it is by posting Bouldin or exploiting Duke’s perceived weakness by feeding Sacre and Harris in the lost post. Gonzaga takes nearly 33 trips to the line per game and while Duke shoots a much higher percentage, the Zags make more than the Devils shoot in a game on average.

Gonzaga has a legitimate shot to win this game and end the eighty-two million game non-conference winning streak at Cameron. This team, unlike last year’s seemingly more talented version, is much tougher and much more willing to mix it up with the opponent. Duke is always willing to mix it up which makes this match-up must see TV on Saturday.