Duke basketball: How the Blue Devils can knock off Gonzaga

Duke basketball will have its hands full in Las Vegas but does have a shot.

There’s no doubt the Duke basketball program will see its toughest task so far this season when the No. 5 Duke Blue Devils (6-0) square up with top-ranked Gonzaga (7-0) at 10:30 p.m. ET Friday night.

Gonzaga already knocked off two top-five teams in dominant fashion. On Tuesday night, the Zags were able again to prove just how good they are after wiping the floor with No. 2 UCLA. As for Duke, the Blue Devils are coming off Monday night’s win over The Citadel with their offense clicking on all cylinders.

But how can they knock off the Zags?

Keys to Duke basketball beating Gonzaga

For the Blue Devils to win, they must win the battle of points in the paint. The most intriguing matchup will be Duke’s Paul Banchero and Mark Williams against Gonzaga’s Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren.

It will be a heavyweight battle, particularly between Banchero and Timme. Not only are both players talented, but they also love being in the spotlight and playing in the big game.

It seems Drew Timme always plays his best against other talented bigs or other highly ranked teams. Just a couple of weeks ago, he scored 37 points and single-handedly destroyed Texas.

Paolo Banchero was playing distracted in his first two games after the DWI incident became public. But he showed no signs of being distracted as he nearly posted a triple-double against The Citadel.

Having the opportunity to play in big-time games like the one on Friday against Gonzaga is probably one of the main reasons why Banchero joined the Duke basketball program. I fully expect him to be ready for the challenge of facing Timme, especially since there will be a ton of NBA scouts and executives on hand to watch this game.

I want to see Banchero dominate Timme so that we don’t have to watch Timme’s obnoxious celebrations.

I will say that I enjoy watching Timme play, and I love that he plays with joy and passion. With that said, his celebrations have become comical. The dude celebrates after every single play. Not only that, but he also has a different celebration every single time.

Sometimes it’s the mustache, or the too small, or the muscle flex. It’s like Timme plans out each celebration before the game. I will never forget when he celebrated a play in the national championship as Baylor was handing it to Gonzaga.

I honestly hope that every time the Blue Devils make a nice play, they pull out the Drew Timme mustache celebration. It would be very petty but also hilarious, and the fans would love it.

The other matchup that will be interesting to watch is Chet Holmgren against Mark Williams. In the post, Williams should have the strength advantage. But Holmgren’s shooting ability will draw Williams away from the basket.

Mark Williams has struggled to defend bigs who extend out the perimeter this season. But if I’m Duke, I would still be comfortable with Holmgren taking shots from the outside. He is 5-for-13 beyond the arc this season. Williams needs to go right at Holmgren and try to take advantage of his thin frame.

Chet Holmgren has some of the longest arms I have ever seen. He could probably block a giraffe. His ridiculous length allows him to affect every shot taken around the rim. The Blue Devils need to take it right to his chest and put that skinny frame to the test.

The Duke basketball bigs will look to assert their size and strength early in this game. I would assume that Duke will look to go right at Timme and Holmgren by feeding Banchero and Williams early and often. Try to get both of them in foul trouble because the Zags do not have a very deep bench and lack size outside of those two.

Both Williams and Holmgren are elite shot-blockers, so it will be interesting to see which one can have a greater impact on the game.

Theo John could also play a significant role in this game as Duke will need his strength to try and move Timme and Holmgren off their spots.

Defensively, the Blue Devils will have to play much better than they did against The Citadel on Monday night. Duke allowed the visitors to make an ungodly amount of threes. Some of that was due to the Blue Devils’ inability to defend in transition.

The transition defense will have to be much tighter if Duke is to beat Gonzaga on Friday night.

Transition defense is all about sprinting back, stopping the ball, and identifying shooters. In this modern age of basketball, more and more teams are looking to shoot threes early in transition. The Blue Devils must be able to slow down the Zags’ transition attack and force them to play more in the halfcourt.

This Duke basketball team likes to push the ball to score easy baskets on the fastbreak. Both Duke and Gonzaga have multiple playmakers and guys who can grab a rebound and push the ball up the floor.

Whoever can be more effective and efficient in transition will likely be the winner of this game.

And Jeremy Roach will need to have a strong game for the Blue Devils to win. He will likely have the task of defending Andrew Nembhard, an experienced point guard who is lightning-quick in transition and makes good decisions with the ball. Roach will have to focus on staying in front of him in transition, keeping him out of the lane, and forcing him to take outside jumpers.

The pace of this game will be intriguing to watch. Both teams want to push the ball and find transition points while feeding their bigs on the inside. Neither team is exceptional at shooting the three, but Duke will have to key in on Julian Strawther and Rasir Bolton, the Zags’ best outside shooters.

Meanwhile, the Blue Devils will need Trevor Keels to have a good shooting night as well.

Another key determining factor of victory will be bench play. Both teams have their starters play heavy minutes, which means that the difference in this one could come down to which team can get more bench contributions.

Duke’s AJ Griffin had a bit of a breakout game against Lafeyette but was a non-factor against The Citadel. Griffin is a highly touted player in the eyes of NBA scouts, so he will undoubtedly have his chance to prove himself on Friday night. Joey Baker will also need to hit some shots when he is in the game.

Win or lose, playing in this game will be an excellent opportunity for this Duke basketball team. Gonzaga has already separated itself as the best team in the country. The game on Friday night will be a good measuring stick.

If the Duke Blue Devils can hang with or beat Gonzaga, we know that they will have a legitimate chance to cut down the nets in April. I expect it to be a heavyweight battle, and both teams will be playing with a lot of energy and pride.