Duke - Gonzaga Preview
WHICH ELITE OFFENSE WILL SCORE IN CAVERNOUS DOME?! DUKE BATTLES GONZAGA FOR SPOT IN THE FINAL FOUR
Concerns about the shooting backdrop in Houston's cavernous dome stadium were front and center again Friday night when Duke and Gonzaga won surprisingly low scoring UGLY victories over Utah and UCLA respectively. Both games stayed under by a bunch because nobody could hit a trey...and there were long stretches were nobody could hit any two-pointers either. The favorites won...largely because they had better inside games and were able to score more chippies. Are we destined for a battle of chippies?!
There's hope that:
*Familiarity will breed better shooting, meaning that the players will adjust to the backdrop. It's worth noting though that Butler/Connecticut was a recent championship game on this court that struggled to get to 100 combined points even though it was a second look for both teams over a Final Four weekend. Familiarity may not breed better shooting!
*The fact that both teams push pace will lead to more open looks and fast break points than we saw Friday.
*The laws of math will dictate that somebody makes some treys!
In terms of fairness, these teams are so similar that it's hard to say one team is better suited to conditions than the other. That should keep the straight up and ATS picture clean. The Over/Under has already dropped three points from 147.5 to 144.5 because sharps believe the backdrop will still put an anchor on what these teams usually do.
Let's see what JIM HURLEY'S key indicator stats have to say about the head-to-head matchup. Handicappers will have to draw their own conclusions about whether the "new" total reflects the most likely game expectations.
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
Duke: 121.5 per 100 possessions (#3 in the nation)
Gonzaga: 120.2 per 100 possessions (#4 in the nation)
Look at that...virtually identical in terms of per-possession effectiveness. Now, it's certainly possible that Gonzaga is getting too much credit because Ken Pomeroy's strength of schedule adjustments don't fully acknowledge the impact of playing in a mid-major. We've certainly seen that in prior seasons. Duke also tends to drop in effectiveness in playoff caliber basketball, as we've documented often. All told, probably a wash...potentially a slight edge to Duke on this side of the floor.
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
Duke: 94.4 per 100 possessions (#27 in the nation)
Gonzaga: 94.6 per 100 possessions (#30 in the nation)
Once again, virtually identical. These might as well be clones! Duke's defense has made some strides forward in recent action...no longer seeming like such a pretender in Dance terms. Gonzaga has had defensive troubles in past Dances when stepping up in class...so that #30 ranking is worth being skeptical about. North Dakota State, Iowa, and UCLA (seeds 16-7-11) weren't able to take advantage the way a #1 seed like Duke might. This will be the toughest test Gonzaga's defense has seen in MONTHS.
Again...similar teams in that both are above average in pace and enjoy tempo as long as the offense maintains composure. Duke's a bit faster because they race with turnovers right at the basket. This year you can say that Gonzaga is the Duke of the West. Neither's vulnerabilities have been tested yet thanks to being dropped into a soft regional (Iowa State turned out not to be a "true" #3 given the Big 12's woes...Georgetown was a weak #4...and Utah at #5 lost to Oregon in the semifinals of the Pac 12 tournament. Even #6 SMU didn't impress before an unfortunate last-second loss. There were no spoilers to spoil!
Against the Spread
The similarities continue in terms of market expectations. Amazingly, one of the most hyped teams in the college landscape was UNDER-rated by the market! Duke's covered 60% of its games this season including all three in the Dance (helped by late officiating Friday). Gonzaga is four games over .500, which is tough for them because they're always so expensive in conference action. We're generally skeptical of these programs in the Dance...and that skepticism is usually rewarded. Tough to complain about this year's entries. We're looking forward to the winner's matchup with the West champs in Saturday's semifinal.
Las Vegas Line: Duke by 2.5, total of 144.5
All told, the market sees Duke as about a bucket better. You can understand that from our look at the indicator stats. If the public bets, they're likely to drive the line higher. Sportsbooks may be more inclined to left the number this time since NOT lifting cost them a fortune Friday. Millions changed hands on that late free throw!
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Our Monday report in the NOTEBOOK will cover key boxscore stats in all four of the Elite 8 matchups. That will serve as both a review and an early preview at the same time. Tuesday and Thursday will be devoted to the Final Four of the NIT at Madison Square Garden in New York. Friday and Saturday will bring expansive previews for the two NCAA Final Four thrillers.
Championships in the East and South are up for grabs Sunday. When championships are on the line, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!
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