Is Duke ready to fight No. 1 Gonzaga to compete? The Blue Devils say yes. | Zag Sports


Duke started the season by beating a ranked enemy, then returned home and took care of the business against smaller opponents.

Now is the time to see if the Blue Devils have advanced enough to challenge the top team in the country.

Duke and Gonzaga will meet at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Friday night for the second Top 5 match of the week in this building.

The No. 1 rankings Gonzaga battered No. 2 UCLA, 83-63, Tuesday night, cementing the Bulldogs (6-0) further than the team to be beaten in college basketball this season.

“Of course they’re really good,” said Jon Scheyer, Duke’s associate head coach on Wednesday. “That was an impressive achievement.”

Since defeating No. 10 Kentucky, 79-71, on November 9th at the Champions Classic in New York, the Blue Devils have taken five home wins in a row against unrated teams from lesser-known conferences.

These victories, all in double-digit margins over Army West Point, Campbell, Gardner-Webb, Lafayette and The Citadel, presented the Blue Devils with a variety of challenges. Sometimes it faced a zone defense. Other times it used a smaller line-up to challenge a team that put five ball handlers on the field.

The diverse and shared experiences helped Duke quickly bond into a team, even though newbies Paolo Banchero and Trevor Keels started every game.

“You really look in every game so far, there was at least someone in our team of 10 scholars who makes big games,” said Scheyer, who will take over as Duke’s head coach after this season when Mike Krzyzewski is in Retirement is about. “We have a team. You can see everyone in every game, that was important in my opinion. “

It is important that the Blue Devils have established themselves as a first-class defensive unit. Or should that perhaps be restored? Duke has long been known for his tenacious man-to-man defense, but that wasn’t the case last season when the Blue Devils missed the NCAA tournament 13-11 for the first time since 1995.

Duke allowed 0.97 points per possession, which was ranked 79th nationwide according to KenPom.com. The previous season, while Duke went 25-6, Duke allowed 0.91 (12th national).

This season, the Blue Devils are number 20 nationally at .898 per possession.

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However, the 81 points The Citadel scored in Monday’s 107-81 loss to Duke were the most the Blue Devils allowed this season. The Bulldogs set a record at the Cameron Indoor Stadium that Duke had previously made with 18 3-pointers, the most ever made by a visiting team.

After that performance, Krzyzewski said that despite the Citadel’s shooting skills, Duke’s defense “wasn’t terrible”. He credited the Bulldogs for taking some hard shots.

For the entire season, Krzyzewski said: “I think we’re playing a good defense.”

That is being tested by Gonzaga, who has one of the nation’s best players in 6-10 junior striker Drew Timme. The Bulldogs also start with 7-foot newbie Chet Holmgren and have 6-5 senior guard Andrew Nembhard running their perimeter game.

“Everyone is talking about Timme and Holmgren, but Nembhard killed UCLA,” said Krzyzewski on Wednesday on his SiriusXM radio show “Basketball and Beyond with Coach K”. “24 points, six assists, [five] Setbacks or something. But he added a momentum as if he had pushed the ball across the court. He was strong physically and mentally and set the tone, no question about it. So this will be a key matchup. “

The whole group, said Scheyer, will give the Blue Devils a tough game. But they are ready.

“You have a complete team,” said Scheyer. “Not many teams can do this in college, but they put five guys on the floor who can all pass, handle, and shoot. That always makes it difficult for you as a defender, but we appreciate the opportunity. This is probably why you come to Duke to participate in games like this one, so I can tell you the excitement is on our part. We believe we are going into this game to win. “

Friday’s game is a neutral event, as is Duke’s win over Kentucky earlier this month. That night in Manhattan, Madison Square Garden was filled with screaming fans, reminding many of what was missed during last season’s pandemic lockdowns.

The Duke Gonzaga pawns have an equally electrifying atmosphere.

“The Vegas venue will be a sold-out venue,” said Duke Junior Forward Wendell Moore, one of the team’s captains. “It’s probably sold out in the last three months. This is a game that we all want to play, this is a game that we are waiting for, and this is a game that we come here for. We will be prepared for it. “

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