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Elite Eight preview: Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Duke Blue Devils

It's an ACC vs. WCC showdown in the South Regional Final with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few.
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA Tournament South Regional Final
2 Gonzaga Bulldogs (35-2) vs. 1 Duke Blue Devils (32-4)
Sunday, March 29, 2:05 p.m. PST
NRG Stadium, Houston
TV: CBS

Gonzaga and Duke are two of college basketball's perennial powers. Looking at the history though you might not get that impression.

  • Mike Krzyzewski has been to the Elite Eight 14 times with Duke. That's more than any other active coach. Mark Few has led the Zags to just one Elite Eight, and that would be this one.
  • Duke has lost 34 games in the NCAA Tournament; Gonzaga has played 39 games in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Duke won its first title in 1991. Gonzaga didn't even make its first NCAA Tournament until 1995.
  • Coach K is the head coach of the United States men's basketball team. Mark Few was an assistant coach for the United States under-19 national team.

History's only impact on Sunday's game is that for Gonzaga it very well might be the biggest game ever for the Bulldogs. A win would propel the program to its first ever Final Four and shred the narrative that this mid-major conference program is impotent in March.

Take a look at the match-ups.

The Frontcourt

National Player of the Year candidate Jahlil Okafor, a six-foot-11, 270 pound freshman, is clearly the best player on either team but he is just one man.

The Zags' frontcourt of junior Przemek Karnowski, seven-foot-one, 288 pounds, and six-foot-10 freshman Domantas Sabonis are coming off of a clinical trouncing of UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen. Sabonis comes off the bench, typically replacing Karnowski, to play up front alongside all-America candidate Kyle Wiltjer.

Aside from Okafor the Blue Devils don't have the pieces to match up with the Zags down low. They'll likely need to play seven footer Marshall Plumlee for extended minutes to help defend the tall and talented bigs of Gonzaga.

Duke has the best player, Gonzaga has more great players. I'm going to have to pick the Zags as the winner in this category if only because of their depth.

The Backcourt

Gonzaga losses in the past have often come by the hot hand of a big guard. Duke's guard combo of Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook are both capable of getting hot, but neither are big. At six-foot-one and six-foot-two respectively. Gonzaga counters with seniors Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos, the WCC Defensive Player of the Year and Player of the Year respectively.

Both teams have depth behind their starting backcourts, in Grayson Allen and Matt Jones for Duke and Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis for Gonzaga.

The Zags uncharacteristic, and likely venue induced poor shooting night against UCLA (3-19 from long range) turns this match-up from one that was clearly a Gonzaga advantage into a wash.

Then there is the final match-up of combo-forward Justise Winslow for Duke and small forward Byron Wesley for Gonzaga. Winslow is coming off a 21 point, 10 rebound performance in the Sweet 16. The six-foot-six Winslow will likely have to contend with the six-foot-five Wesley on defense. While Winslow is the better player, Wesley is a calming influence on offense who can slash to the bucket with ease and a stellar defender alongside Bell on the perimeter or inside with the bigs.

If the shooting woes continue for the guards this could well end up being the match-up that decides the game.