It was a preview for the NCAA finals and Gonzaga didn’t dissappoint. Lead by Rui Hachimura, the Bulldogs established their dominiance in all aspects of the game. But Zion Williams and company were able to bring Duke back from the brink of an embarassing loss. Duke would fail to convert in the last moments of the game before losing 89 – 87. So what can we take away from this loss in the Maui Invitational?
Duke Needed The Loss
Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish are great players and considered top NBA prospects. Zion Williams is marketed so much that you cannot view Sports Center or ESPN on Instagram without seeing a dunk or article about him. But that being said, the three are just freshman. Duke’s team realistically does not have any veteran players with only 42% of the team being a junior and senior and 35% being freshman. A loss this early won’t drop them out of the top 10, but it does help them see their weaknesses moving up to the college level.
The game also showed Duke’s big 3 are still a bit unpredictable. Outside of his showings against Kentucky and Army, Reddish has not scored 20 points a game and has been averaging 11.75 points. On a positive note, Williamson did bounce back from two back-to-back 13-point games, and Barrett is still averaging over 20 points a game. But that will require Duke to look to Tre Jones and their bench to run up the score. This will iron itself out as the season goes on. Duke is still poised to be a top seed in the tournament find themselves in the finals.
A loss from this point will be more from Duke beating itself, not their opponent’s defense.
Gonzaga Knows They Have A Chance
Rui Hachimura and Zach Norvell Jr. showed the nation that they can carry the Dogs when they need to. That never became more important when the Zags missed four important free-throws in the last moments of the game. Combine that with the fact they won without their star Killian Tillie, who will be out until January due to surgery on his ankle, the Dogs have made a statement that they can find their way into the finals as well.
Gonzaga still has tournament preview games coming up in December against now #5 Tennessee and #7 North Carolina, both on the road. If Gonzaga comes out with a win against both teams, it will be hard to find an excuse why Gonzaga can’t punch their tickets into the finals.
Maui invitational was a fun event. Ranks come out next Monday. With a win over Duke, Gonzaga may have an opportunity to jump to the #1 spot.