Best Bets: Previewing Duke-Gonzaga in the Maui title game

Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

The final day of the Maui Invitational will tip-off this afternoon, the obvious headliner game being No. 1 Duke vs. No. 3 Gonzaga.

Instant classic potential.

As always, here is a look at the slate of games from a gambling perspective:

No. 1 DUKE vs. No. 3 GONZAGA, 5:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Line: Duke (-6.5)
  • O/U: 164
  • Vegas Implied Score: Duke 85.25, Gonzaga 78.75
  • KenPom Projection: Duke 83, Gonzaga 79

Here we go again.

One day ago, Duke opened up as a 10 point favorite against No. 8 Auburn in a game with a total of 162.5, the line moved to Duke (-11) and the total jumped all the way up to 171 in some places. Today, Duke opened up as a 3.5 point favorite against No. 3 Gonzaga, and with minutes of that line getting posted, it was already up to six points and the total was at 164, two points up from where it opened.

And all this is coming one day after Duke and Auburn didn’t come close to touching the over while Auburn covered.

The reason this happened is that the notoriously-uptempo Tigers totally went away from the way that they want to play. They played a tough, halfcourt gapping defense (think Virginia) when their typical style of play is to press fullcourt, try to force turnovers and win by making the game hectic (think West Virginia). To a point, it worked — Auburn didn’t get run out of the gym after all — but they were never a threat to win, partly because Duke is just so damn good, and partly because Auburn went away from what they do best. They were so scared of trying to run with Duke that, when they were down 10 points with three minutes left in the game, they were still playing possession-by-possession, working the shot clock and trying to take pace out of the game.

It’s a conundrum that running teams are going to face all season long with Duke. You are not going to be able to beat them playing the way they want to play, but can you beat them playing a style that isn’t your best?

That’s the question that Mark Few will have had 20 hours to try and answer by the time tip-off rolls around.

And I have a tough time seeing Gonzaga being capable of changing the way they play the way that Auburn did. Auburn had roughly 30 hours to prep for their matchup with Duke. Gonzaga’s win over Arizona ended at 7:00 p.m. Maui time. By the time they finish with media, showering, getting food and all the stuff that comes with postgame, it will be around 9 or 10:00 p.m. The staff then has to study Duke, prep a game-plan and teach it to the team for a game that tips at 11:00 a.m. Maui time as the second game of the day in that gym.

Here’s the kicker: Gonzaga likes to run even more than Auburn does. They don’t press the way that Bruce Pearl’s team presses, but they sure do play at pace. With a turnaround that is that quick, can Few change the way that Gonzaga plays?

PICKS: I don’t know what the line is going to be by the time this thing publishes, but I do like the over here even though everything tells me that’s not a line that is going to hit. The under is 6-2 in Maui. The under is 4-1 in Duke games. The only time the over hit was when Duke and Kentucky played in the season opener. But there are just five teams that have a shorter average length of possession than Gonzaga does this season, they are 26th nationally in pace and they, like Duke, rank top five in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric.

As far as Duke covering (-6.5), I think it will be closer than people are giving this credit for. Gonzaga has the athletes to be able to matchup Duke’s stars. Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke have the size, strength and physical tools to do as good of a job on Zion Williamson as anyone in the country. When you throw in Corey Kispert, there are three wings on the Gonzaga roster that will be able to handle Duke’s wings. The two real concerns that I have: Those three are Gonzaga’s 3-4-5 while Duke plays a true five, meaning that Zach Norvell is likely going to be forced to guard Reddish or Barrett, or not be on the floor.

The other concern?

Tre Jones eating Josh Perkins’ for lunch. Jones is a terrific on-ball defender. Perkins is a mistake-prone point guard that doesn’t always do well when he is defended that way. I think I would lean towards waiting until tip-off and getting as many points as possible on Gonzaga.

Let’s roll through the rest of these games more quickly:

No. 2 KANSAS vs. MARQUETTE, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • Line: Kansas (-8.5)
  • O/U: 157.5
  • Vegas Implied Score: Kansas 83, Marquette 74.5
  • KenPom Projection: Kansas 83, Marquette 74

Kansas looked terrific in their first 35 minutes of the season, but it’s been difficult since then. They struggled to put away Vermont, trailing early in the second half, and they were down by as many as 12 points against Louisiana before winning that game.

Now the Jayhawks face off with a Marquette team that entered the season with quite a bit of hype but have yet to see that manifest on the court. They struggled with a couple of their buy games and got rocked by Indiana in Assembly Hall.

PICKS: I think I like Marquette to cover here. I’m not convinced that Kansas’ young backcourt is going to be totally comfortable guarding the ball-screens that Wojo will put Markus Howard and Joseph Chartouny in, and when Marquette goes small, they are going to create the same problems for Udoka Azubuike that they had when trying to cover Villanova in the title game. Gun-to-head, I’m taking the over, but I don’t love that line so I’ll stay away personally.

No. 5 TENNESSEE vs. LOUISVILLE, 5:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • Line: Tennessee (-8.5)
  • O/U: 144.5
  • Vegas Implied Score: Tennessee 76.5, Louisville 68
  • KenPom Projection: Tennessee 76, Louisville 69

Louisville has been somewhat up-and-down in their first three games under Chris Mack. They steamrolled Southern (who stinks) but struggled to put away Nicholls State and Vermont (who doesn’t stink). Tennessee, on the other hand, is a veteran team that essentially returned everyone from last year’s SEC title winner.

PICKS: I don’t want to overthink this one. Tennessee is a very, very good defensive team that doesn’t let you get good looks at the rim. Louisville has struggled at times this season and is three games into a tenure with a new head coach.

No. 8 AUBURN vs. ARIZONA, 11:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • Line: Auburn (-6)
  • O/U: 152
  • Vegas Implied Score: Auburn 79, Arizona 73
  • KenPom Projection: Auburn 78, Arizona 71

Auburn is the top ten team and Arizona is the scrappy underdog that gave a top ten team a fight. Who saw that coming?

PICKS: Auburn has not looked right in Maui, and I think this is their get-right spot. Arizona is coming off of a tough loss while Auburn knew heading into the tournament that 2-1 with a loss to Duke was their most likely scenario. Give me Auburn, give me the over and give me all the Justin Coleman vs. Jared Harper.

No. 16 CLEMSON vs. CREIGHTON, 7:30 p.m.

  • Line: Clemson (-3)
  • O/U: 145
  • Vegas Implied Score: Clemson 74, Creighton 71
  • KenPom Projection: Clemson 74, Creighton 71

Both Clemson and Creighton have looked impressive through two games in the Cayman Islands, but the difference is that Clemson rolled over Georgia while Creighton — who has already lost at home to Ohio State — beat Georgia State and Boise State.

PICKS: Give me the veteran Tigers. Marcquise Reed has been unbelievable through the first two weeks of the season.