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Duke-Gonzaga Takeaways: Paolo vs. Chet, Mark Williams' Stock, and more

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

Duke’s Paolo Banchero & Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren. Credit: @jlc_mediyuh / Pro’s Vision

In the latest edition of ‘P.I. Pulse’, Pro Insight’s Tyler Glazier provides analysis following one of the biggest college basketball regular season matchups in recent memory, as he was on the ground in Las Vegas to witness Duke’s victory over Gonzaga. He recaps the game, debates Paolo vs. Chet for the number-one pick in June, and highlights other projected future pros who caught his eye.

Game Recap

Rarely does such a highly-anticipated heavyweight battle live up to the hype as much as top ranked Gonzaga vs. Duke did in Vegas, last week. Between coaching legends facing off, two passionate fanbases, and numerous NBA prospects on the floor, T-Mobile Arena was the place to be on Black Friday. In an intense battle from the jump, Duke came out as the aggressor behind strong first half performances by potential number-one pick Paolo Banchero and sophomore Mark Williams. Both were sensational at controlling both ends of the floor and kept Gonzaga on their toes, early. However, Gonzaga did an excellent job staying composed while dealing with foul trouble, weathering micro-storms, and keeping the scoreboard relatively even heading into the break.

In the second half, with the personal-foul-to-minutes ratio more in check, the Zags were ready to go on the attack and throw a few punches of their own. And with Banchero struggling with cramping issues in both legs, the Zags slowly shifted momentum in their favor and started to inch closer to victory, up by five points with a few minutes remaining. While Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme were excellent, it was the hot shooting of Julian Strawther that was the x-factor for what seemed to be a signature win in the making for Coach Few. But Wendell Moore, Jr., Mark Williams, and Trevor Keels had other plans, as they shouldered the scoring, facilitating, initiating, and defensive load to help Duke reclaim the lead down the stretch en route to a hard-fought 84-81 victory. With a total of eight lead changes in the second half alone, it was Duke who walked away with the win in what could be a 2022 Final Four preview.

The Case for Number-One: Paolo vs. Chet

Paolo Banchero

Duke | 6’10” | 250 | Forward | Freshman | 19.1 years old

Few freshman prospects are as physically gifted or all-around talented when it comes to Banchero’s immediate impact potential at the NBA level, and in a much-anticipated matchup between two of the top draft candidates in college basketball, it was Banchero who came out swinging. Known for showing up in big games, Banchero was an absolute handful for the Bulldogs and showed off the full arsenal by knocking down off-the-dribble pull-ups, transition threes, finishing on drives to the basket, and acting as a bully inside, en route to dropping 20 points on 8-13 shooting in the first half, alone. Pair that with his hard hat mentality and what he showed as an on-ball creator, facilitator, and smart decision-maker throughout the game and it soon became more difficult to pin down what Banchero couldn’t do rather than what he could. Even as one of the top prospects coming out of high school, the speed at which Banchero continues to evolve, specifically as a mature creator and consistent shot maker, has been enthralling to watch eight games into his Duke career. While he’s always been adept with the ball in his hands, the jump in how and when he chooses to attack off the bounce has noticeably improved over the past six months as he doesn’t find himself stuck or forcing the issue in this area as often as in the past. In addition to his on-ball improvements, Banchero has also expanded his shooting arsenal, becoming more consistent from range throughout COVID. Not always properly respected as a three-point shooter, Banchero used a large portion of his senior season as a training ground to iron out kinks, add new ways to create space, and expand his range — and although he’s still in the “prove it” phase, the early signs of legitimacy are encouraging for his long term projection as a versatile shot maker.

In Vegas, we were robbed of a potentially historic performance as Banchero finished with 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists on 8-17 shooting after sitting out much of the second half due to leg cramps. However, final stats aside, Banchero emphatically showed a packed house of NBA evaluators why he’s fully capable of being a franchise cornerstone who could electro-shock a struggling team back into relevancy early in his pro career and is worthy to hear his name called first in the 2022 draft.

Duke’s Paolo Banchero. Credit: @BallDawgs (IG)

Chet Holmgren

Gonzaga | 7’0” | 195 | Center | Freshman | 19.6

While Duke freshman Paolo Banchero stole the show early, it was a tale of two halves for each highly-touted prospect, as Holmgren finished strong down the stretch, resulting in an efficient 16-point, 7-rebound, 3-block performance on 8-13 shooting. Not many seven-footers have the natural coordination to handle the ball in the open court while being pressured by guards, take it to the chest of larger bigs inside, have the versatility to pop or attack in pick-and-roll, switch everything defensively, or put an absolute lid on the rim, all of which when infused inside of a single prospect, make him a bonafide game-changer. Enter Chet Holmgren — a lanky prospect who has all of the abilities above in addition to a gritty never-back-down mentality. While his approach, style, and skillset differs significantly to his matchup counterpart, both share a toughness gene which raises the sharpness and competitive floor of their respective teams. While Holmgren has always been off-the-charts in terms of skill level, the battle vs. Duke was another reminder that a player of his caliber is constantly expanding his repertoire and how the great ones always find a way. The match-up was billed as “Paolo vs. Chet,” but Duke sophomore big Mark Williams wound up squaring off with Holmgren for a substantial chunk of the game. Not unlike Holmgren, Williams is a mobile seven-footer who uses all of his insane wingspan to make life difficult for opponents. While Williams was brilliant all night and forced Holmgren into some tough initial looks, it was encouraging to see The Minnehaha Academy product counter by generating space as if he weighed 30 pounds more than he does and easing into Nowitzki-esque mid-post fade-aways, a move that he has clearly honed over recent years. Aside from flashing his on-ball ability and shooting touch, Holmgren was especially impressive in his timely slashing ability, feel for the game, and unwavering approach in a pressure-filled environment. While some may point to his lack of early season scoring numbers, Chet is currently averaging an insanely efficient 13.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 3.5 blocks on 7.8 field goal attempts/game while shooting 71.0% from the floor, which not only suggests his ability to be a star in his role, but also hints to his scoring upside with increased volume.

In today’s NBA, where the pairing of size and skill is becoming all the more coveted, Holmgren has the tools to be a unicorn-type of prospect who could warp the floor on both ends. While he might not be the most outwardly flashy player, his efficient play and two-way ability bode well for him being the most impactful prospect from this class when it’s all said and done, which merits serious consideration for the top overall pick in June.

Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren. Credit: @jlc_mediyuh / Pro’s Vision

Additional Draft Prospects

Mark Williams

Duke | 7’1” | 242 | Center | Sophomore | 20.0

Aside from Paolo and Chet, Duke sophomore big man Mark Williams was the next most impressive prospect on the court. After showing flashes of his potential toward the end of his freshman campaign, Williams has carried that momentum into this season. Standing at 7’1” with a 242-pound frame and a reported 7’7” wingspan, he immediately pops on the court as a potential projected difference-maker at the NBA level. While Paolo set the tone early, Duke doesn’t come close to winning without Williams roaming the paint inside. In front of all 30 NBA teams, he showed everything you’d want from someone gifted with his tools as he effectively ran the floor, gobbled up rebounds, protected the paint, switched defensively, set big screens, finished inside, and kept the game simple. With a final stat-line of 17 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 2 steals on 8-9 shooting, Williams was a two-way force who significantly boosted his draft stock while helping lead Duke to a victory.

Wendell Moore, Jr.