ACC Basketball

ACC Tourney | Notre Dame vs Duke

(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

We all know Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski doesn’t like facing his former assistants, so he’s got to be a little grumpy having to face Mike Brey for a third time in one season.

The Blue Devils are the hottest team in the ACC, winners of 12 straight and always seem to play better with the competition is tougher. Against NC State Wednesday night, Duke threw every defense possible at the Wolfpack and it worked amazingly well. A night after Trevor Lacey and Anthony Barber scored 56 against Pittsburgh, the pair produced just four total points against the Blue Devils, who led by 27 at halftime, were up by 30 at one point in the second and eventually won 77-53.

Notre Dame also dominated in the first half last night, opening up an 18-point lead over Miami. However, facing a 2-3 zone, the Irish went 12 minutes without a bucket, as the Hurricanes stormed back and took the lead with a 19-2 run. Yet, after a three by Steve Vasturia, Notre Dame got defensive and held Miami to just three baskets in the game’s final six minutes, pulling out a 70-63 win, their first win ever in the ACC Tournament.

These two squads first faced off back in late January and the Irish managed to pull off the upset. With 23 points and 12 assists, Jerian Grant help erase a 10-point second half deficit, then after a lucky bounce, was able to hit the game winner with the shock-clock expiring, leading the Irish to a 77-73 victory.

In the second meeting, there would be no fortunate bounces. Behind Jahlil Okafor’s 20 and 10, the Blue Devils went on a stunning 43-7 run in the first half. They shot 81% in the first 20 minutes, over 60% for the game, as Duke shutdown Jerian Grant. He finished with just seven points, hitting 3-for-10 from the floor, 1-for-7 from the FT line, with no threes. Eventually the Blue Devils wrapped it up, 90-60.

You can make an argument that no team is playing better basketball right now than Duke. They may only have eight scholarship players, but all eight contribute and all eight know their roles. Jahlil Okafor is the one the opponents focus on, Justise Winslow sets the tempo early, Tyus Jones runs the show and delivers the fancy passes and Quinn Cook hits threes and locks down on D. The remaining four provide a spark when needed.

Defensively, they’re still not a great in the man-to-man against teams with quick guards, but it’s amazing that no matter what kind of defense the coaching staff makes them play (zone, soft press, three-quarter trap, 2-2-1), the young guys play it like they’ve been doing it for years.

Because of a lack of size inside and because of a lack of athleticism at the 3-4 spots, I just can’t see what the Irish can do to stop Duke, except pray for some foul trouble (unlikely) and some unkind rims.

What Notre Dame can do is outscore the Blue Devils. Yes, they struggled against Miami’s zone last night, but that was a fluke. Jerian Grant is the real deal and this team can hit shots. They’re first in the nation is Effective FG%, first at 2P%. They avoid turnovers (2nd) and blocks (8th), according to Ken Pom. Rebounding as always will be an issue with the smaller lineup, but Duke also goes small-ish and doesn’t dominate on the glass (they’re good, but they don’t win games on the glass).

I’m excited to see what Duke does to stop Grant. Last time they simply put Quinn Cook on him and the senior shut him down. I’m expecting something different, as they should try to get the ball out of his hands similar to the way they took Anthony Barber out of the quarterfinals game.

WORTHLESS PREDICTION: Duke, 84-74

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