ACC Basketball

Devils vs. Catholics, Take II

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

If it seems like Duke and Notre Dame just played, well…they did just 10 days ago. Of course that contest was one of the league’s best so far this year. It featured two offensive machines going toe-to-toe to the wire, with the Fighting Irish winning 77-73. It sort of had the feel of a coming out party for Notre Dame, but it shouldn’t have. This is a team that walked into the Dean Center and strolled away with a win and in a league where you need to hold serve at home, I argue that road win against North Carolina was the Irish’s most impressive victory on the season.

Of course that changes if Notre Dame can win in Cameron.

The trick to someone walking away a victor in this one is simple…which less-than-stellar defense can step up? Notre Dame has struggled for most of the year to force turnovers and they’re not glass crashers either. They are a veteran team, so they do play smart, so in spots their brains can makeup for a lack of talent defensively. For example, they don’t foul — first in the conference in FT attempts allowed — as they have made more free throws (330) than their opponents have attempted (307).

Like they did in the first game, the Irish will most certainly double up Jahlil Okafor in the paint. The fact is, take away Zach Auguste and the Irish have no size inside. If Auguste gets into foul trouble, the game turns into a blowout. So assuming that’s the poison Mike Brey will pick again, this means there will be shots open for Tyus Jones, Quinn Cook and Matt Jones. If they are hitting at home, Duke is nearly unbeatable.

Yet, as we’ve learned lately, the Blue Devils mini-revival has been led by the return of Justise Winslow. The freshmen appeared to hit the infamous freshmen wall, but the good thing about hitting it in early January is, you got plenty of time to rediscover your sea legs. He’s hit 16-29 shots from the floor in his last three, including 3-4 from deep in South Bend. Yet, he’s doing his damage by using his NBA-ready body and taking the ball to the basket like a man. The fact is, when he gets past the first defender or is in transition, there is no one on Notre Dame’s wing that will be able to stop him.

For Duke defensively, with so much youth and so little options coming off the bench, this team can only be so good. Both Tyus Jones and Cook struggle to stop penetration and Okafor is awful down low and if left in man-to-man, he will again get crushed by the vaunted Irish pick-n-roll. This is why Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has been forced to get so creative, going 2-3, 3-2, hell, why not some box-and-one?

For the Blue Devils to get their revenge, they can’t let Jerian Grant own them like he did in that first game, but I’m not sure what the answer will be. There is no one-size fits all solution. They can’t sit in a zone all day, because the Irish can hit from deep on the road (40.8%) as good as they do at home (40.2%). However, they can’t just sit in man and let Okafor get worked over in switches.

In the end, I think this is going to be another good one and I would not be shocked if Notre Dame pulls out this win. However, because Notre Dame is new to the ACC, none of these players, even the veterans have felt the raw power of the Cameron Crazies, who are really getting their first taste of greatness coming onto Coach K’s court this season. Look for the Blue Devils to attack early with Okafor inside and in the end, the right guys (Jones, Cook) will have the ball at the FT line.

WORTHLESS PREDICTION: Duke, 77-73 (Yep, same score, but flipped). 

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