• Game 25: No. 8/9 Notre Dame (21-3; 9-2 ACC) @ Duke (19-3; 6-3 ACC)
• Date: Feb. 7, 2015
• Place: Cameron Indoor Stadium
• Time: 1 p.m. ET
• TV: CBS
• Location: Durham, NC
• Nickname: Blue Devils
• 2013-14 Record: 26-9 (13-5; 3rd in ACC)
DUKE HEAD COACH
Mike Krzyzewski (35th year at Duke) -- Career record: 1,002-309 in 40 years overall (73-59 in five seasons at Army; 929-250 in 35th year at Duke.
Krzyzewski, 67, is the winningest Division I men’s college basketball coach of all-time, recording his 1,000th win at Madison Square Garden in late January, a 77-68 decision over St. John’s. The Blue Devils have won 12 conference titles, 13 conference tournament championships, claimed four national titles, and made 11 Final Four appearances during his remarkable reign.
Duke has won 30 or more games in a season 13 times during his tenure. (A sentence that should likely be re-read and digested, as it will never be duplicated elsewhere.)
Krzyzewski is 1-2 vs. former pupil Mike Brey since Brey took over in South Bend. It's notable that the Blue Devils legend is 18-0 vs. other former assistants since they left Durham.
THE LAST TIME
Notre Dame won 77-73 on Jan. 28 in South Bend. Irish fifth-year senior Jerian Grant was the contest's MVP, scoring 23 points with 12 assists, six boards, and three steals, the effort highlighted by a clock-beating pass to teammate Steve Vasturia whose subsequent open three-pointer proved the late-game dagger Duke was unable to overcome.
Blue Devils freshman big man Jahlil Okafor was outstanding in defeat, scoring 22 points with 17 boards, a conference season high for the nation's odds-on player of the year candidate. Duke guard Quinn Cook finished with 15 points though he failed to hit a field goal (0-6) in the second half. Despite taking a nasty fall on his head, Notre Dame senior captain Pat Connaughton finished with 13 points and 12 boards as the Irish came back from 10 down, 63-53, to secure the win.
Duke leads the all-time series between the teams 19-4 including a 6-0 mark in Durham. The Irish have won two straight over Duke since joining the ACC for the 2013-14 season; both victories occurred in South Bend over the last two seasons.
DUKE SCOUTING REPORT
Okafor is the marked man inside, but it's his work in tandem with the Blue Devils guard combo of Cook and freshman Tyus Jones that makes the Duke operation special. Jones rarely leaves the floor (38 or 39 minutes in each of his last five games) and has hit a combined 25 of 53 from the field in that span.
The freshman's ability to penetrate flummoxed Irish point guard Demetrius Jackson at times in the team's first matchup, though Jackson settled in late as the Irish stormed back for the win, holding Duke to just eight points over the final 10 minutes.
"He can drive and he draws a lot of fouls," said Jackson of Jones, the latter an 88 percent shooter from the charity stripe. "Also trying to help in the post, he does a good job of back-dooring (when Okafor has the ball). It takes trust with your bigs. That helped us out on the perimeter."
Cook is even more automatic from the line, hitting a remarkable 46 of his 50 free throws this season en route to a 14.5 ppg. average. A high volume three-point shooter, Cook has connected on 38.8 percent of his 147 launches from long range through 22 games (three more than Pat Connaughton, the league's top three-point marksman in two fewer contests).
Okafor's ability to score in the post remains the game's chief storyline. The freshman ranks second nationally with a 65.2 percent field goal percentage despite attempting 65 more shots than first-place Evan Bradds of Belmont. (Notre Dame's Zach Auguste ranks fourth at 62.7 percent, shooting 49 fewer times than his head-to-head matchup Saturday.)
Freshman forward Justice Winslow chips in 11 points and five rebounds per contest, hitting for 13 on seven shots vs .Notre Dame last month. Junior Amile Jefferson fills out the starting five, scoring 8.3 per contest while backing Okafor's team-leading efforts on the board (third in the ACC at 9.3) with an even seven per contest.
Duke sixth-man Rasheed Sulaimon has been dismissed from the program since the teams met on Jan. 28. Sulaimon struggled against Notre Dame, his last game with Duke, scoring three points on 1 of 6 shooting. His departure will open more minutes for six-foot-five sophomore guard Matt Jones who's produced nine and 11 points off the bench in Sulaimon's stead.
The Blue Devils rank fourth nationally in offensive efficiency while the Irish enter the contest No. 1, a spot they've held since early in the 2014-15 campaign.
DUKE - NOTRE DAME SCOUTING REPORT
Brey is well-aware that his improved defensive unit won't likely be able to lock down the explosive, efficient Blue Devils for multiple stretches in Durham. It's a matchup of offensive heavyweights, with the visitors ranked first nationally in Effective Field Goal Percentage while Duke ranks 10th (the metric combines 2-point field goals with 3-pointers, taking into account the latter is worth 50 percent more points than the former.)
Additionally, Notre Dame is No. 1 and Duke No. 11 in True Shooting Percentage (includes field goal, three-point field goal, and free throw percentages), and as noted above, they're ranked No. 1 (ND) and No. 4 (Duke) in overall offensive efficiency.
The inside scoring prowess of Okafor could prove a key storyline as the Irish are unlikely to lend big men Zach Auguste and Bonzie Colson aid in their tag-team defensive efforts.
"We've not been a program that's doubled," said Brey. "We crowd off of maybe who we can crowd off of (poor shooters). That's a little bit limited the way they shoot the ball. Our game plan has to be similar. We don't want them to light us up from the 3-point line. Different bodies on Okafor, crowding off the right guy at the right time, mixing in some zone."
Brey knows one way to attack Okafor is to make him work on both ends.
"Okafor's got to guard my guys," he added. "Okafor's got to guard my guys, and if they're playing man-to-man, he's going to be in a lot of ball screens."
The Irish offensive machine operates best when the ball is zipping around the perimeter, cutters consistently look to flash through the lane, and open shooters knock down their long range opportunities. But the current campaign has added an NBA-style threat in the presence of combo guard Jerian Grant, the nation's best playmaker with the ball in his hands.
"He's got a big basketball IQ," said Brey of Grant. "He knows our sets, he knows our system."
Grant and Jackson vs. Cook and (Tyus) Jones will again be worth the price of admission.
"They're really good man," said Brey of Duke's guard combo. "You have to get them under control. You feel you can absorb Okafor, as long as it's not 30 (points). But those other guys, if they get rolling…"
That's likely to happen in Durham. In their three league wins at home this season, Duke has held free throw attempt advantages of 24-12, 25-12, and 29-10 over their foes. In their lone home defeat, Miami attempted a whopping 10 more freebies, 30-20, than did their hosts in a 90-74 upset win.
If Notre Dame can fair well from long range, and if Grant and Jackson can win consistently (or at least timely) vs. Cook, Jones, and Jones in penetration, the Irish have a shot at the upset and a stunning season sweep of college basketball's blue bloods."We gotta score that ball to escape there," Brey noted.
They will, but it's hard to imagine it'll be enough.
• Point Spread: Duke -8
• Irish Illustrated Prediction: Duke 82 Notre Dame 73
• Season Record: 16-8 straight up; 8-8 vs. points