-- Game 31: Duke (23-9; 11-7) vs. Notre Dame (20-10; 11-7)
-- Date: March 10, 2016
-- Place: Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.
-- Time: Approximately 2:30 p.m. ET following the day’s first quarterfinal
-- TV: ESPN
-- Opponent Nickname: Blue Devils
-- Head coach: Mike Krzyzewski (1,041-319; 968-260 at Duke)
-- Location: Durham, N.C.
-- 2014-15 record: (35-4; 15-3 – National Champions)
-- Point spread: Duke is favored by 2
WILL FAMILIARITY BREED CONTEMPT?
The mutual admiration society that exists between Hall of Fame Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his star pupil, Notre Dame’s Mike Brey makes for a quick, fluffy storyline, but the coaches’ on-court competitors doubtless feel differently.
Duke has lost to Brey’s Irish three times in the last 14 months (four of five dating back to January, 2014), including a 95-91 home defeat to Notre Dame two months ago. The latter contest is the most relevant of the recent meetings because each of the day’s combatants will be on hand.
The Irish owned a 50 to 26 scoring advantage in the paint in that outing and won the second-chance scoring battle 18-4. Notre Dame shot 58 percent in the first half; 52 percent for the game while Duke responded to connect on 52 and 50 percent, respectively, including a 12 for 24 effort rom beyond the arc.
As was the case in last year’s semifinal and the game in January, expect a handful of heated exchanges among the Blue Devils and Irish regulars Thursday afternoon. There’s no love lost, and Notre Dame is at its best when it feels slighted an in an underdog role.
As for the sideline friends, pleasantries remain the norm, at least since the Krzyzewski initially balked at Notre Dame’s all-but-football inclusion into the ACC in 2013 when the league’s unofficial spokesman offered, "I would never have accepted personally them coming in and not being totally in.”
Dismissing with the expected pleasantries of newbies since, the Irish have claimed an ACC Championship while bullying conference blue bloods Duke and North Carolina, winning a combined 7 of 10 meetings against the pair in just three seasons.
Said Krzyzewski yesterday of his top former assistant: “Mike is a huge part of what we have done at Duke. We went to the Final 4 almost ever year he was here and won two championships. What he has done at Notre Dame is fantastic. I am very proud of him.”
Krzyzewski is a robust 21-4 collectively vs. his former pupils. Each of the four defeats have, as you likely know by now, come courtesy of Brey including the semifinals of last year’s ACC Tournament. Brey is 4-2 for his career against Krzyzewski with five of the six games played in the last 26 months (4-1 in that span).
Krzyzewski enters today’s contest one win shy of tying North Carolina’s Dean Smith for the most victories by a coach in ACC Tournament history (57).
Rarely does a high-level basketball game come down to a series of one-on-one matchups but that will likely be the case today when two of the nation’s most efficient, explosive offensive machines square off.
Luke Kennard vs. (eventually) Rex Pflueger: Kennard scored 30 points vs. Notre Dame in January, dominating the Irish early before Pflueger – who after first stumbling, literally, when inserted to defend the red-hot Kennard – found a rhythm and forced the rookie into three second half turnovers, limiting him to six points in the final 18 minutes.
Pflueger won’t start, but he’ll be needed for a minimum of 25 minutes if the Irish are to handle Duke’s perimeter Big 3 of Kennard, Grayson Allen, and future lottery pick Brandon Ingram.
Staying out of foul trouble (he was whistled four times in 23 minutes at Duke) will be key for the aggressive Pflueger who creates turnovers vs. everyone he faces.
Brandon Ingram vs. Steve Vasturia and Bonzie Colson: Ingram dominated Irish junior V.J Beachem early and had success against Vasturia as well. In fact, only foul trouble courtesy his failed efforts to defend Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson inside slowed Ingram on his 25-point afternoon.
Look for Vasturia to take the lion’s share of responsibility against the nation’s second-best pro prospect this afternoon, looking to limit, not shut down the lanky scorer.
Vasturia torched Duke for 22 points, 6 boards, and 4 assists, hitting 4-of-6 three-point shots in Durham. Sometimes the best defense is good offense.
Grayson Allen vs. Demetrius Jackson: Jackson owned the Blue Devils in January, scoring 24 points and having his way in penetration. Defended for the bulk of the contest by Duke’s best, Matt Jones, Jackson was however slowed late by Allen, a development that will doubtless be explored by Krzyzewski Thursday. Allen hit the Irish for 18 points and six assists in the first meeting.
Jones has struggled from the perimeter of late, hitting just 3 of his last 13 shots. He famously went off against the Irish in Durham last season, draining 6 of 9 three-point shots off the bench in a blowout win. Jones’ other three matchups vs. Notre Dame have produced an aggregate 14 points.
The Battle of the Bigs: Notre Dame’s red-hot Zach Auguste vs. Duke’s surging Marshall Plumlee. The latter vexed the former inside in January, repeatedly bothering or altering Auguste’s shots at the rim throughout, resulting in a frustrating 3-for-12 shooting effort – and most of the nine misses were within two feet of the bucket. Auguste however ripped down 14 boards in response to mitigate the damage.
A fifth-year senior, Plumlee is playing his best ball of late, with 35 points, 36 rebounds, five blocked shots and three steals over his last three outings. Plumlee had six offensive boards vs. the Irish in January.
Auguste has been on a tear since the team’s first meeting in Durham, averaging nearly 17 points and better than 12 boards per game. He’s hit 14 of his last 20 field goal attempts and, perhaps more important, 14 of his last 19 from the charity stripe.
Bonzie Colson: Though he’s scuffled of late, Notre Dame’s Colson will clearly be called upon to approach (he cannot repeat) his prior performance vs. the Blue Devils: 31 points and 11 boards in 33 minutes of action off the bench. Save for Plumlee, no Duke defender can handle Colson inside, a reality that will likely force Brey to play Auguste and Colson together more than he has of late.
The X-Factors: Notre Dame has two, freshman Matt Ryan and junior V.J. Beachem. Both will struggle to defend anyone on Duke with the possible exception of Jones, but both can provide instant offense from beyond the arc. Ryan scored 17 points including four first half three-pointers in his most recent outing. He was a non-factor in a starting role at Duke in January, scoring just one point.
Duke will likely bring Chase Jeter (all six-foot-ten, 195 pounds of him) off the bench in an effort to combat Colson while Krzyzewski could also call upon rookie guard Derryck Thornton to harrass Jackson at times.
The Blue Devils bench goes just two deep, commentary that would have been applicable to Notre Dame as well if not for the newfound “Irish 10” – 10 players contributed in the first half against North Carolina State in the team’s most recent contest, a convincing win Saturday in South Bend.
Sophomore point guard Matt Farrell will likely see first half minutes today as could senior A.J. Burgett and instant energy forward Austin Torres. Brey’s bench invariably shortens in the second stanza thereafter.
DUKE IS DUE
Sometimes, it’s as simple as that.
Toss out the analysis. Reconsider who’s hot and who’s not. Remember it won’t be like last time, and even if it is, new heroes are sure to emerge.
Notre Dame has closed out Duke three times in the last 14 months when faced with game pressure. The Blue Devils in turn destroyed the Irish in Durham, 90-60, to claim their only victory in five chances since Notre Dame joined the ACC.
The only sure thing Thursday is that neither will win by such a convincing margin.
In what is likely to be the most entertaining game of 2016 conference championships week, the guess here is that Duke is finally due to take down their tormentors from South Bend.
O’Malley/Prister Prediction: Duke 85 Notre Dame 82
-- ACC Prediction Record: 12-6 Straight Up; 11-7 Against the Spread