Game 34: No. 3 seed Notre Dame (25-8) vs. No. 5 seed Duke (26-8)
-- Date: March 11, 2017
-- Place: Barclays Center; Brooklyn, N.Y.
-- Time: 9:00 p.m. ET
-- TV: ESPN
-- Nickname: Blue Devils
-- Head coach: Mike Krzyzewski (1,069-329 overall; 996-270 in 37th year at Duke)
-- Location: Durham, N.C.
-- 2015-16 record: 25-11, 11-7 (t5th in ACC)
-- 2016 Postseason: Sweet 16
-- Point spread: Duke by 4½
ANOTHER CHAMPIONSHIP OPPORTUNITY
For the second time in three seasons, Notre Dame has a shot at winning the ACC title.
Since 1963 – 10 years after the inception of the ACC Tournament – North Carolina and/or Duke has claimed the championship 35 out of 54 times (64.8 percent).
Notre Dame, the ultimate interloper, has a shot at the coveted trophy that has long been considered the property of Tobacco Road.
“We have a chance to hang a ’17 banner next to a ’15 banner in our arena?” said Irish head coach Mike Brey.
“Are you kidding me? Four years into our league? There are original ACC members that haven’t done in 50 years what we’ve done.”
There’s been a shift of power in the ACC, at least in the conference tournament. Since 2012, North Carolina has won just one ACC Tournament (2016). Duke hasn’t claimed it since 2011.
In addition to Notre Dame (2015), other recent ACC champions include Florida State (2012), Miami (2013), and Virginia (2014). It marked the first time since the ACC Tournament was launched in 1954 that someone other than Duke or North Carolina won it four years in a row.
“It’s a blessing,” said Notre Dame’s leading scorer and rebounder, Bonzie Colson, of the opportunity awaiting the Irish Saturday night. “We’re really excited to be playing for another championship, especially in this building.”
Notre Dame is shooting for its eight straight victory at the Barclays Center, including wins over Michigan and Stephen F. Austin in last year’s NCAA Tournament, Colorado and Northwestern in the Legends Classic in November, and Virginia and Florida State in the ACC Tournament. The streak started in 2012 with a victory over Brigham Young.
BREY VS. KRZYZEWSKI
No former Mike Krzyzewski assistant coach has ever had the success that Mike Brey has had against the Duke legend.
Heck, has any head coach ever had the success Brey has had against Krzyzewski/Duke?
Since joining the ACC four years ago, Notre Dame has played Duke seven times. Brey and the Irish have won five of them, including:
• A 79-77 victory in Purcell Pavilion in January of 2014 in Notre Dame’s first-ever ACC/home game.
• A 74-64 victory in the semifinals of the 2015 ACC Tournament en route to the conference championship.
• A 95-91 victory in Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium in January of 2016.
• An 84-79 overtime victory in Washington D.C. in last year’s ACC Tournament.
“They’ve been great match-ups, and our guys have always been very excited about playing Duke,” Brey said.
“When I got this job, when we were able to steal a win from Connecticut or Syracuse, those were real program wins for us. We’ve been able to beat Duke and North Carolina, and those have been great wins for us in this league.”
Duke defeated the Irish earlier this season at Purcell Pavilion, 84-74, as the Blue Devils took a 12-point halftime lead, shot 51.9 percent from the field, nailed 23-of-24 free throws, and limited the Irish to 7-of-21 three-point shooting on their home floor.
“They put it on us in South Bend, which was a big win for them because that got them rolling,” Brey said. “We’re going to have to score to beat ‘em. You’ve got to be really good offensively because you’re not shutting them down. They’re too gifted of an offensive team.”
Although Notre Dame’s defense has been on the uptick, it’s a tough match-up for anyone against Duke and it’s offensive standouts – Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen.
“We both have our issues on (the defensive) end of the floor,” Brey said. “We’re a much improved defensive team. This may be the best one I’ve had. Hopefully that’s the edge that helps us.”
THE OL’ RIVALRY ISSUE
Duke’s history of success may be too extensive to admit that Notre Dame has become a rivalry game for the Blue Devils.
It’s a similar question frequently asked of the Notre Dame football program, one which Irish players usually shrug off and claim, “Everybody treats Notre Dame like a rivalry game.”
And yet with wins in five of the last seven against the Blue Devils, it has the Irish players hungry and searching for more.
“They took it to us the beginning of the year, although I think we’re both a different team than we were then,” V.J. Beachem said. “Any time you lose to a team early in the season, you want to play them again.
“They’re playing really well and they’re a great team, so we’re going to have to defend the way we have the last two games and make them score in different ways.”
Rex Pflueger, who has been part of two victories over Duke – in Cameron Indoor Stadium and the ACC Tournament last year – believes it’s become more than just two ACC teams going head-to-head.
“Duke vs. Notre Dame…people don’t think it’s a rivalry, but I see it as a rivalry,” Pflueger said. “I’m excited to get out there and play them.
“I know those guys, I know they’re going to play hard, and we’re going to play hard as well. We owe them one from earlier this season.”
Much like Notre Dame, this is not a very deep Duke squad and likely will be running on fumes in its fourth game in as many days.
• Luke Kennard (6-6, 202, Soph.) – A team-leading 20.2 points per game, a 44.4 percent three-point shooter (83-187), and an 85.2 percent free-throw shooter (150-176). Averaging 21.3 points per game in the ACC Tournament.
• Jayson Tatum (6-8, 205, Fr.) – Averaging 16.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Has converted 87.5 percent from the line (105-120). Averaging 23 points per game in the ACC Tournament.
• Grayson Allen (6-5, 202, Jr.) – Averaging 14.2 points per game and second only to Kennard with 72 three-pointers made (but just 36.4 percent). Has made 7-of-9 three-pointers in victories over Louisville and North Carolina this week.
• Amile Jefferson (6-9, 224, Sr.) – Does the dirty work for the Blue Devils underneath, averaging 10.8 points and 8.3 rebounds in less than 30 minutes per game. Constantly battles foul trouble.
• Frank Jackson (6-3, 205, Fr.) – Freshman on the rise, averaging 16.0 points per his last five games, including 20 in the ACC Tournament-opening victory vs. Clemson and 15 in the come-from-behind win over North Carolina.
• Matt Jones (6-5, 204, Sr.) – A glue player and a defensive stalwart who joins Jefferson in tending to the Blue Devil dirty work. Hasn’t scored in double figures in last seven games, and yet he’s averaging 30 minutes of playing time.
• Harry Giles (6-10, 240, Fr.) – The talented freshman who battled knee injuries early in the season logs just 12 minutes per game. The bulk of his playing time comes when Jefferson encounters foul trouble. He scored six points with seven rebounds in 15 minutes of action in the victory over North Carolina Friday.
POINTS IN THE PAINT
• Notre Dame is the No. 3 seed and Duke is the No. 5 seed. The last time a non-top 3 seed won the ACC tournament was 2004 when No. 6 Maryland defeated No. 1 Duke.
• Matt Ryan has made 5-of-7 three-pointers in four games at the Barclays Center this season, including 3-of-4 against Florida State Friday night.
• After making just 12-of-58 three-pointers (20.6 percent) in the previous 12 games, Steve Vasturia nailed 4-of-5 versus Florida State.
Prister/O’Malley Prediction: Duke 82, Notre Dame 75