The Wednesday nightcap on ESPN features the ACC debut between the Duke Blue Devils and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Duke has stumbled off to a 2-2 start this season. The Blue Devils have victories over Coppin State and Bellarmine while losing their high profile games to Michigan State and Illinois. Their last time Duke was on the court was against the Illini on December 8th, which ended in an 83-68 upset loss as a 3-point favorite. Both of those losses were at home at Cameron Indoor Arena, which has drawn attention for many observers that this will be a down year for head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Duke’s most significant problem has been on the offensive end of the court. The Blue Devils failed to reach 70 points in either game against the Spartans or Fighting Illini. They did not shoot better than 40% from the field against either of those opponents. Duke ranks 126th in the nation with an effective field goal percentage of 50.6%.
The challenge for Krzyzewski is heightened with Jalen Johnson out for this game. He may be the most talented player on the team. The freshman has a foot injury that will keep him out a few weeks. Johnson was the top recruit from a freshman class considered Krzyzewski’s lowest-rated in the last five years. Yet for Coach K, that still means he has three remaining five-star freshman recruits available for tonight’s game. Perhaps what this Blue Devils team lacks in star power will be made up for in-depth and balance.
Duke returns Wendell Moore and Michael Hurt amongst four players in the regular rotation from last year’s team that finished 25-6. Krzyzewski added a class of six freshmen that most programs would cherish. After the loss to Illinois, Coach K made headlines by declaring that his team would bypass the remainder of their non-conference schedule given COVID concerns. Alabama head coach Nate Oats criticized Krzyzewski for pulling out of games after losing twice at home. Yet those losses were against two teams ranked in the top-13 in the current AP poll. The Blue Devils currently ranks 17th in both offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency at kenpom based on their first four games.
Notre Dame comes off upsetting another blue blood program in their last game on Saturday in their 64-63 upset victory against Kentucky at Rupp Arena. The Fighting Irish raced out to a 31-9 lead in the opening ten minutes of that game before holding on for the victory. Mike Brey’s team begins ACC play with an identical 2-2 record as the Blue Devils.
Notre Dame’s other victory was against Detroit, while their two losses were against Michigan State and Ohio State. The Irish are led by point guard Prentiss Hubb. The 6'3 junior tops the ACC with a 21.3 points-per-game scoring average along with a 4.3 assists-per-game clip. He is joined by the 6’10 junior Nate Laszewski, who scored 21 points and added nine rebounds in the upset against the Wildcats. The stretch-four is pulling down 9.5 rebounds-per-game while making 57.1% of his shots from 3-point land.
The Fighting Irish are an experienced group with four juniors and a senior in the starting lineup. Brey has assembled a roster that is the seventh-tallest in the nation. Yet they lost three of the most productive contributors from their 20-12 team last year with a .500 record in ACC play but likely needed to make a deep run in the ACC tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament.
For fans of handicapping using transitive properties, Notre Dame lost on the road to Michigan State by an 80-70 score on November 28th before the Spartans defeated Duke at Cameron Indoor by a 75-69 score three days later. BookMaker
lists the Blue Devils as a 2-point road favorite with the over/under set at 146. The ESPN broadcast starts at 9 PM ET.