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Yum! Devils Off To The House Of Cards

Well it has been a pretty unstable season for Louisville.

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Feb 8, 2016; Durham, NC, USA; Louisville Cardinals forward Anas Mahmoud (14) blocks the shot of Duke Blue Devils guard Derryck Thornton (12) in the second half of their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Feb 8, 2016; Durham, NC, USA; Louisville Cardinals forward Anas Mahmoud (14) blocks the shot of Duke Blue Devils guard Derryck Thornton (12) in the second half of their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, after Duke cut Rasheed Sulaimon loose, Coach K's mantra was eight is enough.

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Well, you can't argue with a national championship.

Duke entered this season with a 7-8 man rotation and solid leaders in Matt Jones, Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson.

Only Plumlee will play at Louisville Saturday. Jefferson has been out since December with a broken foot and Jones suffered a serious ankle sprain against UNC (quite possibly the dreaded high ankle sprain).

So Duke goes to Louisville with basically Plumlee and four guards.

Foul trouble is obviously a big concern. Plumlee picked up numbers three and four in a big hurry in Chapel Hill and no one can afford that against Louisville.

So too is fatigue.

Playing with five is tough enough. Coming off of a tough, exhausting game at UNC is tougher still. Then playing a Rick Pitino team which may decide to press is tougher still.

In Durham we got a good look at Louisville.

Grad student transfers Damion Lee and Trey Lewis have been really solid.

Against Syracuse, Chinanu Onuako had 13 points and 15 rebounds. He could be a real load for Duke.

Quentin Snyder is a solid point guard and Donovan Mitchell was spectacular in Cameron.

We were also favorably impressed with Anas Mahmoud at Duke. He's a guy we could see developing into a really fine big man.

Unfortunately he injured his ankle and his season is over.

What we like about where Duke is is the toughness this team has shown. It's remarkable really.

We saw it again at Carolina, where Duke trailed but never let UNC get away.

What we think is under reported though is the emergence of Derryck Thornton as an outstanding defender at point guard.

In the last few games, he's had superb outings.

In the first half against NC State, he had a brilliant effort against Cat Barber. It was really striking to watch. Every time Barber faked, Thornton went with him. If he drove, Thornton cut him off.

It was ferocious, brilliant defense against a great college basketball player. We're not sure anyone could maintain that effort for two halves, but for that half, Thornton's effort was spine tingling. It was like watching a great heavyweight fight and seeing one boxer just surge.

Against Virginia, he helped limit London Perrantes to eight points and no three pointers, no small feat this year.

And against UNC, he and backcourt mate Allen limited UNC's backcourt to 4-22 and 15 points. More importantly, Brice Johnson scored at the 12:55 mark.

His next and final basket came at the 4:44 mark.

A lot of UNC fans criticized Roy Williams and his team for not getting the ball inside to Johnson, but a lot of that was down to Duke's guards.

So as the N&O's Laura Keeley says, given what Duke's done lately it seems foolish to bet against them. But here's the final challenge Duke has to overcome: time.

The game in Chapel Hill was a 9:00 game. The game at Louisville is a 12:00 noon game.

Not that the other teams in the conference haven't had similar turnarounds because everyone has. But no one has tried to do it with a five-man rotation.