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Next Up - Notre Dame

The Irish eyes are shining and larcenous

Florida State v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - FEBRUARY 10: Vernon Carey Jr. #1 of the Duke Blue Devils shoots the ball over RaiQuan Gray #1 of the Florida State Seminoles during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 10, 2020 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Notre Dame comes to Cameron Saturday afternoon and that probably means a good game because let’s face it: the ACC is full of defensive masters like Leonard Hamilton, Tony Bennett, Brad Brownell, Josh Pastner, Tony Bennett, Jim Boeheim and Coach K - but offensive geniuses?

Not as many.

We’d put a maximum of three in that group: Roy Williams (most years), Mike Young and Mike Brey.

And of those three, Brey is the most fun.

Notre Dame does a superb job of moving the ball around and getting teams off balance. And then it’s pick your poison time: three pointer? Easy back door? Screen for a mid-range jumper? Because you can’t stop everything when the ball moves as well as Notre Dame moves it.

Brey is a gifted offensive coach and in most years, his teams are spectacularly fun to watch.

Unless of course you’re playing them. Then you can see the traps for your team developing and the ball deception and players trying to catch up to the ball movement. It’s almost exactly the opposite of what Virginia does on defense.

Fortunately for Duke, even thought Notre Dame has improved markedly, this isn't (yet) a vintage Mike Brey team.

However, they are tough and getting better. And consider this: The Irish lost to BC by one, to Indiana by two, to Louisville by three, to Syracuse by two, to Florida State by one and to Virginia by one.

Notre Dame is currently 15-9. They could easily be 22-3 and in the Top Ten.

Also worth mentioning: in the last five games, Notre Dame is 4-1 and that includes the one-pointer to Virginia. Go back one more and there’s the one-point loss to Florida State.

So clearly, the Irish are indeed fighting.

Brey is using a seven-man rotation. His backcourt is Prentiss Hubb, a 6-3 sophomore and Temple “TJ” Gibbs, a 6-3 senior.

John Mooney, a 6-9/245 lb. senior starts in the front court along with 6-11/223 lb. Juwan Durham.

Rex Pflueger, a 6-6 redshirt senior, is back after an ACL injury wrecked his (and Notre Dame’s) season last year. He fills out the starting lineup.

Sophomores Dane Goodwin, 6-6 and Nate Laszewski, 6-10 and 225, are the primary reserves.

There’s an obvious difference between Duke’s and Notre Dame’s rosters: Duke has more overall depth but less size where the Irish have three big guys, all from Florida incidentally, who are all effective in different ways.

Mooney is the best of the bigs. He basically gets a double-double every night, has three point range and is as consistent as he can possibly be. he’s a legit candidate for ACC Player Of The Year.

Durham, a transfer from UConn, is primarily a defender. He’s been in and out of the lineup but lately Brey has gone with two bigs.

Laszewski is tall and rangy and has no trouble shooting the three. He’s a guy who could have a breakout game at any time.

All three guys could give Duke’s Vernon Carey trouble. He’s still learning how to play through double teams at times. And while someone will have to chase Mooney around when he moves outside, someone also has to stick with Durham, so Carey will be busy on defense as well.

It probably means extra work for Jack White and Wendell Moore, who are both strong enough to guard somewhat bigger guys and obviously Javin DeLaurier, though he has often been foul prone and so Duke typically keeps him off the floor when Carey is in and vice versa.

Duke’s strength is the defensive core of Tre Jones, Goldwire, Stanley and Moore, all of whom are excellent defenders.

Jones will probably draw Hubb and Jordan Goldwire will likely start on Gibbs. Cassius Stanley will almost certainly start on Pflueger.

It’s going to be challenging though for Moore and Stanley to catch all of Brey’s offensive subtleties and that goes for Carey too, who may find himself at times surprised to be the last defender as someone flies towards the basket. He’ll have to be careful about fouls and that goes double for DeLaurier because Notre Dame is brilliant - not good, brilliant - about using ball movement to knock a defense off balance.

And as we noted above, Notre Dame has a great deal of experience which is something Duke simply can’t match.

Still, this Duke team has really shown enormous heart, and not least of all in the last two games. Everyone is reasonably healthy and Moore, who missed several games with a finger injury, is back and seems to have settled in well.

This one won’t be much easier than UNC and Florida State though, if at all. Aside from Notre Dame’s experience and Brey’s offensive brilliance, he has one more advantage over almost every coach in the ACC when it comes to Duke: like Pitt’s Jeff Capel, he has an intimate knowledge of Mike Krzyzewski’s program. He knows it from inside out and that’s invaluable in a game like this.

Duke is favored of course, but if you’re looking for a blowout you’re probably doing to be disappointed. It’ll probably be a tight game.

On the bright though, this time they’ll be rested.