At this point, everyone understands that there is no rhyme or reason to this basketball season. Kentucky is 5-12. Kansas is in sixth place in the Big 12. Michigan State is 9-7. And Duke is at .500 at 7-7.
On the bright side, at least Duke’s not Kentucky, which we usually say for very different reasons.
But back to the show.
- Date: 2/9
- Time: 4:30
- Venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium
- Video: ACCN
Duke welcomes in Notre Dame for a rematch after the Blue Devils won in South Bend in December. Coach K always says a season is a lifetime. Well that game feels like several lifetimes ago. So it goes in the season of Covid.
The Irish are just 7-10 but make no mistake: this team has improved quite a bit. They’re 4-2 in their last six games with wins over BC, Miami, Pitt and Wake Forest.
They should have beaten BC, Miami and Wake Forest of course, but they pounded Pitt, winning by 26. Pitt’s a young team and young teams sometimes don’t know how to keep focus for 40 minutes, as we’re seeing with Duke, but the Panthers are very talented. That was an impressive win for Notre Dame.
Then the Irish nearly took Georgia Tech on the road, which, given how well the Yellow Jackets have played, was pretty damn impressive too. Losing a 17 point lead wasn’t, but being up 17 on a really good defensive team?
The Irish shot just under 60 percent in that game, including 7-18 from deep. Their twin towers, Nate Laszewski (rhymes with Krzyzewski) and Juwan Durham scored 27 and 18 respectively for a total of 45, roughly 56 percent of Notre Dame’s total of 80 points.
The 6-11 Laszewski shot 11-13 but before you assume it was just a case of overpowering a smallish Tech inside, he took six threes and hit four. In fact, take him away and the Irish didn’t shoot all that well from outside, hitting 3-12.
He’s developing into a very interesting player and we expect his coach, Mike Brey, who was an assistant at Duke while Christian Laettner was a Blue Devil, is making the logical parallels. His game is very reminiscent of Laettner’s.
He’ll probably end up spending a lot of time going against Matthew Hurt, which should be an interesting game-within-the game. Both guys are rangy, solid shooters and Hurt should be motivated after UNC put the clamps on him Saturday.
Aside from Laszewski and Durham, who both give Notre Dame significant size, the Irish are going about seven deep.
The other starters were 6-5 junior transfer Trey Wertz, 6-5 junior Dane Goodwin and 6-3 junior Prentiss Hubb.
The 6-11 Durham is a fifth-year senior while Laszewski is a junior.
Against Tech, the bench consisted of 6-5 junior Cormac Ryan and 6-8 fifty-year senior Nikola Djogo.
The fifty there was a typo but it doesn’t feel like it. Notre Dame has tough, tested players and that’s given Duke trouble this season.
In the first game, Duke defended the Irish well, limiting the big guys to seven points each and nearly shutting Durham out of the rebounding column.
On the other hand, Goodwin ran wild, hitting 10-12 and 4-6 from three point range.
Notre Dame has come on a lot recently and will definitely be a challenge for Duke.
But despite the record, the Blue Devils have improved in many ways, individually and as a team.
The most obvious advances are by Mark Williams, who has become a starter, and Henry Coleman, who has entered the rotation and been terrific, providing energy, defense and hustle.
Duke’s freshmen guards, DJ Steward and Jeremy Roach, continue to improve, although they still lack consistency, particularly Roach. Remember that, like former Devil Quinn Cook, he had a serious knee injury in high school and remember too that it took Cook a while to get back to his potential.
Otherwise, Wendell Moore has really improved overall and Joey Baker has rebuilt his game around gritty defense.
Jordan Goldwire has mostly been solid but at times has struggled. But we know what to expect from him on defense and that isn’t likely to change.
Duke played Notre Dame without Jalen Johnson last time, going with an effective three-guard lineup. Jaemyn Brakefield filled in admirably and has shown that he can play at this level.
But there’s no question right now that Johnson is better. In fact, he’s by far the most talented player in this game and it’s not close.
Yet he didn’t start against UNC, something Krzyzewski diplomatically glossed over, saying that “[p]eople earn starting, and they have to keep earning it...Mark [Williams] has been playing really well.”
Indeed he has, but benching your best player sends a message and we expect that Johnson has received it.
As we’ve seen, he has tremendous court vision and can make everyone a better player. If he plays at his highest level, as we’ve seen a couple of times this year, he’s a huge factor.
Which brings us to Coach K’s Miami criticism.
He found his team was “soft” and its effort “sad.”
That wasn’t the case against UNC where Duke played hard if erratically. There were some real defensive lapses. On one play, Hurt followed one of UNC’s big guys out to the foul line, leaving the middle open - which UNC immediately exploited for a layup.
And while UNC shot brilliantly from three point range, several of those shots weren’t really contested. We’re guessing that’s been discussed extensively, particularly since Notre Dame’s offense is absolutely brilliant at moving the ball and getting the defense off balance for easy open threes.
The good news though is Duke really played hard against UNC. Coach K said afterwards that he was happy with his team’s effort, that they fought and that “[t]hey were a team that deserved to win too. And that’s all I ask for my teams is to keep playing that way. I believe in them and we’re going to keep working with them.”
We’re Duke fans and we would pull hard for Duke even if the wheels fell completely off and we hope you would too - maybe even more so. It’s really easy to stay loyal when a team is winning.
There are still likely to be growing pains but Duke is showing heart and deserves support.
Earlier we said on the bright side, at least Duke’s not Kentucky, which is true. The corollary to that is thank God Duke fans aren't Kentucky fans. BBN is throwing a big fit right now and we can’t imagine it’s helping much.
No one can go to a game in Cameron and boost them like we usually do, but what we can do is to be positive on social media. If you feel the need to rip, please wait until it passes. Remember these are teenagers who are not just performing for us but growing up in public too. There’s nothing to be gained from ripping them for not doing things as well as we might all like, and, we might add, that none of us can do at all.
So be positive and supportive as they grow.
Links will be added as we find them.