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Next Up - Louisville

And, potentially, an all-time weird game

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 25: Clemson Tigers forward Ben Middlebrooks (10) and Duke Blue Devils forward Theo John (12) fight for the rebound during the college basketball game between the Clemson Tigers and the Duke Blue Devils on January 25, 2022, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, NC.
Photo by Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
  • Date: 1/29
  • Time: 12:00
  • Venue: KFC Yum! Center
  • Video: ESPN

Duke heads off to Louisville this weekend for a Saturday game that is entirely unpredictable: what to expect from Louisville after Chris Mack was forced out Wednesday? Who the hell knows?

Unless you’re in the Louisville solar system, we’re all guessing about what happened. But the key question, to us anyway, is simple: did he lose his team, and will they play for interim coach Mike Pegues?

It’s a really weird situation that’s almost impossible to prepare for. Really the only thing you can be certain of is your own team. Fortunately that’s always been Mike Krzyzewski’s approach.

Pegues may shake things up, but as of this week the Cards are 1-5 in the last six games. Those opponents? Florida State, NC State, Pitt, BC, Notre Dame and Virginia.

Mack’s rotation guys have been:

  • Jarrod West - 5-11 senior
  • Noah Locke - 6-3 senior
  • Malik Williams - 6-11 senior
  • Dre Davis - 6-5 sophomore
  • Matt Cross - 6-7 sophomore
  • Mason Faulkner - 6-1 senior
  • Samuell Williamson - 6-7 junior
  • El Ellis - 6-3 junior
  • Jae’Lyn Withers - 6-8 junior
  • Sydney Curry 6-8 junior

Knowing what to expect from Louisville is tough and it’s even tougher with so many transfers. West, Locke, Ellis, Cross, Curry and Faulkner are all in their first season with Louisville.

Mack has used his own version of Dick and Tony Bennett’s pack line defense and it has worked okay but not as well as it has at UVA. But it’s still effective.

And he has size. Williamson is a legit big and Duke doesn’t have a great answer for Curry who is 260 (Paolo Banchero may prove to be a tough matchup for him too though).

And West and Locke are effective guards too. Louisville has plenty of wings too, with Davis, Cross and Williamson.

Still, we have no idea what the emotional condition of this team is. Are they angry about Mack’s departure? Relieved? Was all the apparent discord focused on Mack? Are there Memphis-like divisions within the team?

It’s just so hard to know anything. Better, as we said, to focus on Duke.

It’s probably fair to say now that Duke is past, or almost past at least, the Christmas Covid outbreak. Conditioning may not be 100 percent recovered but it’s bound to be close.

Fouls will be a concern. Trevor Keels is still out and against Clemson, Duke turned to Bates Jones and, briefly, to young Jaylen Blakes who has potential but who right now is, at best, a spot player.

But the Devils can count on the dynamic front court pairing of Mark Williams and Banchero. They’re both highly intelligent and gifted players. And Wendell Moore has, the Covid stretch aside, been an immensely valuable asset.

We’d hope for a bounce-back game from AJ Griffin. He wasn’t as sharp against Clemson as he has been. Coach K put it down to adjusting to a more physical style.

And then there’s Jeremy Roach.

He was moved to the bench when he wasn’t playing as well and Griffin was surging and back into the lineup when Keels went down.

He’s had three turnovers in the last five games and in the last three, he’s had 24 assists and three turnovers.

That’s pretty spectacular.

He’s been steady and his defense is back from the Covid dip. As we said earlier this year, Roach has superb balance on defense which allows him to run virtually next to someone without worrying as much about fouls.

This is a game Duke can win but realistically, every game on the schedule is winnable. That obviously doesn’t mean that Duke will win them all and in fact they haven't.

Our guess, for what it’s worth, is that Louisville is going to play like a wounded grizzly. There will be all sorts of emotions expressed on the court and misery that is worked through physically. It’s likely to be raw and that will be tough to match. If Duke wins, it’ll be one of the toughest - and most rewarding - wins of the season.