From a distance it seems like the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have little hope to make it to the NCAA Tournament. A five-game losing streak combined with injuries to Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell and D.J. Harvey have left the Irish struggling to survive. But then, when you get a chance to watch them play, they don’t show it.
The Irish just keep on fighting. During the losing streak they haven’t lost a game by more than 9 points and have been led by unheralded players like Martinas Geben, John Mooney and Nikola Djogo. They have hung with every ACC team on the schedule and you have to wonder how great this team could have been at full strength.
The road still keeps getting rockier, however, as the Irish travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium to face the fourth-ranked Duke Blue Devils with both teams pulling off a Saturday-Monday turnaround.
Embrace the challenge.— Notre Dame MBB (@NDmbb) January 29, 2018
Irish at Blue Devils.
- This will be the 30th meeting between Duke and Notre Dame on the hardwood, with Duke leading the all-time series 22-7
- Since joining the ACC, Notre Dame holds a 5-3 advantage over Duke in conference play
- Mike Brey is the only former Duke assistant to beat Mike Krzyzewski in a head-to-head matchup
- Notre Dame is the only ACC team that plays three Saturday-Monday turnarounds in which they have to play the Monady game on the road
- Geben and Djogo became the first pair of foreign-born players to start in a game during Mike Brey’s tenure
When: Monday, January 29, 2017, 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, North Carolina
How to Watch: ESPN national broadcast with Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas and Allison Williams. Also available on the WatchESPN app.
Notre Dame Basketball Radio Network with Jack Nolan and Zach Hillesland. Available locally on WSBT AM 960/FM 96.1, worldwide on WatchND.tv and via network affiliates.
No. 4 Duke Blue Devils (18-3, 6-3 ACC)
Duke is fresh off its third loss of the season - all of which have come in ACC play - at the hands of Virginia’s stout defense on Saturday. In fact, the 63 points scored by Duke was its lowest output this season by far. With that said, the Blue Devils are still arguably the most talented team in the country.
Led by freshman forward Marvin Bagley III, who clearly should be playing in the NBA already, the Blue Devils average 90 points per game. That’s tied for the best scoring offense in the nation, and they’re second in rebounds per game with 43. Bagley averages 22 points and 11.6 rebounds per game himself, and he’s scored 30 points or more five times this season.
The notorious senior guard Grayson Allen has been rather quiet this season other than a 37-point outburst against Michigan State very early in the year. Allen is second on the team with 14.7 points per game, and if you ask me, he only hurt himself by staying in school this long.
The rest of Duke’s starters are freshmen, though they don’t play like it. Gary Trent Jr. averages 14.4 points at the guard position and leads the team in free throw percentage at 87.7 percent. Wendell Carter Jr. nearly averages a double-double with 14.3 points and 9.4 rebounds as a center, and point guard Trevon Duval scores 11.2 points and leads the team with 6.2 assists per game.
Bagley and Carter are both taller than 6-foot-10, and their post play has led Duke to make 50 percent of their field goals on the season. From behind the arc Duke shoots a mediocre 37.7 percent, but stopping the Blue Devils from shooting on the perimeter seems like one of the ways to stop this high powered offense. In all three of its losses, Duke has been held to less than 30 percent from three-point land.
Blue Devil to Watch:
Grayson Allen, G, Senior
Even though Allen has been overshadowed by Duke’s talented freshmen this year, he is still the leader of the team. The 6-foot-5, 205 pound guard still has the ability to set the tone for the Blue Devils when he is playing well.
Shutting him down defensively, however, is another key to beating Duke. In all three of Duke’s losses, Allen was held to his scoring average or worse and shot 33 percent or less. Against Virginia, Allen scored just five points. If Notre Dame can limit Allen and force him into bad shots they will be able to keep this game close.
Martinas Geben, C, Senior
The Irish big man is having a career year in his senior season. At 6-foot-10 and 252 pounds, Geben has been a rebounding and dunking machine, and he has especially stepped up in Colson’s absence. His 9.9 points and 8 rebounds per game don’t jump off the page, but during ACC play he’s been phenomenal. Geben is second in the conference in rebounds per ACC game with 10.6, and he leads the conference in offensive rebounds per ACC game with 4.75.
Geben was thrust into a bigger role when his fellow seniors got injured and he is giving everything he has to fill their shoes. Against Duke, Geben’s rebounding will be a major factor. Hardly anyone can out-rebound Duke, but if Geben can find a way to get more offensive rebounds and second-chance points the Irish will be in the mix.
Duke 85 - Notre Dame 70
Notre Dame simply doesn’t have enough fire power anymore to compete with a team like Duke. The Irish will need to play incredible defense or catch Duke on a bad shooting night because of the short turnaround over the weekend to have a chance.
Duke also only goes about 7 deep, so it’s likely that both teams will be feeling the fatigue early in the second half. But Duke also didn’t have to travel for either of its games in the almost-back-to-back. I have no doubt that the Irish will continue to fight, and miracles can happen, but it’s hard for me to see it here.