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Notre Dame Men’s Basketball: Duke Blue Devils Preview

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Pat Rick previews the freakish Duke diaper dandies coming to South Bend this evening

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Your Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-9, 1-6 ACC), now alone in last place in the conference after falling to #3 Virginia 82-55 on Saturday, are being rewarded with a fun Monday night match-up on national TV against the #2 Duke Blue Devils.

More importantly, though — Red Panda is performing at halftime, folks.

Phoenix Suns v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

So, considering I DO NOT want to waste any more of your time up here in this boring intro section, let’s dive into the facts and figures of Duke as an opponent, to understand what kind of beatdown to expect this evening (and to talk a little more about the GOAT, Red Panda).

Quick Facts

  • Notre Dame and Duke will be meeting for the 32nd time, with the Blue Devils holding a 24-7 advantage in the series (per Alan Wasielewski, Associate Athletics Communication Director)
  • Since joining the ACC for the ‘13-’14 season, the ND/Duke series is even at five-and-five. Only North Carolina (5-7) has as many victories over the Blue Devils during that time period. ND and Miami (3-3) are the only two ACC teams to have a .500 or better record vs. Duke since ‘13-’14 (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Mike Brey was an assistant coach under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke from 1987 through 1995, when the Blue Devils advanced to 6 Final Fours and won back-to-back national championships in 1991 and 1992. Brey is the only former Krzyzewski assistant to earn a victory as a head coach against Duke (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Mike Brey is 4-2 at Notre Dame against teams ranked 2nd in the Associated Press Top 25, the most recent a 80-76 victory over North Carolina on Feb. 6, 2016. An additional victory over #2 during Notre Dame’s ACC era was a 74-64 victory over Duke in the 2015 ACC Championship Semifinals (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Junior forward John Mooney is on a run of 6 consecutive double-doubles that has pushed his season averages to 14.5 ppg and 10.8 rpg — the only ACC player averaging a double-double and the conference leader in rebounding (he’s #10 in the country in rebounds, in fact). His 9-point, 10-rebound game against Virginia Tech means he was just one point short of having a double-double in every ACC game so far this year (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • With a 9.7 average, Notre Dame is 2nd in the country in turnovers committed per game after facing national leader Virginia (8.4) on Saturday (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • The Irish, on average, are committing just 13.5 personal fouls per game, which leads the nation after Saturday. ND is just ahead of Siena and Dayton at 13.6 and 13.8, respectively (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • T.J. Gibbs is just 25 points away from reaching 1,000 in his career at Notre Dame and will become the 63rd Irish player to reach that career scoring plateau. Notre Dame is tied for 5th in NCAA history for 1,000-point scorers (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Notre Dame’s freshman class has logged 1,586 minutes of playing time this season, already the 3rd-most for a rookie class in the Mike Brey era (per Alan Wasielewski)

WHERE, WHEN, AND HOW TO WATCH

Where: Purcell Pavilion — Notre Dame, Indiana
When: Monday, January 27th at 7:00 PM ET
How to Watch:

Duke Blue Devils (17-2, 6-1 ACC)

In case you weren’t aware, the Duke Blue Devils are good at basketball.

NCAA Basketball: Hartford at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Ranked 2nd in the country, Duke comes to South Bend this evening sporting a 17-2 overall record and a 6-1 ACC record, which is good for a 3-way tie for first place in the conference alongside Virginia and the surprising Louisville Cardinals.

The Blue Devils have already picked up plenty of impressive wins this season, having defeated Virginia (the Wahoos’ sole loss) and the Florida State Seminoles in conference play and having beaten the Texas Tech Red Raiders, Auburn Tigers, and Kentucky Wildcats (whom they crushed by 34 points) in a tough non-conference slate. Their two losses came in the form of a 2-point loss to the Gonzaga Bulldogs and a 4-point loss to the Syracuse Orange, who managed to put up 95 points in the upset.

With all that said, it’s no surprise that Duke is rated very high in many important statistical categories overall. They’re #2 in KenPom’s efficiency rankings (#5 in both offense and defensive efficiency), #2 in scoring margin (average margin is +21.7 ppg), #15 in rebound margin (compared to Notre Dame at 186th...yikes), and #15 in possessions per 40 minutes, adjusted for opponent — meaning they can really get up and down the floor.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, considering the freshman class Coach K brought to Durham this year, the ability to get up and down the floor and dominate on both sides of the ball isn’t very surprising either. Duke’s freshman class featured the top 3 players in the country, as RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish are all roughly 6’7” or 6’8”, freak athletes, and able to score on anyone.

Barrett has been the leading scorer, putting up 23.9 points per game — good for 10th-best in the entire country. He’s added 6.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, a steal, and 45% shooting from the field to that scoring line, and has just been fantastic despite Williamson getting the lion’s share of the hype coming in.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, Williamson’s hype has been WARRANTED.

The 6’7”, 285-pound, sky-walking behemoth has been completely as advertised, averaging 21.7 points per game (#19 in the country) on 67% shooting (#7 in the country), and collecting 9.2 rebounds per game, which includes 3.67 offensive boards per contest (#9 in the country). Oh, and he has completed a few decently-impressive dunks too.

Add in a couple assists, a couple steals, and a couple blocks per game, and Williamson is EASILY a frontrunner for just about every player of the year award (along with Barrett), considering his ridiculously well-rounded game. If it weren’t for his 27% shooting from long range, you could make an argument that Williamson is the perfect basketball player/NBA prospect.

Alas, the Blue Devils actually can claim 3-point shooting as a collective weakness. As a team, they shoot an abysmal 31.2% from long range, which is good for 307th in the country. Of course, they haven’t had to shoot much from behind the arc considering the abilities of Williamson, Barrett, and Reddish (along with Tre Jones’ ability to get them the ball).

Reddish is somewhat forgotten as the third guy in this Big Three, but he’s averaging a rock-solid 12.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 33% 3-point shooting each game this year. He’s had his big games as well, stepping up to score 20+ in the wins against Kentucky and Florida State.

Point guard Tre Jones, the younger brother of Tyus Jones, was the fourth-best member of that recruiting class, which is pretty incredible considering he was ranked 17th in the class by ESPN as a 5-star guard prospect.

He’s been exactly what Coach K needed him to be this year, a pass-first point guard who can run the offense and distribute the ball to the plethora of big weapons at his disposal. Jones is #2 in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio at 5.69, which means he RARELY turns the ball over, considering his 5.6 assists-per-game average. Toss in 8 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2 steals per game, and the 6’2” Jones is just a fantastic two-way player and perfect complementary player to go along with Williamson, Barrett, and Reddish. He just returned on Saturday after having been out for two weeks with a separated shoulder suffered in the loss to Syracuse.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

After those four freshmen, Duke has a few other solid role players in their lineup. 6’7” junior forward Jack White provides another body to mix it up on the boards (6.2 rpg) and on defense (0.9 spg, 1.3 bpg), and scores enough (5.7 ppg) to chip in when needed.

6’11” junior center Marques Bolden is similar in that his presence at the rim is perfect in helping all the 6’7” guys on defense. He averages 2.2 blocks per game to go along with 5.4 points and 4.6 rebounds, and shoots an efficient 57% from the field when he does take some shots.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Add in 6’6” sophomore guard Alex O’Connell and 6’10” junior forward Javin DeLaurier, who average a combined 8.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.7 steals per game, and you’ve got a full Duke team that can just keep hammering away at you in the paint. O’Connell also shoots a team-leading 36% from deep, and DeLaurier provides Bolden more help as an off-the-bench rim protector, averaging 1.1 blocks per game.

If all that weren’t clear for you, let me break down for you where the Blue Devils rank nationally on offense and defense in a number of key categories:

Offense: #3 in scoring (88.6 ppg), #4 in offensive rebounds (14.67 per game), #14 in assists (17.5 apg), #29 in FG% (48.5% shooting overall)

Defense: #3 in steals (10.4 spg), #11 in FG% Allowed (38.7%), #16 in 3-point FG% Allowed (28.9%), #25 in Turnovers Forced (16.72 per game)

To give those numbers a little more...reality for Irish fans, let’s note that Notre Dame is 76th in the country in defense rebounds, so Duke will likely have a field day on the offensive boards. Furthermore, the Irish do stand at #5 in the nation in fewest turnovers per game (9.7), so it will be interesting to see if all that length and athleticism can really force a lot more turnovers, considering Virginia’s elite defense couldn’t even force ND to go above their season average (the Irish turned it over just 7 times on Saturday).

The Irish are also 293rd in tempo, meaning they will NOT be ready to play at Duke’s up-and-down the court pace. Be prepared for some Jones-to-Zion/Barrett/Reddish alley-oops in transition, folks.

NCAA Basketball: Champions Classic-Duke at Kentucky Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Plus, ND is 113th in scoring defense, allowing 68.7 points per game on average. Duke will, if you can believe it, put up way more than that with their ridiculously efficient offense that is nearly averaging 90. This could be VERY ugly.

Final point, just to be fair to a guy who has struggled this year and is being dragged almost universally by ND fans and writers — T.J. Gibbs is not far behind Tre Jones in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio, sitting at 7th IN THE COUNTRY with his 3.65 number. So, although Gibbs is struggling to make shots and assert himself efficiently in games, he is still distributing the ball with excellent decision-making and a propensity to create baskets for teammates instead of turnovers. Maybe he should focus more on that while he figures out his jumper?

Blue Devil to Watch

Zion Williamson, F, Freshman

Let’s be real — any of the three Blue Devil freshmen (Williamson, Barrett, Reddish) could go off tonight. But in terms of Blue Devils to watch, there’s no one more entertaining or jaw-droppingly amazing than Zion. Any guy who can be 6’7” and 285 pounds but jump as high as he does while also being so incredibly efficient is just a sight to behold. So stop getting mad every time he overpowers an ND player for a bucket and instead just appreciate getting to watch this kid play so early in his career, before he becomes a perennial NBA All-Star next year.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Irish X-Factor

Red Panda, Unicyclist/Bowl-Flipper-and-Catcher, Senior?

This was an easy choice. Red Panda, as noted in the tweet from Tom Noie below, has helped the Irish to a 20-3 all-time record when she performs at halftime. She’s more than just a halftime show, folks.

Now, Noie’s tweet above was incorrect about which game she was performing at (which was slightly disappointing for a certain OFD writer who could make it to the Virginia game but not the Duke game...but luckily he discovered another incredible performer).

Anyway, Red Panda returning to ND after a 2017-2018 season hiatus is fantastic to see, especially considering Red Panda’s career seems to, unfortunately, be on the slight decline considering the couple bowl-dropping reports that have surfaced about her performances over the past year.

No matter, Red Panda is still the most awe-inspiring entertainer to ever perform at halftime of a sporting event, and so no matter the score at the intermission tonight, Irish fans can experience the pure, unadulterated euphoria that comes from seeing her land all those bowls on her head while riding the tallest damn unicycle you ever did see.

NBA All-Star Game 2016 Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Prediction

Someone please tell me how the Irish plan to guard all the length and heft and athleticism of Williamson, Barrett, and Reddish this evening, while also trying to contain such a fantastic point guard and distributor as Tre Jones. ND won’t struggle quiiiiite as much on offense as they did against Virginia’s top-notch defense, but the Irish are bad offensively no matter who they’re playing, and Duke has the athletes to make things still incredibly ugly.

I say Duke wins this one 89-63.

Red Panda is performing. Notre Dame by 1,000.