Game Preview

Duke Blue Devils (14-2, 3-1] vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-5, 2-2]

Saturday, January 16, 2016 • 2:00 PM • ESPN2 • Durham, NC • Cameron Indoor Stadium

By Randy Dunson [Note: Please direct comments, suggestions, etc. to @RandyDunson.]

Team Overviews


No. 9/6 Duke will host Notre Dame on Saturday with a chance to become one of two programs in the nation to reach the 200-win mark this decade (also Kentucky). Duke is 105-4 (.963) at home since 2009-10, marking the third-most home wins and third-best home winning percentage in the NCAA this decade.

Duke employs one of the nation’s most lethal offensive attacks, ranking fourth in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency (119.8) and fifth in the NCAA in scoring offense (86.6). The Blue Devils have scored nearly a 22.3 percent of its points this season at the free throw line. The Blue Devils have made 55 more free throws (329) than its opponents have attempted (274).

With five ball handlers in its seven-man rotation, Duke ranks among the national leaders in both turnover average (10.2) and turnover percentage (14.4 percent of offensive possessions). Since December 15, Duke is averaging 15.1 assists and 10.1 turnovers per game (1.5 assist-to-turnover).

Duke averages 8.6 three-pointers per game to lead the ACC, and shoots .387 from beyond the arc as a team. Matt Jones leads Duke and ranks fifth in the ACC in three-pointers per game (2.5).

The Blue Devils rank 17th nationally with an average of 5.6 blocks per game as Marshall Plumlee is averaging a career-best 1.9 per contest.

Grayson Allen has scored in double figures in 15 of 17 games this season. Duke is 19-1 in his career when he scores in double figures. Brandon Ingram is in the midst of a team-best 10-game streak with at least one three-point field goal. Since December 15, Ingram has averaged 19.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and 1.9 blocks while shooting .429 from outside the arc.


  • NA

Probable Starters

Guard – Sophomore Grayson Allen

Guard – Junior Matt Jones

Guard –Freshman Guard Derryk Thornton

Forward – Freshman Brandon Ingram

Center – Grad Student Marshall Plumlee

Notre Dame

Unranked Notre Dame is second in the ACC in field goal percentage (.499). That mark is good for eighth in Division I (as of Wed, January 13). The Irish rank third in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency (120.4) as computed by the Pomeroy rankings.

Statistical categories in which junior guard Demetrius Jackson ranks among the top five in the ACC: scoring 17.1 PPG (fifth), assists 5.44 (second), assist-turnover ratio 2.72 (fifth) and minutes played 35.94 (fourth).

In terms of the number of wins over the defending national champion in the Mike Brey era. the Irish faced Duke once in that scenario, falling to the Blue Devils 84-77 in the first round of the 2001 NCAA Championship in Greenville, South Carolina.

Jackson averages 5.44 assists per game, ranking him second in the ACC (all games). Statistical categories in which Jackson ranks among the top five in the ACC in conference games: scoring 19.8 PPG (third), assists 7.25 (first), assist/turnover ratio 4.14 (third), three-point field goals made 3.50 (second), steals 2.00 (fifth) and minutes played 39.00 (third). He also ranks ninth in three-point field goal percentage (.438).

Notre Dame’s average 9.5 turnovers per game, good for fifth in the country. This season, Notre Dame has recorded 10 or fewer turnovers on nine occasions.

Saturday marks the 26th meeting between Notre Dame and Duke. The Blue Devils hold a 20-5 advantage in the series, but the Irish have won three of the last four meetings. In their last meeting, sophomore forward Bonzie Colson (then a freshman) led the Irish with 17 points off the bench, while Demetrius Jackson scored 15 points with five assists and three steals as the Irish defeated Duke 74-64 in the ACC Championship Semifinals on March 13, 2015.

Notre Dame is 22-18 in ACC regular-season play after two-plus seasons in the conference. After going 6-12 in its first season in 2014-15, the Irish finished 14-4 in 2014-15. The Irish’s 14 wins a year ago (+8.0) marked the second-best improvement from the previous season in ACC history.

Notre Dame’s 84-79 victory at Illinois on Dec. 2 marked the 1800th win in program history. The Fighting Irish are 1806-977 (.649) all-time in 111-plus seasons. Notre Dame ranks ninth in Division I in all-time program wins behind Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, Temple, Syracuse, UCLA, and St. John’s.


  • NA

Probable Starters(Of Note, the Irish start 1 guard and 4 forwards)

Guard – Junior Steve Vasturia

Forward – Junior Demetrius Jackson

Forward – Freshman Matt Ryan

Forward – Junior V.J. Beachem

Forward – Zach Auguste

Last Time Out


Clemson has nearly beaten a Final Four of national champions in the past eight days. Tigers forward Jaron Blossomgame does not see why that cannot continue.

Blossomgame scored 17 points, including the clinching dunk with 13.5 seconds left, to lift Clemson to a 68-63 victory over No. 9 Duke on Wednesday night. The victory was the fourth straight for the Tigers (11-6, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) and the third in a row over an NCAA champion in the past eight days following wins at Syracuse and No. 21 Louisville.

In addition, perhaps, given Clemson’s trip to the college football national championship game, bringing Tiger fans another contender to back.

Coupled with the Louisville win, it marked the first time the Tigers had defeated ranked opponents back to back since topping Duke and Georgia Tech at the end of the 1989 regular season. Clemson gets another ranked opponent, No. 8 Miami, at home on Saturday in its next game.

This one started like a typical Blue Devils blowout, with Duke taking a 28-16 lead midway through the opening half. Instead, the Tigers hung tough to beat Duke (14-3, 3-1) for the second time in three seasons.

After Blossomgame’s jam, Matt Jones missed a 3-pointer from the left corner that could have tied the game. Clemson’s Vary Holmes got the rebound and hit two foul shots with 1.8 seconds left to put things out of reach.

Grayson Allen led Duke with 17 points, three off his season average. Freshman Brandon Ingram scored 16 points for the Blue Devils, all but one in the first half.

Donte Grantham scored 16 points and Landry Nnoko had 12 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks for the Tigers. It was his second double-double in the past three games.

Grantham’s 3-pointer tied the game 50-50 before Blossomgame hit a long-range basket to put Clemson ahead for good, 53-50 with 7:24 left.

Jones was fouled while making a layup that pulled Duke within 62-61 with 1:44 left, but he could not complete the three-point play to tie it.


  • It was just the third time this season the Blue Devils were held to 35 points or fewer in the opening half
  • They lost two of the other three times, first to Kentucky and then Utah
  • Duke entered leading the ACC with almost six blocks a game. It had just one against the Tigers.
  • Blossomgame surpassed the 800-point mark for his career with his 17 points in the win over Louisville last Sunday
  • The victory over the Cardinals was the 100th for coach Brad Brownell with the Tigers
  • The Tigers looked lost last month when they fell to three Southeastern Conference teams in Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia and seemed like they’d struggle in ACC play
  • But Nnoko called a player’s only meeting before the holiday break that seems to have galvanized Clemson

Notre Dame

In a midweek conference matchup, the Fighting Irish came away with a 72-64 victory on a smothering defensive effort that held the Yellow Jackets to a 33.3 field goal percentage. Senior captain Zach Auguste scored 24 points (on 10-13 field goals) and pulled down 9 rebounds to fuel the Irish offense. With the win, Notre Dame moves to (11-5, 2-2) on the season.

Auguste scored four straight field goals five minutes into the second half to help the Irish build a seven-point lead, a result of Irish coach Mike Brey’s decision to create space inside by playing a more guard-heavy lineup around the 6-foot-10 Auguste.

Jacobs scored all 10 of his points in a row during the second half to counter Auguste and keep the Yellow Jackets close.

After going scoreless in the first half, Jackson finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists for the Irish (11-5, 2-2).

Notre Dame hit 11 of 12 free throws over the final two minutes, including eight straight from Jackson, to seal the victory. Jackson was just 2-for-11 from the field, but finished 13-for-14 from the line.

Marcus Georges-Hunt scored 18 points to lead Georgia Tech (11-6, 1-3) and Adam Smith added 15.

The Irish used a 7-0 run to earn some breathing room with 4:30 to play, but Georges-Hunt responded for Tech with a 3-point play followed by Smith’s fadeaway 3-pointer to cut it to 61-58 with 3:25 to go.

That was as close as the Yellow Jackets would get the rest of the way.


  • Notre Dame freshman forward Matt Ryan replaced Bonzie Colson in the starting lineup, the first change in Notre Dame’s starting lineup this season
    • Ryan finished with 10 points and seven rebounds
  • Notre Dame came in sixth in the country and leading the ACC in field goal percentage at 50.6 percent, but shot just 32 percent in the first half (10-for-31)
    • The Irish still managed to take a 30-27 lead into halftime after Georgia Tech misfired as well, hitting just 25 percent (9-for-36)
    • That mark was the lowest by an Irish opponent since they held the Yellow Jackets to 26.1 percent in the second half of a double-overtime win on Jan. 14 of last season
  • The Yellow Jackets have played three of their first four ACC games on the road, starting with losses at No. 5 North Carolina and No. 20 Pittsburgh
    • They play their next two at home (UVA on Saturday)
  • The Irish shot a season-low 13.3 percent from 3-point range
    • Jackson’s 3-pointer two minutes into the second half was their last of the game


Duke leads the all-time series: Duke leads, 20-5. Notre Dame is 0-7 at Cameron. The first meeting was held on February 20, 1965 at Chicago Stadium, a 101-88 Duke victory. The most recent meeting was last year, March 13, 2015 in Greensboro, NC in the ACC Championship Semifinal, where Notre Dame came away with a 74-64 victory. Mike Brey is 3-2 at Notre Dame: 3-2.

In terms of several key offensive and defensive statistical parameters when looking at these two teams head-to-head, Duke and Notre Dame are evenly matched.

One very important note is that the Irish is the first team to date that leads Duke in Effective FG% & FG% (57.0, 49.0 vs. 55.2, 48.1). However, in terms of Scoring Margin, Duke ranks 7th to the Fighting Irish’s 58th).

In terms of Rebound Margin, Notre Dame ranks 69th nationally vs. 75th for the Blue Devils. Duke continues to stay strong in FT% (72.3 vs. 70.1) As for Turnover Margin, the Fighting Irish are ranked 166th vs. the Blue Devils at 26th). However, Notre Dame commits fewer turnovers (9.1 vs. 10.1 TOPG).This game from a statistical perspective could be called a toss-up.

Duke2015-16 Regular Season Key Stats ComparisonNotre Dame
88.6 (17.4)PPG (Scoring Margin)78.2 (9.9) 7-58
69.3Opponents PPG68.9
55.2Effective FG%57.0
42.9Opponent FG%42.3
38.73PT FG%39.1
34.5Opponent 3PT FG%38.0
38.9 (4.5)RPG (Rebound Margin)36.3 (4.6) 75-69
34.5Opponent RPG31.8
7.1SPG (%)8.2
10.1 (3.4)Turnovers Per Game (Margin)9.1 (.3) 26-166
13.3Opponent TOPG9.6
17.2Fouls Per Game14.9


Four Factors to Winning

[If you wish to learn more about how the four factors are calculated and implemented, a description can always be found here,] [Please note that the graphical depiction is forthcoming.]

Duke has an edge in all but one of the four factors. When it comes to shooting the ball more efficiently, the Irish have a large edge over the Fighting Irish at 57.0% vs. 55.2%. Duke has a very slight edge in handling the ball at 14.4% vs. 14.6% and a good edge offensive rebounding (36.3% vs. 33.1%)

Finally, Duke has a very good advantage when it comes to getting to the free throw line, 43.9% vs. 31.7%.

Key Points to Consider

First, a few points regarding both team’s overall profile at this point:


  • Difficulty defending dribble penetration
  • Highly efficient attack
  • Good ball control team

Notre Dame

  • Highly efficient attack
  • Good ball control team
  • Commits few fouls

Now, a few key points to consider (refer to the Endgame). These may often carry over to future games but keys specific to a current opponent will always be mentioned.

  • [Substituting for keys is a brief piece on the impact of Amile’s loss to the team & steps being taking to mitigate that loss.]


Amile Jefferson

There is a phrase that Mike Krzyzewski seems to be repeating a lot over the past few weeks. Notwithstanding Amile’s injury, I must admit that I have heard the same thing, but in different context, over the years. As an aside, the Hall of Fame coach might hedge on a fact or two, but when it comes to injuries, Coach K tells it like it is.

First, the phrase that has been repeated in one form or another. “We’re not a great team. We’re a good team,” Krzyzewski said after Duke’s loss to Clemson on Wednesday. “We don’t have subs. I’ve been saying that from the beginning.” Well, I am not so sure about the latter, but we will just move along!

Krzyzewski had essentially the exact same quote after Duke won at Wake Forest last week. There, he acknowledged the disconnect between the team on the floor and the title contender that so many expected it to be this season. “We’re not a really good team, we’re a good team,” Krzyzewski said. “We don’t have many guys, man. Those five national championship banners, none of those guys are coming out of the woodworks.”

I would expect the “good team” references would continue to be repeated until one of two things happen

  • this core freshmen gel together into a much better, but not a great team, or
  • the expectations are adjusted for this year’s Blue Devils team

There are a few factors contributing to Duke’s depth issues, but none more than the loss of Amile Jefferson to a foot injury that has him out indefinitely. Jefferson was the team’s most experienced big guy, a player who Krzyzewski says has “been through the wars.”

The Blue Devils were playing their eighth straight game without Amile Jefferson, a 6’9″ senior who played an integral role in giving the team size and leadership. They’re 6-2 in those contests but have had real trouble on the boards. In Utah’s upset win in NYC, the Utes grabbed 56 boards to Duke’s 38.

“Losing (Jefferson) [caused] us to do more different things than probably any other guy we would’ve lost,” Krzyzewski said, per “On the perimeter we have a little bit of depth, but Amile is a very unique player.”

“He’s been in huge games,” Krzyzewski pointed out on the ACC coaches teleconference this week. “And just leadership wise and how he plays, his poise, his toughness, his voice. All those things, you can’t ask one person to make up for that. You just try to develop everybody to help in that regard.”

If there is any advantage to the hand Duke has been dealt, it could be that the very thin rotation is very young, talented and eager to please. Grayson Allen may be a sophomore in name but he logged just 51 minutes of game time on the road in ACC play last season. That said, he was playing alongside three top NBA draft picks, Senior Quinn Cook, and then-junior Amile.

Allen, along with the freshman trio of Brandon Ingram, Derryck Thornton and Luke Kennard are talented enough to hang with any team in the country, but not yet consistent enough to avoid losses like the one on Wednesday to an experienced and well-coached Clemson team.

However, since most of the Blue Devils’ six-man rotation is new to this whole ACC regular season thing, they’re actually more flexible from game-to-game. Duke can change what it does, adjust on the fly and play with a little more freedom. That can make this Duke team very dangerous, but it can also make them vulnerable in some of the difficult spots every team finds in conference play.

Even with the depth issues, Duke’s still a threat in the ACC and a pick to make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Grayson Allen has been an offensive force, shooting 49.5 percent, averaging 20 points per game and playing nearly every minute he can stand on the floor. Brandon Ingram has played 150 of the 160 possible minutes in Duke’s four ACC games, highlighting his comfort and ability at the rim (27 rebound and 10 blocks in ACC play) and behind the arc (12 3-point field goals in the same stretch).

Jefferson, meanwhile, watches on from the sideline with no determined timetable. His absence has highlighted his importance to the fabric of this team, which is probably more than anyone expected coming into the season. His fellow veterans, Marshall Plumlee and Matt Jones, have helping carry out that leadership role as voices on the floor.

Duke’s good without Jefferson, but not great. On Saturday, the Blue Devils host a Notre Dame team that’s really good, but not great. Mike Brey is the only former Coach K assistant to beat Duke and he’s done it three times in the last three years. There’s a lot of pride on the line this weekend but even more to learn as these two “good, not great” teams with ACC title aspirations clash in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Notre Dame Overview

Before getting into the nitty gritty of this game, I will start this section off with a quote: “We haven’t had another big,” Krzyzewski said when asked about Plumlee’s importance. “Chase had a real rough night tonight. That’s where you’re hoping someone, a new guy might all of the sudden..”

Duke is essentially playing with just six players in its rotation until Amile Jefferson comes back from a foot injury. Again, another quote: “We have no subs,” coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters after Wednesday night’s loss to Clemson. The Blue Devils’ seventh man is freshman Chase Jeter, but he’s been foul prone in limited action and picked up nine fouls in 12 minutes over his last two games.

Here is my retort to those quotes. Remember those Exhibition & early non-conference games where Duke was blowing past teams by 20, 30 points. Did anyone see Chase Jeter on the floor playing? Hell no. That was opportunity costs & teachable moments lost forever. Now, everyone seem to expect him to just jump in & automatically be the McDonald’s All-American player playing at the college level. Then there are others who think that he is not good enough to play. My answer to them, one local reporter in particular, is what planet are you on?

My friends, that might work for a Ben Simmons, and believe me meaning no disrespect, Chase is no Ben. In addition, the 5 spot is probably one of the most difficult transitions when moving from the high school to college level.-It takes time, yes with extremely hard work in practice, but with increasing actual game time. I will address this further below.

Now onto what we are looking at on Sunday afternoon. Even the best basketball players need a break. Even the greatest of the great occasionally make mistakes and require assistance. However, when there’s nobody there to back them up, even the most accomplished star athletes can stumble and fall.

Duke is well aware of this, with its ultra-thin lineup exposed in Wednesday’s 68-63 loss at Clemson.

The Blue Devils (14-3, 3-1 ACC) are essentially a six-man team, rarely giving minutes to anyone other than their starters and freshman guard Luke Kennard. It’s been this way since senior forward Amile Jefferson broke his foot in mid-December, leaving Duke with one reserve for its three guard spots and none for the frontcourt.

Somehow, it had avoided having this lack of depth be a serious problem until Wednesday, when the ‘perfect storm’ hit and someone finally took advantage of the foul trouble Duke was bound to find itself in at some point. And now that the blueprint has been established, much like a scouting report on the flaws of a hot young hitter in baseball, the word is going to get around.

Duke had both of its frontcourt players, freshman Brandon Ingram and senior Marshall Plumlee, pick up their fourth fouls with more than 10 minutes left in the second half. Ingram got his third with 1.6 seconds left in the first half, turning him into a non-factor on defense for almost the rest of the game.

Plumlee’s fourth foul came with 10:27 left and Duke leading 48-40. From that point on Clemson went 9-of-14 from the field after having made just 16 of 41 shots in the first 30 minutes.

Duke isn’t known for staunch defense, it came in holding opponents to 42.7 percent shooting, but it also didn’t just let teams score at will. That wasn’t the case once the foul trouble sunk in, when the Tigers went on a 13-2 run and kept the aggressiveness going until the end.

Fouls were a problem last week at Wake Forest, yet Duke shot 51.7 percent and won by 16 because the Demon Deacons didn’t push the envelope. Clemson did, and others will follow suit.

The Blue Devils didn’t help themselves by bogging down on offense in the second half, seemingly scared to drive or draw contact for fear a call would go against them. That’s not normally their style, and the combination of that and the foul problems can be lethal against the wrong opponent.

It’s easy to blame Jefferson’s foot injury for the bulk of Duke’s struggles, but the potential for a problem was already there. It’s existed since Krzyzewski failed to give Jeter a chance early on to gain valuable playing time in a difficult position. In addition, it became apparent that the Blue Devils’ other post players. sophomore Sean Obi and freshman Antonio Vrankovic, were just going to be taking up space on the bench, and nothing more.

Jeter technically played Wednesday, but he was gone before he could do anything but collect fouls, five of them, to be exact, in just four minutes, but at least he got to take his warm-ups off.

Obi, a Rice transfer who sat out the 2014-15 season, has played 16 minutes in six games this year. Vrankovic has played 13 minutes in four outings. Only Obi has seen action in an ACC game, getting a single minute of court time last week, when Plumlee got into foul trouble, just before halftime. NBC Sports’ Raphielle Johnson noted Plumlee’s impact on Duke’s overall performance:

On most nights, six really good players will be enough for Duke to get the job done. The Blue Devils normally play smart, not making silly fouls, and can score at will. But when the shots don’t fall, they can’t get to the line, the Blue Devils took a season-low seven foul shots, with their first coming midway through the second half, and the whistles are blowing, they’re going to struggle.

Unfortunately, I do not see the friendly confines of Cameron being much help this Saturday. A very good Notre Dame team will dance out of Cameron with a 85-80 win.

One Comment

  • fsventuressays:

    Jeter has been a huge disappointment. Of course, we have not been able to see what the other freshman are capable of, because they never get a chance to show their basketball skills in a game. I was expecting to see more time and points from Obi. I believe he averaged 11 points a game as a freshman.

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