Notre Dame-Duke Preview
Its first three ACC games seemingly helped Duke build confidence, though the latest might have reminded the Blue Devils of just what they are: young and shorthanded.
While a return to Cameron Indoor Stadium should help, Saturday's game comes against a Notre Dame team that's had No. 9 Duke's number since joining the league two years ago.
Duke (14-3, 3-1) blew out the Fighting Irish by 30 points in Durham last season, but Notre Dame (11-5, 2-2) won the other two meetings and has taken three of four overall. The latest was a 74-64 victory in an ACC tournament semifinal March 13 which exacted some revenge for that 90-60 loss at Duke about a month earlier.
The Blue Devils look much different than the team that went on to win a national championship a year ago. They opened conference play with three victories to extend their winning streak to five, but Wednesday's 68-63 loss at Clemson shined a light on some glaring issues they face without senior forward Amile Jefferson.
Duke has run with largely a six-man rotation since Jefferson was lost indefinitely to a fracture in his right foot in mid-December, and early foul trouble against the Tigers showed just how short the team's bench is.
Freshman Chase Jeter fouled out and fellow first-year player Brandon Ingram played the entire second half in foul trouble, which had a big effect on Duke's aggressiveness.
"If there's only so much lead in your pencil, you have to be careful how many words you write," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "But that's the game and you've got to be really smart. It's tough for a young team to be really smart."
Duke has started Ingram and freshman Derryck Thornton alongside sophomore Grayson Allen, junior Matt Jones and senior Marshall Plumlee in seven of its previous eight games since Jefferson was injured.
The first time Krzyzewski started that lineup was a 77-75 overtime loss to Utah on Dec. 19 in which the Blue Devils shot 29.9 percent, but they have averaged 87.5 points since on 50.7 percent. That group combines with Luke Kennard for 98.7 percent of the team's points in the last eight games.
Duke has won 17 straight at home and is 58-1 in Durham since Nov. 9, 2012. One of those wins was the rout of then-No. 10 Notre Dame on Feb. 7 when the Blue Devils were ranked fourth.
The Fighting Irish were led by the since departed Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, but coach Mike Brey - an assistant to Krzyzewski for eight years - said it was the beginning of Demetrius Jackson's leadership role.
Jackson, now the clear leader for the Irish, is averaging a team-high 17.1 points - nearly five more than last season. The junior guard has averaged 19.8 points while Notre Dame has split its first four conference games.
"On nights when my shot's not going in, I'm still trying to help the team win by rebounding, assisting, playing defense and leading with my voice," he said. "Whatever it is the team requires from me, I try to do that."
Though he made only 2 of 11 shots Wednesday against Georgia Tech, Jackson converted 13 of his 14 free throws and finished with 18 points, a season-high nine rebounds and eight assists to help the Fighting Irish to a 72-64 win.
Notre Dame, which is 2-1 in true road games, shot 38.9 percent - its first time under 48.2 in nine games since Dec. 2. However, the Irish limited the Yellow Jackets to 33.3 percent, the second time they've held an opponent to that number in the last three.