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The key three: Duke basketball vs. Notre Dame

Duke once again takes on a team that has won six of its last seven games when it plays Notre Dame in the ACC tournament semifinals at the Greensboro Coliseum Friday at 9 p.m. Duke fell in South Bend 77-73 on January 28, but it bounced back ten days later to route the Fighting Irish 90-60. Three keys to the Blue Devils continuing their 12-game winning streak and advancing to Saturday's ACC tournament final:

Don’t get sucked in on defense

Notre Dame’s 6-foot-5 Jerian Grant pulverized Duke in the teams’ first meeting, and a major reason why was his ability to penetrate, suck defenders in and kick the ball out to a quartet of three-point sharpshooters led by senior Pat Connaughton. The Blue Devils allowed 9.3 3-pointers per game in their three losses this season, as N.C. State, Miami and Notre Dame combined for a 51.9 percent clip from distance in the three contests.

Playing a matchup zone against N.C. State, Duke did a fantastic job of staying in check when the Wolfpack penetrated. It will be interesting to see whether the Blue Devils turn to a zone defense or opt for the man-to-man coverage that worked like a charm in the Duke-Notre Dame matchup in Durham. Regardless, staying with shooters and containing Grant's dribble penetration will be the Blue Devils' top priority against one of the most efficient offenses in the nation.

Win the swingman battle

Overcoming shoulder and rib injuries, Duke freshman swingman Justise Winslow has been playing sensationally recently, and he’ll need another dominating performance like the one he had in the two teams’ second matchup in order to secure a Duke victory. The Houston native has averaged 15.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in his last 10 games and has excelled at playing the four and taking advantage of mismatches on the offensive end.

But Notre Dame is one of the few teams equipped to match up with Winslow thanks to its tough-minded swingman, Connaughton. Connaughton leads the team in rebounding at 7.7 boards per contest despite only being 6-foot-5 and like Winslow excels playing the four. The senior shoots 43.1 percent from distance and has made 84 3-pointers this season, so if he gets going the Fighting Irish will have a much better chance to keep up with the Blue Devils. Given how streaky Connaughton and Winslow can be offensively, their matchup is definitely another one to watch Friday night.

Stay calm late

Two years in a row, Duke succumbed to pressure late on the road against Notre Dame and blew sizable leads. If the contest gets close once again, the Blue Devils will need to make their free throws and layups late, which was not the case in either of the contests, when Duke got sped up by the tempo of the Fighting Irish and lost its composure..

In the past month, only one of Duke’s last seven opponents—North Carolina—has been ranked, and only two games have been decided by five points or less. The Blue Devils have fought well against a number of different opponents during their late-season surge, but a last box to check off before March Madness is beating a top opponent in a close battle away from home, assuming the game is tight late. How Duke finishes will be especially interesting to watch given the lack of depth and recovery time both teams have to deal with.


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