Saturday-Monday turnarounds have not been kind to the Blue Devils this season, but they will get one last chance to change that narrative as they enter the meat of their ACC schedule.
Duke will host its 1,000th game at Cameron Indoor Stadium Monday as it welcomes No. 13 Louisville for a 7 p.m. tip-off. The Blue Devils have already lost the back end of two Saturday-Monday stretches in ACC play—at home against Syracuse Jan. 18 and at Miami Jan. 25—and the contest against Louisville begins a crucial run of four straight games against ranked opponents.
Since the first-ever game in Cameron 76 years ago, Duke has compiled 843 victories at home, including 88.8 percent of the games with head coach Mike Krzyzewski on the sidelines. The Blue Devils looked as if they may have started to turn a corner with two wins last week, but the short turnaround will make the road ahead even tougher.
“They’re in a recovery mode right now, with recovery drinks,” Krzyzewski said after Saturday’s 88-80 win against N.C. State. “They’re going to get a good meal, early sleep, come in late tomorrow morning, no contact, give them feedback, put in our scouting report for Louisville, come back tomorrow night [and] review it.”
In the Cardinals (19-4, 8-2 in the ACC), Duke is dealing with an opponent also in recovery mode—albeit one of a very different form. Louisville announced Friday that it was imposing a postseason ban for this year amid ongoing NCAA investigations involving potential recruiting violations, and will not play in the ACC or NCAA tournaments this season.
Several Cardinal players spoke out following the announcement to express their disappointment, including the team’s two leading scorers, Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. Lee and Lewis are combining for a shade less than 30 points per game this year, but as graduate transfers in their final years of eligibility, both will see their college careers come to a close without the chance to participate in March Madness.
The off-court drama did not seem to affect Louisville on the hardwood Saturday, though, as the Cardinals easily dispatched Boston College 79-47. The Cardinals have earned a reputation as one of the toughest teams in the country this year and boast a formidable resume. Three of Louisville's four losses have been against ranked teams, and the fourth was on the road against a Clemson squad that is undefeated at home in conference play.
Louisville makes its living on the defensive end of the floor and in the paint, which should provide an interesting clash against the Blue Devils’ high-scoring, perimeter-oriented offense. The Cardinals utilize an extremely deep roster—with 10 players averaging double-figure minutes—that allows them to wear down opponents and could expose Duke’s lack of depth on the bench and in the frontcourt.
Head coach Rick Pitino’s squad ranks in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense and rebounding margin—even after losing starting center Mangok Mathiang to a broken foot in mid-December. The Cardinals allow just 59.8 points per game, meaning something will have to give against a Duke offense that ranks fifth in the country at 84.8 points per game.
The Blue Devils (17-6, 6-4) have been held to fewer than 70 points in all but one of their ACC losses, and will need to have another good shooting night against an aggressive Louisville defense. Duke made 14-of-28 3-pointers Saturday against N.C. State, keyed by Luke Kennard's six triples off the bench. The long ball has been both friend and foe to the Blue Devils in conference play—Krzyzewski's squad is averaging 9.7 made 3-pointers per game in conference play, but went just 10-of-37 against Syracuse's lengthy 2-3 zone and will have to survive a high-pressure Louisville defense that allows opponents to shoot just 30.1 percent from downtown.
In Mathiang’s absence, 6-foot-10 sophomore Chinanu Onuaku has filled in capably and will present a big challenge for Duke center Marshall Plumlee. Onuaku leads the team with 8.8 rebounds per game and is third on the team in scoring despite averaging just 23.1 minutes per contest, and has improved his play significantly from a year ago.
Still looking for their first win against a ranked opponent, the Blue Devils will have two cracks to take down the Cardinals in the next two weeks. But for a team desperately searching for consistency, Monday is a great opportunity to build off last week’s momentum and secure a signature win on a historic night, with No. 9 Virginia, No. 2 North Carolina and a trip to Louisville looming.
“Everybody shows up for our good games, and then for our not-so-good games, there might have been one or two people who haven’t quite shown up, myself included,” Plumlee said. That’s something we need to keep getting better at—every time we step on the floor, we step together and fight.”
This story was updated at 2:35 p.m. to reflect Louisville's six-spot jump to No. 13 in the AP poll released Monday afternoon.
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