When the Blue Devils hit the road and knocked off Notre Dame earlier this season, no one anticipated that it would be part of their eventual seven-game winning streak. Likewise, not many could have expected Duke to win three games in three days to reach the ACC tournament title game—yet, the Blue Devils will take to the floor Saturday night looking to collect a 20th conference tournament trophy.
Body up Bonzie
For a Duke team that has struggled to rebound the ball much of the season due to a lack of depth in the frontcourt, a small Fighting Irish side may be the perfect antidote—especially one night after North Carolina dominated the Blue Devils to the tune of 50 points in the paint. Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame and the ACC's leading rebounder, averages 10.2 boards per night and had nine of the Fighting Irish's 26 the last time these teams met. With a wide frame at 225 pounds, but just standing 6-foot-5, Duke will have the length to go up and grab the ball against Colson—Jayson Tatum led the Blue Devils with 14 rebounds in the late January matchup in addition to nine combined boards between big men Amile Jefferson and Harry Giles.
Against a much taller Florida State team Friday, Notre Dame really had no say in the paint. The Seminoles outrebounded the Fighting Irish 41-23 and converted that into a 42-24 advantage in paint points. If the Blue Devils can contain Colson down low and force him into tougher outside shots, it will be one less area that Mike Krzyzewski and his coaching staff have to worry about against a dangerous Notre Dame offense.
In terms of offense from the perimeter, there may not be two more feared teams in the ACC than Duke and the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame got off to a lightning-quick start in its semifinal, jumping out to a 42-26 halftime advantage thanks to 8-of-15 shooting beyond the arc. Guards Matt Farrell, Matt Ryan, Rex Pflueger and Steve Vasturia all drilled multiple triples and the Fighting Irish finished the game 48.1 percent from distance. Similarly, the Blue Devils got a huge boost from Grayson Allen—who drained four first-half 3-pointers on his way to 5-of-6 shooting from downtown—and a perfect 2-of-2 night on 3-pointers from Luke Kennard.
Both defenses held their respective opponents to 33.3 percent 3-point shooting or worse during Friday's semifinals, meaning that something will likely have to give come Saturday. Last time, neither team found much from beyond the arc, but with Duke and Notre Dame rolling, don't expect a similar tale this time around.
Since 2011, the ACC tournament title has bounced around. There has not been a repeat champion since the Blue Devils won three straight between 2009 and 2011—and although the Fighting Irish would not be back-to-back winners, a win Saturday night would give Notre Dame two titles in three seasons having played in the ACC for just four years. Vasturia was the only current Fighting Irish player to have a significant role in their 2015 ACC final win against North Carolina—he scored 14 points in 35 minutes with three triples—but Notre Dame has the experience and composure to rise to the occasion once again.
Duke, on the other hand, has played in just one championship game since they last won six seasons ago, and Jefferson was the only current Blue Devil to play meaningful minutes that day in Greensboro, N.C. in 2014. Fortunately, Duke appears to be peaking at just the right time—it has knocked off two top-10 opponents in the last two days and could become the first team to win four straight en route to an ACC tournament title in league history. A victory would also give the Blue Devils a 20th conference tournament championship, the most among ACC teams, and could possibly push Duke as high as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament when the bracket is officially released Sunday evening.
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."