Just before he left the court in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday night, Duke freshman R.J. Barrett made a bold pronouncement.
"We love road games," Barrett confidently told ESPN's Maria Taylor. "We wear black because it's their funeral."
Those black uniforms have been a staple of every ACC road game thus far for the second-ranked Blue Devils, so there's no reason to think Duke won't break them out again when it visits No. 16 Louisville at 9 p.m. Tuesday at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. The Blue Devils just polished off a season sweep of No. 4 Virginia, winning 81-71 over the weekend, which pushed their record to 5-0 in away games and 9-1 in games outside of the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor.
Perhaps more importantly, though, Duke (21-2, 9-1 in the ACC) has been generally sharper from the get-go when playing away from Durham.
On opening night vs. Kentucky, the Blue Devils jumped out to a 59-42 lead at halftime. They then led by eight at the break vs. Auburn, and by nearly 20 points in games at ACC bottom-feeders Pittsburgh and Notre Dame last month
So, while it might've been surprising to see Duke up 14 against the Cavaliers midway through the first half, it was equally unsurprising to see Virginia surge back and cut the deficit to just four by intermission. Good teams know how to respond.
As for the best teams? They adjust, like the Blue Devils did Saturday.
"They’re very smart and they pick up new plays. They do something that a lot of kids don’t do—they listen," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said of his young team. "They really eat you up with their eyes.... When you’re playing against outstanding people, there’s going to be counters all they time and [Virginia] did. Fortunately, we made an adjustment that worked."
Duke, in the midst of clearly its toughest stretch of conference play, will have to deal with another tough foe in the Cardinals. Louisville (17-7, 8-3) has been somewhat of a revelation in its first season under head coach Chris Mack, who moved only about 100 miles south from Xavier to get his first taste of the ACC since working as an assistant at Wake Forest in the early 2000s.
Cardinal forward Jordan Nwora has been the definitive standout, leading his team with 17.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in his sophomore season. But what Louisville lacks in starpower, it makes up for in depth—Mack's team features nine guys averaging double-figure minutes and Nwora is the only player to put up more than 11 points a night.
"I wouldn’t say anything really surprised me," Mack said of his team in a Q&A with The Athletic's Jeff Greer last Thursday. "I didn’t have a predisposition about who they were going to be together. I felt like we had some talented guys, a few of which didn’t necessarily understand the importance of details and of giving the same effort every day. I always felt like if we could get them to respond and value those things that we had a good chance at success."
The only returning Cardinal starter from last year's thrashing at the hands of the Blue Devils at Cameron is V.J. King, who did little outside of scoring 10 points.
That's where the transfers come in.
Graduate student Christen Cunningham—after playing three seasons at Samford and redshirting his last year due to injury—has successfully manned the point for Louisville and is currently fourth in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.6. Big man Steven Enoch, a junior who played two seasons at Connecticut, gives the Cardinals a presence inside at 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, and he also has the ability to step out and drain a 3-pointer, something Enoch's done at a 42.9 percent clip.
Nonetheless, it's going to be far from easy for Louisville to get a win against a Blue Devil team that has cemented itself as the class of the ACC.
And with that position comes the spotlight—Tuesday's game will yet again be on ESPN, the 17th time that's happened already this season. But it appears to be something Duke enjoys.
"Individual attention, it’s nice, but this is a team," Zion Williamson said after Saturday's game. "We’re just trying to win a national championship."
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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."