The last time Duke made the trip to South Bend, Ind., Zion Williamson and company cruised past Notre Dame en route to an 83-61 victory.
A repeat of that performance would go a long way in quieting some of the concerns surrounding this year’s squad. But when the Blue Devils take the court at Purcell Pavilion Wednesday at 9 p.m., they’ll be facing a Notre Dame team looking for its second straight win against a college basketball blue blood.
Furthermore, the Fighting Irish contain the same qualities that propelled both Michigan State and Illinois to wins against Duke this season: experience and a star guard.
“We have to learn how to play at this level,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the Blue Devils’ loss to the Fighting Illini. “This is not inherited wealth where we have what we have had.
“What we have had is really damn good and it’s produced a lot of championship teams. We do not have that. You have to earn that with a new group and this group is one of the youngest groups we’ve had.”
The Blue Devils (2-2) will once again be matching up against one of the more veteran teams in the country, as all five of Notre Dame’s starters are upperclassmen. Leading the pack is junior guard Prentiss Hubb, who has burst onto the scene this year after averaging just 12 points per game a season ago.
Through four games this season, the Maryland native leads the ACC with 21.3 points per contest. Although that number comes on a meager 40.3% mark from the field, Hubb has drained 41.7% of his attempts from deep on the year. Notre Dame’s 41.6% mark from three as a team is second-highest in the ACC, with Hubb accounting for over 40 percent of the Fighting Irish’s made shots from the land of plenty.
Hubb is joined by junior forward Nate Laszewski, who grabs 9.5 rebounds per game while shooting 57.1% from 3-point range. His 6-foot-10 frame makes him a matchup problem for most teams, but the length of Duke’s wings should allow the Blue Devils to at least have a hand in his face all night.
Duke struggled to put pressure on Illinois’ perimeter shooters last week, with the Fighting Illini’s 3-point marksmanship effectively putting an end to any Blue Devil comeback bid. Notre Dame’s efficiency from the perimeter could also present an obstacle for Duke, especially considering Krzyzewski’s squad is yet to figure out what its brand of basketball is.
“We’re just an average team that’s very young that has to get better. On the offensive end we’re not confident,” Krzyzewski said. “For whatever reason it is, we are not confident on that end of the court and I got to do things to make sure that they get that confidence.”
There’s been times this season that Duke looks like it can be the free shooting team Krzyzewski expected in the preseason. Forwards Matthew Hurt and Jaemyn Brakefield have shown they can be impactful stretch-4s, and when DJ Steward is hot, he is an injection of offense for the team.
Most would agree that this roster is versatile, but Duke is in danger of being a jack of all trades and master of none. There have been times in which some Blue Devils have played well—Jalen Johnson and Steward against Coppin State; Hurt against Bellarmine; Roach against Illinois—but no particular piece or player on the team has stood out as the foundation to build the rest of the season around, making this matchup with Notre Dame (2-2) all the more important for the future.
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Jalen Johnson’s foot injury, which will keep him out of Wednesday’s contest at the minimum, doesn’t help matters. Fellow freshman Jaemyn Brakefield will likely see more minutes, but it will be interesting to see how Krzyzewski shuffles his rotation around in the absence of arguably his most talented player.
While starting ACC play after less than a handful of nonconference games isn’t ideal, no team wants to lose its first conference matchup, and that extra motivation may be what Duke needs to find an identity and get itself right.
Jake Piazza is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.