The independent news organization of Duke University

Then and now: How has Duke men's basketball changed since its last matchup with Louisville?

<p>Big man Mark Williams did not play when Louisville and Duke met earlier this season.&nbsp;</p>

Big man Mark Williams did not play when Louisville and Duke met earlier this season. 

Duke hosts Louisville Saturday for the two teams' second matchup of the 2020-21 season, so it’s time to dive into the film and numbers to see how this Blue Devil team looks in comparison to the last time it took the court with the Cardinals. 


After losing a heartbreaker to Louisville earlier this season, Duke has an opportunity to get revenge over the Cardinals in Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday. The 70-65 loss for the Blue Devils can largely be attributed to foul trouble, poor rebounding and missed opportunities, but Duke has made significant improvements in all three of those areas since the first matchup.

Struggles during crunch time

Despite the issues with fouls and rebounding, the Blue Devils still had a great opportunity to win the game. Forward Joey Baker missed a three to take the lead with 34 seconds remaining, and in the final sequence, freshman guard DJ Steward could not convert on a three of his own to tie the game.  There's no doubt Duke had chances to steal this first game, so it will have to capitalize when opportunities arise Saturday. 

With that being said, the Blue Devils stepped up on the offensive end on a few occasions during the waning minutes, with Steward and Johnson both making plays to give Duke the lead in the game’s final two minutes. However, whenever the Blue Devils scored, Louisville managed to respond with a bucket to regain the lead, and the Cardinals’ offense ended up being enough for them to come out on top.

Leading the Louisville offense all game was senior Carlik Jones, who is now third in the ACC with his 17.2 points per game. The final seconds of this video show Carlik Jones putting on a show, with Duke unable to stop him in the game’s final minutes. 

Foul trouble

In mid-January, when this first game was played, Duke had no true center, forcing forward Matthew Hurt to spend a lot of time filling that role. Louisville took advantage of Hurt being in the paint by attacking with center Dre Davis and forward Jae’Lyn Withers, causing Hurt to pick up quick fouls. Ultimately, the Minnesota native fouled out in the game’s final minutes and left the Blue Devils without their leading scorer during crunchtime. 


Hurt and Johnson guarded the paint for the majority of the Blue Devils’ first matchup with Louisville, and Duke was out-rebounded 34-26. The Cardinals created nine second-chance opportunities on the offensive boards and in a game decided by a few possessions, Louisville’s 10 second-chance points ended up costing Duke. 


Despite Duke’s struggles against Louisville, its recent four-game win streak has shown that the same three reasons that caused them to lose to the Cardinals in January could help them win in Cameron Indoor Stadium this time around. 

Recent success in final minutes

In contrast with their inability to get stops late in the game against Louisville, this Blue Devil defense is much-improved now, with the Virginia matchup being a perfect example of the turnaround. The Blue Devils held the Cavaliers scoreless in the final three minutes of the game and notched seven steals and seven blocks, ultimately leaning on their defense to pull off the win. If this matchup with the Cardinals once again comes down to the wire, Duke will benefit from its recent improvements on the defensive side of the ball.

Foul trouble hasn’t been an issue

The Blue Devils have not had a player foul out in the last five games, and some of this can be attributed to the recent success of freshman center Mark Williams, whose role continues to grow with each game. With Williams handling the paint, Hurt can move more freely outside and does not have to pick up as many fouls on opposing big men. Expect Williams to have a presence throughout the game, creating an opportunity for Hurt to have a big scoring night and giving Duke its best offensive weapon for the full contest. 

Making his Mark

Williams’ contributions on the boards cannot be overstated. He did not play against the Cardinals in the first game, but he’s now a significant portion of the lineup, recording 19 minutes or more in four of the last five games. The Virginia native snagged 11 rebounds in its most recent matchup with Syracuse, and Louisville will now have to plan to face Duke’s newest weapon, something that you can see Syracuse struggled with in this film.


Share and discuss “Then and now: How has Duke men's basketball changed since its last matchup with Louisville?” on social media.