Notre Dame, Duke prepare for top-10 throwdown
Zach Klonsinski | Tuesday, January 27, 2015
While “1K” has already been secured, No. 8 Notre Dame still has a chance to make history tonight at 7:30 p.m. when it welcomes No. 4 Duke to Purcell Pavilion.
The Blue Devils (17-2, 4-2 ACC) mounted a comeback late in the second half Sunday against St. John’s, 77-68, to earn coach Mike Krzyzewski his 1,000th win as a head coach. So instead of a chance to keep Krzyzewski in triple digits for a few more days, the Irish (19-2, 7-1 ACC) will have to settle for the opportunity to do what no other team has done before — beat a coach with 1,000 wins.
“Obviously [1,000 wins] is an unbelievable milestone,” Irish coach Mike Brey said after his team survived an overtime thriller with North Carolina State, 81-78, on Sunday. “I don’t know if anybody else is going to be able to get that.”
If anyone at Notre Dame knows about the Blue Devils, it’s Brey. A former assistant under Krzyzewski at Duke from 1987-1995, Brey became the first of Krzyzewski’s former assistants to ever beat him as an opposing head coach. The Irish pulled off their biggest win of last season by shocking the then-No. 7 Blue Devils, 79-77, on Jan. 4 2014, at Purcell Pavilion. Brey said he has good memories of his time in Durham, North Carolina.
“I had great years with him, and I owe a lot of what I’m doing now to his mentorship,” Brey said. “I’m just honored to have played a very small part in that.”
The victory last season came in Notre Dame’s first ACC game ever and snapped Duke’s streak of six consecutive wins in conference openers. The programs went separate directions after that though.
Notre Dame limped to a 6-12 record in ACC play and finished 15-17 overall, Brey’s first losing season since taking over as head coach in 2000. Duke went 26-9 overall and 13-5 in ACC play although it was upset by Mercer in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“That may have been the highlight of our season last year, beating Duke,” Brey said in his weekly ACC conference call Monday. “After that, we didn’t have much of an identity in the league. We were competitive but couldn’t finish them, certainly not like we’re finishing them this year.”
That has been one area of improvement for the Irish this year — Notre Dame is 6-2 in games decided by less than 10 points, including 2-0 in overtime. The team is also off to its best start since 1973-1974, the year it snapped UCLA’s 88-game winning streak and and finished with a 26-3 record.
Duke features a talented young lineup, notably freshman center Jahlil Okafor. Averaging 18.9 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game, the potential number-one pick in this year’s NBA draft combines with freshmen guard Tyus Jones and forward Justise Winslow and senior guard Quinn Cook to power the Blue Devil offense.
“They’re really talented,” Brey said. “I was just reading today about all the first-round picks they’ve got on their roster. So we’ve got our hands full.”
The Irish have thrived off guard play this season, using four smaller guards and forwards around junior forward Zach Auguste inside on the offensive end. However, the Blue Devils’ size inside, with the six-foot-11 Okafor and seven-foot junior center Marshall Plumlee will test Notre Dame physically, Brey said.
“That’s something we’ve got to make a decision on. … What do you do with Okafor?” Brey said. “A lot of people have [double-teamed] him. … We really haven’t done that much, but that’s something we’ve got to digest a little bit.”
Still, Brey said his team is confident and ready for the challenge.
“I like the way we’ve been playing, and our group believes they can get it done against just about anybody,” Brey said.
Tonight will mark the second game between top-10 teams at Purcell Pavilion since 1980, and the first such matchup since Feb. 9, 2003, when No. 10 Notre Dame upset No. 4 Pittsburgh, 66-64.
While Krzyzewski achieved his milestone Sunday at Madison Square Garden, tonight could potentially be significant for Notre Dame. Senior guard Jerian Grant, who leads the Irish in scoring (17.1 points per game) and assists (6.2 per game), will make his 100th career start in an Irish uniform, and a win would be the 600th Irish victory at Purcell Pavilion, where the team has played since the 1968-1969 season.
Notre Dame will aim to make its own history tonight when it hosts Duke at 7:30 p.m.