Duke Basketball: Tough Test Awaits Blue Devils in ACC Tourney

DURHAM, NC - MARCH 03: Teammates Marques Bolden
DURHAM, NC - MARCH 03: Teammates Marques Bolden /

Notre Dame roared back from a 21-point deficit to take down Virginia Tech and secure a date with Duke in the ACC Tournament Quarterfinals.

The Irish don’t have a winning record in conference play. Also, they are a double-digit seed in the tournament. However, Duke cannot take the Fighting Irish lightly or they will be eliminated from the tournament faster than you can say March Madness.

Notre Dame has dealt with injury after injury this season.

Before the injury bug hit, Notre Dame was ranked 14th in the preseason poll at full strength. Most notably Notre Dame beat Wichita State at full strength this season.

Then the injuries started rolling in.

Notre Dame lost their leading scorer Bonzie Colson for 16 games. To make things even worse they lost their second-leading scorer and point guard Matt Farrell for 5 games.

With Notre Dame now back to full strength they post a matchup problem for the Blue Devils. The first problem is Duke’s zone.

Coach K has been integrating the 2-3 zone in this year to try and cover up their defensive struggles. However, this zone would play to Notre Dame’s strengths on offense.

Bonzie Colson should personally send a thank you letter to the Duke coaching staff if they give him the free throw line to operate which is the weak spot in the 2-3 zone. There isn’t a single player in college basketball that shoots contested and open mid-range shots as effectively as Colson.

The 2-3 zone also gives the opposing team open jump shots if they can penetrate the zone. Senior Point Guard Matt Farrell who can consistently get into the lane and make plays for himself and teammates.

If Notre Dame attacks the zone well and gets open looks the Irish have no shortage of shooters on their team. Almost every single rotation player for the Irish shoots 33% or higher from the three-point line. They also have three players that shoot over 40% from the three-point line.

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Since Notre Dame has a great matchup against Duke, the Blue Devils need to have a serious game plan to beat the Irish. One of the biggest keys for Duke is to not get too excited and emotional during the game. This will mostly be on Grayson Allen and the coaches who have been there before to communicate to the freshman that play such key roles for Duke.

Notre Dame starts 3 seniors and a junior. All of whom have been to the Elite 8 and know how to handle all the postseason pressure in March.

The second key to a Blue Devils victory will be to stay out of the 2-3 zone. Staying out of the zone isn’t ideal for Duke, but it is necessary. A Bonzie Colson field day in the middle would just be handing Notre Dame the win. So Duke needs to matchup with Notre Dame man to man, but it’s going to require major efforts from two freshman.

First, Trevon Duval is a player who has all the tools to be a great defender. Now he needs to put them to use. Duval is the only player in this lineup with the foot speed to stay with Matt Farrell and try to lock down Notre Dame’s second-leading scorer, and their leader in assists.

Second, is Marvin Bagley who has been ripped apart for his defense this season much like Trevon Duval. If I was Coach K I would put Wendell Carter on Bonzie Colson. Carter is a taller, longer, and flat out better defender than Bagley right now. This means that Marvin Bagley will have to match up with the bruising Lithuanian Martinas Geben.

Bagley will have to really get physical with Geben down low since he likes to throw his weight around. Then to spell Geben the Irish bring in Austin Torres. Torres isn’t a threat offensively like Geben, but he’s built like an NFL linebacker. Marvin Bagley is going to have to stand his ground against these guys, and play tough without fouling.

In order to succeed offensively Duke’s best bet is going to have to be getting Marvin Bagley isolated on the perimeter. Assuming Bonzie Colson will take on the challenge of guarding the future NBA player.

Colson is a great team defender, but his area of weakness is guarding on the perimeter. Bagley has a speed advantage over Colson, and even though it’s not ideal for Bagley to isolate at the three-point line he’s definitely capable.

The second key to Duke’s offensive success will be counting on their senior Grayson Allen. Allen will most likely be guarded by Notre Dame’s Rex Pflueger. Pflueger is a solid defender but it will be up to Duke to get Allen open shots and run him off screens to get him open looks to shoot.

One great way to get him open would be involving him isolated off ball screens with Wendell Carter. Carter will be guarded by Martinas Geben, and if Notre Dame decides to switch that screen Duke can have Grayson either attack Geben or throw the ball down low to Carter who will post up Pflueger. Most likely they will not and this will free Grayson Allen up for an open shot or a driving opportunity because of the threat of his shot.

Duke has its hands full with this Notre Dame team tomorrow. Notre Dame has more favorable matchups, but the Dukies can take advantage of matchups as well.

However, if Duke comes into this game not serious or not prepared they won’t be a one seed. They also won’t get a chance to become ACC Tournament Champions. This Irish team is full of hungry seniors itching at their last chance to make a run at a title. Let’s hope the Blue Devils are as hungry as well.