How Duke basketball can get back on track against Notre Dame

Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski and Notre Dame basketball head coach Mike Brey (Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski and Notre Dame basketball head coach Mike Brey (Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports) /

An important test awaits the Duke basketball players on the road this week.

Duke basketball is set to return at 9 p.m. Wednesday against Notre Dame as the squad will leave Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time this season. This will be the first conference game for both teams.

The Blue Devils will be playing their first game since their loss at home against Illinois over a week ago. After this game, Duke will have a 13-day break before its next game, which will be on Dec. 29 at home against Pitt.

Duke and Notre Dame have had some classic battles since the Irish joined the ACC. But the Fighting Irish have experienced some uncharacteristically down years since they made back-to-back Elite Eight appearances in 2015 and 2016. This next showdown has the potential to be an all-time classic in the new Duke-Notre Dame rivalry.

There are multiple similarities between both sides. Duke and Notre Dame are coming into this game with identical records at 2-2. Both teams have suffered losses to two Big Ten teams (the Blue Devils losing to Michigan State and Illinois, and the Irish falling to Michigan State and Ohio State).

What Notre Dame has that Duke doesn’t, though, is a quality win. The Irish are coming off a one-point win in Rupp Arena over Kentucky. They held a big lead in that game but had to stave off a late comeback attempt from the Wildcats.

The main similarity between these two teams is how they have both performed on offense. Duke is averaging 73.5 points per game this season while Notre Dame is averaging 74.2 points per game. Their shooting numbers are nearly identical. Duke has shot 44.2 percent from the field, while the Irish have shot 44.1 percent from the field.

As of right now, Notre Dame is the better offensive team, but Duke is the better defensive team. Something is going to give on Wednesday night.

Duke is going to have to hit some outside shots in order to win this game. They cannot have another 5-for-22 performance from beyond the arc and still expect to be competitive in this one.

The Irish are skilled at outside shooting. As a team, they are shooting 41.6 percent from three, and they always have at least four players on the floor who can stretch out the defense and knock down outside shots.

Notre Dame is led by juniors Prentiss Hubb and Nate Laszewski on offense.

Hubb is quietly becoming one of the best and most dynamic guards in the country. He is terrific with the ball in his hands and has the ability to create his own shot or get all the way to the basket. Also, he is tied with sophomore guard Cormac Ryan as the team leader in assists.

Laszewski is similar to Matthew Hurt. The forward plays mostly on the perimeter but can be a threat putting the ball down and getting to the basket.

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Where Duke should have the biggest advantage over Notre Dame is with its depth. The Irish only have six players who average double-figure minutes. I would expect to see the Blue Devils apply early pressure and try to wear down the home team. We have yet to see the full range of Duke’s depth, but that is mostly because no one has really stepped up and shown they can be trusted.

This game has the potential to be a high-scoring affair. Both squads like to spread it out on offense and get dribble penetration. Duke will have to be careful not to get into a 3-point contest with Notre Dame. Again, the Irish are the better outside shooting team.

Duke basketball must expose Notre Dame’s primary weakness

Where Notre Dame has been vulnerable this year is on the inside. The Blue Devils need to attack the basket early and try to put the Irish in foul trouble.

Duke’s guards are going to have to do a much better job defensively in this game than they did against Illinois. Notre Dame is a team that loves to drive, kick, and get a lot of off-ball movement. The Blue Devils need to be disciplined in their communication on defense. They are going to have to run the Irish off the 3-point line and force them to win with tough 2-point shots.

While it is still early in December, Duke desperately needs to win this game, mostly for its confidence and not having to sit on a loss for 13 days.

This game will provide a glimpse into how the Blue Devils stack up against the rest of the ACC competition. The Irish were not projected to be a top ACC contender, but they have played fairly well in their non-conference schedule. While the environment will look very different, it will be the first road game for many of Duke’s key players.

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