Duke heads north to play Notre Dame Monday night looking to continue its recent success -- a dramatic turn of events -- against the Irish.
Notre Dame’s entry into the ACC started with the 2013-14 athletic year. Mike Brey’s team won five of its first six games against Duke, including a pair of wins over the 2014-15 Blue Devils team that won the program’s fifth NCAA championship.
Brey, a former Duke assistant under Mike Krzyzewski, certainly figured out the code to beat his old boss.
But Krzyzewski hasn’t become the sport’s all-time leader in wins (1,117) by accepting such things.
Over the last two seasons, Duke has posted four consecutive wins over the Irish.
Recent results this month point to that trend continuing on Monday night at Purcell Pavilion. Duke (17-2, 6-1 ACC) is tied for the league lead with Virginia (18-1, 6-1) and Louisville (15-5, 6-1).
The Irish (11-9, 1-6), having lost senior guard Rex Pflueger for the season to a knee injury, are tied for last place with Wake Forest. They have lost their last four games.
With all that in mind, here are three things to know about Duke prior to its game at Notre Dame:
Tre Jones’ stature grows
In his first game back after missing a pair of games while a right shoulder injury healed, Tre Jones played 35 minutes against Georgia Tech.
Given that he’d been sidelined two days shy of two weeks with the injury, and had only returned to practice full time last Thursday, it was mildly surprising to see Jones play that much and still be effective. He scored six points with four rebounds, four assists, one steal and turned the ball over only once.
Krzyzewski, though, said it’s just another sign that the freshmen point guard is a special player.
“There’s physical conditioning, and there’s mental and character conditioning,” Krzyzewski said. “He never gets out of condition mental- and character-wise. His mind is in complete control over his body. Because of his mind, he’s not going to be tired. This kid is a special, special competitor. I love him. It’s not anything I taught him but thank goodness he’s with us. This kid’s a special kid, and his teammates know that.”
Duke’s questionable depth in the post
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Duke’s 6-11 junior center, Marques Bolden started but only played 11 minutes against Georgia Tech.
Krzyzewski said after the game that Bolden is suffering from an unspecified big toe injury.
Marques was playing really well,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s not serious, but it’s painful. It’s something about the toenail on his big toe. He tried to play in the second half, but couldn’t.”
Bolden has started Duke’s last three games and is playing effectively, particularly with defensive and rebounding contributions. He leads the team with 42 blocked shots and is averaging 4.6 rebounds per game.
Bolden and 6-10 junior Javin DeLaurier had been alternating time as Duke’s fifth starter along with freshmen Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Jones. Duke’s normal substitution pattern usually had one replacing the other a few minutes into each game and they generally played similar numbers of minutes.
That’s changed in recent games and was even more pronounced against Georgia Tech. DeLaurier only played two minutes, well below this season average of 14.1. He didn’t come off the bench until Bolden hobbled off the court late in the first half and was unavailable.
This comes after DeLaurier, who has started seven games this season, played 10 minutes last Tuesday at Pittsburgh. In Duke’s two games prior to that, DeLaurier fouled out despite playing only seven minutes against Virginia and committed four fouls in 11 minutes against Syracuse.
Antonio Vrankovic, a 7-0 senior center who had not played in Duke’s previous five games, saw six minutes against Georgia Tech. He produced one point, one rebound, one blocked shot and one steal.
With Georgia Tech playing a zone defense, Duke went with a smaller lineup in the second half as Williamson played more in the post as a center.
Depending upon Bolden’s health and factoring in Krzyzewski’s declining trust in DeLaurier, the Blue Devils could go that route again Monday night at Notre Dame.
Shooting better from the line
Heading into ACC play earlier this month, Duke showed vulnerability shooting 3-pointers and free throws.
One of those areas has improved ever so slightly.
The Blue Devils remain a 68.3 percent free-throw shooting team for the season, 241st in the country. But in ACC play, Duke has made 69.1 percent.
In beating Georgia Tech, Duke made 16 of 19 free throws (84.1 percent). The Blue Devils hit 16 of 20 (80 percent) in beating Pittsburgh 79-64 last Tuesday.
So the trend is in a positive direction.
The opposite is true for Duke’s 3-point shooting. The Blue Devils were a woeful 2 of 21 against Georgia Tech.
They were 7 of 23 against Pitt and 2 of 14 in the 72-70 win over Virginia on Jan. 19.
For the season, Duke has made 30.2 percent of its 3-pointers. That’s No. 322 among Division I teams
In ACC play, Duke is dead last in the league with a 26.3 success rate.