The Duke Blue Devils currently sit at 7-2 in the ACC and 17-3 overall as they head into a critical week with concern to team development and the standings.
It is like this... if Duke loses tonight against the Irish, they drop to a half-game lead over North Carolina who plays at Louisville tomorrow night. A win there for the Tar Heels would tie the two teams headed into their Saturday showdown but two losses in a row would put Duke in fifth or sixth place. So, yeah, this is a big week.
The Tar Heels will have ESPN's gameday on-site and along with the Irish, they are battling the Blue Devils for the top of the league. As fans, we can look ahead a bit but it is dangerous to do so for the team.
That means the Blue Devils' sole focus needs to be on the Fighting Irish and for more than just one reason. Notre Dame and Duke share identical conference records, so something has to give. The Irish own the ACC's longest winning streak and they are 9-0 at home in South Bend this season.
Do you need more of a warning tonight's game is a tough matchup? Notre Dame is 11-1 in their last 12 games and they have wins over Kentucky and North Carolina. Mike Brey's team stumbled a bit early on but they have righted the ship and they are playing good basketball with a solid rotation.
Duke, on the other hand, has been mildly inconsistent dealing with injuries but they show flashes of brilliance at times. It is unknown at this time whether Trevor Keels will play tonight and his absence takes away another weapon while shortening the Duke bench of players ready to play.
The good news for Duke which traveled straight to South Bend after they defeated Louisville is that they have a long break before the contest they should not be thinking about after tonight. The better news is that they are the more talented team than the Irish but that does not always translate into a win.
The Blue Devils need to play well in the paint for they should have an advantage there. Paolo Banchero is better when he crashes the boards as evidenced by his 15 rebounds in his last outing. In the win over Louisville, it at times seemed Duke made the game harder than it should be until AJ Griffin erupted and carried the team on his back.
This is the time of the season when stress builds, legs get weary and the road grind takes a toll from jumping on and off flights in short order. A team with younger players feel this double for they have not been through said grind before. In short, Duke needs to refresh a bit but first, they need to find enough in the tank to take care of business tonight.
So, any way you cut it this is a tough week for the Blue Devils. It is their second and third road games against upper-level teams in the ACC and in hostile environments. We are all looking forward to talking about Mike Krzyzewski's last game in Chapel Hill, but first things first.