It’s been established that Duke aren’t as good as their rankings but there’s nothing new about that. A team with bad defense isn’t going to go very far – not on the national front and not in the ACC, losing for a third time, falling against Notre Dame 77-73, finding no way to slow down Jerian Grant, maybe the best player in the conference.
Duke do have Jahlil Okafor who is quite unstoppable himself, scoring 22 points to go with 17 rebounds. But Okafor, like his teammates, seems a lot less confident when the ball isn’t in his hands. He might be the future number one draft pick and is the best NBA prospect in college basketball, but that might be enough for the Blue Devils, especially when they’re facing the team leading the nation in offensive efficiency.
Grant scored 23 points to lead Notre Dame on a comeback from a 10 point deficit (63-53, 12:28 to go). Notre Dame finished the game on a 22-8 run and were fantastic when it came to second chance points, despite losing the overall battle for offensive rebounds. In the second half, the Irish grabbed five offensive rebounds, making 10 second chance points from them. Duke were only 4-of-10 after offensive rebounds, scoring nine second chance points all game long.
Grant didn’t just score. He finished with 12 assists and was responsible for 28 points by teammates. He leads the ACC in assists percentage, setting up 32% of Notre Dame’s field goals when he’s on the floor. He shots 2-of-4 from beyond the arc and 9-of-15 from the field, not getting a second of rest in the victory, but it was his vision and ability to change shots and decisions while already pulling up for one of his own that gave Duke their most problematic looks.
Missing out on win number 1001 of his career, Mike Krzyzewski was busy building up his own player instead of talking on how his guys lost the lead or once again showed a severe incompetence on defense. Okaford shot just 2-of-7 from the line and is 56.2% for the season. Maybe a few more makes from him and he would be the only name anyone would be mentioning, but it’s hard not to notice the flaws in his game and overall in Duke.
The Blue Devils have now lost three conference games, which means they’re sitting behind Louisville, Notre Dame, North Carolina and the undefeated Virginia in the standings. For some reason, the voters and bracket “experts” continue to love them, but it’s hard to believe, unless they pull off a win against Virginia on the road this weekend, that they’ll still be the number four team in the nation due to getting exposed once again.
Notre Dame missed the tournament last year, haven’t won a game in it since 2011, haven’t been to the Sweet Sixteen since 2003, the Elite Eight since 1979 and the Final Four since 1978. This season is building up to be something special, and not just because of their #8 overall ranking or 8-1 record in the ACC. They might have the best guard in the nation in Grant, and a talented enough supporting cast which includes Zach Auguste (14 points, 6 rebounds) and Pat Connaughton (13 points, 12 rebounds) to form what is on most nights the most efficient offense in the nation.