Blue Devils try to clear the final hurdle when it comes to short turnaround games
Duke has had a few one-step-forward, one-step-backward moments in this basketball season.
A couple of those have come in the same scenario the Blue Devils find themselves in this weekend and headed into Monday night’s game against Louisville.
The 22-point throttling of Syracuse on Saturday was a good step forward for Duke’s still-evolving team; now they’ll follow it up with the third and final Saturday-to-Monday swing.
The first two have had mixed results.
Duke’s 68-66 win over Miami was followed by the 78-75 loss at Virginia Tech two days later. And the momentum from the Blue Devils’ 63-57 win over North Carolina was blunted a couple of weeks ago with an 81-59 humbling at Miami.
At the end of Saturday’s win, coach Jon Scheyer was ready to move into discussion of Louisville.
“Really happy for our group. We have to turn around quickly now, for Monday,” Scheyer said. “But happy to get this win against a good Syracuse team.”
One difference stands out: Both of the previous instances were home games on Saturday, followed by a road trip. Maybe this time will be different because the Blue Devils returned home following Saturday’s game at Syracuse and will have had all of Sunday and Monday in the comforts of home, rather than winning and heading onto the road the next day.
And maybe this will be different for the simple reason that Louisville has been one of the worst teams in the ACC — although the Cardinals knocked off Clemson on Saturday, proving they’re not dead in the water — and because Duke is unbeaten at Cameron Indoor Stadium this season.
Of course, the time of the season to win games on short turnarounds is just around the corner.
Here’s what to know ahead of Monday night’s game:
Thus: 7 p.m
Location: Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Announcers: Dave O’Brien (play-by-play), Cory Alexander (analyst), Andraya Carter (sidelines).
Series; last meeting: Duke leads 12-9; Duke won 74-65 in Louisville last season.
Records: Louisville 4-23, 2-14 ACC; Duke 19-8, 10-6.
Status to watch: 22.8% | 17.2%.
The first number is Louisville’s turnover percentage, which is 355th in the country (or 9th-worst); the second is Duke’s turnover percentage defense, which is 243rd (both via KenPom entering Sunday).
Believe it or not, Louisville has actually improved this number in the last few weeks.
The Cardinals’ turnover percentage has been under 20% in four of their last five games — and the one in which it wasn’t, it was 20.3% (a 34-point loss to Pittsburgh).
Louisville had 15 turnovers in its first ACC win, which was against Georgia Tech about three weeks ago, and the Cardinals had 14 in defeating Clemson on Saturday. Those aren’t great numbers; but they’re relatively decent, considering Louisville had 18 or more turnovers in eight of its first 15 games.
Creating turnovers isn’t exactly something Duke has done a great job of, though. The last time Duke forced a team to turn the ball over on at least 20% of its possessions was the game at Wake Forest on Dec. 20, and that was in an 11-point loss.
The Blue Devils’ strength has largely been on the defensive end, but it has been predicated on forcing misses instead of forcing mistakes. Whether that remains the case against turnover-prone Louisville will be interesting to track in this game.
Matchup to watch: Louisville guard El Ellis (No. 3) vs. Duke’s backcourt.
This could also read: Louisville backcourt vs. Duke’s backcourt, because Ellis is pretty much the only ball-handler the Cardinals have.
That’s been the primary issue for this Louisville team, hence the No. 1 priority for coach Kenny Payne moving forward. Ellis has shouldered a heavy load this season and the Durham native has mostly delivered — just not in wins and losses.
He’s coming off perhaps his best three-game stretch yet, with a 33-point game at Miami (along with five assists), 21 points against Virginia, and 28 points against Clemson. In the Miami and Clemson games, he shot above 50%.
It’ll be interesting to see if Duke goes with Tyrese Proctor Or Jeremy Roach against Ellis — and it’s likely to be a mixture of both. Louisville’s size at other positions could put Roach at a disadvantage, while Proctor has earned praise from Scheyer and teammates for his defense lately.
“He’s put together some big-time defensive performances back-to-back-to-back,” Scheyer said of Proctor. “It’s a credit to his growth. He’s tough as can be on that end.”
Cardinal to watch: Guard Mike James (No. 1).
Help for Ellis in the backcourt has come from James.
It’s just inconsistent, as you’d expect for a freshman starter on a team with a first-time head coach.
James is coming off a 13-point game against Clemson, his third time in Louisville’s last four games of scoring in double figures. He missed all three of his 3-point shots, but was 7-for-7 on free throws against the Tigers.
The 6-5, 215-pounder from Orlando, Fla., had a three-game stretch in early January of 19 points against Syracuse, 24 against Wake Forest, and 17 against Clemson. He hasn’t scored more than 15 points in any of the 10 games since then.
In six games this month, James has had two games with three 3s (against Clemson and Miami), and in the other four games he’s shot a combined 2-for-16 from long range.
Blue Devil to watch: Forward Mark Mitchell (No. 25).
The freshman forward doesn’t have to dominate offensively — he just has to do what he’s done for the last game and a half.
Mitchell went from being a non-factor in the first half against Notre Dame last week to scoring eight points — including the key 3-pointer in the final minute — in the second half.
He parlayed that confidence into another eight-point showing against Syracuse, attacking and penetrating the zone off the dribble and dishing out a season-high five assists. Mitchell didn’t have an assist in the previous three games (66 combined minutes).
“Mark [Mitchell]he just had a really good overall game,” Scheyer said after Saturday’s win.
Louisville, with JJ Traynor (6-8, 190), Jae’Lyn Withers (6-9, 220) and Kamari Lands (6-8, 220) playing the bulk of his minutes at the 3- and 4-positions, is one of the few ACC teams with the size to match Mitchell (6-8, 220) on the wing.
It’ll be more important for Mitchell to continue his stellar defensive play, but he’ll also need to continue being a viable option to open things up for Duke’s offense.
KenPom prediction: Duke wins 78-58.
Devils Illustrated forecast: As easy as it is to look at the records, the KenPom prediction, etc. and think Duke should roll, this feels like as much of a trap game as the two previous Monday night games have been for the Blue Devils.
Louisville hasn’t mailed it in and is more talented than its record indicates. That’s a recipe for a team that, as we witnessed Saturday, can cause some problems for top-tier ACC teams as we enter the home stretch of the regular season.
So this lines up as a game where Duke would be well served to … well, to exactly what the Blue Devils did Saturday evening. Duke got up on Syracuse and, other than a brief period to end the first half, didn’t let up.
Doing the same thing translates to winning this first of three straight home games.