NO. 3 NOTRE DAME (25-8) vs. NO. 5 DUKE (26-8)
What: Atlantic Coast Conference championship game
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Time/TV: 9 p.m./ESPN
Matchup History: Tonight is the 29th all-time meeting between Notre Dame and Duke. The Blue Devils hold a 21-7 advantage in the series, though Notre Dame has won five of the seven games since the Irish became members of the ACC.
Last Meeting: In their only regular season matchup this year, Duke came to South Bend and beat the Irish 84-74 Jan. 30. The 21st-ranked Blue Devils got 21 points from junior guard Grayson Allen in the victory.
“Have you ever seen the two polls where — the coaches poll, we've been like six ahead of the AP? It's interesting. But it certainly drives — we’ve been pretty damn good. We've been pretty darn consistent. Now, because we don't have anybody on Chad Ford's big board, is that why we're overlooked? I think so.” — Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey on a lack of national recognition
“They've got, obviously, really good players, and we have really good players, and it's just going to come down to who's going to play better defense. They're really gifted. We're confident in the way we score. We think we're very efficient. But all four of us have to show up tomorrow. We need everybody else too. This is a team effort, and we're excited to go at it tomorrow.” — Notre Dame junior guard Matt Farrell on the challenge of facing Duke
A Return To Saturday Night: For the second time in three years, Notre Dame will play for an ACC Tournament championship, having gotten there by defeating second-seeded Florida State on Friday night. The Irish got 18 points from senior Steve Vasturia and junior forward Bonzie Colson, shot 48.1 percent from 3-point range and forced 18 turnovers against the Seminoles. Despite getting out-rebounded 41-23, Notre Dame was able to build a 42-26 halftime lead with its hot shooting and hold on late in the second half when Florida State trimmed the deficit to five points.
Underdog Irish: Notre Dame opened as a 4.5-point Vegas underdog against Duke, meaning the Irish will be picked to lose each of their three ACC Tourney games. Virginia was favored by 3.5 points in the quarterfinals and Florida State was favored by 1.5 points on Friday, games the Irish won outright. Notre Dame has now won five games this season as Vegas underdogs.
Rally Duke: Duke will attempt to become the first ACC team to play four games in four days and win the league tournament. The Blue Devils beat Clemson 79-72 in the first round Wednesday before rallying past fourth-seeded Louisville 81-77 on Thursday and top-seeded North Carolina 93-83 on Friday. Duke trailed by seven points at halftime against the Tar Heels, but used big performances by freshman forward Jayson Tatum (24), sophomore forward Luke Kennard (20) and junior guard Grayson Allen (18) to get into the finals. The Blue Devils improved to 13-8 against UNC at the ACC Tournament.
Scouting Duke: Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team entered the ACC Tournament on a skid, having lost three of its last four regular season games. The Blue Devils battled a number of injuries throughout the season and were without Krzyzewski for an extended period in January as the legendary coach had back surgery. Kennard was a monster this year, garnering unanimous first-team All-ACC first-team honors, shooting 50 percent from the field and averaging 20.2 points per game. Tatum, a 6-foot-8 likely NBA lottery pick, has been terrific in the ACC Tournament, scoring 20-plus points in each game. Fellow freshmen Frank Jackson has been excellent as well, scoring 15 or more points in four of the last five games.
Matchup To Watch: Though he’s now coming off the bench for the Blue Devils, the embattled Allen has found his groove the past two games. Dealing with an ankle injury late in the regular season, Allen — averaging 14.2 points per game — had scoring performances of just eight, two and zero in the final five games. A lethal 3-point shooter, he’s been a catalyst for Duke’s comebacks the past two games, making 7-of-9 from long range. Allen was aggressive and efficient against the Irish in January, going 6-of-13 from the field and making all six of his free throws. If Notre Dame pulls the upset tonight, it will need to hold down Allen on the offensive end.
Projected Notre Dame Starters:
35 Bonzie Colson (6-5, 225, Jr.) – 17.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg
3 V.J. Beachem (6-8, 201, Sr.) – 15.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg
5 Matt Farrell (6-1, 178, Jr.) – 14.2 ppg, 5.4 apg
32 Steve Vasturia (6-6, 212, Sr.) – 13.5 ppg, 3.4 apg
0 Rex Pflueger (6-6, 202, So.) – 4.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg
2 T.J. Gibbs (6-3, 200, Fr.) – 4.9 ppg, 1.8 apg
4 Matt Ryan (6-7, 228, So.) – 3.5 ppg, 0.8 rpg
23 Martinas Geben (6-10, 255, Jr.) – 3.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg
1 Austin Torres (6-7, 241, Sr.) — 1.5 ppg, 1.5 rpg
Projected Duke Starters:
0 Jayson Tatum (6-8, 205, Fr.) – 16.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg
3 Grayson Allen (6-5, 202, Jr.) – 14.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg
5 Luke Kennard (6-6, 202, So.) – 20.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg
21 Amile Jefferson (6-9, 224, Sr.) – 10.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg
13 Matt Jones (6-5, 204, Sr.) – 6.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg
1 Harry Giles (6-10, 240, Fr.) – 4.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg
15 Frank Jackson (6-3, 205, Fr.) – 10.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg
Duke 81, Notre Dame 79