Duke-Louisville Preview

BY foxsports • February 19, 2016

They're maybe the underdog story of the ACC season - the defending national champion Duke Blue Devils.

It's both a ridiculous notion and possibly true given the trajectory of the narrative. Coach Mike Krzyzewski's once-destitute team is rattling off wins during a stretch that only a few weeks ago looked capable of ruining the Blue Devils' conference record to the point of calling an NCAA tournament bid into question.

Instead, Saturday's visit to No. 18 Louisville presents No. 20 Duke with a chance at a six-game winning streak with the top of the league within sight, and adding to the underdog status will be the absence of Matt Jones.

The guard is dealing with a sprained left ankle suffered in the first half of the Blue Devils' 74-73 victory over No. 5 North Carolina on Wednesday, but Duke (20-6, 9-4) managed to emerge without him scoring in nine minutes. It was their fifth straight win with the last three coming against teams ranked no worse than 13th - Louisville, Virginia and the Tar Heels - as part of a span that looked almost unmanageable after losing four of five and three straight to unranked foes to dip to 4-4 in the league.

Those struggles came with Blue Devils already down to essentially a six-man rotation after key forward Amile Jefferson broke his right foot in December. They've clearly adjusted since and incorporated plenty of perimeter success with the team shooting 43.4 percent from 3-point range on the winning streak, nearly twice their opponents' rate of 23.0.

"I think we have a lot of guys who are fighters, and even if they miss some shots, even if they get tired, even if they get banged and bruised, they're going to keep fighting," said Marshall Plumlee, who's shooting 73.9 percent on the winning streak. "And I'm so proud of my teammates. I love them."

Grayson Allen scored 23 points against North Carolina, while Brandon Ingram had 20. Luke Kennard chipped in 15, and the freshman has averaged 13.0 while hitting 11 of 20 from 3-point range in the last four games after shooting 29.6 percent from beyond the arc in his first 22.

The sophomore Allen has averaged 22.4 on 46.6 percent in his last seven games, including 19 while hitting 4 of 6 from long range in a 72-65 win over Louisville on Feb. 8.

Duke has won both meetings since the Cardinals entered the league, including a 63-52 victory at Louisville on Jan. 17, 2015.

The Cardinals (20-6, 9-4) followed the loss at Duke with a 71-66 defeat at Notre Dame on Feb. 13 but recovered with Wednesday's 72-58 home win over a Syracuse team that had won five straight. It was their third straight home win, over which they've limited teams to 56.7 points, 36.9 percent and 27.4 from 3-point range for an average winning margin of 17.3.

"It was a lot of fun," said Damion Lee, who had a team-high 15 points but was limited to 10 on 3-of-15 shooting against Duke. "Definitely a game we needed."

It got Louisville to 2-2 since the school announced a self-imposed postseason ban on Feb. 5 after its investigation into an escort's book allegations that a former staffer paid her and other dancers to strip and have sex with recruits and players revealed that violations did occur. That might make this game against a fellow conference contender that much more important since the ACC is all Louisville has to play for this season.

"We had a long meeting the other day," coach Rick Pitino said, "and I just told them, we're all emotionally drained (and) the object right now is not to be bitter, but to get better. Bitterness gets you nothing. Getting better is what it's all about."

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