A few days back, one of the writers had a headline about Duke “embracing their inner heel.” For those that don’t know, a heel refers to your standard wrestling bad guy. A heel tends to be arrogant, entitled, and uses dirty tricks to win matches.
Tonight’s ACC Championship has the feel of a memorable WWE storyline from the early 1990s. Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty were part of a tag team known as The Rockers. They were high-flying fan favorites, until Michaels threw Jannetty through a barbershop window. You can’t make this stuff up (well I guess, obviously, you can).
In the rivalry that ensued, Michaels came off as a cocky SOB, yet he was supremely talented. He knew it, and he wasn’t afraid to tell you how good he was. Jannetty was overlooked because he didn’t have all the attributes that Michaels had. He was scrappy and relied on his heart.
Duke? There’s no question that Coach K is an exceptional coach, but don’t tell me there isn’t a cloud of arrogance that surrounds him, his program, and his players. They have a player in Grayson Allen who perfectly epitomizes a wrestling heel: he complains about calls incessantly (they all do), and of course, he uses a standard heel move to perfection…tripping other players. They also have all the talent in the world with eight McDonald’s All-Americans on their roster. Duke is absolutely Shawn Michaels in this situation.
The Irish certainly have some Marty Jannetty in them. Underrated, overlooked…and dangerous. They aren’t flashy, but they get the job done. Sure, Bonz has some heel in him, but as a whole, this team is not being given any chance to win tonight’s game. All the talk is about Duke, which is exactly the way Brey and his team like it.
Five Things to Know About Duke
1. Duke’s season turned around when Kennard scored 30 in the second half to pick up a win at Wake Forest. They followed that win with an 84-74 win in South Bend, in a game where ND was in the midst of their worst stretch of play of the year. The Wake win started a 7-game winning streak and the rebirth of their season.
2. After a 55-50 loss to Miami, a game in which Grayson Allen sat out with some sort of injury, Coach K inserted Frank Jackson into the starting lineup and has brought Allen off the bench. In the 5 games with Jackson in the starting lineup, he has averaged 16.0 PPG.
3. Keep in mind, Duke gassed out last year against ND in the ACC Tournament. 4 games in 4 days for a team that is not very deep. I don’t think it will be an issue, but it certainly could help the Irish that they have played one less game.
4. Why do I think Duke is playing better? Matt Jones knowing his role and not shooting is one of the reasons. The guy is awful offensively. If he’s on the floor, I sure hope Brey tries whatever that 1-2-2 zone was last night and cheats it away from Jones. Last five games…13 points.
5. Kennard has played all but two minutes this tournament. He’s fantastic. Containing him might be the #1 key to the game. Let’s hope he’s tired.
Ten Stats to Impress Your Buddies
1. For all the talk today about Duke cementing their place as a tournament favorite and potentially being deserving of a #1 seed (honestly, they are both of these), no one, and I mean no one is talking about the fact that Duke is 2-5 against ND since the Irish joined the ACC.
2. Another reminder…ND has knocked Duke out of the last two ACC Tournaments.
3. In the last 360 days, ND is 6-0 in the Barclays Center.
4. This isn’t a stat, but I think Brey’s starting to get a little sick of the lack of attention from the sports media. He had a quasi-Trump moment last night in his post-game presser after both Bonz and Farrell took the high road on a question regarding the oversight from the media:
“I focus on it a little more because I think we were left out of the picture in October. 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 — I mean, 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. But these two (Bonz and Farrell) are probably going to be pros though, by the way.”
Good for you, Mike.
5. Stove was 4-5 from deep last night, which gave the Irish an awesome lift on a night when Beach struggled. In his five previous games, Vasturia was 4-20 from behind the arc.
6. Farrell this year in four games in Brooklyn:
16.8 PPG, 5.5 APG, 40% 3PT, 4 turnovers.
Impressively, he’s averaged over two steals a game in his last seven.
7. The Irish were outrebounded 41-23 last night and still got the W. It’s going to happen at times running out the small lineup…but when you shoot 13-27 from deep, that helps.
8. The #1 FT shooting team in the country is struggling from the line: 26-38 (68.4%) in Brooklyn. They are going to have to get to the line tonight, and make them, to get a W.
9. After the season he has had, it was really great to see Matt Ryan bust out last night. 11 big points on a night where Beach struggled. More of this, Rifleman. To put in perspective how tough the season has been for Ryan, he had 20 points in 19 ACC games before last night.
10. I didn’t get to Bonz until #10? There must be something seriously wrong with me. In the last 9 games (8 Irish wins), he’s averaging 21.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. Decent.
9 p.m. (E) / 8 p.m. (C) – ESPN
Do you really think I’m going to pick Duke? Irish raise a second ACC Championship banner.
Notre Dame 84 Duke 79