Busting Brackets

Duke vs. Louisville: 2020-21 college basketball game preview, TV schedule

Jan 18, 2020; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Louisville Cardinals guard David Johnson (13) dunks against the Duke Blue Devils during the first half at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 18, 2020; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Louisville Cardinals guard David Johnson (13) dunks against the Duke Blue Devils during the first half at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports /

TV schedule: Saturday, January 23, 4:00 pm ET. ESPN

Arena: KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky

Fresh off of disappointing ACC losses early in the week, the Duke Blue Devils and Louisville Cardinals will both attempt to rebound with a must-win on Saturday afternoon.

The well-document ailments of the Blue Devils (5-4) are no mystery, and Mike Krzyzewski’s squad is still hunting for a season-defining win in what has been an outrageously disappointing year.  After starting their ACC schedule at 3-0 behind wins over Notre Dame, Boston College, and Wake Forest – arguably, the three worst teams in the conference – the Blue Devils have fallen on the road by single-digits in their last two outings at Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh.

If there has been one common theme throughout Duke’s opening nine games, it has been their individual inconsistency – and that issue plagued them against the Panthers on Tuesday.  Jalen Johnson, who was phenomenal in Duke’s season-opener against Coppin State and then struggled in four of Duke’s next seven games – while missing the other three – was sensational against Pittsburgh, pouring in 24 points (7-13 2PT, 7-10 FT) to go with 15 rebounds, seven assists, four blocks, and two steals.

But other Blue Devils struggled.  DJ Steward – who had recorded five-straight double-digit showings entering the game against the Panthers – scored just six points.  Jordan Goldwire and Jaemyn Brakefield – both starters who have had double-figure games before – played just a combined 12 minutes, scored a combined four points, and tallied five combined fouls.  Matthew Hurt – Duke’s leading scorer on the season – has been the most consistent, tallying 20 and 11 at Virginia Tech and 13 at Pitt.

Duke struggled to find much offense, as well.  They did score 0.97 points per possession – but shot just 45.2% (19-42) inside and 28.6% (8-28) outside.  Both percentages are worse than what the Panthers shot – but the Blue Devils actually outscored Pittsburgh from the floor.  What prevented them from victory was the charity stripe, where Duke committed 24 fouls to allow Pittsburgh 37 trips to the line (24-37) – while Duke went just 11-19.

The Cardinals (9-3) have endured similar issues of inconsistency and shooting woes.  After rallying off five-straight wins after their blowout loss at Wisconsin – which included wins over Pittsburgh, Kentucky, and Virginia Tech – Louisville has suffered back-to-back losses to Miami (78-72) and Florida State (78-65).

Louisville, at least, has had a steady cog leading the way in Radford transfer Carlik Jones, who has poured in double-digits in his 11 appearances as a Cardinal.  He has been the biggest bright spot for Louisville in their two-game losing streak, tallying a season-high 25 points (10-15 2PT) to go with seven assists and three steals against Miami – before following that up with a team-high 17 points against Florida State.

But like Duke, Louisville has suffered from inconsistency in their latest two outings.  Against Miami, Dre Davis scored 11 points – and then went scoreless against Florida State.  David Johnson and Samuell Williamson – both starters – scored 5 and 4 points, respectively, against the Hurricanes before reaching double-digits against the Seminoles.  Outside of Jones, the only consistent player has been Jae’Lyn Withers, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds at Miami, followed by 14 and 9 against Florida State.

The Cardinals’ woes have expanded to their offensive and defensive numbers, as well.  They have not necessarily shot the ball poorly inside at all – 60.0% at Miami and 51.2% against Florida State – but their long-range play, which has plagued them all season, was abysmal, going a combined 7-36 in both games.  Their defense struggled to keep both Florida squads down, as well, giving up 1.15 points per possession at Miami and 1.18 against Florida State.

To say the least, these two teams are struggling – mightily.  But their woes are not the only similarities they share.  Both teams are nearly identical in offensive (30th for Duke, 37th for Louisville) and defensive (46th for Duke, 48th for Louisville) efficiency.  Likewise, both teams are above the Div. I average in 2P%, with Duke at 108th (51.7%) and Louisville several spots above at 61st (53.6%).

What this game could come down to is inside play, however – and it may favor Louisville.  Neither team shoot the three-ball particularly well, and Duke is among the nation’s worst in defending from long-range – which is good for them because Louisville ranks 225th in 3P% offensively.  But the Blue Devils also struggle to defend inside, giving up a 50.9% (198th) mark on 2P% defense – while the Cardinals are among the best at 86th in 2P% defense at 46.8%.

Louisville’s biggest strength has been their inside game – it is where 56.8% of their point distribution comes from, the 36th-highest mark in Div. I.  With Duke’s woes of defending inside, that weakness could rear itself in the worst possible way.  It did against Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh, where both teams shot better than 52% inside – and shot better than Duke from inside.

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Both teams desperately need this win, to say the least.  Duke is still in search of a resume win, while the Cardinals badly need to rebound after falling from the graces of looking like the frontrunner in the ACC.  This game should end up in single-digits, and both teams will need all hands on board in order to eke out a win – but the solid, steady play of Carlik Jones might be too much for an inconsistent Duke squad to overcome.

Prediction: Louisville 73 – Duke 69