No. 21 Duke beat No. 20 Notre Dame, 84-74, in South Bend on Monday night. It was the Blue Devils’ second straight road win after dropping three of four in mid-January.
“It’s good progress for Duke,” CBSSports.com’s college basketball writer Matt Norlander said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “This has been one hell of a season, really interesting. This was the consensus No. 1 team coming into the season, and I understand from a national perspective people don’t pay too much attention to college hoops on Oct. 15, but let’s just put it in perspective here. On Oct. 15, and as we got to the start of the season in early November, Duke was bringing in players that were considered lottery picks, got Grayson Allen who came back. It was hard to project who was would be the best player in college basketball this season, but Grayson Allen was the guy that a lot of people pointed to who would be the National Player of the Year. And then with guys like Amile Jefferson back for a senior season, Luke Kennard, who’s been so much better than people thought Kennard would be, but even he was expected to be a nice piece. They were far and away considered to be the best team – and for a while, that was the case.”
Duke started the year 12-1, with the only loss coming against Kansas by a bucket in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden in November.
“Even with injuries that they got sidelined with and the Grayson Allen B.S., they started 12-1,” Norlander said. “And then with the suspension to Allen and Mike Krzyzewski’s health and all that’s gone on, obviously things have gone a little haywire. But if you want to look at Duke in the moment and say, ‘Okay, this team is starting to show us reasons why we can consider it a top-10 group again,’ I can buy that because it’s won two games on the road. But I’m still going to be hesitant with this because they needed Kennard to have practically the game of his life to beat Wake Forest, which will not make the NCAA Tournament. And it was a road win, so good for them. Kennard hit a huge three with seven seconds to go. They win at Notre Dame tonight. That’s a good job, but Notre Dame has now lost three games in a row. So things are looking better, but I’m not ready to say that Duke is a top-10 team. I still got to see more.”
Five Blue Devils are averaging in double figures, including Kennard, who is averaging a team-high 20.2 points per game. Kennard will lead Duke (17-5) against Pittsburgh (12-9) on Saturday – a game that Norlander said the Blue Devils should win “by at least 15 points” – before a showdown with No. 12 North Carolina (19-4) at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Feb. 9.
“If they win both those games,” Norlander said of the Blue Devils, “then we will start to really have people buying back into Duke as a true national title contender.”