Steve Donahue has seen tough opponents in his first season at Boston College, but none like the team he will face on Thursday night.
For the first time as the Eagles' head coach, Donahue will bring his team into legendary Cameron Indoor Stadium to face Mike Krzyzewski and the third-ranked Duke Blue Devils.
The task at hand for the Eagles is large, no doubt. But according to Donahue, his team is ready for the challenge that lies ahead.
"I think we can compete with anybody in the country," Donahue said. "Like everybody else, we've had some adversity throughout this year, but what I think has been consistent is our effort each and every day. I'm very proud of these guys, how hard they've worked."
Their hard work has certainly paid off, as the Eagles posses a 14-6 record (4-2 ACC). Boston College won its first three conference games before losing to Miami. Following the loss against the Hurricanes, BC edged Virginia before losing to Florida State in its last game on Saturday.
Despite the strong start, the Eagles are faced with a task that only one of nineteen teams has been able to do this season: beat Duke. Needless to say, Donahue knows that will be a very tough task.
"I don't necessarily [think] there's a simple answer for [beating Duke]," said Donahue. "Like anybody else, you've got to do what you do well. We're going to have to play extremely well against their pressure defense. They've obviously got their great players on the offensive end, you've got to play great team defense. I don't think there's a secret formula or anything. You've got to obviously play very well and defend them very well."
Duke (18-1, 5-1 ACC) is off to yet another strong start after winning the NCAA National Championship a season ago. The Blue Devils' only loss came against ACC foe Florida State on January 12th.
Following the minor setback, the Blue Devils have regained their composure and have posted victories in their last three games against Virginia, N.C. State and Wake Forest.
Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith have been Duke's catalysts this season, with Smith averaging 20.1 points and 5.6 assists and Singler averaging 18.1 points and 6.3 rebounds.
"Once again, I think it's a team thing," said Donahue when asked about defending Singler and Smith. "These kids are both seniors, been through so much, national championships. What you've got to do is play as a team, make sure you're doing everything you can as a team to make them take hard shots and do everything difficult so if they're going to get their points, they're going to do it in a lot of hard shots throughout the offense."
Singler and Smith aren't the Blue Devils' only weapons, though, as Andre Dawkins (10.9 PPG) and Seth Curry (7.6 PPG) have stepped up as well. Mason Plumlee, who averages 6.6 points and a team-best 8.6 rebonds, is also a force to be reckoned with in the paint.
Ryan Kelly, a McDonald's All-American, is averaging 6.7 points and has been on a tare recently. Kelly has made all ten of his last shots, making 6-of-6 field goals in the Blue Devils' win against Wake Forest and 4-of-4 shots against N.C. State. In that time frame, Kelly has also made an impressive 8-of-8 shots beyond the arc.
"Ryan Kelly is a great talent," Donahue said. "You've got to obviously be aware of [him]. I think what's made him and Duke better is that now he's stretching the defense. So you have four guys out there that can shoot the ball from three. I think that makes them much more difficult to guard. Once again, you've got to be aware that they have that kind of threat, and Ryan Kelly is certainly a kid that can do it from outside and an all around solid basketball player."
While Duke is loaded with talent, the Blue Devils will be without star freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, who may miss the rest of the season after suffering a right toe injury during the second half in Duke's game against Butler.
Irving averaged 17.4 points, 5.1 assists, 3.8 rebound and made 53.2% of his shots in eight games for Duke. While Irving is dominant on the offensive end, Donahue believes that he wouldn't have effected the game on the defensive end.
"I don't think Irving, at this point in his career, had anything to do with the defensive side of the ball," Donahue said. "I think that he made them so much faster and explosive and gave them another threat out there. I think their defense has not been effected. If anything, they've got veterans out there now who probably are better defenders at this point in their careers. Kyrie Irving was a fantastic offensive player and made them so much more explosive, so I don't know if that would have affected the defensive side of the ball."
Irving would have been guarding Eagles junior guard Reggie Jackson, who has been BC's standout through 20 games. Jackson is averaging a team-high 19.1 points, 4.9 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals.
Jackson will be key to the Eagles' success on Thursday night, as he will be in charge of running Donahue's offense.
"Reggie, like all of our guys, will have to play very well against that pressure," Donahue said. "A lot of it falls on Reggie because of being the ball-handler. I anticipate that Reggie will do a great job making great decisions."
Another big factor in Boston College's success on Thursday night is the ability to establish their shooting early. The Eagles are shooting 47.5% from the field as a team and 38.8% as a unit from long distance.
"Part of our philosophy is not that we're making threes, but if they're guarding us at the three point line, then our spacing is going to be better," said Donahue. "If indeed they want to stop us from shooting the threes, then we've got to do a terrific job of countering that and making really good basketball decisions."
Donahue's team has made good decision all throughout the season, but then, the Eagles haven't faced a powerhouse like Duke. There is also the matter of Donahue having to match wits with legendary Blue Devils head coach, Mike Krzyzewski. Despite the aura that surround Coach K, Donahue isn't phased.
"I never even think of the other coach," Donahue said. "It's all about the players in this college game. I've coached against Coach K before, never thought it was a bout him. Obviously, he's accomplished a great amount being at Duke. But Duke's a great basketball program. The players, the culture, the way they play, how hard they play. I think that's more of a daunting task than me going against Mike Krzyzewski."
Duke holds a commanding 12-2 lead in the all-time series against Boston College. Krzyzewski's Blue Devils have won the last three meetings against the Eagles and 11 of the last 12 games between the two schools. BC dropped last year's meeting with Duke, 66-63, at Conte Forum on February 6, 2010.
The last time that Boston College defeated Duke was on February 15, 2009 when the Eagles topped the Blue Devils 80-74. Prior to that, the Eagles' last win over Duke came on March 17, 1985, when BC prevailed, 74-73.
Boston College is 1-8 against Duke since joining the ACC in 2005. The Eagles have never beaten Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
That doesn't deter Donahue, though, and he believes that Duke's adversity can serve as a positive for his team.
"Come Thursday, that's your time to go out and perform," said Donahue. "That's my job to make sure they're absolutely motivated and ready to go. Their job is to prepare themselves for that moment. When it comes, embrace the adversity that Duke brings because it can bring great things for you if you can get through some of that. It's such a great hurdle to try to beat them at Duke."