With a win this evening, Virginia would pass Duke for third in the ACC and secure another resume boosting result that would put the Wahoos in position for an eight seed in the NCAA tournament. With the Blue Devils in a bit of a funk following losses in two of their last three contests, and the Cavs winners of eight out of their last nine, this is a prime opportunity for Virginia to get a big win.
So far this season, the Blue Devils are 23-5 (13-4 in ACC play) with notable wins against Kansas and Florida State, with against Stephen F. Austin, Clemson, Louisville, Wake Forest, and N.C. State. Frankly, the Devils don’t have many areas of weakness. They’re the ninth best rated offense nationwide (115) and 14th best defense (90.4). They shoot the ball generally well, 35.1% from deep as a team, and have a legitimate pose presence in first year Vernon Carey. They rebound well, and love to get after it on the offensive glass to the tune of a 34.7% offensive rebounding rate. Also, per usual, Duke is a fast-paced team, averaging 72.1 possessions per game and only taking 16.2 seconds on offense per possession. Of course, they’ll be slowed to Virginia’s pace, but look for the Blue Devils to push in transition if and when the opportunity presents itself.
On offense, they’re led by sophomore point guard Tre Jones, who averages 16.1 PPG and 6.5 APG, and first year big man Carey who scores 17.6 PPG and nabs 8.8 RPG. 6’6” wing Cassius Stanley complements those two as a 12.4 PPG scorer and a 37.8% three-point shooter. Sixth man Mathew Hurt provides a lift off the bench, shooting 40.4% from deep on 3.7 attempts per contest for 10.5 points per game. The Virginia guards will be tested defensively against the Duke wings who will be looking to penetrate the paint. Regarding Carey’s play in the post, I expect Huff to start on him but with Diakite coming to double on post touches. Considering Carey’s strength, Caffaro may see minutes over the frailer Huff.
On the other end, look for Tre Jones to be disruptive at the point of attack. Considering how reliant the Wahoo offense has been on Kihei Clark, Jones could singlehandedly stifle Virginia. That said, Carey and fellow Duke big men have been prone to fouling, so attacking the paint with Diakite and a sprinkle of Huff could work as a safety valve for when Clark struggles to penetrate the Blue Devil defense. That said, Duke has posted a 13.5% block rate, 25th in the country, so finishing at the rim could prove problematic for the Wahoos. Couple that with Duke’s 11.3% steal rate, and the disruptiveness of the Blue Devil defense concerning considering Virginia’s issues with turnovers this season.
Virginia will win if: Clark can be successful on offense against Jones. Frankly, this game may depend on who wins the matchup at point guard, and if Clark can penetrate the Duke defense off ball screens while preventing Jones from doing the same, the Cavs will be well on their way. They’ll also have to contain Carey and extend to shooters like Hurt and Stanley.
Duke will win if: They can stifle Clark at the point of attack and force players not named Clark to beat them. They’d also do well to hit a few early deep ones to make Bennett think twice about sending the double versus Carey.
Score Prediction: Virginia 61 – Duke 63
While the ‘Hoos have been successful in close games of late, I see Jones hitting a late shot to put the Blue Devils over the top.