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Duke

at

Virginia

ACC

College Basketball Pick

2/15/17

It's almost as if Duke never had a losing conference record. The Blue Devils are suddenly 8-4 in ACC play and only one game back of North Carolina and even with this Virginia team. How quickly things can change in a good conference. But despite winning five-straight games, this may be one of the harder games they've had this season. Duke's last three wins have come at home, while they beat Wake Forest and Notre Dame in their two prior road games.

Virginia has struggled away from home, but in Charlottesville, has rarely gotten much competition. The Cavaliers have won their last four home games by at least 13 points with two losses to Florida State and West Virginia the only blemishes. The main problem opponents have when playing Virginia is scoring efficiently, which is nothing new. Even in losses, the Cavs have allowed almost nothing. A recent 61-59 loss at Villanova highlighted that considering Nova remains one of the best offenses in the country. Duke will have to overcome that with its only path to victory looking like a low-scoring close contest.

That was the case last season when Duke won this meeting 63-62. Virginia did pretty much everything it wanted, but Brandon Ingram was too much en route to 25 points. But which players will capitalize against the Virginia defense this time around? Before the most recent Clemson win, Grayson Allen was on a tear, dropping at least five threes in three of four games. But when Allen isn't hitting all of his shots, the Clemson game is what happens in which Duke barely wins, even at home.

Like last year, the Blue Devils will need someone that can take advantage of the pack-line defense, through shooting and slashing. The most obvious of the options is Jayson Tatum, who is similarly sized to Ingram of last year. The problem is that Tatum continues to struggle with consistency. He had 19 points and 14 boards in Duke's last road game, but then only managed nine points and seven boards in a season-high 39 minutes against Clemson. Of course, Luke Kennard is also a guy that can lead this team as he was the main reason Duke beat Clemson. Kennard leads the team in scoring and as long as his teammates get him the ball, he usually provides.

The best thing Virginia's defense does is limiting free looks and not giving up offensive boards. They have the size to deal with a bigger Duke backcourt, which helps. Devon Hall, Marial Shayok and Isaiah Wilkins are all longer, athletic players that won't be intimated by Duke. But Virginia's offense is the biggest question in this game. When it loses, it's usually because the offense doesn't do enough. Shayok, Hall and Wilkins can all provide some, but the Hoos only really work when x-factors like Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy are also making shots.

All that said, London Perrantes remains their most important player. The problem in this game is that he'll be guarded mostly by a group of guys multiple inches taller than him. Perrantes struggled in this game last year because of that reason alone as he only took six total shots. For Virginia to win, Perrantes will need to do more than that, there's no other way to put it.

The Hoos are at home, but this is a game that's expected to go down to the wire with either team able to win. Virginia gets the edge, but it's only a slight one in a game expected to be close throughout. In addition to that, Virginia is coming off a two-overtime loss at Virginia Tech and doesn't want to lose two straight, so some extra motivation could be there, as well.

our pick - Virginia by 9

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