Someone has to beat Virginia in the ACC this season and it makes sense that Duke would be the first to do it. The Blue Devils have been sketchy away from home, but they’ve destroyed most teams in Durham, most recently in wins against Wake Forest and Pittsburgh. Of course, neither of those teams is on the same level as Virginia and it was only a few weeks ago that Duke struggled to close against Florida State at home.
This Game will be fun for a number of reasons and it’s not just because both are considered the best in the conference. Virginia has the best defensive adjusted efficiency in the nation by far, while Duke brings in the second-best offense, only behind Villanova. That battle will be a treat to watch and the other end will be less talked about, but Virginia’s scoring against Duke’s defense may be just as important in this matchup.
Duke has struggled throughout the season due to a lack of consistent defense, although that’s only been an issue in road Games. The problem with backing Virginia is that Duke has won the last three meetings between these teams, last season winning on the road 65-55. These aren’t the same teams, but Virginia’s defense has remained the same and if Duke has dealt with it in previous seasons, there’s no reason it can’t have success against it once again.
Marvin Bagley is the talk of the town averaging 21.9 points and 11.5 boards per Game and he’ll see plenty of the usual double teams from Virginia in the post. While that may work against Bagley, as long as he doesn’t turn it over, the Blue Devils have numerous other options that can step in. Also in the frontcOurt, Wendell Carter is extremely underrated and is another guy likely headed to the NBA after this season.
The Hoos may play great defense, but Jack Salt can only do so much. This is a team that doesn’t have much size and will be forced to use smaller players like De’Andre Hunter and Isaiah Wilkins against Carter. If those guys can’t take advantage on the offensive end, it will definitely become a problem on the other.
This is also probably the best backcOurt Virginia has seen all season with Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent. All five of their starters have the ability to go for 20-plus points and that’s where Virginia will have trouble. The Cavs are great at double teaming and forcing tough shots, but it’ll be difficult to do that on the road against so many weapons.
Virginia will slow this Game down and while that will probably work, its only chance to win will be to be more efficient on offense. Top scorers Kyle Guy and Devon Hall can only do so much, especially if they’re getting nothing inside. The route to attack for the Hoos will be from outside the arc where Duke is allowing one of the worst rates in Conference play at 38 percent. Virginia is conveniently leading the ACC at 39.4 percent from three with Guy, Hall and Ty Jerome all above 42 percent for the season.
Virginia continues to defy the odds, but as seen in recent seasons, this type of play isn’t best suited against supremely talented squads like that of Duke. Throw in Cameron Indoor and the Blue Devils get a nice edge as long as their three-point defense doesn’t fall asleep for 40 minutes.
Our Pick – Virginia +5