The rematch between Duke and Virginia will be the talk of college basketball all Saturday and for good reason. The winner will have the edge on the No. 1 seed in the East division for March Madness, which means its path will go through Washington D.C. Duke won the first meeting 72-70, but it was close the entire way. The biggest unknown entering this Game is the status of Virginia’s Ty Jerome, who missed last weekend’s Game with a back injury.
The absence of Jerome would be a major problem because he does it all for the Cavs, averaging 13.0 points, 4.4 boards and 4.9 assists per Game while leading the team with 1.6 steals. Freshman Kihei Clark had his moments replacing Jerome last Game against Miami, but he also had six turnovers and is usually the shortest guy on the cOurt at 5-foot-9. Clark has been fine, but it could be a long day if Tre Jones marks him the entire way as he’s already locked down some of the best in the country.
In the first meeting it was all about RJ Barrett (23.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Zion Williamson (22.0 ppg, 9.4 rpg), who combined for 57 points on 20-for-28 shooting inside the arc. The one thing that can beat Virginia’s defense is talent and that shined through. The Blue Devils got little production from elsewhere, but that didn’t matter even with Marques Bolden not even taking a shot in 33 minutes. The other bonus for Duke is that Cam Reddish is playing a little better with 11 made threes and 53 points in the last three Games. If Reddish can hit a few shots in this Game that adds to Duke’s dynamic duo and something Virginia will have a problem with even at home.
Both of these teams rank top five in the country in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but Duke has the two most talented players on the cOurt. If Barrett and Williamson continue to do what they’ve done all season, Virginia needs to Scorea little more efficiently itself. The Hoos actually have a good three-point shooting team so it was surprising to see them go 3-for-17 in the first Game and that’s the first area that needs to change. Part of the issue was that top shooter Kyle Guy (14.5 ppg) couldn’t get any open looks and forced a lot of the action. Sure, Jerome, Guy and De’Andre Hunter (14.7 ppg) combined to shoot 17-for-25 from inside the arc for 46 points in that first Game, but they weren’t making shots from deep. Without that added element, something they’ve relied on all season, they didn’t have enough to steal a win.
If Jerome doesn’t play, it’s hard to see Virginia having a chance in this one. Clark is a good player, but his lack of size would be an issue against this team. For the Hoos to grab a win, not only does Jerome have to play, but Jack Salt, Braxton Key and Mamadi Diakite have to hold their own in the paint and make things a little more difficult for Barrett and Williamson. If not, and those two get their usual easy looks, the Duke offense won’t be stopped, even on the road.
Our Pick – Virginia by 7