Pick – Analysis
This is a battle between the No. 1 team in the AP Poll and No. 1 in the Coaches Poll. That rarely happens and that’s why most college basketball eyes will be on this Game. Duke is arguably the most talented team in the country, yet already has two losses and just fell at home to Syracuse on Monday. Virginia has dominated most competition and is still undefeated, winning its last seven Games by at least 13 points.
These teams played only once last year and Virginia won 65-63 on the road, limiting everyone outside of Marvin Bagley. Back in 2017, Duke came away with the 65-55 upset in Charlottesville behind LUke Kennard and Jayson Tatum. The problem for Duke in this year’s matchup is that Tre Jones is out for the next month with a shoulder injury. The absence of the point guard resulted in probably Duke’s worst defensive performance of the season in the loss to Syracuse, allowing 95 points in overtime.
People may not think of Virginia as an offensive team, but it actually ranks Fourth in the country in terms of adjusted efficiency, through a stout three-point percentage and low turnover rate. Duke actually has a good defense, but Jones is a main reason for that at the point of attack and he averages 2.1 steals per Game. Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett could have success against this defense like Bagley and Tatum in past years, but if it can’t stop the Cavaliers from scoring, it may not matter.
Virginia has the slowest tempo in the country, but that hasn’t stopped one of the best trios in the country from averaging 42.9 points per Game. Kyle Guy (15.3 ppg), De’Andre Hunter (14.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Ty Jerome (13.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.9 apg) all average better than 40 percent from three and all do something a little different in the offense. Jerome runs the show, Guy runs around screens and Hunter does the rest. Throw in players like Mamadi Diakite, Alabama transfer Braxton Key and freshman Kihei Clark, and the roster is a little more athletic than it’s previous been. Plus, Jack Salt is still there and Jay Huff is the offensive version of Salt.
Duke has a lot of good defensive numbers outside of defensive rebounding, though that’s not something Virginia relies on. The problem is that without Jones, the Blue Devils don’t have the roster to guard Virginia’s trio. Jack White was often left on Syracuse’s point guard last Game, but with Cam Reddish back, the matchups should make a little more sense. Barrett should mark Jerome, Reddish on fellow shooter Guy and Williamson against Hunter. If the Blue Devils can win those matchups, this Game is theirs.
On the other end, this is still an excellent Duke offense with Barrett (23.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 4.1 apg) and Williamson (21.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg) doing most of the heavy lifting, while Reddish (13.3 ppg) is the best shooter. The main thing for Duke is that it needs to attack the pack-line Virginia defense and not try to shoot over it like against Syracuse. That means a lot of work from Williamson down low against Salt, while Barrett creates from driving.
This Game shouldn’t be much different than Duke’s 69-58 win over Texas Tech in which the Red Raiders led most of the Game. The difference is that Virginia has a much better offense and should capitalize against Duke without Jones. Of course, betting on Duke to lose back-to-back Games at Cameron Indoor feels like a mistake.
Our Pick – Duke -1.5