The No. 7 Duke Blue Devils try to stay in the race for the ACC regular-season title when they visit the Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday night. Duke is 13-4 in league play, a game behind first-place Florida State and sitting in third place in the standings. Virginia is just a game behind the Blue Devils at 12-5 and only two behind the Seminoles, with Louisville also in between the Cavaliers and first place.
Despite their lofty status in the ACC standings and the national rankings, the Blue Devils have been anything but good lately, dropping two of their last three to unranked opponents on the road. On the other hand, Virginia comes into this game as hot as it’s been all season, winning eight of its last nine, including the last five straight.
Duke is a 3.5-point favorite on the road in this one, with the over/under set at 124.
Defense Without Fouls
Duke gave up 113 points to Wake Forest in its latest outing, with the Demon Deacons attempting 50 free throws in the double-overtime affair. Foul trouble for the Blue Devils’ front line was a problem against Wake Forest, and it could be a problem against a typically physical Virginia team as well.
Freshman Vernon Carey Jr. leads Duke in scoring and rebounding with 17.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, but he can’t produce if he’s on the bench. The Cavaliers will certainly close on the first-year big man when he gets the ball in the post, so Carey must be smart with the basketball as well as avoid barrelling into defenders for offensive fouls.
Another big key for Duke will be the play of point guard Tre Jones, who averages 16.1 points and 6.5 assists per game. Jones will feel the brunt of the Cavaliers’ pressure defense on the perimeter, so he must avoid costly turnovers that could turn into easy Virginia baskets.
Starting To Roll
Virginia may be the most overlooked defending national champion in quite a while. The Cavaliers have 20 wins and sit in fourth place in the very strong ACC behind three teams ranked in the top 11 in the country, yet they are unranked and may not even move into the Top 25 with a win in this one.
Coach Tony Bennett’s squad lost a lot of big names from last year’s title team, but there are still some dangerous players for opponents to deal with. Senior forward Mamadi Diakite leads the way with 13.6 points, while senior guard Braxton Key is putting up 10.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
Sophomore guard Kihei Clark (10.8 points, 6.0 assists) must be a factor in this one on both ends of the floor. Clark has averaged 14.3 points over the last three games, and if he can make Jones work defensively, it will make it more likely he will tire and commit mistakes on the offensive end.
Cavaliers Get Home Win
Duke just doesn’t seem to have the consistency that’s needed to make a title run this season. There’s talent, that’s for sure, but Mike Krzyzewski’s squad seems to have regressed of late, which isn’t a good thing going into March. Virginia is an underrated squad that knows how to win big games, especially at home. I like the Cavaliers to win this one with their defense. I’m taking Virginia +3.5.