A few weeks ago we took a look at Virginia in our ACC preview, and now it’s time for the Cavaliers to come to Cameron to take on Duke. Although the Blue Devils have been the victors of their last 39 games at home, this is not an opponent to take lightly. Virginia comes into the game with a stellar 14-1 record, won the first conference game, and are ranked 16th in the AP top 25. This should be the toughest test Duke faces at home all season before the Tar Heels come to town on March 3rd. The Blue Devils have struggled in their past two outings, so let’s see what they’ll need to do to beat the Cavaliers tonight.
1. Push the tempo
Virginia is a team that likes to play slow, and when I say slow, I mean slow. They are at their best when they grind out defensive games (The Hoos are ranked ninth in the nation in defensive efficiency according to KenPom. Duke is ranked fiftieth). Duke needs to do everything it can to keep Virginia on its toes and uncomfortable as possible, and that means push the ball. Inserting Quinn Cook into the starting lineup recently should help that. Cook’s quickness and playmaking ability allows Duke to move at a faster pace on the floor than when Tyler Thornton or Seth Curry are running the point. When it all comes down to it, Duke scores 82.1 points per game and Virginia allows 50.5 points a game– something’s gotta give. Duke has only won one game this year when it scored fewer than 70 points, so they are going to need to keep the game moving and push Virginia to do the same.
2. Lock down Mike Scott
In a year where Duke and North Carolina are considered to be the upper echelon teams in the ACC, it’s hard to think the Conference Player of the Year will be anyone but a Blue Devil or a Tar Heel. But right now it seems as though Virginia’s Mike Scott is one of the frontrunners for the award. Scott is the go-to-guy in Virginia’s offense, averaging 16.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game this season. Most recently he paced the Cavaliers with 23 points and eight rebounds in their 52-51 victory over Miami on January 7th. Scott is a dangerous scorer and will look to take advantage of the Blue Devils inside. Duke has struggled with interior defense at times this season. If they want to enhance their chances of winning tomorrow, they need to make someone other than Mike Scott beat them.
3. Jump out to an early lead
There’s no better way to make Virginia play a more up-tempo game than forcing them to play from behind early. This was one area where Duke succeeded against Georgia Tech (though they would later relinquish the large lead they had built up in the early stages of the game). The first eight minutes of the game will be crucial ones for the Blue Devils, and will set the tone for the remainder of the contest. If Duke can knock down its shots and jump out to an early lead, it will put Virginia on its toes, but if the Cavaliers stay with the Blue Devils early or jump out to an early lead of their own, we could be in store for a long night in Cameron.
4. Control the paint
There’s no two ways about it- Virginia is not a very big team. They have a 7-foot center in their starting lineup, but they have just one other player on their roster that is larger than 6-foot-8. At 6-8 himself, Mike Scott can play like a big man, but the size differential remains nonetheless. Duke needs to take opportunities to feed the ball down low to Miles and Mason Plumlee, who have played fantastic basketball while Duke has struggled as of late. The unsurprising chemistry between the brothers has really started to kick in, and facing a smaller Virginia lineup, they need to assert themselves early and often.
5. Austin Rivers needs to step up
Big players step up in big games, and after struggling in his past three contests you feel like Rivers might be due to break out tonight. It would certainly be a coming-out party for him to explode in a game in front of the home fans against another top 25 team. You can talk about Austin Rivers’ ego all you want, but fact is he is one of the hardest working basketball players in the country, so you know that after three straight subpar performances he is chomping at the bit to show the country what he can really do. If Duke can get the Austin Rivers we saw in December, they will be tough to take down on their home floor.
The best homecourt advantage in college basketball will rear its head tonight. Duke keeps Virginia at a distance for much of the game, with Mason Plumlee pacing the Devils between the blocks.
Duke 75, Virginia 65