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Carl Previews UVa!

Pete Gillen is a funny guy. If you were going to pick one ACC coach to watch a game and drink a few beers with it would definitely be Pete Gillen. Remember what he said about Darius Songaila? "''He's a killer. He's a mangler. He's banging, knocking people. He kills innocent bystanders sometimes." Or how about his thoughts on worrying- ""I worry about everything. I worry about my clothes, my wife, the gerbil, the cat. I worry about my wife's spending, I worry about her tennis game. The gerbil's pregnant, so hopefully things will work out."

No doubt about, Gillen is a funny guy. Except Pete Gillen isn’t laughing. And Cavalier fans aren’t laughing much either. Starting out conference play at 1-2 will do that to you. It will especially do it to you when you entered conference play as a top 10 team with an impressive win over Tennessee. It’s not exactly clear what has happened to the Hoos, but what is clear is that they are a very dangerous team heading into Cameron Indoor Stadium. They are a team with top level talent that find themselves in a difficult position and the prospects of going 1-3 are bound to inspire their best effort.

Back on December 17, when Virginia squared off against Tennessee nobody would have expected them to trip coming out of the gate in the ACC. On that night the Hoos were unstoppable as they pummeled the Vols 107-89. Powered by 6 players in double figures and a 39-30 rebounding advantage, the Cavaliers made a serious statement in that night’s Jimmy V Classic. That game may seem a long time ago right now after losses to Wake and Georgia Tech sandwiched around a tight home victory over NC State. The loss to Wake was every bit as depressing as the victory over Tennessee was exhilarating. The Hoos were beaten in every facet of the game and the result was a 23 point differential on the scoreboard.

In the State game, the Hoos relied on an enormous advantage from the free throw line (where they shot 31-35) and a strong press to pull out the tight victory. The Cavalier defense, while forcing 20 turnovers, generously allowed the Wolfpack to shoot over 60% from the field. Virginia played a better game against the underrated Yellow Jackets who needed a late, off-balance 3 pointer to seal the victory. While the Hoos may have lost the State game on the defensive end of the floor, the loss to Tech was purely an offensive problem. The Cavs ended up shooting just 35% for the game, including an inept 24% from the three point line.

For Virginia to get back to .500 in the ACC they’ll have to pull out a victory in Durham where they’ve dropped 5 straight games. Gillen may not mention that to the troops during his preparation for the Saturday game. But he’ll probably show them plenty of tape of Duke’s last game against NC State. That contest followed a very similar and, for Duke fans, very troubling pattern of earlier games where Duke built a large lead in the second half only to watch the game become closely contested.

Duke fans have seen that before but with less desirable results when Stanford mounted a comeback to knock the Blue Devils from the ranks of the unbeaten. The common thread against both State and Stanford was Carlos Boozer fouling out of the game leaving Duke to struggle on the inside against bigger teams. The other common thread was some poor decision making on the floor down the stretch as Duke tried to milk the shot clock and shorten the game. The book on Duke appears to be to take the ball at Boozer and try to get him in foul trouble while at the same time staying close enough to Duke to wait for them to fade down the stretch.

Of course, knowing the game plan and executing it are two distinctly different subjects as plenty of teams left crumbled in Duke’s wake can attest. Several teams have attempted similar approaches but have not been able to stay close enough to make that late game run. For Virginia the challenge will be especially strong as the two teams have nearly identical makeups. Both Duke and Virginia like to create their offense off their defense. They both feature undersized centers and power forwards who will end up playing other positions at the next level. And they both use dribble penetration to set up their offense.

But despite the similarities, the teams also have some subtle differences. Virginia is much more dependent on their full court pressure. Duke, perhaps owing somewhat to their lack of depth, will apply full court pressure, but rarely for an entire game. Instead, the Blue Devils will rely more on their half court defense to create turnovers to fuel their transition game.


The undersized center that the Cavaliers will be using to apply pressure to Boozer is 6-7/255 lb. Travis Watson. 6-7 is actually probably a benevolent listing as the sophomore post player may really be closer to 6-6. Regardless of his size, Watson is a very capable interior scorer who is averaging 13.5 points per game. Even more impressive is that he is leading the ACC in rebounding at 9.5 boards a game. Watson is able to achieve that despite being the smallest center in the league who is consistently 3 inches shorter than his defender every night.

Watson is able to score and rebound by using his strength and quickness in the low post. The tradeoff for giving up so much size in the pivot is that he typically has a quickness advantage over most other ACC centers. He also has tremendous footwork in the low post and a decent shooting range out to around 12 feet to compliment his inside game. He’s a lefthander which can give defenders difficulty. Nearly 40% of his rebounds come on the offensive end where he typically converts them into baskets. Watson would be an even more effective offensive weapon if the Cavaliers were able to get him the ball more often.

While Watson is an effective offensive player he does have some drawbacks on defense. Because of his size he has trouble when bigger opponents can get him down on the blocks and shoot over him. He can pick up some cheap fouls when trying to defend bigger players. Watson fouled out of the losses to Wake and Tech and picked up 4 fouls in the State game.

Starting beside Watson in the frontcourt is 6-7 Chris Williams. Now in his junior season, Williams is well accustomed to playing out of position after spending his first two years at the power forward slot. Williams has benefited from Gillen’s coaching which has spread the floor and utilized the team’s quickness to counter their lack of size. Williams came out of nowhere as a high school recruit to end up the ACC’s Rookie of the Year in his freshman season when he averaged 16.8 points and 7.5 rebounds a game. Those numbers fell off slightly in his sophomore year thanks mainly to having more help in the lineup.

Williams is a slasher who can score in transition or by driving in a half court set. He can also shoot the long ball with reasonable results but the team seems to fare better when his offense is more balanced. In the Georgia Tech game Williams took a season high 9 attempts from beyond the three point line, converting on 3 of them. He can have trouble on defense when he’s forced to face up against bigger power forwards who operate in the low post.

That’s not likely to be much of a problem when he comes up against Shane Battier who, at 6-8, doesn’t have a significant size advantage over Williams. In fact, Williams matches up better on Battier than any other power forward in the ACC with the possible exception of Maryland’s Terrance Morris. Williams has the quickness to contain Battier on the outside where the All-American candidate is at his most effective. However, Battier has shown the versatility to adapt his game to the defensive challenge that Williams provides. In the two contests last year Battier scored 19 and 21 points while hitting just two three point shots in each game. For his part, Williams returned the favor with interest in the Hoos’ overtime loss in Charlottesville where he scored 27 points.

Battier would prefer to obtain results more similar to the second game against the Cavaliers from last year where he held Williams to 14 points on 5-10 shooting in a game where Duke raced out to a 32 point halftime lead. The Devils will need Battier to continue his superb play from recent games to come anywhere near that performance. In the early part of the season Battier’s play was not up to the level expected coming into the season. However, since the second Temple game he has gone on a tear where he has scored over 20 points in nearly every game while anchoring the Duke defense.

On defense Battier could have some trouble containing Williams who will be quicker than any other power forward he’s faced all year. Battier can ill-afford to pick up any cheap fouls in this game as the Devils will need his help defense to protect Boozer. At 6-9 and 270 lbs., Boozer has the size to score inside against Watson but he must be in the game to make any contribution to the team and that has not been easy for Boozer as of late. The NC State game extended Boozer’s streak to 4 for games in which he has had at least 4 fouls. During that span he has fouled out of two of those games. For the season he has picked up more fouls than any of Duke’s top 6 players and as a result has played fewer minutes than any of them.

When he’s in the game Boozer has shown flashes of brilliance. Against the Wolfpack he finished with just 9 points but contributed 8 rebounds. In the first half Boozer’s defense was exceptional as he used his size and strength to bother opponents shots without fouling. He finished the first half with just one foul but picked up 4 fouls in the second half and was disqualified with just under three minutes left in the game. Boozer’s performance against NC State came on the heels of a remarkable outing against Clemson in which he was perfect from both the field and the free throw line to finish with 25 points.

Boozer has the potential to repeat that performance against Virginia. In fact, he scored 25 points in the second UVa game last year although he was a paltry 11-16 from the field in that game. Against Boozer, Watson may not see the same quickness advantage that he usually enjoys. If Boozer can stay out of foul trouble and the Duke outside game is consistent enough to minimize Virginia double teams then the Devils may get some big production out of their pivot man.

When the teams go to their benches for frontcourt depth the Cavaliers should enjoy an advantage, at least in terms of numbers. The first guy Gillen will usually turn to is 6-8 senior Stephane Dondon. At 240 lbs. he gives the Hoos’ some muscle off the bench and is their best interior defender. The native of France (hotbed of hoops prospects) transferred to UVa after spending two years at Collin County Community College. Dondon doesn’t score score much but he does rebound well. Gillen will use him some with Watson to give the team a two big man look but when he does the team suffers offensively.

The other frontcourt reserve is J.C. Mathis who at 6-9/230 lbs. is a physically imposing freshman. Mathis is a bit more effective offensively than Dondon but lacks his experience and defensive presence. He won’t venture far from the paint, instead focusing on hitting the glass and scoring on offensive rebounds.

The frontcourt rotation for Duke is clearly defined with Matt Christensen stepping up to claim the available playing time. Christensen didn’t hurt himself with his performance against NC State where he grabbed 5 rebounds (4 of them offensive) in just 8 minutes of play. The coaching staff would undoubtedly like to see him do better than the 4 turnovers and 2 fouls that accompanied those rebounds but Christensen’s aggressive play will keep him in the lineup. Against a running, pressing team like Virginia, Christensen may struggle to keep pace with the game. Watson, with his aforementioned quickness, could especially challenge him. But against Dondon or Mathis, Christensen may be able give the Blue Devils positive minutes.

If the tempo of the game proves to be too quick for Christensen to contribute then Duke could turn to Casey Sanders. The 6-11 sophomore has seen his minutes drop with the emergence of Christensen, but the team would still like to get some contribution from him. Sanders, whose game is built more upon open court play and transition baskets, may earn some minutes against the Hoos.


Nowhere is the athleticism of the Cavaliers better displayed than with their wing players. Roger Mason and Adam Hall are a pair of high-flying 6-5 athletes who can score from all over the court. Mason is the team’s leading scorer (15.4 ppg)and the best three point shooter of the starting lineup. He does not utilize the three point shot too much; instead preferring to use it to set up drives to the basket where he can pick up fouls. He’s an 88% free throw shooter and is by far and away the team leader in attempts.

Hall’s game is similar in that he won’t take many three point attempts. But where Mason is more likely to take the ball to the basket in the half court offense, Hall is more opportunistic. He averages just under 10 points a game and gets many of them on dramatic offensive putbacks and in transition. He’s a dynamic player that is the most likely of any Cavalier to end up on SportsCenter.

On defense Hall and Mason are perfect for the pressing style Gillen employs. Hall in particular can be a defensive stopper and should draw the toughest opponent. The question for the Duke game is will that be Nate James or Michael Dunleavy? In actuality the answer is both since the versatility of Hall and Mason allows Virginia to switch on defense much like Duke does with James and Dunleavy. Hall, because of his better leaping ability, is the better interior defender and will consequently draw the Duke player who is more productive inside. In recent games that would probably be Nate James who has been struggling from the three point line this season. James’ three point percentage has continued to slip to 33% after his 1-4 game against NC State.

With the exception of that game James has been scoring the best of his career in recent contests. The way he’s done that has been to take his game inside where he is the team’s leading offensive rebounder. While James has become more of an inside player on offense, Dunleavy is more perimeter based. He will still go inside, particularly when he has a great height advantage, but he is more comfortable on the perimeter where he can shoot the three or drive the ball to the hoop to set up other players.

James will probably draw Mason when Duke is on defense. After his effort against Will Solomon, James squared off against NC State’s Anthony Grundy. Grundy finished the game with 18 points but need 17 shots and scored many of his baskets in transition. Mason doesn’t offer any relief for James in a league filled with quality point guards. Likewise, Dunleavy’s assignment will be a tough matchup. Dunleavy is at his most effective on defense when he’s gambling- overplaying the passing lanes or coming from the weakside to strip a ballhandler. Hall, who likes to cut to the basket, could make Dunleavy pay if he gambles too much.

The Hoos have one of the league’s best three point shooters coming off their bench in Keith Friel. The 6-4 transfer from Notre Dame is in his second year with the Cavs and is converting on 47.5% of his three point attempts. Friel is the team’s designated zone buster, a skill that may not be too useful in a game with Duke. Without an open look Friel is limited in his ability to create his own shot. For the year he’s scored just 4 baskets from 2 point range. To get him in the game Gillen has to accept a dropoff in defensive intensity. While he’s not poor defensive player he is not at the level of Mason or Hall.

Gillen can also turn to freshman Maurice Young. At 6-5 he’s more similar to Hall and Mason but he’s still adapting to the college game. He was a good three point shooter in high school but has struggled thus far in college. Young is not yet aggressive with the ball and is hesitant in his decision making. That should change as the season progresses.

For Duke the depth on the wing is pretty much Chris Duhon. The 6-3 freshman showed a greater willingness to shoot the three point shot against NC State which is something the team needs from him. He still leads the team with a 2.7 to 1 assist to turnover ratio and is a tremendous defender.


The point guard matchup will be another true classic. Virginia’s Donald Hand has always played well against Duke. Last year he was the Hoos’ lone bright spot in their loss at Cameron when he scored 27 points. In the overtime game at home he had 20 points and 6 assists.

At just a shade under 6-0, Hand relies on his quickness to get into the lane and score or distribute. He’s not a particularly great shooter – he’s never been over 40% from beyond the three point line – but he is an effective scorer. In his last two years he’s earned a living at the free throw line where he shoots around 88%. It’s easy to say that as Hand goes, so do the Cavs.

And that may be part of the recent problem for Virginia. In their three league games Hand is shooting just 23% from the field and 14% from the three point line. Despite that poor shooting he still averaged 11 points in those games, owing largely to his ability to get to the free throw line where he’s getting 5 points a game. Those numbers are also slightly skewed by the NC State game where he failed to score or take a free throw attempt. Given the way he has been playing as of late, the key to limiting his trips to the free throw line.

That responsibility will fall to Duke’s Jason Williams who had his own success at the free throw line in his last game. Williams had been one of the hottest players in the country over his last 5 games before shooting 3-12 against the Wolfpack. After a poor first half where he slightly sprained his ankle and was held scoreless, Williams came back to 22 second half points. 15 of those points came at the free throw line as he controlled the game down the stretch.


Virginia employs both a zone and man-to-man full court press at various times throughout the game. Their half court defense doesn’t create as many turnovers as their press so they would like to apply the full court pressure as much as possible. If they go with the man-to-man full court press Duke will likely clear out for Jason Williams and let him take his defender off the dribble. It will be difficult for the Hoos to maintain a full court man press against Williams as they are without a backup point guard. Gillen was counting on sophomore Majestic Mapp to give him quality minutes as a backup point guard but an injury sidelined Mapp for the entire season.

If UVa tries their zone press Duke could see some open looks from the three point line as they break the press. Battier and Dunleavy should get their shots from the wing and the top of the key. If Duke should struggle with the press you may see Duhon get more minutes than usual. A backcourt of Williams and Duhon would be very hard to press although they would give up some size on the defensive end of the court. Either Duhon or Williams would be forced to guard the 6-5 Mason on the other end of the court.

Once Virginia is in a half court defense Duke will try and attack with Williams from the point. With the Hoos’ man defense, if Williams can get in the lane, good things start to happen for Duke. As is usually the case they will be able to get the ball to Boozer or to open shooters on the wing. Should Hand succeed in being able to contain Williams, Duke may look to Battier for offense but not as you traditionally expect. We may see more of that high / low set the staff has been working into the offense. Duke showed it twice in the State game. The first time Boozer hit a shot from the free throw line and the second time Shane missed a layup.

Duke’s defense may have trouble generating as many turnovers as they are accustomed to. The Cavs are second in the league in turnovers, averaging just 14 a game while Duke is forcing opponents into 21 turnovers a game. If Duke can get them near 20 turnovers they stand an excellent chance of winning the game. They’ll also need to avoid fouls so- not only to keep the Cavs off the line where they are shooting 74%, but to also keep the top 6 players in the game.

The atmosphere in Cameron should be charged when these two teams square off. Duke would appear to be the favorite but they have also shown some chinks in the armor in recent games. They would undoubtedly like to answer the critics by holding serve on their home court with a convincing win. Virginia on the other hand is in an almost "must-win" position as they don’t wish to start the season at 1-3. Like many of Duke’s games, turnovers and fouls may tell the story