| Durham | Roanoke
Duke welcomes Virginia and new coach Dave Leitao into Cameron Saturday
evening, and while at the beginning of the season this seemed like an easy
game, suddenly, it's not. Virginia is the surprise of the early ACC
season, and they're playing with great confidence. And Sean Singletary is
playing like a guy who wants to write his name in the annals of ACC history.
It wasn't supposed to be like this, of course. Virginia had a few
wretched seasons under the now-departed Pete Gillen, and it became typical for
Virginia to start fast and then crawl, sullen and confused, to the finish line.
This year, it's been sort of opposite: Virginia first lost Gary Forbes,
a player who would have really helped. Then Donte Minter quit, after a
frustrating career, and a freshman quit early.
Things were looking grim.
But something funny happened. Leitao set tough standards and demanded
that his players do what he said and wouldn't settle for moral
Suddenly, Virginia, which wasn't supposed to win a game this season according
to a lot of people, started winning some games they weren't supposed to
win. They beat Clemson, in a mild surprise, then Virginia Tech, in a
bigger surprise, and then UNC, in an even bigger surprise still. And then
they trounced Miami, a team, like Virginia, with a gifted backcourt.
But earlier there were signs that Leitao was getting through: UVa was
in it in the first half of the Arizona game before getting blown out, gave
Gonzaga a stiff game, and pushed Western Kentucky.
Then they started doing things which were very surprising, like outrebounding
teams. Since they weren't supposed to really have a frontcourt, this was
somewhat shocking. But their frontcourt is not as bad as many thought.
Jason Cain, who didn't show much earlier in his career, is pulling down 7.8
per game, and the rest of the team attacks the boards as well.
Laurynas Mikalauskas is big enough 6-8, 240 - to knock some people around,
and he had a lot of success against UNC.
Virginia will probably start the 6-11 Cain, 6-7 Adrian Joseph, 6-11 Tunji
Soroye, 6-0 Sean Singletary, and 6-3 J.R. Reynolds, if he is able to play after
his injury against Miami.
While Virginia's ability to compete in the blocks is the biggest suprise,
their motor, without question, is Sean Singletary.
There may not be a player in the conference who is more critical to his team
than Singletary. The kid has just been a rock. When Virginia needs
it, he comes through, and he comes through if he's injured or double teamed or
whatever. He just gets it done.
Reynolds has been an offensive force since his freshman year and is capable
of a smoking hot performance.
Adrian Joseph is also capable offensively, and is averaging 10.4 ppg.
Virginia has been averaging 68.8 ppg, and has held opponents to 63
points. Duke has almost matched that defensive effort, but has been
averaging 82.1 ppg. The 'Hoos have been a much better rebounding team than
Duke, averaging 38 and holding opponents to 31.8. Duke is barely winning
the battle of the boards, 32.6 to 33.2.
Duke is a much better shooting team, hitting .512 to UVa's .433.
But those are just stats, as interesting as they are.
Duke has beaten Virginia like a drum since Ralph Sampson graduated, and
that's largely because the Devils have played much harder on the defensive end,
and, in fact, have generally outplayed the Cavs on both ends. That was a
surprise when Terry Holland was there, since his teams had a similar identity,
and Coach K was still new. It was established fact when Jeff Jones was
there, and close to gospel under Pete Gillen.
Expect that to be a harder distinction with Leitao in charge.
He has made his team a tough defensive group, and they're not scared to hit
the boards. And with a tough character like Singletary running the show, a lot
Is a win at Duke possible?
It won't be easy. Virginia will have a tough time containing Shelden
Williams, and while they have Joseph, possibly Reynolds, and Diane to throw at
Redick, he's managed to deal with highly athletic defenders all season and when
he can't score, he does a fine job of distributing the ball to others.
Duke will likely try to wear Virginia down, figuring that their own thin
rotation will top Virginia's in quality and conditioning.
But the basic way to beat Virginia is to shut down Singletary. Duke
will likely start defending him with Sean Dockery, and with DeMarcus Nelson
back, they may opt to stick him on Singletary as well.
As we said, this is suddenly an interesting game. Most handicappers
would pick Duke, and that would certainly be logical. But Virginia has
shown a lot of gumption, and basketball, when you get right down to it, is about
five guys working together more intensely than another five guys. Talent
is absolutely critical, but all of these guys can play. What will win out
is who plays together the best.