Duke travels to Virginia for a Thursday night tiff and a first look at their very impressive new palace, the John Paul Jones Arena. Waiting for Duke is one of the best backcourts in the country and a team which has been up and down but has shown some real potential throughout the season.Virginia starts with Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds, as solid a backcourt as you'll find anywhere. The duo can easily spot their teammates 50-60 points a game, which makes life a lot easier.
Singletary in particular is a warrior. He brings his best every night and is capable of lifting his team by himself.
But the Cavs have increasingly been able to rely on Adrian Joseph, who is playing less but shooting better and who has a role of being basically instant offense.
Mamadi Diane has also had his moments although he's also pretty inconsistent. But offensively, the Cavs don't go a whole lot deeper than those four.
Jason Cain has been a pleasant surprise, mostly as a rebounder. No one ever expected much out of him when he came in, and he's definitely contributed.
The rest of the cast makes cameo appearances, at least offensively, but several are dangerous.
Freshman Laurynas Mikalauskas is a big strong kid (6-8, 255) who can bang down low. Jamil Tucker is a 6-9 kid who came in with a reputation as a three point shooter, but he hasn't earned that many minutes and is only averaging 3 points a game. And Solomon Tat, who was once compared to a Ronnie Lott of the hardwood, hasn't entirely found his niche so far. Tunji Soroye, like Tat, is getting around 10 minute a game.
And Ryan Pettinella, who transferred in from Penn, has given Dave Leitao some valuable minutes in reserve as a big man, although he hasn't played since the Puerto Rico trip due to a knee injury. He may be back for Duke, though, according to the Daily Progress (see links box).
But still: it's clear that if you control Virginia's guards, you control Virginia. Duke has been using DeMarcus Nelson as their defensive stopper on the perimeter, and he'll presumably draw Singletary, at least at first.
If he can tie him up in knots, Virginia is in major trouble. But it's easier said than done, as Singletary has shown all season.
That would leave Jon Scheyer and Greg Paulus to match up with Reynolds and Diane, with Gerald Henderson as a potential wildcard. Henderson is a brilliantly gifted athlete. If he can step up in this game and contain Reynolds, Virginia will have a very tough time.
Duke has another potential advantage over Virginia on the boards, although if Dave McClure sits out, as expected, that will be diminished.
McClure has been Duke's most efficient rebounder, and a big surprise on the boards. It's no shock anymore to see him pull down 10-11 boards.
But between Josh McRoberts, DeMarcus Nelson, and Lance Thomas, Duke has other guys who are capable rebounders.
McRoberts in particular presents Virginia with a major challenge. If he had a reliable three point shooter, no one would be able to fully contain him. His passing has become a joy to watch, and his defense has grown in leaps and bounds. He'll be a major challenge for Cain & co.
Defense of course is this team's calling card, and recently overall aggression has become a hallmark as well.
They'll need it all Thursday. Virginia is a flawed team in some respects. They have a great backcourt but they count on them for more than is really fair. Yet they usually come through. They've managed to destroy Gonzaga in a brilliant performance, beat Arizona, and storm back against Clemson last weekend in an amazing comeback.
Yet the same bunch lost to Appalachian State and a very weak Utah in Puerto Rico.
After the holiday trip to Puerto Rico, Dave Leitao was nearly apocalyptic, and wasn't shy about expressing his displeasure.
In fact, he's not shy about that at all, and registers his unhappiness on a regular basis. One wonders whether his tendency to be negative will come back to haunt his team, which, although uneven, has at times been just great.
Leitao has managed to right the ship, and things are going pretty well for the 'Hoos, who are working on an NCAA bid for the first time in a while.
But is his taskmaster approach a weak point for Virginia? We've seen it before, most recently when Matt Doherty lost it at UNC. But he's not the only one. Fran Fraschilla had some weird issues at St. John's, and Bob Knight has cost himself plenty by being relentlessly demanding.
Singletary is a guy who really seems to want to bond with his coach. He was right with Pete Gillen until he was let go, and then went out of his way to get close to Dave Leitao, who was very complimentary of Singletary's desire to have a good relationship with his coach.
And that kid is a warrior, as we said. But with Leitao's demanding nature falling on deaf ears for at least part of the season - and remember, despite the comeback, Virginia was down double digits at Clemson - it's hard not to wonder if at some point he goes too far. We're not suggesting he accomodate everything anyone wants to do, but at some point, you have to be positive too. At least publicly, so far at Virginia, Leitao's message has typically been negative.
It's going to be an interesting game, and Virginia, as they've shown, is capable of destroying an opponent. But if Duke's defense can control their perimeter, then Duke certainly has a shot.