Some of you might be looking forward to an easy win against Virginia.Â You'll excuse us if we demur.Â We're not expecting an easy game at all.
Why? Because none of the games Duke has had with Tony Bennett's teams have been particularly easy.Â If you look at the scores, you'd think they were.Â But if you remember, they typically were tight games for 25-35 minutes and Bennett's defense made things sticky.
And that was with Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith. A young, still developing Duke team can't count on them anymore.
And while Duke doesn't have the dynamic duo from last year, Virginia does have Mike Scott back.Â The 6-8 senior has been a rock for the 'Hoos this year: he's averaging 16.5 ppg and 8.9 boards. He's also shooting nearly 60% from the floor.
Duke has answers for him, and they can match up with big man Assane Sene (7-0, 240) fairly well.Â Sene has come a long way, but he's essentially a rebounder and shotblocker with limited offensive skills. Despite his size, he averages just 5.1ppg and 3.7 rpg.Â However, his size is imposing defensively, and he has improved considerably in the last two years.
Still, the guys to keep an eye on in many respects are the perimeter players.Â Sammy Zeglinski has overcome a lot at Virginia and is a senior with an instinct for the clutch. Joe Harris is a rugged guard, one we suspect Coach K admires, and one with size and range. For you old school types, think Jerry Sloan.Â He's sort of in that mold.Â There really aren't too many guys like that these days.
And Jontel Evans is a tough, tough defender.Â We're guessing he's one of Bennett's favorites because he's relentless.
Malcolm Brogdon, a 6-5 freshman, is getting around 21 minutes a game.
Akil Mitchell is getting around 15 minutes per game and is at the very least a reliable substitute.
Darion Atkins is a 6-8 rookie out of Maryland who's worked his way into the rotation and who will be critical for the Cavs if they have any foul trouble.
After that things thin out quickly.Â Before he transferred over the break, KT Harrell was getting 19 minutes a game.
James Johnson has also departed, and to ease the depth problem, Bennett revoked the redshirt year of Paul Jesperson.
So depth and size could work against Virginia.Â The could also get in serious trouble if Duke controls the tempo.
When Duke does that the best though it's on defense, and uncharacteristically, that hasn't been Duke's strong point this season, at least not to date.
Assuming they stick with Quinn Cook at the point, Duke tackles Virginia's pack line defense with two freshmen.
This game also promises to be another step in Austin River's education.Â Virginia's main focus is killing penetration and action around the basket. Rivers may find it tough to move around in the lane.
Lost in all this though is Duke's rebounding and three point shooting.Â Last year Mason Plumlee put on a remarkable rebounding performance in the first half. With both Plumlees and Ryan Kelly, Duke could dominate the boards.
The three point shooting, if it heats up, could also prove a real challenge for Virginia's interior focus.
Still, we like what Duke's doing and in particular how Quinn Cook is coming along. We have a gut feeling that either he or Tyler Thornton will be pivotal in this game.
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