So off Duke goes to Virginia without Rasheed Sulaimon, who as you probably know by now is no longer on the team, having become the first player Coach K has ever dropped.
What to expect? Not from Virginia, we have a pretty good idea what to expect there. What to expect from Duke?
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There's a lot going on.
There's the loss to Notre Dame, which while still a loss, in many ways wasn't a bad thing. It was a chance to measure up against a really good team and to see how the team had progressed since the losses to State and Miami, and the answer is: a long way.
It was an opportunity for growth, but it was still a loss.
Then there's the Sulaimon situation and so many things that most of don't know and will never know.
Eventually we'll probably learn the parameters of what happened. At some point, Rasheed will have his say.
And then we'll know.
What we won't know is how the group is affected. Very few people understand how Sulaimon fit in, who he was tight with, who he might have rubbed the wrong way.
We can't know the locker room chemistry, the group dynamics. Some might be wounded, some might be happy. That's beyond most of us, and so we don't have any idea how the team will react Saturday.
We were struck by this picture though. Taken after the historic win over St. John's, we see Sulaimon on the periphery, trying to squeeze closer in.
None of us know what Sulaimon has had to come to terms with. We never thought of him as a bad kid. Immature? Maybe. But as we said, we're not in the huddle. We don't go to practice. It's impossible to know unless someone tells us.
We do have some idea how the staff will react. One of the key phrases at Duke is "next play." That phrase, or at least that sentiment will probably be expressed a lot this week.
When Bob Knight was on Coach K's XM/Sirius show a while back, he talked about how a coach of his lost a player and almost immediately asked, so who gets his minutes?
His point was, basically, next play. You can't worry about stuff like that.
Presumably, as someone said this week and we paraphrase, Rasheed's talent doesn't outweigh the problems he was causing.
Whatever they were.
The guy who is most likely to benefit is Matt Jones, who now becomes the third guard and who will get extra minutes.
Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook will probably share point guard duties more since Sulaimon is no longer going to be around to help out.
And it's possible that Grayson Allen will get more minutes. He's been freshman-tentative a lot, but no one doubts his talent. He should be really good.
Virginia is a tough place to get on-the-job-training though.
Tony Bennett has really perfected his dad's packline defense.
And while the defense was designed to help a less athletic team compete with a more gifted one, Bennett kind of messed that up by getting really good athletes. Now Virginia toys with lesser teams ansd whips up on some pretty good ones, too.
And at 19-0, it's time to ask if the Cavs can run the table. Our guess is no, if only because some of the wins have been pretty close: Davidson was in single digits, Miami took UVA to double OT, State was a 10 point win over an at-best bubble team, while Notre Dame lost at Virginia by just six.
Most distressing for Bennett, most likely anyway, was getting pushed around by a crippled Virginia Tech team before registering a three point win.
So yes, Virginia, there is a chance. The margin of error, though, is quite small. The conference is just too brutal.
By the way, you may have noticed that UVA has been getting a consistent #1 vote. That'd be John Feinstein.
Reasoning that 19-0 in the ACC is far more impressive than 19-0 in the SEC, Feinstein thinks that UVA has made a better case.
What's different about Virginia is the athleticism. Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson are the heart of the team, though London Perrantes, who has just 25 turnovers in those 19 games, is a big part as well. He's amazingly steady.
Toss in South Carolina transfer Anthony Gill, Marial Shayok, Isaiah Wilkins and Darion Atkins, and Virginia is as athletic as anyone.
Still, a number of teams have come close to beating the 'Hoos, and not all of them are great. So it's not like it's impossible for Duke.
One possible weakness for Virginia: although Anderson has shot a freakish .519 from three point range, Hall and Shayok are next best at .444 and .424, but have only shot 42 between them, most by Shayok.
Brogdon and Perrantes can hit it too, but at lower rates (.383 and .333 respectively) than Anderson.
Gill and Mike Tobey offer support inside.
The real problem though is the defense. It's amazingly effective but like all defenses, can be overcome.
The basic key to beating any defense is rapid ball movement. With Virginia's aim to pack it in in the lane, and Duke's ability to hit threes, it may or may not work.
And then there's the dilemma Jahlil Okafor presents. Double team him or he'll gut you.
Given the packline though, the normal key to success may be reversed.
In other words, Duke's success may ride on three point shooting, which will open the inside.
All things considered, this should be a great game.
- Virginia and its Pack-Line defense ready for Duke
- Big game, big lights return to Charlottesville
- Men's basketball: Observers marveling at how 'thorough' Number 2 Virginia is
- Duke's Okafor at center of U.Va.'s challenge
- U.Va.'s Brogdon thrives at neutralizing top shooters
- Marquee matchups rekindle visions of past ACC glory
- Duke, UNC poised to challenge ACC leader UVa.
- Duke's rough week continues with No. 2 Virginia
- Malcolm Brogdon will be key as Virginia faces Duke
- MBB Game Notes: at Virginia (Jan. 31, 2015)
- Sulaimon Dismissed from Duke Basketball Program