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Next Up - Virginia

Time: 9:00 || Venue: John Paul Jones Arena || Video: ESPN2

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NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Duke
Feb 11, 2017; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Luke Kennard (5) shoots against Clemson Tigers forward Donte Grantham (15) in the second half of their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Next up for Duke is #15 Virginia (we go by the USA Today Coaches Poll because they’re the experts. AP has Virginia at #14) in Charlottesville.

Since Tony Bennett arrived at Virginia, the Cavs have given everyone in the ACC fits (Louisville, even with legendary Rick PItino, has yet to beat a Bennett-coached Virginia team) but Duke has done better than most.

As Al Featherston points out today, Coach K is 8-2 vs. Bennett.

It’s not like it’s easy though.

Last year, Duke won 63-62. Last year? 69-63 Duke. 2013-14? Duke won in the regular season 69-65 and lost in the the ACC Tournament, 72-63. The year before that, Virginia won 73-68 and the year before that Duke won 61-58.

The average margin in the regular season games? 3.8.

It’s almost impossible to pull away from Virginia.

So naturally we expect another close game this time around.

The Cavaliers have had to replace some really key players from last season’s dynamic team - Mike Tobey, Evan Nolte, Anthony Gill and most of all Malcolm Brogdon.

Remember the Virginia-Wake game a few years ago when Wake was tantalizingly close to an upset? Remember what happened?

Brogdon stripped the ball away from a Wake player on the final play of the game.

Brogdon was a sensational player for the Cavs. Gill was outstanding too. Nolte and Tobey were less so but were seniors and very reliable guys. They both had huge games during their career and just as importantly, both knew the defense inside and out.

Virginia’s leader now is London Perrantes. The 6-2 senior looks kind of clunky on TV because he’s a bit thick for his size (nearly 200 lbs) and his hair doesn’t help.

We’re not criticizing his hair. We were thinking the other day how varied the hair styles in the ACC are and how cool that is. On TV though, his vertical hair adds to the illusion that he’s chunky and (should be) slow.

What he is is a highly intelligent point guard, a great leader and a guy with an instinct for the clutch play.

The illusion that he shouldn’t be able to play that well probably works to his advantage although his opponents know that he’s damn good.

Obviously with those other guys gone Virginia has to have others step up and UVA’s rotation this year includes Perrantes, Isaiah Wilkins, Devon Hall, Marial Shayok, Darius Thompson, Jack Salt, Kyle Guy, Jarred Reuter, Mamadi Diakite and Ty Jerome.

Pretty deep.

Virginia is also more athletic than it has been in quite some time.

Perrantes is deceptively athletic, as we noted above. Devon Hall, Marial Shayok, Darius Thompson, Kyle Guy and Mamadi Diakite are all really solid athletes.

In years past, Virginia slowed it down because it couldn’t compete athletically. That’s certainly not longer the case as we saw this past weekend against Virginia Tech where the ‘Hoos were not at all afraid to get out and run when the mood hit.

Although starting doesn’t mean that much (see: Ojo, Michael), the Cavaliers start Wilkins (6-7 junior), Salt (6-11 sophomore), Shayok (6-5 junior), Hall (6-5 junior) and and Perrantes.

One thing jumped out at us the other day when we were looking for a photo: Jack Salt is really, really beefy. He doesn’t quite hit 4 ppg or 4 rpg - just a shade under in both cases - but we wonder how much punishment he deals out.

Aside from Perrantes though the guy who has really caught our eye is Shayok. He’s rangy, explosive and can really motor. Wilkins is a solid player but Dominique’s adopted son, while dangerous, isn’t Virginia’s biggest weapon. Hall is also a solid, intelligent player.

However you can’t overlook the bench. Recently freshman Ty Jerome has really stepped up. He’s shooting 56.4% and 43% from deep.

Redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite (6-9), a native of Guinea, is slim but can get up. He’s going to become a dangerous shot blocker for Virginia and maybe more than that. He has 29 on the season and had three against Virginia Tech.

And one guy you really have to keep track of is freshman Kyle Guy.

From Indiana, Guy played for Indianapolis’s Lawrence Central, a school that has sent quite a few players on to college.

As much as a Bennett team could have a gunner he is one (or would like to be). He’s actually shooting better from three point range than overall, 48.5% to 47.4%.

We’ve poked fun of his man bun. If your’e curious. here’s what he looks like without his fashionable ‘do.

Bennett’s pack-line defense is highly effective. It keeps opponents out of the lane and helps to contest three point shots.

Virginia’s defense allows just 55.1 ppg and holds opponents under 40% and 31.6% from beyond the stripe.

Of course one way to counter that is to move fast. If you can get down your before Virginia does, then you can get layups and chippies, but it’s easier said than done.

With Amile Jefferson’s offense suffering since his foot injury, it’ll be easier for Virginia to defend inside.

However, Duke’s biggest production has come from the perimeter where Grayson Allen has asserted himself lately and Luke Kennard has been superb all season. It’ll be interesting to see how he does against Virginia’s defense. As an inconsistent freshman, he scratched last season against the ‘ Hoos.

You may also recall how Duke won last year: after Brogdon hit a freak layup with his back to the basket, Allen hit a buzzer-beater. Later video suggested his foot may have been on the ground. Coach K thought that he had been fouled.

One other thing to remember: Matt Jones is Duke’s silent assassin. All he does is win. You put him on somebody and their offense grinds to a halt. At times you can see him just decide to pick his team up and he does...something.

Hits a three. Tips a pass. Makes a steal.

Makes things happen. It’s nearly Battier-ish.

As it has been for the past several years, it will probably be a close game. It’s worth mentioning though that as good as Virginia still is, they don’t have Brogdon. And Brogdon’s greatest value was as a shut-down defender. Who will UVA turn to if one of Duke’s perimeter snipers - Kennard, Allen, Jones, Jackson or Tatum - heat up?

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