Duke plays Virginia in Cameron Saturday and it’s by far the biggest game in the ACC so far. The teams are radically different but both highly effective. Let’s take a look.
Duke is built around high-end, elite talent. Having huge talent is great but like Notre Dame, Virginia finds players that fit its system and nurture them for 3-4 years. They’re not generally NBA talents but they're ideal for those systems. Duke’s doesn’t stick around that long, which hurts a lot of things, notably defense. It’s a tradeoff.
Duke’s offense has generally made up for defensive lapses but not always as BC and State pulled off upsets at their respective places. The other area where Duke has had issues is communication. Coach K famously says he has three systems - offense, defense and communication. There’s just no way that Marvin Bagley and Trevon Duval can communicate as well as Isaiah Wilkins and Jack Salt. They just don’t know each other as well.
Virginia’s great strength - possibly historically great - is its defense.
Tony Bennett runs the Pack Line his dad put together and runs it better than anyone else ever has.
The Pack Line is essentially the defensive answer to the Princeton Offense. It’s a way to neutralize superior talent.
There are some principles that are the bedrock of the system. First, Virginia sends all five guys to kill transition. Once the ball is in half court, the Pack Line tries to make you deal with three defenders at all times and wants to get the ball to a sideline (you’re in trouble then). It also sends defenders after three point shooters and can adjust in time to kill drives.
Beating it isn’t easy but there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First are some basic fundamentals of basketball: passing the ball moves it faster than anything else and the faster it moves the harder it is to keep up. And players individually can’t afford to stand around. It just makes life easier for the defense and not just Virginia’s. Moving without the ball is huge.
And while Virginia will make it difficult for Duke to pass the ball inside to Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter, Grayson Allen and Gary Trent are very capable three point shooters.
We’re not sure what to expect with Trevon Duval Saturday. Playing against Virginia’s defense isn’t easy for experienced point guards and every possession is more valuable (and pressured) when Virginia slows the game down. In a way it wouldn’t surprise us if Allen took over some point guard duties temporarily but we’ve watched Duke long enough to know that Coach K is much more likely to challenge him than suggest he needs help which would also suggest a lack of confidence.
Of course Virginia has to score to succeed like anyone else. Duke’s defense has gotten better and has been really good in stretches against Evansville, Miami, Pitt and Wake Forest. Virginia’s Travis Guy and Ty Jerome have been a much better backcourt than most people expected, and on both ends too.
Up front Virginia is starting muscle boy Jack Salt, a limited offensive asset but a skilled defender, Isaiah Wilkins and Devon Hall. The bench is basically four players - Nigel Johnson, De’Andre Hunter, Mamadi Diakite and Durham native Jay Huff.
The guy who’s really been a revelation is Hunter, who could become Bennett’s latest stopper. He’s really good.
The other wild card, and it’ll be a tough one for Virginia to control, is what happens after Duke shoots. Virginia has to keep - this is not optional - must keep Bagley and Carter off of the offensive boards. You can keep the ball out of the post via pass but when those guys get a rebound it’s not easy to control them. Diakite could be very helpful there - he’s going to be a really good shot blocker before he’s through.
On a lesser not there’s been some criticism of Duke’s schedule but what about Virginia’s? Consider the games UVA was never going to lose: UNC-G, Austin Peay, VCU, Monmouth, Lehigh, Davidson, Savannah State and Hampton.
Of the competitive Power Five type games we see Vanderbilt, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and West Virginia.
In ACC play, the Wahoos have beaten Boston College by one, Virginia Tech by 16, UNC by 12, Syracuse by seven, NC State by 17, Georgia Tech by 16, Wake Forest by 10 and Clemson by 25.
Let’s break it down a bit further. Virginia is 19-1 but has only played five road games all season. In those wins - VCU, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest - the winning margin was 12.75 ppg.
Let’s also see how KenPom regards these opponents. Bolded opponents are from Power Five conferences:
- West Virginia: 10
- Rhode Island: 26
- Wisconsin: 89
- Vanderbilt: 103
- UNC-G: 118
- VCU: 130
- Monmouth: 175
- Austin Peay: 194
- Hampton: 262
- Lehigh: 265
- Savannah State: 313
- UNC: 8 (Home)
- Syracuse : 43 (Home)
- Virginia Tech: 48. (Away)
- NC State: 75 (Home)
- Boston College: 80 (Home)
- Wake Forest 93 (Away)
- Georgia Tech 112 (Away)
Most of you are familiar with Duke’s schedule so we won't break it down the same way but of the games Duke was never going to lose we see Elon, Utah Valley, Southern, Furman, South Dakota, St. Francis and Evansville.
We were tempted to say Portland State but they’ve proved to be a pretty good team, having beaten Stanford, nearly beaten Butler and given Oregon a solid game. As you remember, they gave Duke a tough game too.
In the other (competitive) corner, we see Michigan State, Texas, Florida and Indiana.
Duke played Michigan State in Chicago and the other three in the PK-80 Tournament in Portland which made the Portland State game basically a home game.
In the ACC, Duke has played BC, State, Pitt and Miami on the road and Florida State, Wake Forest and Pitt at home.
Competitively we’d say that Duke has had a tougher path but not necessarily by much. Being in places like Raleigh, Bloomington, Winston-Salem and the games in Portland really helped this team. Virginia is a very different challenge to be sure but this is not an invincible team as West Virginia proved.
Finally, let’s look at this: here are Virginia’s ACC losses and season-ending losses since 2013-14.
- Duke - 69-65
- Maryland -75-69
- Michigan State - 61-59
- Duke 69-63
- Louisville 69-67
- UNC - 71-67
- Michigan State - 60-54
- Duke 63-62
- Miami 64-61
- UNC 61-57
- Syracuse 68-62
- FSU 60-58
- Pitt 88-76
- VT 80-78
- Duke 65-55
- UNC 65-41
- Miami 54-48
- Notre Dame 71-58
- Florida 65-39
And just because it’s interesting:
- WV last year - 68-61
- WV this year - 66-57
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