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More On Duke-Virginia

It was a difficult but potentially very useful loss.

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DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 27: Duke Blue Devils guard Trevon Duval (1) and Virginia Cavaliers center Jack Salt (33) during the 2nd half of the Duke Blue Devils game versus the Virginia Cavaliers on January 27, 2018, at Cameron Indoor Stadium
Photo by Jaylynn Nash/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Are we upset about the loss to Virginia? Well, disappointed is a better word. Losing to a really good team by two points is nothing to be upset about and Virginia was very impressive.

It was a really good game as you probably saw but also a really interesting game.

We’ve made some cracks about not enjoying Virginia’s style and most of you would probably agree that it’s an acquired taste. But we should qualify that somewhat.

Virginia is only boring on TV.

Not living in Charlottesville, we don’t get to see them in person very often but we can say this: this Virginia team isn’t like any of Bennett’s previous teams.

It is in terms of basic strategy and structure of course, but this team is just...different.

This game, in person, was a cage match. This Virginia team is intensely physical. They’re not dirty but they play extremely hard. We’re guessing Duke wakes up with bruises Sunday morning and not just Grayson Allen, who took an elbow at the very end of the game.

What’s not obvious on TV is that this is a surprisingly quick team. Some guys aren’t - Jack Salt isn’t going to win any awards - but overall, the Cavaliers are fairly quick. Travis Guy quivers around the court and could pull a fake in his sleep. He’s way quicker than he looks. Travis Jerome isn’t particularly quick but he’s very smart and minimizes mistakes. In a sense he reminds us of Jon Scheyer who you could watch for 10-15 minutes without seeing him making a single mistake.

De’Andre Hunter is a really good athlete and he managed to score inside without too much trouble, particularly in the critical parts of the game.

In the frontcourt, Isaiah Wilkins only played 14 minutes for whatever reason but he’s been called Virginia’s most important player. Jack Salt is not a major offensive factor but he has a cartoon haircut and a cartoon body to match it. The guy is ridiculously strong and he’s a solid defender.

Then there’s Devon Hall who like Wilkins is a senior. Salt is a junior.

The other thing that we realized watching them in person for the first time in a while is that while Virginia’s offense is patient rather than slow. They simply will not accept a result with poor odds. The Wahoos will always work for a better shot.

In Saturday’s game, as we saw, Duke had 16 turnovers to Virginia’s five. Most were in the first half, we think, but one killer was when Trevon Duval attempted a pass to Wendell Carter with Duke down two. Ty Jerome stepped in front to pick it off and :20 seconds later hit a backbreaking three.

After the game Duval, who had some really impressive drives through Virginia’s vaunted defense, said he knew as soon as it was on his fingertips that he knew it was a mistake.

Jerome didn’t. He was in the right place at the right time and right now, that’s the critical difference between these two teams.

Virginia has a huge amount of experience. Most people assumed they’d take a step back this season - we thought they’d struggle to replace London Perrantes for one - but Virginia’s plan is in place and it’ll take a lot - like the Austin Nichol’s fiasco - to knock them off track.

We’ve said since at least 1999 that experience can trump talent. So in our mind here’s what’s important about last night’s game:

Despite being clearly outclassed in the first half, despite the 16 turnovers, and some misses on defense, notably with Hunter and Jerome (by the way, Duke nearly shut Guy out in the second half after a hot first half that really hurt Duke), despite having four freshman on the court for nearly the entire game, Duke could’ve won that game.

The focus is always on talent and talent is obviously critical. Basketball is a team sport though and teams that have been together longer have a significant advantage as Duke fans have seen in the NCAA tournament in recent years.

So the fact that four freshmen got knocked back early and were still in position to win is significant and a good sign. What Duke needs - unfortunately - is some hard knocks. Wendell Carter said early this year that there’s no reason why this team couldn’t go undefeated. Well maybe in a year or two if it stuck together but of course it won’t. So the instruction from failure has to be compressed.

In other words, Carter was wrong. The last thing this team needed was to be undefeated. It needs to be kicked around a bit in order to grow up. In many ways, losing to Virginia by two in such a tough manner will help Duke.

Trevon Duval, who did not say anything that we know of about going undefeated, had a different perspective after three losses (and presumably Carter does as well). He said this: “We all learned a lot. We learned that playing against really good teams like Virginia tells us that we have to be sharp all the time. We have to be smart with the ball. We have to make free throws and do all the little things, like rebound and stuff like that, to be really good teams like that.”

Experience is won, not given.

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