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Thoughts On The Duke Win Over Virginia

That was fun. But not easy.

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Duke v Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - FEBRUARY 09: Cam Reddish #2, RJ Barrett #5 and Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils hug in the second half during a game against the Virginia Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena on February 9, 2019 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Just about everything about the Virginia game was fun from a Duke perspective.

The Blue Devils just clicked on all cylinders. And in fairness to Virginia, the ‘Hoos had some difficulties, including Ty Jerome’s back and Mamadi Diakite’s head.

Diakite ran into teammate De’Andre Hunter head-to-head. He left the game and did not return. Presumably he’s in the protocol concussion so we’ll see if he’s available for Virginia’s trip to Chapel Hill.

Jerome’s back is better but he’s not in perfect condition. No one is after missing time. It’s the same for musicians. Miss a few days and you can tell the difference. It’s a very fine edge.

We love that kid. Jerome is a cutthroat competitor and he gave it his all in this game. It was just slightly less than he usually has to give. He’ll be back.

The general consensus is that Duke won because it got hot from outside and there’s truth to that but it’s not the only reason Duke won.

Bennett’s system, the Pack Line his father invented and which he has improved, is designed to neutralize superior athleticism. You can shoot over it obviously. If JJ Redick were out there he’d just back up and keep bombing. Same for Steph Curry.

The thing is that as brilliant as it is, like any scheme it has its limits. If you had Shaquille O’ Neal or Ralph Sampson out there, you’d just lob it to them where no one could get it. Larry Bird would find angles that no one could predict.

In other words, if you think of any defense as something you can graph against talent, there comes a point where talent, in conjunction with teamwork, overtakes it.

Golden State might score 150 against Virginia. They’ll never play but you get the point.

In college basketball now, Duke has tremendous talent. The most obvious example is Zion Williamson and in this game the most obvious play was that block of De’Andre Hunter. Almost no one does that. It’s nearly cartoonish.

But there are more talents on this team.

There’s Tre Jones constantly pursuing the ball, suppressing points and ball motion wherever he goes. There’s RJ Barrett, who is as versatile as anyone in college today. The only real criticism of him is that he shoots a lot and that’s partly because Williamson consistently shoots 11-16 or something like that and no one but Williamson is that efficient.

But leave that aside. Barrett’s also a second point guard, an outstanding defender and rebounder. He’s just really good.

Then there’s Cam Reddish, called the prototype of position less basketball by John Calipari, who is coming into his own now, and Marques Bolden, who has contributed so much that can’t easily be quantified. The bench is thin but they are all reliable.

You can stop the outside shooting and the penetration perhaps, but if we’re not mistaken, the converted steals Duke scored on were just about the margin of victory. That seems to be overlooked in the analyses of the game.

This has been too: Duke has generally succeeded against Virginia. Bennett arrived in 2009 and here are the scores since then:


  • Duke 79 Virginia 54


  • Duke 67 Virginia 49
  • Duke 57 Virginia 46


  • Duke 76 Virginia 60
  • Duke 56 Virginia 41


  • Duke 61 Virginia 58


  • Virginia 73 Duke 68


  • Duke 69 Virginia 65
  • Virginia 72 Duke 63


  • Duke 69 Virginia 63


  • Duke 63 Virginia 62


Duke 65 Virginia 55


  • Virginia 65 Duke 63


  • Duke 72 Virginia 70
  • Duke 81 Virginia 71

Bennett has a winning record against every ACC team except for Duke.

Part of it you can put down to building a program but Virginia started winning in his third season and since then has averaged just under 27 wins a year.

He’s built a brilliant program and it has finished ahead of Duke several times in the ACC standings, but head to head, Mike Krzyzewski has dominated Tony Bennett.

That’s true and so is this.

We noticed early on that there were some patterns in Duke-Virginia games. In games that Duke wins, the Blue Devils maintain a (usually) slight lead that Virginia can approach but not quite overcome.

In games that Virginia wins, the Cavaliers tend to get a small lead which might swing back and forth but the Cavaliers ultimately make more consistently smart plays at the end.

All things considered, Duke has had remarkable success against Bennett’s program.

It’s not like it’s easy though. Playing Bennett’s teams is damned hard work and that goes both ways.

So with both teams on a short turnaround (Virginia plays Monday and Duke Tuesday, both on the road), don’t be surprised if UNC beats the Cavaliers (especially if Diakite and Jerome are limited or out) and Duke will probably not hit three pointers like they did in Charlottesville.

Well almost certainly not. That was off the charts.

But the point is is that both teams expended massive amounts of energy Saturday night. If they win their next games it’s likely to be on grit and heart and not on hot shooting.

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