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Next Up - Virginia

It’s not last year, but Virginia is still Virginia

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Virginia
 Feb 9, 2019; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Zion Williamson (1) drives to the basket as Virginia Cavaliers guard Kihei Clark (0) defends in the second half at John Paul Jones Arena. The Blue Devils won 81-71. 
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Next up is Virginia at Virginia, and as everyone knows, since Tony Bennett took the Cavs job, Virginia is really tough to beat, home or away.

Duke-Virginia Game Info

  • Time: 6:00
  • Date: 2/29
  • Venue: John Paul Jones Arena
  • Video: ESPN

Last year obviously was the greatest year in Virginia basketball history, one of the best in ACC history and one of the most legendary tournament drives in NCAA history.

This year?

It’s not exactly been a letdown - you can’t say that - but even if Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome had all come back, there was no way to follow last year.

This year started slow and Virginia’s offense was awful at the beginning of the season. It’s come around though and the defense is still what you would expect from the Cavaliers.

The key to Virginia is their remarkable little point guard Kihei Clark. Just 5-8, Clark isn’t going to overwhelm anyone and he’s probably not an NBA player.

So what?

He has his flaws, turnovers for one, but overall he’s a great college point guard and as Bennett once said, he’s a winner. He knows what to do when the game is on the line.

Virginia pairs him in the backcourt with Tomas Woldetensae, a dead-eye Italian national and a JUCO transfer. He’s really come on late and made a difference for his team.

Durham native Jay Huff starts at center. He’s 7-1, still slim but strong now, and he’s a legitimate outside threat. His defense, which held him back early in his career, is greatly improved.

Mamadi Diakite is back from last year and the 6-9 forward has really matured. He’s a reliable shotblocker and defender and leader. He’s one of the best players in the league.

Braxton Key is the final starter. The 6-8 Alabama transfer had a hand injury early but seems to be back in the groove.

The bench right now is essentially Casey Morsell, a 6-3 freshman, Kody Stattman, a 6-7 sophomore, and Francisco Caffaro, a 7-0/244 redshirt freshman.

Virginia’s offense is nowhere near last year, as noted, but it is improving and in some ways is really secondary.

Essentially, as long as Virginia can suppress your score, keep it down around 50, you're in their world.

And unlike last year, this Duke team doesn’t really have an overwhelming offensive force. Vernon Carey has been a superb freshman, but Virginia is going to try to shut him down and they usually manage to limit inside scoring.

The best way to beat the Pack Line is to turn Virginia over and score before they can set it up. And this year, at times although not all times, Duke’s D has been better than Virginia’s.

It’s possible that the Blue Devils can do a better job of suppressing Virginia’s offense than Virginia does of suppressing Duke’s.

The Blue Devils have two options for Clark - Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire. The biggest mismatch for UVa will be with either Huff or Diakite because Carey can’t guard them both.

Duke has occasionally run Carey and backup Javin DeLaurier together but not all that much. Against Wake Forest, Justin Robinson, a career reserve, a former walk-in, was needed and came through. He may be again.

If we’re not mistaken, and we can’t find it right now, Bennett now has a winning record, or at worst nearly a winning record against every ACC school except one - Duke.

Even Duke has to worry about this team though. The thing about Bennett’s system - well, several things, are these.

  • Yes it’s deliberate but in person you can’t believe how hard these guys work on defense. It’s really intense.
  • If the score is close in the end, no matter what anyone may say, Virginia has the advantage - as long as they execute.
  • And this year, Clark is such a tough, smart competitor that at the end of the game, even though he’s 5-8, he almost always knows what the right thing to do is.
  • This isn’t strictly about Virginia, but Duke is a young team and has struggled on the road lately. Virginia has noticed this and planned accordingly.

In other words, and this will be no surprise, don't expect an easy game.

Also: with a win, UVa moves into a tie for third place with Duke and holds the tiebreaker.