Duke hosts Virginia Saturday night in a crucial matchup for Duke’s NCAA Tournament aspirations.
It doesn’t figure to be easy. The seventh-ranked Cavaliers are 15-4 overall and sit atop the ACC with an 11-2 conference mark.
Duke might have as much—even more-raw talent than Virginia but is way behind in quality experience. Virginia’s four leading scorers are redshirt seniors Sam Hauser and Jay Huff and juniors Trey Murphy and Kihei Clark.
Huff and Murphy are Durham natives basically ignored by Duke in the recruiting process, which adds an interesting subplot.
In normal times Duke would hope that an energetic crowd of Crazies could compensate for the experience gap but normal times went on hiatus 11 months ago.
If recent trends hold the game should be low-scoring and close. Virginia won 52-50 last season when Huff stuffed Vernon Carey on a late layup, one of Huff’s 10 blocks on the game. Still Duke has won four of the last six against Virginia and managed to put up 81 points against Virginia two seasons ago. Of course, Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett combined for 44 points in that 10-point win and this Duke team doesn’t have any top-three draft picks.
A more likely score will be something in the 52-50, 69-63, 63-62 or 65-63 range, all of which we’ve had recently.
Duke sophomore Wendell Moore II met with the media Friday afternoon to discuss the matchup.
Duke’s two-game winning streak has been fueled by a defensive renaissance that shut down both NC State and Wake Forest, holding the two to a combined 9 for 35 on 3-pointers.
Moore described a key change in Duke’s defensive strategy.
“We went from icing on the ball screens. . . to where the big [has] like a soft hedge, that [gives] the guard time to get through and doesn’t put so much pressure on our big and he can protect the rim.”
But Virginia’s big men can hit the 3-pointer in ways that few teams can match. Huff is hitting almost 45 percent from beyond the arc, Hauser 44 percent.
Duke is going to have to be disciplined.
“We’re still going to be Duke basketball,” Moore said. “We know that they like to get in the paint a lot and create open 3s. It’s a big game for us – we’re hoping to not allow those open 3s So, [it’s important to] contain the ball and really stay with our guys.”
“He thrives off those over-penetration, kick 3s. For us, not helping so much off of him and doing a good job containing the ball will ultimately limit those 3s.”
Of course, Duke has to be able to put the ball in the basket. Remember those 50 points Duke scored at Virginia last season? Carey scored 17 of them, Tre Jones 17 more, Javin DeLaurier added 6, Cassius Stanley 4.
That means Duke returns six points from last season’s game, two each from Moore, Joey Baker and Jordan Goldwire.
Still, Virginia may be vulnerable. Florida State beat them 81-60 earlier in the week. I’m not sure if “out-athleted” is a real word but Florida State out-athleted Virginia.
Duke was paying attention. Moore says the best way to defeat the pack-line defense is to not play against it and that’s the message he’s giving Duke’s freshmen.
“The best way to attack their defense is really in transition. If we’re in transition, it doesn’t give them the chance to set up that pack line defense. Our offense comes from our defense, and that goes back to stopping their offense again. That’s really the main thing I’ve been telling them. If we do get stuck in the half court, then our thing is to move the ball, get multiple touches on each side of the floor – just make the defense move because we’re not going to get anything off the first drive.”
Duke hopes to be able to turn both turnovers and defensive rebounds into fast-break opportunities.
“Yeah, because that’s really what we want to do. We want to get the ball out and push it every time. We have good playmakers in the open floor who can make plays for themselves and others, the bigs run the floor really well and we have shooters, so if we get in the paint, we can kick it out to our shooters and knock down some open 3s.”
Again, that’s going to require discipline and focus not to leak out too soon, not to start the fast break before you actually have the ball.
Moore thinks that junior wing Joey Baker has turned a corner and could be the X-factor against Virginia.
“Last game, we saw Joey – he had four 3s last game. That’s a first for him this year, so he’s really figuring things out with this year’s team as well. He’s done a really great job on the defensive end, so that’s ultimately making him play better on the offensive end.”
Mike Krzyzewski isn’t likely to see anything from Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers that he hasn’t seen before. Duke knows what it needs to do to send Virginia back home with another loss. But it’s going to take a high level of discipline and execution.