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Next Up - Virginia

The post-UNC celebration was short-lived.

Duke v North Carolina
CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - FEBRUARY 05: Mark Williams #15 celebrates with Wendell Moore Jr. #0 of the Duke Blue Devils after a dunk against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the first half of their game at the Dean E. Smith Center on February 05, 2022 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images
  • Date: 1/7
  • Time: 7:00
  • Venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium
  • Video: ESPN

A lot of Duke fans, us included, are still giddy about smashing UNC in the Dean Dome. Why, it was so good they might even name a road after it. Call it the Saturday Night Massacre.

It at least deserves an exit, preferably onto 15-501.

The team of course can’t have that kind of fun. Virginia is in the house and while this is not a vintage Tony Bennett team, they can still slow you down and get you into a slugfest. And you can be sure that Bennett realizes that there's no way Duke will be as emotionally keyed up as they were in Chapel Hill. And Duke could come out flat and perhaps a bit tired.

UVA may have an opening, in other words.

The Hoos, like a number of ACC teams this year, have a limited rotation. They go about seven deep and then they get into Hoopers Anonymous.

Just kidding. Some of those guys could really turn out. We’re very curious about Igor Milicic for one.

Virginia has a solid perimeter with sophomore Reece Beekman, a 6-2 sophomore defender to build around next year, Armaan Franklin, a 6-4 Indiana transfer, and Kihei Clark, now a senior and still just 5-8, tops. He’s also the only player in the ACC with a championship ring and his brilliant pass to Mamadi Diakite against Purdue is one of the jaw dropping-est plays in NCAA history.

Up front, the Cavs have Kadin Shedrick, Francisco Caffaro and Jayden Gardner.

Gardner is a 6-6 243 lb. transfer from ECU. Virginia wanted him for fairly obvious reasons: he’s a bruiser who can score a bit. Cafarro is a big rascal: he’s a 7-1 242 lb. junior. So far he’s kind of like a bigger Jack Salt but he could come on. And Shedrick is a 6-11, 231 lb. sophomore from Holly Springs. He’s more mobile than Caffaro but like his fellow big, hasn’t really come close to his potential yet.

Interestingly, this team has a lot of NC guys and several from the Triangle. That’s been a trend for Bennett in recent years. This year it’s Shedrick, Gardner and Carson McCorkle, who hails from Raleigh.

Last year, Bennett also had Jay Huff and Trey Murphy, both from Durham and Justin McKoy from Cary (now at UNC).

The thing about Virginia is that they lull you into this ferocious half-court bear wrestling and when the game is on the line, you haven’t been able to pull away and it’s exhausting. And then they’ve got you right where they want you.

Only it hasn’t worked so well against Duke: Bennett has been a superb coach for Virginia, dominating the league in many years. However, he is 4-12 vs. Coach K, we believe, and that in an era when Krzyzewski has relied heavily on one-and-done freshmen.

So why does Duke keep winning?

One word: talent. Bennett knows how to recruit for his system and has generally done so brilliantly. Unfortunately Duke has hit him with guys like Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter, Gary Trent Jr., Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Vernon Carey, RJ Barrett, Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Cam Reddish, RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson - and that only counts the freshmen. Toss in three Plumlees, Ryan Kelly, Quinn Cook, Grayson Allen, Tre Jones, Amile Jefferson, Rodney Hood and a few others and you start to see the challenge. A system can only overcome talent to a certain extent. In the end, talent generally prevails.

Not that we’re not impressed: this year aside, Bennett has been just brilliant. But it’s worth mentioning that the only other ACC coach at .500 against him, Leonard Hamilton, also has had deep, talented teams with plenty of future NBA players.

It’s remarkable that his system has overcome so many more talented teams. It’s dangerous and challenging, and that’s true this year, despite the mediocre record.

Duke certainly has more talent. Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin are both lottery picks and perhaps Top Five picks at that. Wendell Moore, Mark Williams and Trevor Keels are all likely first round picks as well. Jeremy Roach is not at this point but he’s emerged as a tough and smart guard who Bennett would love to have, particularly since he really takes care of the ball. Theo John also is not a likely pick (although he’ll get some looks). He’d fit right in with the Cavs too. Joey Baker might also. For that matter, we’d guess he’d love to have Bates Jones also.

Duke’s draftable players would obviously play but Roach and John would certainly start and Baker and Jones might. These teams are not on the same page talent wise.

But Bennett’s system isn't designed to attract top talent as much as it is to restrain it. If Paolo Banchero tries to go behind his back and spin into the lane, as he’s tried several times lately, it won’t go well. Mark Williams will get pushed and shoved under the basket more than he will like. Griffin can probably get by his first perimeter defender but as he moves in, they’ll close on him. And someone has to chase little Kehei around all night and that’s not gong to be fun at all, especially for the bigger perimeter defenders.

The point is the same as we said in the beginning: obviously Duke will be favored. Draft Kings has Duke at -12 (of course they had Duke at -3 over UNC. You pays your money, you takes your chances). Much like Syracuse’s 2-3 zone though, Virginia’s Pack Line, and their mastery of a glacial pace, give them a chance in most games. Don’t be surprised if this game is close late.