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Grayson Allen has never lost to Virginia and made a buzzer-beater to beat the Cavaliers the last time ...

Key three: How can Duke navigate past Virginia's stifling defense?



After a couple of easy conference games, No. 4 Duke will return to Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday at 2 p.m. to face No. 2 Virginia. Here are three keys to the game: 

Ride Grayson Allen

In order to win tough games, teams have to rely on veteran leadership to guide younger players to victory. 

The Blue Devils have missed out on that leadership from sole senior Grayson Allen, as he has only scored in double digits for three of the last six games, none coming against ranked opponent Miami or in Duke’s loss to NC State. Throughout Allen’s struggles, the Blue Devils have been able to rely on freshmen bigs Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. for the majority of the team’s scoring. 

But in the most consequential game of the season yet for Duke, Allen will need to show up against the most efficient defensive team in the nation. Giving the Blue Devils another outside threat and a reliable scoring option will not only help them beat the Cavaliers, but also boost Allen’s confidence for the rest of the season, as Duke will also need his contributions to make a deep run in March. 

Emphasize tough defense

A good defensive team only beats a good offensive team when the offensive team fails to stop their opponents from scoring. 

The Blue Devils, which have scored the most points in the country, find themselves in a peculiar situation facing a Virginia team that has allowed the fewest points in the nation. While it is inevitable that Duke will not score as easily as they are accustomed to against Virginia’s smothering defense, they must make it a point to defend the Cavaliers well to make up for the loss of offensive efficiency. 

The Blue Devils have had issues with their defense so far, ranked No. 70 in basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy's efficiency rankings. While their zone has not yet looked capable of stopping a team with good shooters, they have also struggled in man defense, forcing them to stay in a zone for most games. The Cavaliers, ranked 29th in nation in three-point percentage, have the capability of exposing Duke’s zone Saturday afternoon, so the Blue Devils need to come out with defensive intensity to limit Virginia’s scoring opportunities.

Direct game down low

To beat the Cavaliers, Bagley and Carter need to continue dominating in the paint. A weakness Duke can exploit is Virginia’s lack of size down low. 

Other than 6-foot-10 redshirt junior Jack Salt, nobody on Virginia’s squad has the size and athleticism to challenge Duke’s elite bigs. The Blue Devils rank second in the country for total rebounds per game, while the Cavaliers rank near the bottom. Virginia may force Duke to struggle offensively, but the Blue Devils can give themselves second-chance opportunities if they crash the boards and corral missed shots. 

Duke can also use its rebounding advantage to control the tempo of the game, starting fastbreaks off Virginia’s misses. Duke needs to capitalize on every advantage they have over the Cavaliers to win what should be a highly contested matchup. 


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