When the Blue Devils and Cavaliers have taken the court together in the last few years, the teams have found themselves in tight, back-and-forth encounters. Throw in the ACC regular-season title implications, and Saturday’s game is arguably the biggest of the year.
Duke will be looking for its sixth straight win after defeating Wake Forest 84-70 Tuesday. The Cavaliers come into the contest on a 11-game winning streak and will look to take a commanding lead in the battle for the ACC regular-season crown. We discuss the five biggest questions heading into Duke’s second matchup against a top-five opponent this season.
How will the Blue Devils attack Virginia’s pack-line defense?
Under head coach Tony Bennett, the Cavaliers have always been a top-tier defensive team, and this year they have been better than ever. Virginia’s defensive scheme is predicated on ball pressure at the point of attack and clogging the paint to force contested jump shots. The Cavaliers allow the fewest points per game in the nation and also rank in the top 10 in turnover margin.
The best way to beat the pack-line defense is to rely on players creating off the dribble and to make contested jumpers. In the past couple seasons, the Blue Devils’ talent on the perimeter—including Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard, Grayson Allen and Tyus Jones—has been Virginia’s kryptonite. But this year’s Duke team is more post-oriented and prefers to play through the tandem of Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley down low. This will present the Blue Devils an interesting challenge as the Cavaliers will look to clog the paint for the two freshmen.
Freshman guard Trevon Duval has hit seven of his 10 attempts from beyond the arc in Duke’s last four games, and the Blue Devils will need him to show his ability to make Virginia pay if left open. The duo of Gary Trent Jr. and Grayson Allen will also need to make big contributions if Duke hopes to knock off the Cavaliers.
Will Duke’s lack of depth hurt against the physical Cavaliers?
The Blue Devils’ starting five has accounted for all but 11 points in Duke’s last two games. Although the talent of the starters has been enough to carry the team for much of the season, the Blue Devils may need a contribution off their bench if the team struggles with foul trouble. Sophomore Javin DeLaurier made his return from a three-game absence last weekend against Pittsburgh, and the forward could be especially valuable against the versatility of Isaiah Wilkins and freshman De’Andre Hunter on the wings.
Hunter has given Virginia a lift off the bench this season and could be a difference-maker again Saturday. The Philadelphia native has scored double digits off the bench in six of his last eight games.
Which Grayson Allen will show up?
Two years ago, Allen sent the Cameron Crazies into a frenzy with his buzzer-beating floater to push Duke past Virginia. Unlike in his sophomore season, Allen has been inconsistent for much of his senior campaign. The guard is shooting worse than 40 percent from deep this season and has yet to showcase the same explosiveness that the Blue Devils witnessed earlier in his career. But Allen has brought more intensity to the defensive end and has shown signs of breaking out of his slump. The Jacksonville, Fla., native hit his first three shot attempts Tuesday en route to a team-leading 13 first-half points.
Duke’s captain will likely be matched up with either Ty Jerome or Kyle Guy—both capable of getting under opponents’ skin—on Saturday. If Allen can get the better of either Virginia guard, the Blue Devils should be able to walk away with a resume-defining victory.
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Which team will dictate the pace of the game?
Saturday’s matchup features two teams that win games in vastly different ways. The Cavaliers like to walk the ball up the court and slow the game down, while the Blue Devils prefer to go up and down and are tough to contain in transition. A quick look at the teams’ scores for this season shows a lot of games in the mid-60s for Virginia and a number of games in triple digits for Duke.
If the Blue Devils are able to impose their style on their home court, they will be able to attack the Cavaliers before they can set up their defense. Easy baskets are always at a premium against Virginia, and Duke will need to manufacture some to put pressure on the Cavaliers. It’s often said that styles make fights and Saturday’s game will be no different.
Will Duke’s star power be the difference late in the game?
The Blue Devils five-star-heavy roster will have their hands full with an experienced and balanced Virginia team that plays smart basketball. In each of the last three seasons, Duke has gotten a superstar performance from one of its top talents to rally late in the game and steal a win from the Cavaliers—Tyus Jones made clutch shots late in the game in 2015, Allen hit the game-winner in 2016 and Jayson Tatum carried the team down the stretch in 2017.
Bagley will be the most talented player on the court Saturday, and there’s very little Virginia can do if the freshman has another one of his monster games. Carter and Trent have also shown the ability to take over for stretches and carry the Blue Devils with their individual ability when all else fails. Saturday’s game promises to shed some light on the impact of having superior talent.