Duke will hope to erase the sour taste from an overtime loss against Syracuse with No. 4 Virginia coming to town Saturday night. The Blue Zone takes a look at a player from each team that could be a difference-maker in the game.
Duke: Guard Alex O'Connell
There's no way around it. The formula to beat the Cavaliers has to include the 3-point shot. Virginia's pack-line defense is aimed at limiting dribble penetration, with off-ball defenders sagging off their matchups to cut off the paint. Shooters have to be ready to catch kick-out passes and fire away quickly, and O'Connell might be the most confident spot-up shooter on Duke's roster.
Nobody has beaten Virginia this season, and all three teams to beat Tony Bennett's squad last year needed made at least 10 triples during their victories. None needed anywhere close to 43 attempts to get there like the Blue Devils launched Monday night against the Orange while only draining nine. O'Connell, however, was Duke's lone beacon of efficiency, making 4-of-8 long-distance shots on his way to a career-high 16 points.
With Tre Jones unlikely to play Saturday due to a shoulder injury, the door is open for O'Connell to see a lot of minutes once again, and he'll have to maximize his strength as a shooter while minimizing the weaknesses that hurt the Blue Devils Monday night. A critical lazy pass in overtime resulted in an easy breakaway layup for Syracuse, and his defense remains a work in progress. On one play, O'Connell fell to the ground trying to guard Frank Howard, who capitalized on the opportunity to drain a 3-pointer. That can't happen against the Cavaliers, when O'Connell will be tasked with containing arguably the best shooting backcourt in the nation in Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome.
Virginia: Forward Jay Huff
If and when Huff takes the floor Saturday, it will be his first college action in his hometown of Durham after staying on the bench for the entirety of Virginia's win against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium last season. The Voyager Academy product still doesn't play that much this season, averaging just 9.2 minutes per game, but there's reason to believe he'll have a bigger role Saturday night besides just the added motivation of playing close to home.
The 7-foot-1 Huff is 6-of-10 from beyond the arc this season and can stretch the floor a lot better than the Cavaliers' more traditional big man, Jack Salt, which could create matchup problems for the Blue Devil frontcourt. Starting forward Javin DeLaurier is a mobile option but often has trouble staying on the court without fouling, especially when he has to defend on the perimeter. Marques Bolden generally hasn't been quick enough to step out and contest shooters at all and only played three second-half minutes in Duke's Maui Invitational loss to Gonzaga because the Bulldogs repeatedly burned him with five shooters on the floor.
Huff might have a difficult time matching up with Bolden on defense in the low post, but if he makes one or two early triples off the bench, he could force Krzyzewski's hand and possibly force the Blue Devils' best low-post scoring option off the floor.
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