The series that has consistently produced instant classics for the last five years will add another chapter Saturday, as Duke and Virginia prepare to face off in yet another top-five matchup Saturday evening at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Head coach Tony Bennett has built the Cavaliers into a perennial juggernaut dominating the rest of the ACC in the regular season, and this year, he might have his best team yet. Virginia has rolled through its first 16 games undefeated and is coming off a convincing home win against No. 9 Virginia Tech Tuesday night.
With the shorthanded Blue Devils hoping to avoid back-to-back home losses to the Cavaliers as well as back-to-back home losses this season, here are five things to watch for when Virginia takes the floor at Cameron again.
These aren't your older sibling's Cavaliers, who rolled through the ACC but kept most of their games in the 50s and 60s. Their defense is still excellent, of course, and has only let one opponent crack 70 points all season, but what makes this Virginia team different is that it can really score the basketball, particularly from the perimeter.
You might remember Ty Jerome's dagger 3-pointer last year at Cameron from several feet beyond the 3-point line at the top of the key. He takes and makes those shots with regularity this year, and backcourt mate Kyle Guy is even better, shooting 46.7 percent from deep as he puts on clinics on how to move without the ball and run off screens to get small windows to shoot. The Cavaliers knock down 40.8 percent of their 3-pointers as a team, the seventh-highest mark in the nation.
Virginia scored 100 points in a game this season for the first time in Bennett's 10 years at the helm and has eclipsed 80 in two of its four ACC games after never reaching that mark in conference play last season. Don't expect the Cavaliers to go on the type of long scoring drought that has haunted them in the past. It's probably not going to happen.
A snail's pace
One thing that hasn't changed about Virginia is its tempo. The Cavaliers play at the slowest pace of all 353 Division I teams, forcing opposing offenses into long possessions by limiting driving lanes and working methodically to get good shots themselves.
The Blue Devils, on the other hand, are in the top 10 in the nation in adjusted tempo and have revolved around their transition offense this year, but it will hard to dictate the pace against Virginia's veteran backcourt, especially without Tre Jones. Duke's freshman point guard has typically been able to speed teams up out of their comfort zones and force turnovers with his full-court ball pressure, but almost certainly won't play Saturday after separating a shoulder joint during Monday's loss at Syracuse.
Packing it in
The Cavaliers play so slowly as a byproduct of Bennett's trademark pack-line defense. Whoever is guarding the ball-handler applies pressure, but the rest of Virginia's players on the floor sag off their men to cut off dribble penetration. Naturally, this makes it hard to score around the rim, and the formula to beat the Cavaliers typically involves more than a few made 3-pointers.
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This makes Virginia a particularly difficult matchup for the Blue Devils, who made just nine of their 43 3-point attempts against the Orange's 2-3 zone. Freshman long-range threat Cam Reddish could help in this facet if he feels better after flu-like symptoms sidelined him Monday.
Cavalier starting center Jack Salt appears to be an ideal matchup for Duke big man Marques Bolden—Salt hasn't attempted a 3-pointer this season and rarely touches the ball outside the post, which would test Bolden's weakness at perimeter defending.
Fortunately for Virginia, it does have a big man off the bench who would test those pressure points, and the Cavaliers found him right in the Blue Devils' backyard. Durham native and former Voyager Academy star Jay Huff only plays 9.2 minutes per game, but has made his playing time count, chipping in 18 combined points in Virginia's last two contests.
The 7-foot-1 forward is 6-for-10 from 3-point range this season, and with him in the fold, Virginia could put five shooters on the floor and look a lot like Gonzaga, an opponent that caused Bolden fits with its offensive versatility and forced him to the bench for most of the second half.
Nobody in college basketball is exactly like Zion Williamson, but Cavalier forward De'Andre Hunter is probably closer than anybody Duke has seen yet this season. The 6-foot-7 sophomore projected to be an NBA lottery pick this summer can attack the basket and finish with ease, converting on 52.3 percent of his shots from the field while averaging 14.4 points per game, the second-most on the team behind Guy.
Hunter is likely to be Williamson's primary defender, with 6-foot-8 transfer Braxton Key possibly helping as well, and they could make it very hard for the Blue Devils' freshman sensation to score.