Duke has had success on the road so far this season, but it will take a monumental effort to sustain that string of victories in a rematch of the game of the year so far.
The second-ranked Blue Devils will visit No. 3 Virginia at John Paul Jones Arena Saturday at 6 p.m. in Charlottesville, Va., three weeks after taking down the Cavaliers 72-70 in Durham. A sweep of the season series would put Duke in the driver’s seat to win its first ACC regular-season title since 2010.
“Winning the league has been one of our goals since we got back in the summer,” junior captain Javin DeLaurier said. “It’s been a while, long overdue, so it’s definitely important in terms of that, but we’re really not thinking about it like that. For us, it’s just getting our ninth ACC win.”
Although the Blue Devils (20-2, 8-1 in the ACC) have started off sluggish in multiple recent games at home, trailing at halftime against Georgia Tech and Boston College, they have had no such trouble on the road. Duke has won its first four true road games of the season for the first time since 2008, getting a Cam Reddish game-winner to top then-No. 13 Florida State and blitzing Wake Forest, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.
The Blue Devils have also enjoyed success in their last two trips to Charlottesville, including the memorable 69-63 victory against the undefeated Cavaliers in 2015 that sparked Duke’s march to the national championship.
“Over the past couple of years, it’s become one of the most hostile environments in the country,” DeLaurier said. “They’re really tough to beat at home, but I think if anyone can do it, we can.”
Tyus Jones knocked down the deep 3-pointer to clinch that victory four years ago, and his little brother will get his first taste of facing Virginia’s pack-line defense in the same building this week. Tre Jones sat out Duke’s win at Cameron Indoor Stadium with a shoulder injury, but has not missed a beat since returning, especially on defense.
This time, the Cavaliers (20-1, 8-1) have an injury concern of their own in the backcourt, as point guard Ty Jerome was sidelined for their win against Miami last Saturday with a sore back. It’s hard to imagine Jerome not suiting up for Saturday’s top-three showdown looking to avenge a cold night from the perimeter in Cameron, but he will have to deal with ball pressure from Jones unlike anything else he has seen this season.
Jones is not the only player responsible for Duke having a top-five defense in the nation, according to KenPom.com. Zion Williamson’s quickness and athleticism has locked down opposing wings, and Cam Reddish has also shown an ability to stay in front of perimeter threats consistently and get his hands in passing lanes. When opponents try to have their off-ball guards dribble it up the court to get Jones away from the ball, it still isn’t coming easily for them.
“If you watch the tape of the [Boston College] game and watch how Cam was running through screens from side to side, he reminded me of Grant [Hill], Because he’s 6-8 and he’s long,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It’s beautiful. It was absolutely beautiful what he was doing. I think that helped him offensively because you are moving strong, playing strong.”
Either Reddish or R.J. Barrett will likely draw the assignment of guarding potential All-American Kyle Guy while Jones handles Jerome, and the Blue Devils will need Barrett to stay disciplined enough to stay in the game. Barrett gave Virginia’s vaunted defense fits at home and poured in 30 points, but he hasn’t scored more than 20 in two weeks and battled foul trouble in Tuesday’s matchup with Boston College.
“The first two fouls were fouls he cannot commit,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s playing well—he’s not playing as well as he wants to play. He’s such a competitor at times he puts a little too much pressure on himself.”
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Duke didn’t need its whole team to beat the Cavaliers at home, with Williamson and Barrett both delivering exceptional performances to offset Jones’ absence, but everybody will need to be at full strength and on the floor for the Blue Devils to have a good chance to leave Charlottesville celebrating the same outcome.