Somehow, it has been just two and a half weeks since No. 2 Duke and third-ranked Virginia met at Cameron Indoor Stadium. But in the meantime, the Blue Devils and Cavaliers have just kept doing what they've both done 20 times this season already—winning.
Saturday night's primetime battle in Charlottesville, Va., will have a bit of a different wrinkle as Duke point guard Tre Jones will get his first crack at Tony Bennett's squad after missing the earlier matchup with a separated right AC joint. His brother, Tyus, of course, hit the dagger triple in one of the 2014-15 Blue Devils' most memorable games en route to their national title.
There is, however, an injury looming—this time for Virginia—that could have an equally critical impact on the teams' rematch. That's one of the five things we'll be watching for at the John Paul Jones Arena this weekend.
Back or back?
Cavalier point guard Ty Jerome suffered what is being termed a "sprained back" in Virginia's 66-65 win at N.C. State last Tuesday and has not played since, sitting out the Wahoos' lone matchup last Saturday vs. Miami. Bennett said on Monday's ACC teleconference that he didn't have much of an update, but described things as "going in the right direction."
What that means for Saturday is unclear. Jerome is the most heavily used player on the Virginia roster and he's averaging nearly five assists per game, getting things going for the Cavaliers' two primary scorers, Kyle Guy and DeAndre Hunter. Even if Jerome does play, Jones will very likely give the 6-foot-5 junior fits and slow down one of the nation's most lethal and efficient offensive units.
Hunter be hunted
It's easy to forget Hunter—after all, he did miss the stretch run of last season with injury and wasn't on the court for Virginia's infamous defeat at the hands of UMBC. Yet, the Philadelphia native is clearly the Cavaliers' top pro prospect and on track to be a first-team All-ACC honoree for good reason. He leads Virginia with 14.7 points per game on nearly 53 percent shooting from the field, along with 5.4 rebounds, which trails just Braxton Key.
So why did Hunter not get more chances in the first matchup with the Blue Devils?
Sure, he finished with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting, but 11 of those points came before intermission and the last two were the result of a meaningless final possession that just beat the buzzer. The Cavaliers had a chance to feed Hunter and generate more offense at the rim when their 3-pointers weren't falling. Regardless of whether or not Virginia gets going from distance, it would be wise to ensure that Hunter gets plenty of opportunities in order to open things up for the rest of its scoring threats.
Picking up the pace
The Cavaliers haven't had much of a problem controlling the tempo versus Duke. Each of the last six games between the two teams have featured 65 possessions or fewer, and this version of Virginia is playing at an adjusted tempo of 59.7 possessions per game—that's dead last in the NCAA.
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The Blue Devils, on the other hand, are 17th in the nation in adjusted tempo, trailing just North Carolina among ACC teams. And Duke has logged fewer than 70 possessions in only five games all season.
But the Cavaliers may have unlocked the secret to holding the Blue Devils in check. Five of Duke's last six opponents have kept the Blue Devils' possessions in the 60s. Although Coach K's squad has emerged victorious in all of those games, there have been some rough first-half showings and that could be enough to lift Virginia to victory.
Meet 'em in the middle
The Cavaliers have plenty of size to counter Duke. Big men Jack Salt and Jay Huff each have unique skillsets, and although Huff saw just seven minutes of action in the teams' first game, there's a good chance he could get more run this time around. Add in the further emergence of forward Mamadi Diakite and it's hard to see the Blue Devils having their way down low.
Whether Marques Bolden can establish himself in this matchup could have a big-time say on the outcome. If Duke can get some offense without having to rely on iso-ball from Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, it will give Virginia a whole lot more to think about on defense.
Three's a crowd
We've already mentioned the Blue Devils' 2015 trip to Charlottesville. It was a critical juncture that year as Duke handed the Cavaliers their first loss and set the stage for the Blue Devils' overwhelming run to Indianapolis as they won 20 of their final 21 games.
In 2017, it was the Jayson Tatum show—the freshmen and eventual No. 3 overall pick in that year's NBA Draft shot the lights out of the JPJ, scoring 28 points with a half-dozen 3-pointers on seven tries from distance as well as collecting eight rebounds.
A win Saturday would make it three straight for Duke at Virginia, and would make the Blue Devils the favorites to win the ACC regular-season crown for the first time since 2010.