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Key three: Duke men's basketball must push the pace against Virginia

Sophomore point guard Tre Jones will be instrumental in pushing the pace of play Saturday against Virginia.
Sophomore point guard Tre Jones will be instrumental in pushing the pace of play Saturday against Virginia.

After yet another road embarrassment this past Tuesday at Wake Forest, Duke travels to Charlottesville, Va., for its last regular season contest outside of Durham. The Blue Zone analyzes three keys if the Blue Devils want to recover with a win Saturday against Virginia:

Don't have a short-term memory 

Usually when Duke comes off a tough loss, like its double-overtime heartbreaker against Wake Forest, it is important to have a short-term memory and move on. But not this time. The Blue Devils picked up another ugly defeat to a team that shouldn’t be in the conversation for beating them, which has happened numerous times this season. Rather than forgetting, Duke must do the opposite. This team needs to remember what caused these severe underdogs to trample the mighty Blue Devils.

Duke's theme over its last two losses (at N.C. State and at Wake Forest) was its slow starts and overall lack of intensity. Anyone could tell that the Blue Devils were not playing at the same level of quality that they are so known for doing. Whether it’s the hostile atmosphere or the general feeling of discomfort being in another team’s building, Duke needs to figure it out. Because on Saturday, John Paul Jones Arena will certainly not be friendly. 

Return to the fundamentals

One thing that has plagued the Blue Devils over the course of their last few games has been the breakdown of fundamentals. Defense, passing and making easy shots are usually areas that Duke dominates, but that has not been the story as of late. The Blue Devil defense has been slow, despite having two of the best defensive point guards in the country. Across the whole team, foul trouble has been an issue as a result of poor defense, which just leads to even softer interior defense, continuing the cycle.

On offense, Duke has been struggling to move the ball like it used to. An increase in unforced turnovers and bad shots off unnecessary isolation plays are signs of laziness on that end of the court. Additionally, missing easy layups and free throws has burdened the team and cost the Blue Devils major momentum swings and point gaps over this stretch. Fundamentals can make or break a team, and right now it is breaking Duke. 

Can’t play Virginia's game

Head coach Tony Bennett and his Cavaliers are notorious for playing a slow game, controlling the clock and the momentum. This year’s team is epitomizing that, ranking dead last (353rd) in the country in possessions per game. Duke has a totally opposite take on the way basketball should be played, ranking 16th in possessions per contest, and must stick to it if it wants to come out victorious. Despite being unranked, Virginia is sitting at a 20-7 overall record, including a 12-5 conference record that's good for fourth in the ACC. The Blue Devils have to push the pace of play and make sure they don’t get lulled by the slow rate that the Cavaliers are going to hit them with. 


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