Duke will host No. 7 Virginia Saturday at 8 p.m. in Cameron Indoor Stadium, looking to win its third game in a row and its second since freshman Jalen Johnson announced he was opting out of the rest of the season to prepare for the NBA Draft.
Here are some key storylines ahead of the Blue Devils’ matchup with the Cavaliers.
Battle of the forwards pt. 2
Sophomore forward Matthew Hurt was spectacular for Duke (9-8, 7-6 in the ACC) in its win against Wake Forest Wednesday. Hurt has scored over 20 points in each of the Blue Devils’ last two games, and will need to put up another huge performance if Duke hopes to leave Saturday with another victory.
Virginia (15-4, 11-2) presents quite the challenge for Hurt, with the Cavaliers boasting arguably two of the best forwards in the ACC in Sam Hauser and Jay Huff. Hauser and Huff bring a tremendous amount of experience, size and scoring ability, averaging 14.8 and 12.9 points, respectively. This dynamic duo is as difficult a matchup Duke will see this season—Hauser and Huff average a combined 13.4 rebounds per game while both shooting above 43% from 3-point range as well.
“[Virginia likes] to get in the paint a lot and create open threes,” sophomore forward Wendell Moore Jr. said in a Friday press conference. “The big thing for us is really not over-helping to allow those open threes.”
The best offense is a good defense
Forcing 28 turnovers in their last 2 games, the Blue Devils have used transition offense to generate buckets and momentum. This has allowed the young players to build confidence while also opening up the floor for shooters, leading to the impressive offensive showings of late.
“They are getting accustomed and forming chemistry,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Duke’s win against Wake Forest. “When you play that hard on the defensive end, you play better offense. You're more physical. You run the offense harder.”
However, Virginia will make this style of play much more difficult. The Cavaliers average just 9.5 turnovers per game and lead the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio, in large part thanks to junior guard Kihei Clark and his 4.6 assists per contest.
Duke senior guard Jordan Goldwire, meanwhile, ranks second in the ACC with 2.5 steals per game, so the big question is who will prevail between him and Clark. The latter’s ball-security is a staple of the Cavaliers' offense, while the Blue Devils have come to rely on Goldwire’s steals to jump-start their own offense. The winner of this duel between two of the most experienced guards in the ACC will have a large say in the winner of this game.
“The best way to attack their defense is really in transition,” Moore said. “Our offense comes from our defense.”
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Duke has been trending in the right direction with its 3-point shooting lately. In their last 2 games, the Blue Devils shot 50% and 44% from downtown, respectively. Hurt was absurdly efficient over those two contests, going 9-for-11 from deep, while junior forward Joey Baker also joined the party with four threes against Wake Forest.
Virginia is once again an elite 3-point shooting team in its own right, ranking second in the ACC in 3-point percentage, with the Cavaliers hitting 45.5% of their shots from deep in their dominant win against North Carolina last Saturday.
In order to come out with the much-needed win, Duke will have to continue its success from downtown while minimizing the same for Virginia.
“We want to get the ball on our push every time,” Moore said. “We have good playmakers in the open floor who can make plays for themselves and others. The bigs run the floor really well, and we have shooters, so we can get in the paint, and kick it out to our shooters, and knock down some open threes.”
This Saturday’s game is monumental for the Blue Devils, who have little room for error moving forward if they hope to make the NCAA tournament. Not only would a victory avoid yet another tally in the loss column, it would also mark Duke’s first top-25 win of the season.