The #16 ranked Virginia Cavaliers (14-1, 1-0 ACC) look to cap off their best start to a season in over 20 years, but will get an extremely tough challenge facing the 8th ranked Duke Blue Devils (13-2, 1-0 ACC) at home in front of the rocking crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium. With Duke coming into tonight’s match-up on 7 straight wins against Virginia and 14 straight victories on their home court, finding a way to overcome the Blue Devils may prove to be a tough task, but certainly one that the improving Cavaliers and their stingy defense will be ready for.
Virginia has reached uncharted territory this season under head coach Tony Bennett, and it’s been in part to the outstanding defensive prowess of the Cavaliers, who have held their opponents to a miniscule 50.5 points per game, and have not allowed an opponent to score more than 52 points in the last 4 games. Stopping a Duke offense that ranks amongst the best in College Basketball with over 82 points per outing will be the biggest key for Virginia tonight, and finding a way to generate some offense against the fast-paced Blue Devils will also be trying, as UV currently ranks 226th in the nation averaging just 65.7 points per game. They’ll get some help due to the fact that Duke has not been playing their best basketball as of late, dropping a road game at Temple that pushed coach Mike Krzyzewski to shuffle his line-up around, and just pulling past Georgia despite getting handily beaten in the rebounding margin, shooting percentage and the turnover battle. Though Virginia is a relatively weak rebounding team, averaging just 33.9 boards per contest, the Cavs do a very good job at pressuring opposing shooters, and frustrating them into making bad decisions with the ball. That pressure has to be applied against Duke tonight, as the Blue Devils have shown frustration when their young perimeter shooters are well guarded, so getting good defensive efforts from big sophomore guard Joe Harris (12.3 points, 3.7 rebounds/game), senior Sammy Zeglinski (9.9 points, 1.7 steals/game) and junior Jontel Evans (6.0 points, 1.7 steals/game) will go a long way towards helping the Cavs keep pace against Duke.
On the Duke side of the ball, home court is certainly where the Blue Devils play their best hoops, but getting back into confident form will be essential for Coach K’s team tonight against a shutdown defense like Virginia’s. The Blue Devils, as mentioned previously, have had ownership of the series versus the Cavaliers, having won 16 of the last 17 meetings between the two teams and haven’t been beaten by UV at home in 17 years, but they also haven’t faced Virginia as a ranked opponent in a decade, so history all but goes out the window for tonight’s match-up. For Duke to be successful at home, pushing the ball up court is critical, as allowing Virginia to set up on defense will slow the game down, and force Duke’s perimeter shooting to be better than the Cavs. That will put added emphasis on the Plumlee brothers down in the paint, who will likely start together for just the second game of the season (after Coach K switched out Ryan Kelly for Miles Plumlee, and freshman guard Quinn Cook for Tyler Thornton). The Plumlee boys didn’t have much success in holding back Georgia Tech on the glass on Saturday, getting outrebounded as a team 38-25, and in tonight’s match-up will have to find a way to position themselves better down low against a smaller but quicker Virginia frontcourt headed up by leading scorer and rebounder Mike Scott (16.5 points, 8.9 rebounds/game). Virginia doesn’t rebound that well due to their smaller stature, so controlling the battle of the glass has to be key for the Blue Devils to control tonight’s slower-paced game.
On offense, Duke must get good scoring out of freshman Austin Rivers and Quinn Cook tonight, with Rivers needing to step up the most after shooting under 40 percent from the floor for the past 3 games against lesser opponents. In addition, junior guard Seth Curry (12.9 points/game) has to keep picking up his game, as he was almost a non-factor against Temple (6 points in 30 minutes) and was 5-12 from the floor and 2 of 7 from beyond the arc against Georgia Tech over the weekend. Finally for the Blue Devils, while the Plumlee brothers both can put up good numbers, Duke has to have better perimeter shooting to balance out the offense, and avoid relying too heavily on their inside big men. In the loss to Temple where Miles Plumlee put up 17 points off the bench and Mason Plumlee added 16, the starting 3 guards for Duke managed just 23 points combined (Austin Rivers 12, Tyler Thornton 5, Seth Curry 6). There simply has to be better efforts from around the arc tonight for Duke, as pressing the ball in against a smothering Virginia team will be a tough task, and medium range shots may be the best area where Duke can excel against the Cavs.
Betting Lines for Duke vs. Virginia at Oddsmaker Sportsbook
With the track record Duke has in home games, especially playing against Virginia team they’ve beaten 14 straight times at Cameron Indoor, few would be surprised to see Duke be anything less than a large favorite…and they are just that for tonight’s game at -710 odds to win on the money line. However, taking into consideration their recent lineup shuffle, and their poor performances in their past two games, while taking Virginia as a straight up underdog at +550 odds might not be a challenge worth undertaking, looking at the Cavaliers to chase down the +11 points on the spread could prove to be the best looking wager in this match-up tonight. While Duke is an 11 point favorite against the spread based on their ability to put up big scoring at home when going up against other fast paced offenses, they’ll be somewhat out of their element against a Virginia team that is methodical with the ball, and knows they can’t run with Duke and hope to win. Despite the fact that Duke has averaged a 25 point victory in their last 4 games at home, each of those games has seen the Blue Devils run all night towards a win, scoring no less than 85 points in those victories (all of them coming against unranked opponents). I expect this match-up to be much more like the game Duke had against Michigan (also a standout defensive team), whereby Duke prevailed, but only by 7 points. In that game though, points still were raining in, with a total combined score of 157, and while I don’t imagine either team to put up that many points in an even slower game, the 128 1/2 points on the over/under should be a great chance to take the over bet, as you can be sure Duke will do everything in its power to egg on a faster-paced, higher scoring game tonight.
Our Pick to Win:
While Virginia is certainly playing some of its best ball in a decade, they haven’t quite gotten to a level where they can compete with a great home team like Duke, which itself is looking to make an example of someone after playing very shaky ball over the past two games. I like the Cavs to keep this game closer than most would expect as their defense keeps the game from getting really out of hand in favor of Duke, but to be clear, the Blue Devils shouldn’t have much trouble controlling this match-up from start to finish, as they are better in just about every aspect of the game aside from defense. With simply too many scoring options available to Duke for Virginia to contend with tonight, and too much pressure on them in the loud, Cameron Crazy-inspired setting, Virginia will put forth a valiant effort, but wind up falling short for the 15th time in a row. Duke prevails 70-60, overtaking the Cavs for second in the ACC behind #3 North Carolina.