StLou's Previews: Duke Blue Devils

Duke Blue Devils

It's the biggest regular season game of the year for Virginia as the Hoos travel down 29 and 501 to Durham to take on the #4 Blue Devils. Cameron is the only place Tony hasn't won, and Duke the only ACC team he hasn't generally owned over the last five years. Is this the year we break out of our Duke funk?

Game Details:

Date/Time: Saturday, Jan 27th, 2:00 PM Eastern
Location: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, NC

What 'They' Say

Vegas: UVA +4.5, O/U 136
TAPE: Ranks Duke #5, predicts a 73-72 UVA win, 54% confidence
KenPom: Ranks Duke #4, predicts a 67-66 Duke win, 54% confidence


Depth Chart:


PG #1 Trevon Duval, 6-3 186, FR
29.5 mpg, 11.5 ppg, 6 apg, 26% 3P%
SG #3 Grayson Allen, 6-5 205, SR 
32.7 mpg, 15.2 ppg, 4.4 apg, 39% 3P% 
SF #2 Gary Trent Jr, 6-6 209, FR 
32.2 mpg, 14.7 ppg, 1.9 apg, 43% 3P% 
PF #34 Wendell Carter Jr, 6-10 259, FR 
25.9 mpg, 14.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 62% FG% 
C #35 Marvin Bagley III, 6-11 234, FR 
32.2 mpg, 21.6 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 61% FG% 

Key Reserves


#15 Alex O'Connell, 6-6 171, FR
12.4 mpg, 4.8 ppg, 0.7 apg, 52% 3P%
F #50 Justin Robinson, 6-9 198, SO 
5.8 mpg, 1.8 ppg, 0.6 rpg, 47% FG% 
PF  #12 Javin DeLaurier, 6-10 231, SO 
13.2 mpg, 4.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 60% FG% 
F/C #20 Marques Bolden, 6-11 246, SO 
11.6 mpg, 3.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 0.9 bpg 


The ABC's of Duke:

A) K bitches and moans that Duke is young and thin because they are. Granted, this is totally by his own making, as he spent the last few years failing to develop veteran role players to pair with his star freshmen, the likes of Quinn Cook, Amile Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee, or Matt Jones that have provided a steadying influence and ample depth. This year they've technically got 9 guys they'll give minutes to, but only one of those is an upperclassman (Allen), two are battling injuries (DeLaurier who should play against us, Bolden who may not after missing the last 6 games), and another who's not actually allowed to shoot (Justin Robinson). That means the bulk of the production falls to a lineup of true freshman. They've been feasting so far on the bottom half of the conference (BC, NC State, Pitt x2, Wake x2, FSU, none of whom have a winning ACC record); we'll see how well they continue to fare against 9 Top 50 teams in their next 11 games.

B) Wendell Carter has exploded to make their front court the nation's best on offense. Marvin Bagley was the big name coming into the year as Duke's best true big man since Jahlil Okafor. And to be sure Bagley's been superb, ranking 3rd in KenPom's National Player of the Year race, and a projected Top 3 pick in this summer's NBA draft. But Carter (who, to be fair, was also a 5-star recruit) has really started to come on in recent weeks, dropping 21 and 23 points in his last two games, including showcasing an effective 3 point stroke making him a rare powerful stretch 5. What is really making these two stand out, however, is their offensive rebounding, which are 14% and 13% respectively, and contributing to a team rate of 40.8% (meaning they grab 2 out of every 5 of their misses), best in the country. Carter and Bagley are both on KenPom's current all-ACC 1st team (along with both Devon and Kyle). Our front court has had success stopping individual star post players this year, but dealing with two at the same time will be a truly unique challenge.

C) The offense gets the love, but the defense is improving. Yes, their offense is elite. At an offensive efficiency of 118.1 in ACC play, it's the best of any team the last four seasons, since their 2014 iteration (Jabari and Rodney Hood) scored a 119. But there was legitimate concern about their defense, especially after their first 3 ACC games. BC scored 89 on only 74 possessions. FSU, in a loss, dropped 93. Duke gave up 96 points (on only 75 possessions) to NC State. Since then, they've been getting their act together, holding opponents under 1.00 points per possession. Now, it's worth couching that statistic in the fact that those 5 games have been against 3 of the ACC's four worst offenses: Miami (ACC ORtg 100.7), Wake twice (94.6), and Pitt twice (84.9), but you have to start somewhere. They've used a lot of zone as an alternative to their traditional man defense, but are prepared to throw out either depending on the matchup (more on that below). Duke's got the size and athleticism to play some effective defense even against good offenses, so we'll see if they're ready to take that next step against Virginia 113.6 adjusted offensive efficiency.

Their season to date:

Duke is 18-2 on the season, 6-2 in ACC play. They've scored impressive neutral site wins over Michigan State and Florida, and good ACC wins over FSU (home) and Miami (road). Their losses are at BC in December and at NC State the first week of January. Most recently they won 84-70 at Wake Forest on Tuesday. 

Keys to getting the win:

1) For the love of god, control the defensive glass. I mentioned above that Duke is best in the country at hitting the offensive glass, grabbing essentially 2 out of every 5 missed shots. We've survived some bad nights on our defensive glass this season, giving up 19 offensive rebounds to UNC (game OR% of 49%) and Syracuse (game OR% of 51%) and 14 to NC State (Game OR% 40%). This is singularly the one statistic that frightens the crap out of me against Duke. We've tightened things up in recent games holding GT to 7, Wake to 6, and Clemson to 6, but none of those teams are in Duke's league. Our big men (Salt, Wilkins, Mamadi, and Hunter) are going to have to play the rebounding game of their lives, which tactically speaking, may mean being more selective in employing post-doubles or chasing blocks. In the instances we do send a big man to help defend, the defensive rotations have to be almost anticipatory to cover down on the rebounding assignments. The more second chance looks we give Duke, the more it plays into their games where the defensive system breaks down and Duke can use its superior athleticism and raw scoring talent to get back to the bucket.

2) Mix up defensive looks. This is within the framework of the base Packline of course. When facing five freshmen, confusion is the name of the game. Never, ever let them get comfortable or stay in a rhythm. Never let them get a feel for what's coming next. You want to make them think, to pause, because that's when mistakes happen. That means varying up how we defend them. Sometimes we post trap, other times we merely hint that it's coming then retreat. Sometimes we come over on help, sometimes we just show help but stay in the passing lanes or in the grill of the shooter waiting on the kick-out. This is especially important as it factors into staying home on your rebounding assignment, as discussed in the previous point, but at the same time we still have to actually come at them on the help, the shot block attempt, or the steal attempt to force them to honor that possibility. Hell, even forcing Duke to slow things up is going to disrupt their rhythm and make them play halfcourt sets far more than they're used to: at an average offensive possession length of 14.9 seconds, they're the ACC's fastest and 13th nationally. The more we can make them uncomfortable, the better.

3) Ball screens and back cuts. I know they've been playing a lot of zone lately, but I doubt we see it much this weekend - only as a change of pace - but their man defense is too well suited to counter our offense for Duke to abandon it. Duke's traditional defense, one that's caused us fits over the years, is predicated on intense man defense, both on ball and off, with an emphasis on denial of passing lanes. They overplay our sides screens at the same time they're in the grill of our point guard making those rhythm and timing passes to a curling wing very difficult. It also is better suited to defending the 3-point line than a zone is, and against our league-leading 3-point percentage (39.4% in ACC play), letting us bomb away uncontested would be suicide. This means that we absolutely must look for different kinds of actions out of our offense. Duke's man this year just begs to be ball screened to death. Force them to hedge, or to switch, and the freshmen defenders are getting split either with the dribble or the pass to the roller. If we do run a sides action, reverse it hard and look for back cuts off the dribble drive, exploiting baseline actions, forcing their big men to react. Duke's help defenders are terrified to foul, so we shouldn't be overly hesitant to go hard to the rim, or to get too cutesy trying to avoid contact. Turn the corner and see the rim? Go and go hard. We need to do this enough to get them to abandon their extended man defense, and either sag to help or switch to a zone, which will then free up our jump shooters against their 37.6% 3P% allowed, second-to-last in the ACC. We need to be prepared to run crisp downhill motions against that man defense for as many minutes as K has his team playing it.

Bonus) Play with the aggression of an underdog. As of my drafting of this preview, I haven't seen a Vegas line released. But I'm going to be surprised if Duke isn't the favorite here. They've got the big names, they've got the home court advantage, and they've beaten us 3 straight, to say nothing of our haplessness in Durham since the 1995 classic. Plus Zay and Devon are the only two players on our roster who've played in Cameron (Salt was a DNP as a freshman). So it's understandable to approach this game with low hopes. Perfect. Feed off this. Be the hunter, freed of expectations. Play with 40 minutes of hungry energy, always moving and never letting Duke rest on either end of the floor (especially if they're in a man defense... make them chase us all over the floor), not letting whistles change how you play, treating every play like you're down just one bucket, no matter how much we lead or trail at any given moment. This is the kind of game every basketball player should dream of playing in, so relish the precious opportunity to go into a hostile Cameron and dethrone the anointed ones.

Invading Mordor

Updated on January 24, 2018 by Seattle Hoo

Two of Virginia's three seniors have been to Cameron Indoor Stadium, or as I sometimes call it, The Kameron Twilight Zone Sanitarium, or as it could also be called, Barad Dûr.  Both of them started.  Hall played 25 minutes and scored 2 points and grabbed 4 rebounds.  Isaiah Wilkins played only 12 minutes, but put up 8 points on 4-6 shooting and grabbed a team-high 5 rebounds (tied with Malcolm Brogdon).  His playing time was limited largely by his inability to guard Brandon Ingram.  Wilkins and Hall were there to witness the five out of six possessions in the second half that the referees put Duke on the line and Grayson Allen hit 5/8 free throws to keep pace with Virginia's offense, and, of course, they were there to witness Grayson Allen's miraculous 4-step game winning shot.

Now senior leaders, Wilkins and Hall can put their experience to use helping their teammates deal with the weirdness that is The Kameron Twilight Zone Sanitarium.  Nigel Johnson, despite being a senior, has never been to Kameron.  The place is unique, as is the experience of playing there, and it is something that has to be experienced to be prepared for.  I have come to believe that teams that do not get to play Duke twice per year are disadvantaged in dealing with it because such a small percentage of your roster will ever have done it.  You are not going to ever come in with a team full of juniors and seniors who have been there two or three times before.  You will be lucky to have a bunch of regulars who have been there at all.  But that is where we find ourselves, so it is up to The Captains to leverage their experience for the benefit of the whole team.

UVA has not won in Mordor in this millennium, and the fans have witnessed past UVA teams - some very good teams - go down there and come unglued. We also remember The Sulaimon Bounce four years ago and the aforementioned events of two years ago.  There is a certain PTSD to the place for UVA fans.  We expect - from hard experience - weird things to happen to our detriment and the referees to repeatedly shove a big hard one in a very uncomfortable place.  We simply assume it as a matter of the physical laws of reality.  It is a fortunate thing that the players do not share that long community memory.  Only three of the 8 rotation players were on the team when Allen went tiptoeing through the tulips and Marial Shayok's chest to the rim.

The seniors will need to make major contributions in four areas if the Hoos are to successfully invade Mordor and tear down Barad Dûr:

1) Leadership

Leadership comes first on this list because it is far and away the most important. Winning in the Twilight Zone is as much psychological as anything else.  If you don't maintain your mental bearings, you will get lost in the swamp and swept away by high tide.  Maintaining poise and focus is the primary necessity for winning in that bizarro world.  "Just keep our composure and do our thing," was how Devon Hall put it in a CavsCorner.com interview after the Clemson game.  This team has at times gotten sped up and lost a little poise momentarily; at West Virginia it cost them a close game, and in other games like Clemson the other night, they were able to get themselves recentered and go on to win.  But Duke is a team and Kameron is a place that takes that momentary loss of poise and exploits it like Nazi panzers rolling through a breach in the line.  A momentary loss of poise and focus can have you down 12 in two minutes, and once that happens, it is very difficult to get it back.

Should that happen to you, though, it is important to be positive and keep fighting, because as Hoo Friends will be able to see from "Invading Mordor: A Retrospective Analysis", it is possible to come back from a large deficit against Duke in Kameron.  Devon and Zay command the respect of their teammates and by keeping their own poise (looking at you, Zay) can keep their younger teammates focused.

As important as poise is being positive and loose.  Playing at Kameron is Krazy and challenging but it is also one of the pinnacle experiences of playing college basketball.  If you love playing college basketball, then you have got to look forward to going to Kameron.  Keep the players loose and positive, enjoying the moment, and they will be better able to keep it in perspective and maintain their poise and focus.  If we stay poised and focused, then the orcs of Mordor will be at risk of losing theirs.

2) Hustle and Fight

The 50-50 balls are likely to tell the tale.  Duke does not habitually turn the ball over much and they rebound a big proportion of their misses.  They will, however, let you rebound your own misses.  They are just ahead of UVA in OR% defense in the conference, and have not played the top rebounding teams we have encountered.  When the ball hits the floor or is in the air, Zay and Devon need to lead our guys to it. Being the first to the floor and the most aggressive at claiming the ball goes a long way toward getting respect from the referees - as well as giving you more possessions and taking more from them.  The teams that win in Kameron are the teams that at least match Duke in this area.

3) Defense

The Cavaliers are on their way to having a historically good defense.  To this point in the season, this year's Cavaliers have the best defense in Tony Bennett's tenure, probably the best in UVA history, the best in the Kenpom era, and one of the best in college basketball history.

Saturday is the time to prove it.

Zay is currently THE default candidate for ACC Defensive Player of the Year (and one of the top two or three for NDPOY), and Devon Hall has been nominated by one TV commentator as his primary competition.

Saturday is the time to show why.

The team defense and these two individual defenders will not run up against a greater challenge all year.  Win this battle and the accolades will follow.

I know these guys don't really care about the accolades, but you know that deep down they do care.  For them, it is just another little motivator to be poised and focused, and to get out there and hustle and fight.

The Hoos will start the same lineup.  The Zay will be on Bagley.  He gives up so much in height and athleticism, but his experience, intelligence, anticipation and strong base allow him to counter.  Bagley likes to operate away from the low post and slash into it.  Zay can bother him out there and will need to impede his progress to the rim for rebounds.  Entice him to shoot from long range and do not let him put it on the floor.  Do not let him rim run.

When we do go small and Zay moves to the five - which I think we could see Tony do as a tactical maneuver to create mismatches on the offensive end - Zay will have Carter, who does operate more as a traditional 5 in the low post and along the baseline. Here Zay's strength and guile will do him well.  He will need to keep Carter away from the rim and boxed out far enough that the taller NBA talent won't be able to rebound over the top.

Expect to see the post trap used selectively.  Both Duke bigs are good passers but they can be induced into turnovers by a good post trap. Using it now and then keeps them guessing - and we want to keep Duke guessing as much as possible. They are getting smarter but they still have trouble when they see something they didn't anticipate.  Selectively trapping the post - and hedging up top, is a good way to get them off balance and reacting, and give our perimeter players the chance to intercept passes.  This defense with its turnover generation is more suited to defeating Duke than past defenses (and is the biggest reason for the defense's historical strength).

My first inclination would be to put Devon on Duval.  He has the highest free throw rate and percentage of shots at the rim of all the Duke perimeter players.  It's the dribble penetration that most damages our defense and causes the offensive rebounds.  But thinking it through, it sometimes appears that Guy actually does a better job of preventing his man from turning the corner. Duval is not a great outside shooter so Kyle can play the drive - and play off Duval into the passing lanes when the ball goes away from the Duke point.  That allows Hall to take Gary Trent, Jr., who is Duke's primary two-way offensive threat.  Negate Trent the way Hall has negated other big perimeter scorers and suddenly Duke looks a lot more vulnerable.  That leaves Jerome to keep Allen out of the lane.

On second thought, yes, Devon on Trent.  But if Bennett thinks Devon is best suited to keep Duval out of the lane and that is more important than shutting down Trent, then we will see Hall on Duval.

Not sure how I like Nigel Johnson in this game defensively.  He has been inconsistent keeping dribblers in front of him, and is prone to lose men off the ball.  Duval seems the least dangerous off-ball mark for Johnson, and also the best matchup size-wise.

4) Offense

The offensive end is where I am most concerned. Duke is playing much better defense now, and the Kenpom numbers show it to be a good defense in conference.  As StLouHoo says, they will pressure the perimeter and the passing lanes, and those two seven-footers inside make it easier to do that.  I worry about running Sides against them with those two guys packed in the lane to snuff out the curls, allowing Duke to sell out against the perimeter cuts.  Clemson effectively ignored Jack Salt when he was setting screens and that had a lot to do with the first half offensive struggles.  My concern is because when I analyze the best way to attack their defense, it's just not something I am confident in Bennett doing.  That would be to spread the floor, find a good matchup, and pound it to death.  The matchup I particularly like is De'Andre Hunter on Marvin Bagley, III.

The last two times UVA beat Duke, a common theme was having one defender who could not properly defend all the cuts and curls of the Sides offense.  In 2013, Joe Harris abused freshman Rasheed Sulaimon by constantly getting him to make the wrong move then getting the opening and converting.  In the 2014 ACC Tournament final, Malcolm Brogdon did it to Sulaimon.  Boston College victimized Bagley.

Wilkins is not going to be abusing anybody, but Devon Hall could.  Look for the coaches to have spotted something the young Duke guards will misread and to work Devon in that matchup.  Devon's experience against Duke's inexperience is potentially our best offensive weapon (although I do love that Hunter against Bagley matchup and think Dre could go for 30).

In a spread floor attack, Zay would make a good weakside floor spacer.  He's a credible spot-up shooter and he is good at cutting to the hoop and catching the pass.  Another way we could see Zay feature in the attack is with the other tactic UVA used extensively in beating Duke in 2013: the high ball screen and roll.  Bub Evans and Akil Mitchell wore Duke out with that action.  I could see Nigel Johnson and Zay reprising the Evans and Mitchell roles in a similar tactical wrinkle. This would work best, I believe, in the small lineup where Hunter and the two guards could work the arc.  Duke would be forced to have one of the bigs stay with Hunter.

If Virginia does stay in Sides, Zay is going to need to take and make his outside jumper to set up the drive, then look to fake and drive around his man the way he did Lammers and Moore in the last two games.


So I'm going to come right out and say that I'm mildly skeptical we get a fair shake from the refs in this one. Given the way ACC refs have been swallowing their whistles as Guy and Hunter get hacked to death, then turning around and calling us for ticky tack screen fouls, at least while the game is still in its early flow, I'm not anticipating even neutral officiating in Cameron. This may be about bias, it may be about "game management," effectively trying to keep games competitive and interesting to a TV audience (this is a product, after all, and ratings matter). Couple that with a conspiracy theory mentality that the ACC is not going to want to see us take such a commanding lead of the ACC standings before the Super Bowl is even played (if we go 2-0 this week, we'll have a 3-game lead with only 8 to play, including tie-breakers, effectively wrapping up the regular season drama).

This means to get the win, we're going to have to play an elite game. At the very least, keep it close through the first 30 minutes, stay within single digits, and then get hot as hell down the stretch so that even officiating discrepancies can't be decisive.

But I'm just not sure I see it. It's been a long time since we've been beaten by great post play. But then again I can't remember the last starting front court we've faced as good as Bagley and Carter. I think the attention they command from our defense, especially drawing help defenders from both the post and perimeter, does just enough to free up their guards to score enough in the second half to pull out a narrow win, especialy given how disruptive their defense has been for our base offense.

Duke Wins - 70-64.

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