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StLouHoo's Preview:

A chance for revenge

Duke Blue Devils

The Hoos have 1 loss this season, and that's to the Duke Blue Devils 3 weeks ago. Finally the ACC schedule-makers gave us two dates with Duke this year. ESPN GameDay will be at this matchup (they were at the January game as well), but the Hoos have yet to beat Duke with GameDay in the house... will this finally be the year we break that obscure streak?

Game Details:

Date/Time:Saturday, February 9th, 6:00 pm ET
Location:John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA
TV:ESPN

 

What 'They' Say

Vegas:UVA -2, O/U 135.5, equates to ~ 69-67 UVA win
TAPE:Ranks Duke #1, predicts a 68-65 UVA win, 60% confidence
KenPom:Ranks Duke #2, predicts a 70-66 UVA win, 65% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters
PG#3 Tre Jones, 6'2" 183, FR
30.6 mpg, 8.5 ppg, 5.5 apg, .282 3P%
SG#2 Cam Reddish, 6'8" 218, FR
27.1 mpg, 13.5 ppg, 2.1 apg, .340 3P%
SF#5 RJ Barrett, 6'7" 202, FR
33.3 mpg, 23.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg, .450 FG%
PF#1 Zion Williamson, 6'7" 285, FR
28.8 mpg, 22.0 ppg, 9.4 rpg, .682 FG%
C#12 Javin DeLaurier, 6'10" 234, JR
13.7 mpg, 3.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, .829 FG%
Key Reserves
G#15 Alex O'Connell, 6'6" 183, SO
13.0 mpg, 4.5 ppg, 0.7 apg, .367 3P%
F#41 Jack White, 6'7" 222, JR
24.6 mpg, 5.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, .376 FG%
C#20 Marques Bolden, 6'11" 250, JR
20.3 mpg, 5.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, .588 FG%

 

The ABC's of Duke:

A) Tre Jones is back at PG. The five star floor general missed our first matchup with a shoulder injury, and Duke (who doesn't really have a second PG, apologies to glorified scout-teamer Jordan Goldwire) elected to go with a mega-sized lineup instead with center Bolden as the 5th starter. This time around, Duke will look a little more traditional with Jones, a prototypical compact, quick floor general. He's played at least 34 minutes in each ACC game he was healthy, averaging 36 mpg since his return four games ago, so expect to see a lot of him. His conference stats are mediocre as a scorer, but he's posting an elite 5.1:0.7 A:TO ratio per game. His return, while he certainly makes Duke a better, more well-rounded team, does benefit Virginia in that it gives Kihei Clark a more appropriate defensive matchup. The Mongoose has disrupted some of the ACC's best PGs this year; Jones will be his biggest test yet.

B) They still can't shoot. Duke's offense is elite. In the Top 5 of the ACC in basically every statistical category... except 3-point shooting, where they're an embarrassing 13th (29% as a team in ACC play). Only two players on the entire team put up even respectable percentages from deep; Cam Reddish's 34% and Alex O'Connell's 37%. The rest of the one-and-dones are all below-average: Jones at 28%, Barrett at 31%, Zion at 29%. Zion has improved somewhat in the ACC portion of the schedule, 38% on limited attempts, but others have faded. The Devils went just 2-14 (14%) from 3 against us in the first matchup, so while UVA's Pack Line will attempt to bait Duke into taking contested jumpers, K will coach them to reject the bait and instead simply force the issue in the lane, no matter how tightly packed the defense is.

C) Duke's been coasting on the ACC's softest conference schedule. First, yes, I acknowledge they played the ACC's co-best team in UVA and won (short handed, no less), so they absolutely deserve credit for that. But that's their lone statement win in conference play. Their six double-digit ACC wins have all come against teams with losing conference records (Clemson, GT, BC, ND, Pitt, and Wake). In their other two games against likely NCAAT teams, FSU and Syracuse, both games went down to the wire while they were missing key players to injury/illness. The back half of their ACC slate is far more stacked (@UVA, @VT, @Louisville, @Cuse, and twice vs UNC), but at the moment their shining conference performance has occurred against what KenPom ranks as the softest conference schedule (#15 of 15 in SoS) to this point.

 

Their Season To Date

Duke is 20-2 on the season, 8-1 in the ACC. Their lone OOC loss was by 2 vs Gonzaga in Hawaii, and their lone ACC loss was to Syracuse in OT when forced to play without either Cam Reddish or Tre Jones on short notice. When at full strength, they've beaten every ACC opponent by double digits, GT the only one to hold the margin under 20. Most recently they shook off a tight first half to win by 25 over BC.

 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Fix our turnover issues. Ball security has been a staple of the UVA offense all season, committing as few as two turnovers in a game multiple times, and leading the ACC in lowest offensive TO rate. But that's not to say it's not a concern coming into this game.

First, Virginia's offense may be good with overall turnover rate, but struggle with live ball turnover rate (aka the opposing defense's steal rate), where we're actually a lowly 10th in league play. And we're coming off two games without an effective Ty Jerome (playing hurt vs NCSU, missing vs Miami) where turnovers definitely played a role in our tight margins of victory: 15 turnovers (8 live) vs the Pack, 14 turnovers (7 live) vs the 'Canes.

At the same time, Duke's defense thrives on creating turnovers (live and dead), and then using those live ball TOs to feed their near-automatic fast break offense. Tre Jones' return doubles the danger here, as his tenacious on-ball pressure not just garners him 2 steals a night, but forces errant passes that his long teammates can pick off as well. In a game that figures to go down to the wire, every point is going to count, and we can't be trading offensive opportunities on our end for fast breaks on their end; locking down our recent turnover problem is a non-negotiable.

2) Win both rebounding battles. This is going to be one of those swing-statistics, in that it could legitimately end up going in either team's favor, and it will drastically impact the game. Braxton Key's DR% of 25.1% (4th in the league) leads Virginia's 1st in the ACC defensive rebounding rate, and a healthy 5th in offensive rebounding (Mamadi is 2nd in the ACC and Jack 6th in personal OR% in ACC play). Meanwhile, Duke is merely mediocre on the defensive end, 8th in the ACC, but strong offensively, grabbing 35% of their own misses where both Zion and Bolden are in the ACC's Top 10 (with DeLaurier close behind). In the first game, Duke had the slight advantage, with 10 O-Reb's (out of 33 available, for 30%) while UVA grabbed just 7 O-Reb's (out of 29 available, for 24%). Given Duke's elite ability to score in the paint (they shot 65% from 2 in the first game), giving them second-chance looks is suicide. Virginia must tip the scales here to force Duke into one-and-done offensive possessions, while creating more second chance opportunities of our own.

3) If we're going to shoot 3's, make a healthy percentage of them. Duke works very hard to shut down the perimeter, with tenacious on-ball pressure and switching all ball screens, both with and without the ball. That means our shooters aren't coming off screens with a window the way the base offense is designed to do. So what does that mean for our offense?

First, don't force 3's if they aren't there. This should go without saying. Take what the defense gives you. If the Devils want to deny the perimeter, then they're opening up the paint, and we should be looking to exploit that.

But all the same, we're a good shooting team, with the best team 3P% in ACC play (40%), and you can't write that out of the gameplan entirely just because Duke doesn't want us to have it. Last game out vs Duke the team went 3-17 (18%) from 3. While we might take a relatively smallish portion of our shots from deep, we still must run the offense in such a way that the shooters are getting free off defensive confusion and just find a way to make a healthy 35+%. Jay Huff should absolutely be a part of the game plan here.

 

 

Predictions:

First things first, the Hoos need to continue to do well with the things they usually do well and did well in Durham... namely shut down the 3 point line and take their supporting cast out of it. If the Blue Devils decide JPJ is the gym where they finally get hot from 3? Forget about it. Ditto if we leave Bolden or O'Connell free to pour in double digit points. That's a baseline before any of the 3 Keys above even get discussed.

I was prepared to close by writing about the need for UVA to get its offense in gear after two lackluster offensive outputs at NC State and hosting Miami, and the importance of a healthy Ty Jerome to meeting that goal (played hurt in Raleigh, sitting vs the 'Canes). But when I started digging into the numbers of the recent Duke rivalry, going back the last 8 games to include Joe Harris' 36 point explosion in JPJ in 2013 (a stretch Duke has won 5 - 3), UVA's offense isn't what jumped out at me. UVA puts up a pretty consistent 1.04 points per possession over that span, 1.06 in the wins, 1.03 in the losses (even including the 55 point output in 2017). But Duke's scoring is far more telling, 1.11 PPP in Duke's wins, 0.98 PPP in UVA's wins. Our ability to stifle the Devil's scoring is critical here. Over a ~63 possession game, that PPP swing accounts for nearly 9 points on the Duke side of the board, and in games that usually come down to a possession or two, that's critical.

So can the Hoos do a better job containing Duke's stars than they did last month? That's a tough call. On one hand, Cam Reddish could bounce back (9 points in January) and Tre Jones could take the offense to another level. On the other hand, do we really expect Zion and RJ Barrett to go 20 of 28 (71%) inside the Pack Line again? Or for the Devils to get another 30+ FTAs? (Though they did blessedly miss 13 of those FTs last time.) What also works in our favor is that now UVA's defenders have seen the Zion/RJ show first hand and hopefully will be more mentally ready for the task at hand, a hair quicker on slides or more disciplined on challenging a shot. Call me crazy, I don't think those two combine for 57 like they did last time out, and Tre Jones will be facing the Pest and the rest of the Pack Line for the first time.

I'm going out on a limb and saying the defense gets it done this time around in a thriller.

Hoos Win 66-64