StLouHoo's Preview:

Clash of Titans

Duke Blue Devils

The Hoos look to cement their NCAA Tournament bid on Saturday when it welcomes the typically-highly-ranked Duke Blue Devils to JPJ. Virginia will be playing as the underdog in this one after two difficult road wins last week. What are the Hoos' prospects for pulling off the upset?

Game Details:

Date/Time:Saturday, February 29th, 6:00 pm ET
Location:John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA


What 'They' Say

Vegas:Duke -2, O/U 125, equates to ~64-62 Duke win
Torvik:Ranks Duke #5, predicts a 60-58 Duke win, 60% confidence
KenPom:Ranks Duke #5, predicts a 62-58 Duke win, 63% confidence


Depth Chart:

PG#3 Tre Jones, 6'3" 185, SO
35.0 mpg, 16.1 ppg, 6.5 apg, 33.3 3P%
SG#14 Jordan Goldwire, 6'2" 185, JR
23.6 mpg, 4.7 ppg, 2.2 apg, 37.2 3P%
SF#2 Cassius Stanley, 6'6" 193, FR
26.8 mpg, 12.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 48.9 FG%
PF#0 Wendell Moore Jr., 6'6" 213, FR
24.1 mpg, 7.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 42.4 FG%
C#1 Vernon Carey Jr., 6'10" 270, FR
24.6 mpg, 17.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 57.6 FG%
Key Reserves
G/F#15 Alex O'Connell, 6'6" 190, JR
13.7 mpg, 5.4 ppg, 0.8 apg, 27.3 3P%
F#41 Jack White, 6'7" 222, SR
16.0 mpg, 3.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 40.8 FG%
F/C#12 Javin DeLaurier, 6'10" 237, SR
13.2 mpg, 3.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 56.1 FG%
F/C#21 Matthew Hurt, 6'9" 214, FR
21.7 mpg, 10.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 49.1 FG%


The ABC's of Duke:

A) New year, new freshmen. Gone are the NBA Lottery trio of one-and-dones Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish. In are a new quartet of Top 30 freshmen. The star of the class is big man Vernon Carey, a lock 1st-rounder this year who's seized the race for ACC Freshman of the Year and currently sits 6th in KenPom's national player of the year standings. He's elite around the rim, shooting 59% on 2's, a Top 5 rebounder in conference play at both ends of the floor, and the best player in the ACC at drawing whistles. The other three freshmen are not quite the one-and-done stars of years past, but nonetheless have become productive members of the Duke rotation. Stretch big man Matthew Hurt is still too skinny to bang in the post but as a face-up-4 has elite touch, ranking in the Top 10 of the conference in both 2P% and 3P% while using his reach to block shots on defense. Wings Stanley and Moore are fairly interchangeable 2/3 types (and moreso lately Moore at the small-ball 4), with Stanley being a little more ball dominant and a lot more effective this season, definitely becomes the priority cover for Braxton. Moore spent a lot of the year in a 6th man role while Stanley's been starting all along, with Moore only finally starting the last half-dozen games (he did score 25 against Wake, though, earning a sickening 16 FTAs).

B) Their bench is kind of a mess. Maybe calling it a mess is somewhat quibbling because obviously they're winning a lot more than they're losing and the KenPom metrics love this team at both ends of the floor. But when I look beyond the high-rated freshmen and sophomore stud PG Jones, I see a very questionable assemblage of role players at the 6-to-11 spots. Starting alongside Jones in the backcourt is a guard in Jordan Goldwire who was somehow even more of a recruiting afterthought than Kihei Clark. The junior knows his role, however, as a facilitator for his famous teammates first and an opportune knock down shooter when occasionally asked. Junior wing Alex O'Connell is hitting only 27% of his 3's this year and as such has had very inconsistent value to his team. Sophomore forward Joey Baker struggles defensively and can't seem to stay on the floor. And Justin Robinson, Javin DeLaurier, and Jack White (all seniors) form a trio of nondescript big men primarily there to defend, rebound, and provide garbage scoring. Certainly they all meet a need, and K's been working hard in recent years to build a cast of role players around his rent-a-stars. But sometimes it almost feels like he's got too deep a group in that none of the six outside maybe Goldwire get consistent enough run night-to-night to develop any rhythm or confidence.

C) They're playing crisp, elite offense. Credit must be given where it's due, Duke can score and score efficiently. They're a Top 10 offense nationally, 1st in the ACC in KenPom AdjOEff. They also play offense at the league's fastest pace, meaning they can put up points in a hurry once they get going. They lead the league in 2P%, are 3rd in 3P%, and get to the charity stripe at the 5th-highest rate. They actively offensive rebound at the ACC's 4th best rate, and the Devils almost never get their shot blocked. They're prone to cough up turnovers to intense ball pressure, but given that UVA's defense really doesn't press, I doubt that factors in. They want to speed you up and get downhill, 3's make up a disproportionately small part of their offense (they rank 301st nationally in percentage of shots from deep), so establishing our paint defense quickly is going to be paramount. Might as well accept that even against the Pack Line, this Duke team's going to find a way to score some points.


Their Season To Date

Duke is 23-5 on the year, 13-4 in the ACC. In the non-conference, they took a surprising home loss to Stephen F Austin in November but offset that with good neutral and road wins over Kansas, Georgetown, and Michigan State. In ACC play they started 5-0 before dropping tight games at Clemson and to Louisville in mid-January. They won their next 7 games which included beating ranked FSU. They've stumbled twice in the last two weeks, though, first losing by 20 at NC State before falling in double-OT at Wake Forest on Tuesday.


Keys to getting the win:

1) Don't let Carey beat us. In years past, I used to comment that UVA only got beat by great guard play. The nature of our defense meant that occasionally a big man might put up good numbers against us, but it almost never actually posed a threat to the final result. This year, though, our big man defense isn't quite what it's been in the past. We've seen big games from opposing centers already this year (22 points from Popovic, 20 from Garrison Brooks, 13 apiece from Louisville's Williams and Enoch on only 7 shots each). Vernon Carey is better than all of them. Virginia will likely rotate all three of Huff, Diakite, and Caffaro into man coverage on him, and bring some post traps to boot. Carey's got some face up game (He's made a handful of 3's on the year on efficient but low volume) but he excels on the blocks. He did get in foul trouble Tuesday trying to defend Wake's Olivier Sarr, so maybe good defense can come from good offense, drawing whistles and sending him to the bench. Ultimately, he'll get his points, but we can't let it be a dominant effort. This is going to be most critical early when Jay Huff covers him out of the gate; Vernon's bulk is going to be a lot for the finesse Huff to handle. Keeping our bigs out of foul trouble will be paramount; we're going to need them on offense (more on that in #3).

2) Limit their transition opportunities. No one in the ACC plays faster offense than Duke. UVA's of course managed to stifle opposing defenses into long drawn-out half-court possessions this year, slowest defensive tempo like every season. But this year's Hoos have occasionally been vulnerable to transition offense for the simple reason that we're more turnover prone than usual; case in point the end of the Pitt game. It's a lot easier for teams to run on UVA and beat the defense when they grab a live ball steal north of the free throw line with most Hoo defenders still behind them. Duke's defense isn't technically built on turnover generation; they rank just 5th in the ACC in steal rate. But it's uniquely suited to challenge UVA's offense, as Coach K deploys intense perimeter pressure both on-ball and off. Most defenses this year have sagged off the wings against the Hoos, opting to keep bodies closer to the paint since that's where our offense was most potent with Key, Huff, and Diakite. K's defense won't do that (not that we might not see a change-of-pace zone, but he seems really averse to zones this year). He switches everything on the perimeter and denies easy perimeter ball movement. As UVA ranks 2nd-to-last in the league in live ball turnover rate, Duke will be primed to generate lots of chances to run off steals; UVA's guards cannot afford them those opportunities.

3) Run the early offense through the bigs, inside and out. I think Mamadi, Jay, and to a lesser degree Caffaro are the key to unlocking this Duke defense. Duke's going to play us to a man with little helping, and I envision UVA's strategy to unlock Duke's defense to start with ball-screening Kihei with the bigs. Position everyone else around the perimeter to spread out the defense, and then Kihei and Diakite/Huff can alternatively pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop to attack Hurt, Carey, and DeLaurier. A couple made 3's from Mamadi and Huff will subsequently open up the lane for downhill actions both out of the PnR and for cutters, none of Duke's players beyond Jones really have reps as excellent individual defenders. Finally, if we can use the bigs' floor spacing to open up the lane and start to score at the rim, Duke will finally have to start sagging in help position which can help open up our shooters to put us over the top.

But it all starts with the bigs. The PnR actions, the floor spacing, and maybe Papi's ability to go 1-on-1 at Carey while everyone else is spread out in a 4-out (Wake used Olivier Sarr like this to great effect, fouling Carey out), will eventually take the pressure off the guards and allow them to carry the load late.




Can UVA beat Duke this year? Yes. Will we? Let's talk it out.

This is a good Duke team. They're ranked in the Top 10 for a reason, only five losses, just a game out of 1st in the ACC, high-ranked players across their roster. But... this is the first time since 2016 Duke's had only one immediate NBA Draft 1st-Rounder on the roster (Jones and Stanley are predicted mid-2nd-round as of today, Hurt and Moore not until 2021), so this isn't quite the star-studded roster of some of the Devils' recent squads. Duke's road record in ACC play this year is pretty underwhelming, losing head-scratching road games at Clemson, NC State, and Wake, needing a miracle to survive at UNC (not that we're one to talk), and winning at BC, GT, and Cuse by "only" single digits. Long story short, this team isn't invulnerable away from Cameron.

But can UVA capitalize? History's not kind here, for two reasons.

One, Coach K is the one coach Tony hasn't largely owned over the last 8 years.We can only speculate how much K bristles at suggestions Tony is a usurper to his status as the league's kingpin, and Duke teams always seem to take the Virginia game as personally as they do UNC (which, of course, is in many ways the ultimate form of respect). Since UVA took 2-of-3 from Duke in 2013 and 2014 (Joe Harris' 36 point outburst at JPJ and the ACCT championship), Duke's been on a mission against UVA, going 5-1 in that span.

Second, whereas Tony's been able to grind up great coaches like Roy, Boeheim, and Brey with UVA's elite defense, he really hasn't had consistent success slowing down Duke's offenses. Meaning if UVA's going to beat Duke, while defense will be critical, odds are we're going to need the offense to really come through. It's doable, but without the individual playmakers we were able to rely on the last few years, it's an uphill climb. Our offense's poor numbers speak for themselves, and Duke is, by the numbers, the best defense we've faced all year (KenPom ranks their defense 14th, FSU's 16th). I think Tony will have a good game plan, but asking this offense to execute it cleanly enough to pull off the upset is hard to bet on.

I do think, at least, that UVA's players are going to want this one bad. It's going to be a nasty home crowd. Despite our winning streak (8 of the last 9) and our lofty conference record (7 games over .500), we're still disrespected. We're the only power conference team with that good a conference record not ranked in any poll. We're still on the bubble. If ever there were a game for UVA to have a chip on its shoulder, this is it. As such, I think we see the best 40-continuous-minute fight from this team that we've seen since at least the FSU win. In a twisted way, the high improbability we ever open up a double-digit lead here means the Hoos won't ever get comfortable the way they did at Pitt and VT.

So anyways, expect a great game. Expect high quality ball from two good teams with two hall-of-fame coaches on national TV in front of a raucous home crowd. I'm going to pick Duke to win it, because my head is telling me our offense isn't quite what it needs to be this year to pull off the win and I worry about foul trouble for Mamadi and Huff trying to contain Carey. But know my heart really wants me to say Kihei, Mamadi, and Braxton just decide to carry us to the upset anyways.

Duke Wins 64-58