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Game Preview by @RandyDunson: Duke Blue Devils vs. Virginia Cavaliers – February 13, 2016

By February 12, 2016No Comments

Abridged Game Preview

Duke Blue Devils (18-6, 7-4 (5th )] vs. Virginia Cavaliers [20-4, 9-3 (2nd)]

Saturday, February 13, 2016 • 4:30 PM • ESPN • Durham, NC • Cameron Indoor Stadium

By Randy Dunson [Note: Please direct comments, suggestions, etc. to @RandyDunson.]


A month ago, this matchup would not have stirred much national interest. Both teams were crumbling in the opening weeks of league play and desperate to recover and match the preseason hype that pointed to ACC contention.

At that point, however, the Cavs were in the middle of a 1-3 stretch that featured three road losses to unranked teams. Duke had encountered a 1-4 hurdle in the post-Amile Jefferson era that prompted conversations about something called the NIT that Duke fans had never heard of. However, this game demands patience.

Because Saturday’s clash will actually feature two of the hottest teams in the ACC, Duke has won four of its past five and Virginia has won seven in a row, two teams that started February with the rhythm they had lost a month ago. Both Duke (1.21 points per possession, tied with Saint Mary’s for first) and Virginia (1.15 PPP, 15th) possess two of the most efficient offenses in America. The young Blue Devils are soaring now. However, they are facing Malcolm Brogdon and a team full of grown men pushing for an ACC title and high seed.

Why Virginia Will When This Game

The Virginia Cavaliers seem to be playing better and better throughout each game. They head into this matchup with a lot of momentum thanks to their current seven-game winning streak. In that span, the Cavaliers have resoundingly beaten their foes by an average margin of 11.1 points and are scoring almost 70 points per contest.

Malcolm Brogdon is the main reason for this success, as he has been consistently lighting up the scoreboard across 24 games this season. He boasts a team-best of 17.7 points to go along with 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 dimes while committing just 1.5 turnovers per game.

Furthermore, the pair of Anthony Gill and London Perrantes should be able to give the Cavaliers some more firepower. Both are posting double-figures in points this season with 14.3 and 11.1 points respectively. Perrantes, in particular, will really need to knock down some threes to help stretch the floor further. He currently leads the team in three-point shooting at 53.4 percent.

On defense, meanwhile, Virginia will have its hands full against the Duke Blue Devils, who are averaging 84.3 points this season. However, it is safe to say that the Cavaliers will not be intimidated at all by this, as they have been able to hold their previous four opponents below 51 points.

Why Duke Will Win This Game

All of the Duke Blue Devils’ losses last month have turned out to be blessings in disguise, as they seem to finally understand what it takes to win games.

The Blue Devils have won their previous three contests and are fresh off a huge win over No. 13 Louisville on Monday night, 75-62. The pair of Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram starred in that contest by leading the offense with 19 and 18 points respectively. However, both might be forced to rely on their other teammates for some scoring since they will be up against the No. 7 Virginia Cavaliers, who are allowing just 59.6 points this season.

That said, the pressure is on Luke Kennard and Matt Jones to make their presence felt from the get go. Kennard, in particular, should have a better chance in doing so, as he has finished with double-figure scoring in three of his last five games. Through 24 games, he is posting 12.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.3 assists. Jones, meanwhile, is contributing 11.6 points, 2.8 boards, and 2.7 dimes in the same stretch. However, he has been limited below 10 points in each of his past three outings.

Overall, look at a few key statistics. Even given their record in conference play, it is hard to ignore these numbers and rankings. Although not shown, they match up very well with the Cavaliers/

Duke Statistics – Conference Play Only:

Offense (Rank) Defense (Rank)

PPP 1.17 (3) 1.09 (8)

eFG% 56.7% (1) 49.1% (6)

TO% 16.1% (5) 15.3% (12)

OReb% 30.3% (9) 34.7% (14)

FTA/FGA 40.0 (3) 24.8 (1)


In conclusion, The Virginia defense is top three in the nation right now, but it is going to be interesting to see how they hold up against a Duke offense that can score big. This is going to be a close one, I believe, and I have a hunch that Duke will just edge it, 71-70.

Keys to a Win for Virginia (or Possible Win for Duke)

How could UVA go about picking up their first win in Durham since a double OT victory in 1995? Here are two factors that the Cavaliers must balance to earn a victory. Primarily, these keys address how UVA can come away with a win, but one could just as easily turn them around to find how Duke might pull this out.


  • Crash the offensive glass
    • ACC opponents have averaged an eFG% of 49.1% against Duke; compare that to UVA’s opponents’ average of 48.6%, and it doesn’t seem like Duke’s that bad at defense after all
      • The difference comes on the defensive boards, where UVA ranks atop the conference, but Duke sits at 14th, allowing opponents to grab 35% of their own misses
    • An ESPN writer noted that Duke’s weakness will cease to be a weakness if UVA doesn’t try to exploit it
      • UVA ranks 13th in the ACC in offensive rebounding, but that’s more because of a strategic decision than a lack of ability, as Gill and Tobey are strong offensive rebounders
    • In Duke’s two home losses this year, Notre Dame and Syracuse (both very good offensive rebounding teams) posted OReb%s of 42% and 52%, respectively
      • If UVA comes even close to that kind of success, they’ll be in strong position
      • …..While also limiting transition points
    • There’s a method to Tony Bennett’s madness in his decision to ease up on the offensive boards
      • There’s a tradeoff between rebounding and transition defense, and Bennett has elected for the latter
      • If the Wahoos press the issue more on the rebounding end, they’ll have to still balance it with limiting transition


  • Stay true to Packline interior principles
    • UVA’s defense is back
      • Predicated on stopping penetration, the Packline’s success can often be measured by looking at the opponent’s two-point shooting percentages
      • This measure hadn’t been as sterling as in past years, until the past 4 games, when opponents averaged 36% on twos
    • It will be difficult to keep the Blue Devils to that type of average (they’ve made over 40% of their twos in all but one game this year, against Utah)
      • But the Wahoos can’t allow the easy buckets they were giving up earlier this year, and must instead try forcing Allen and Ingram to win by taking jump shots
      • …..While not allowing kick-out threes
    • Okay, this is way easier said than done, since this is effectively Duke’s entire offense. But, in another balancing act, Virginia must manage to stick to Packline principles of shutting down the interior, while also not over-committing and allowing too many open kick-out threes
      • The Blue Devils have capable three-point shooters all over the court, and start four players (Ingram, Allen, Thornton, and Jones) that all have made between 39 and 43% of their threes
    • Brogdon will probably lead the charge guarding the versatile Allen, though it’ll likely be a bit of a team effort
      • Ingram is a trickier case, as the Cavaliers have struggled in the past with front court players who can also shoot threes; over 40% of Ingram’s shot attempts have come from behind the arc
    • “Pack the inside, but close out hard.” “Take advantage of offensive rebounds, but shut down Duke in transition”

Virginia must keep these trade-offs in a delicate balance to pull off a cathartic win in Durham

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