For the second time this season, the No.4 Duke Blue Devils (17-3, 4-3) have reached a pivotal moment of their 2014-15 basketball campaign. After a crushing defeat to Notre Dame earlier in the week, the Blue Devils find themselves on the road against the best team in the ACC. Duke was in the exact same position two weeks prior against Louisville.
The Blue Devils were riding a two game losing streak, and headed to the KFCYUM! Center for the first time in conference play. It’s precisely at that point, Mike Krzyzewski displayed a 2-3 zone to highlight another horrible shooting day for Louisville. Now, ‘Coach K’ has to come up with something spectacular once again when facing the undefeated Virginia squad.
Maybe Duke’s first move was removing Rasheed Sulaimon from the equation a day after the loss to Notre Dame. Maybe he was a scapegoat for the problems Duke has had in recent weeks, but it’s evident that Sulaimon will no longer be with the team, and the Blue Devils must move forward.
The No.2 Virginia Cavaliers (19-0, 7-0) lead by executing a crushing defensive scheme to suffocate opponents. The Cavaliers give up 49.2 points per game, and they’ve held three opponents to under 30 points this season. Let’s go out on the limb and say that Duke will surpass the 30 point mark on Saturday.
The Blue Devils put up 81 points per game, and they desperately need to turn this game into free flowing contest. If they can’t get the tempo in their favor, Virginia will clamp down on the perimeter players.
The Cavaliers also have the size to deal with Jahlil Okafor. While Okafor is shooting 66 percent from the field, Virginia’s Mike Tobey will get plenty of opportunities match up with the big man one on one.
As a team, Virginia shoots 47 percent from the field, while Duke gives up 42 percent on the defensive end. That stat alone doesn’t bode well for Duke’s defensive chances. Virginia likes to grind defenses with a well run offensive system. Can Duke continue to be disciplined if their shots aren’t falling early? There’s no question that the Blue Devils will utilize the zone against the Cavaliers.
Justin Anderson takes almost half of his shots from 3-point range. He’s also shooting 51 percent from beyond the arc, so Duke must tag Anderson when they veer away from the man defense.
A Virginia win doesn’t seal a second consecutive conference title for the Cavaliers, but it will put Duke back four games in the loss column. With this being the only match up of Top 10 teams, the likelihood of Duke getting back into the conference race would be a fantasy.
The game starts at 7 p.m. on ESPN. Duke has a real opportunity to remain a factor in the upcoming power poll, but a win here is necessary.