UVA has what some experts are referring to as one of the weirdest NCAA tournament resumes of all time, having lost against the likes of ODU and Delaware, but having victories over Wisconsin, NC State, and UNC. Most people agree that Virginia will make the tournament, but as a low seed. A win over Duke at John Paul Jones Arena would really solidify UVA's resume and take the team off the bubble. Here are my five keys to a UVA victory on Thursday night:
1. Play "Bennett Ball" Effectively
Virginia has won most of it's tougher games (NC State, UNC) by slowing down the pace, forcing turnovers, and being efficient on offense. Duke is a team that likes to play offense in a halfcourt set and count on Mason Plumlee and a host of shooters to score a majority of their points. If Virginia can get back and not allow transition points, their chances of winning greatly improve. If they allow Duke to get a lot of easy points on the fast break, it'll be over before it even starts in Charlottesville.
2. Defend the 3-point Shot
Duke shoots 41.6% from beyond the arc. That's an exceptionally high number, and if they match of exceed that number on Thursday night, UVA will have a tough time winning this game. Virginia needs to contest every Duke shot from 3-point range, or not allow them to shoot from there at all. The three I'm most worried about are Seth Curry (43.7%), Quinn Cook (41.0%), and Rasheed Sulaimon (41.5%).
3. Stop Mason Plumlee
UVA has done an effective job of shutting down the opposing team's big man (see: Len, Alex) by double teaming them in the post and forcing them to pass the ball back out to the perimeter. Akil Mitchell, Darion Atkins, and Mike Tobey will have to be tough, active, and disciplined with their assignments on the interior to stop Duke's leading scorer (17.5 ppg).
4. Get Joe Harris the Ball
Joe Harris is undoubtedly Virginia's best offensive player, and getting him a lot of touches will ensure that Virginia stays close. Harris is very efficient and smart and will almost always make the right decision with the ball. If Joe Harris can get it going against Duke, I expect this to be a tight game.
5. Take Care of the Basketball and Rebound
This is kind of a cop out, seeing as I included two things here, but they go hand-in-hand. UVA cannot afford to turn the ball over more than 10-12 times in this ball game and realistically expect to win. Duke is too good offensively not to capitalize on those mistakes. Virginia also cannot allow Duke to get second chances on the offensive board. Limiting them to one-shot possessions will help out tremendously in dictating the pace of the game. Another thing that could help Virginia dictate the pace will be getting rebounds and wasting some clock when we have possession. Less possessions for Duke = better for UVA.
These are just a few of the important things Virginia needs to do to beat Duke. Shooting the ball effectively and making our free throws will also be important. I'm interested to see how UVA plays against arguably the best team in the ACC on our home floor. Will Wahoos storm the court in Charlottesville? Tune in to ESPN at 9 p.m. on Thursday night and see for yourself.