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Virginia Basketball Previews: Duke

How often does Duke come into a game as the lower ranked team? Not very often. How often does this happen when the opponent isn't UNC? Even less. Still, that is the case this weekend when #4 Duke travels to JPJ to face the #2 Hoos. ESPN Gameday will be in Charlottesville for the first time ever. The arena will be packed. The fans will be hyped. Coach K will sneer. Who will win?

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Mike Tobey is going to have to come up big this weekend against Duke.
Mike Tobey is going to have to come up big this weekend against Duke.
Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information
Opponent: Duke
Location: JPJ
Date: Saturday, January 31
Time: 7:00 ET
Channel: ESPN

As soon as the Virginia basketball schedule came out, fans circled this game. There was always going to be hype. The Hoos are the defending the ACC regular season and tournament champions, and Duke is...well, Duke. Even if the two teams had come out of the gate slowly, this game was likely to be an important one in the ACC standings. As it stands, however, this may be the single biggest basketball game of the entire NCAA schedule. Kentucky-Louisville comes to mind, and obviously had a lot of hype. But as a conference game, this one has even more importance. Tickets are going on Stubhub for nearly 2 grand (cheapest ticket is roughly $200).

The Hoos, as you well know, come in undefeated (19-0, 7-0) and ranked #2 in the nation. Duke is 17-3 (4-3) and ranked #4 in the nation. The Hoos have had 5 days off since their comeback win over VT in Blacksburg. Duke has had just 2 days off. Obviously, the Hoos are going to have to play better against Duke than they did against VT. Playing at home will be a big part of that. Also, the Hoos are simply too good to shoot under 35% from the field again.

Like many games the Hoos play, this game is a bit of a contrast of styles. Duke is one of the faster teams in the nation, averaging 68 possessions per game (50th in the nation). As we all know, the Hoos are one of the slower teams in the nation, averaging just over 58 possessions per game (350th in the nation). Duke has the 5th ranked offense in the nation, averaging almost 1.2 points per possessions. Virginia, apparently one of the most boring teams in the country, is way back at 6th in the nation, also averaging nearly 1.2 points per possessions. Yep, definitely boring. (Note, all Duke stats do not include their loss to Notre Dame.)

The big difference between the two teams is defense. The Hoos are the 2nd ranked defense in the nation, averaging just 0.84 points per possession, while Duke is 54th, averaging 0.94 points per possessions. In each of their two losses (@NCSU and Miami), the Blue Devils gave up over 1.2 ppp. On the season, Duke is allowing 29% shooting for 3 point range. But in those two games, their opponents combined to shoot 20/36 (56%).

That's last stat is a key one for a Wahoo team that is 19th in the nation in 3 point shooting at just over 39%. In ACC play, the Hoos have been even better, at just over 40% from downtown. This weekend, in Blacksburg, the Hoos were 6-18 from downtown (although it seemed much worse than that), which actually isn't that bad.

Duke is solid from the outside (54th in the nation), but dominant inside. Led by freshman phenom Jahlil Okafor, the Blue Devils are 6th in the nation in 2 point shooting, and 6th in effective FG%. This could well determine the outcome of this game, as the Hoos are 3rd in the nation both 2 point shooting allowed and effective FG% allowed.

Teams generally don't score much inside on the Hoos. Because of this, Virginia faces a lot of 3 pointers. The Hoos are 19th in the country in opposition 3 pointers (as a percentage of total shots). Forcing Duke to hit 3 pointers to win the game may be a sound strategy, as this generally keeps the ball out of Okafor's hands. That said, the Blue Devils have a lot of shooters. Led by Rasheed Sulaimon at about 42%, Duke has 5 guys shooting over 35% from downtown. In two matchups last year, Duke shot 50% from downtown. That Duke team was nowhere near as good on the inside, but was better and deeper on the perimeter.

Senior Quinn Cook has taken (by far) the most 3s, and has made 39%. Cook may be the x-factor in this game. After 3 years at PG, Cook ceded that spot to freshman Tyus Jones and has moved to SG, pushing Sulaimon to the bench.  I expect to see Malcolm Brogdon in Quinn Cook's face all game. Sulaimon has regressed, getting to the line less, turning the ball over more and is averaging less than 20 minutes per game. Still, he leads the team in 3 point percentage at nearly 42%. Putting Brogdon on Cook means that London Perrantes will likely be guarding Jones. Jones is a savvy PG, who looks to pass more than shoot. He isn't super quick like some PGs who've given the Hoos trouble, but he can shoot and he gets to the FT quite a bit, especially for a guy who doesn't shoot all that much. Also he's shooting 37% on 3s and 89% from the FT line.

With Sulaimon moved the bench and Cook at SG, freshman Justice Winslow has been getting a majority of the SF minutes. The 6'6" freshman is a good shooter who can also put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. This could be a frustrating game for Winslow, who likely hasn't had to face many perimeter defenders the likes of Justin Anderson. The final starter for the Blue Devils is junior Amile Jefferson. Jefferson had a double-double in Duke's home win over the Hoos last year, but struggled in the ACC tournament championship game. Keeping Jefferson off the glass will be important for Anthony Gill and company.

Despite a roster loaded with McDonald's All American's, Duke really only goes 7 deep. The 8th man is Marshall Plumlee, the youngest of the three Plumlee brothers to play at Duke. Plumlee will not be following his brothers into the NBA, partially because he's not as skilled as them but mostly because he will serve as an officer in the US Army following his graduation. Kudos to him for joining up (and for getting a special waiver allowing the 7 footer into the Army). The Hoos will have a big advantage in the depth department, so they want to force Duke into a physical game and hope the officials play along.

The keys to this game are going to be stopping Duke inside. This, of course, is mostly Okafor. The Hoos have generally had success shutting down big men, but Okafor is as good as they come in college basketball right now. Okafor is particularly good on the offensive glass, so it will be important to keep a body on him every time a shot goes up.

This would be a good time for Mike Tobey to have a career game, as his 7 foot frame matches up better with Okafor than Gill or Atkins, each of whom are just 6'8". All 3 will be giving up 20 pounds or more to Okafor. He really is a beast. The Hoos will likely double-team when he gets the ball in the post, and try to force him to get rid of it. That means they'll have to rotate quickly to avoid giving up open looks on the perimeter.

According to KenPom, the Hoos are 87% to win this game. Playing at home, in front of a packed JPJ crowd will certainly help. It might even be enough to counteract the Duke bias from the ACC officials. (Duke is 5th in the nation in giving up FTs, not a great combination for a Wahoo team that does not always get to the line often enough.)

Bottom line, if the Hoos shoot the 3 reasonably well and keep Duke off the offensive glass, they should win the game easily. If they do only 1 of those 2 things well, they'll still have a good shot to win the game. However, if they can't shoot and they struggle on the glass, this game will be tough to win.