Just three weeks ago, the Virginia Cavaliers and Duke Blue Devils played one of the best basketball games you’re going to see this season. That game, at Cameron Indoor Stadium, remains the sole blemish on Virginia’s record this season. Duke has two losses—Gonzaga and Syracuse.
One interesting thing about this game is the impact of injuries. Duke freshman PG Tre Jones missed the last matchup between the teams with a shoulder injury. He has returned for the past three games. On the other side, Virginia PG Ty Jerome missed the Wahoos’ last contest due to a back injury. At this moment, we do not know if Ty will be available for this game.
Without Ty, freshman Kihei Clark started and played 37 minutes. He scored nine points, connecting on 3/6 from the field including a pair of treys. He had six assists, but also six turnovers. If Ty can’t go, Kihei will have to be better than that. You can’t turn the ball over against Duke. Jones’ return may actually be a bit of a break if Kihei needs to play more. Because of his small stature, there isn’t anybody else on Duke’s roster that Clark can really guard. But he’s a perfect matchup to guard Jones.
Jones’ return really doesn’t change much about the game plan. The goal is to stop Duke’s penetration and force them into outside shots. That is, of course, easier said than done. Both of Duke’s superstars, R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson, are very very good at getting into the paint. They are also both very good at finishing when they get there. That duo combined for 57 points on 20/35 FG (57%). They were a combined 1/7 from downtown, which means they were 20/28 (71%) on the inside. That’s insane. The entire rest of the team scored 15 points, with Cam Reddish coming up with nine on 12 shot attempts.
This is an example of good defense from DeAndre Hunter. Zion is simply too strong and bulls his way into the paint. Hunter forces a very tough shot, which Zion leaves short. But there’s nobody around the grab the defensive board, because Hunter was forced too far underneath. Looks like Hunter may have been trying to sell a push-off, but you aren’t getting that call against Duke, especially not at Cameron Indoor.
One thing about Jones’ return is that he’s also very good at getting into the lane. He isn’t as dangerous finishing as either Barrett or Williamson, but he is super quick and agile. Here’s an example from Duke’s last game against Boston College.
Jones uses a screen from Zion to get by Ky Bowman and nobody on BC is there to help. Virginia, of course, is much better defensively than BC and that wouldn’t be such an easy finish. In fact, Tony Bennett would be happy to see Coach K running plays for Tre Jones, because it means fewer shots for Barrett and Williamson.
What really cost the Hoos in that last matchup was poor shooting. Virginia ranks 12th in the nation in three point shooting at over 39%. In Cameroon Indoor, they shot 3/17 (17%). Virginia is also 17th in the nation in FT shooting at over 76%. Against Duke, they were 11/17 (65%).
What Virginia did well was get the ball inside, and keep Duke on their heels. Duke came into the game intending to run Virginia off the three point line. To an extent, that worked. But that left the middle open for Virginia. Here’s one very fun example.
Jay Huff played just seven minutes in the first matchup. Expect more from him this time out. He scored four points in his limited time, and was a matchup problem. While he still isn’t a great interior defender, he’s a very good help shot blocker. Considering how often Duke was able to get into the paint, having another shot blocker to help thwart those attempts would be useful.
Here’s another example.
That’s a great play from Jack Salt. He recognizes that his man (Barrett) isn’t watching him, so he breaks to the rim for the open dunk. Great read from Salt and great pass from Jerome.
The Hoos had just eight assists on 28 made FG. That is well below their season average of over 55% (81st in the country). That means there was too much one-on-one play. However, even with the struggles, Virginia scored 1.11 points per possession. Virginia wins most games with that kind of offensive output.
Duke offense, though, is on another level. Yes, they can’t shoot. In fact, they are one of the worst outside shooting teams in America. They are deadly on the inside. They are also deadly on the offensive glass. And they get a ton of easy buckets in transition.
This is what happens when you turn the ball over against Duke. They generally have at least four guys on the floor who can handle, so they start their fast break immediately, without waiting for an outlet pass.
It almost goes without saying that the biggest actor in this game is Ty Jerome. With no Ty, or a limited Ty, Virginia doesn’t win. Beating Miami without Ty was one thing. And even that wasn’t as easy as fans would’ve liked. But the Wahoos will need Ty firing on all cylinders to get past this Blue Devil squad.
That said, getting Ty back to 100% is more important for March than for February 7th. Sure it’s a big game, and it’s nationally televised. But it doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. If anybody knows this, it’s Tony. If Ty isn’t ready to go, he won’t go. And, it would be good experience for Kihei Clark, who is the presumed heir apparent should Ty turn pro after this season.