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The Big Preview: UVA basketball hosts Duke in JPJ

Taking a look at tomorrow’s matchup versus a talented but inconsistent Duke squad.

Duke v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Coming off a big home win over NC State, the Virginia Cavaliers now face another tough test in the Duke Blue Devils. Although the Blue Devils are just 8-5 in the ACC (17-7 overall) and ranked 35th on KenPom, they obviously have talent and they boast wins over Iowa (32 on KenPom), Xavier (22) and Ohio State (34).

None of those big wins came on the road. They have two road wins all season, BC (178th) and Georgia Tech (207). Not exactly road warriors.

Virginia handled NC State at home by slowing the game down. NC State wants to play fast, so Virginia forced the game to a standstill. The game totaled 58 possessions per team, which is the fewest in a Virginia game this year. It almost goes without saying that it was also the fewest NC State has played this season. That’s not to say that there weren’t fast breaks.

Every once in a while, Reece explodes to the rim for a dunk and we’re reminded of how athletic he is. Then he doesn’t do it again for a while. This was the perfect time for it, because that NC State defender was sizing him up for the chase-down block. If Reece lays that up gently, it’s getting swatted away. The Hoos had 6 fast break points to NC State’s 2. If a fast team can’t play fast, they’re going to struggle. No surprise this game wasn’t too close.

Duke, in previous years, has played fast as well. But those were teams led by pass-first point guards such as Tre and Tyus Jones. This year’s team does not play fast, in part because they do not have that type of player. Jeremy Roach is the point guard, but he wants to score more than he wants to pass. Roach leads the team in minutes, but averages just three assists per game. He scores almost 13 per game, but shoots just 38% from the field and under 35% from downtown.

It’s Duke. There’s a lot of individual talent. Too much for them to be 57th in offensive efficiency. That talent starts with Kyle Filipowski, a seven foot inside-outside threat who was the 7th ranked recruit in the country, per ESPN, which made him the third ranked Duke commit.

Big men who can shoot have given Virginia problems in the past. Quinten Post gave Virginia fits against BC a few weeks ago. But being an inside-outside threat is better if you’re a real threat from outside. Filipowski shoots just 28% from downtown on 4 attempts per game.

As a team, the Blue Devils don’t shoot many threes. They have a lot of size, and they just want to get the ball into the paint, and get on the offensive glass.

Filipowski’s perimeter game means he starts at the four, at seven feet tall. Next to him at the five is one of Derek Lively or Northwestern transfer Ryan Young. Lively is taller and more athletic, but Young is older, bigger and stronger. They basically split minutes.

We saw Kadin Shedrick really break out of a prolonged slump on Wednesday against NC State. After not playing at all in the loss at Virginia Tech, and averaging just six minutes per game over the previous five games, Shedrick busted out with 26 minutes, 10 points, six rebounds, and a block. He also had just three fouls in those 26 minutes.

Check out the off-ball movement from Shedrick. Find open space in the lane and make yourself big. This is exactly what they teach big men, and this is fantastic from Shedrick. The pass from McKneely is also beautiful, maybe the best pass he’s made in his freshman year. McKneely is up to 44% from downtown for the season and he’s made 47% in ACC games. McKneely’s defense is also improving.

That is 6’8” Wolfpack big man Greg Gandt and McKneely blocks his dunk attempt. Outstanding effort.

Frankly, none of the above fully describes Shedrick’s impact on the game. NC State’s 275 pound big man D.J. Burns came in riding a hot streak, and Shedrick took him completely out of the game. Burns scored the first two points of the game for the Pack, and then didn’t score again until the very end of the half, at which point Virginia was up big. In between that, Burns had two fouls, two turnovers, and a lot of bench time. He also committed a flagrant foul out of frustration, which may have been the most impactful thing he did all game.

Duke is literally the tallest team in the nation, based on minutes played. With that kind of size, Shedrick is going to be needed again. Francisco Caffaro may also be dusted off to bother Lively and Young inside. Of course, Virginia’s small-ball lineup would struggle in the paint and on the glass, but it would also create some mismatches on the other end.

We also barely say Ryan Dunn on Wednesday, and his minutes have been down for a few games. NC State was not a big team, and didn’t have bigger wings for Dunn to match up with. Duke does, so maybe Dunn gets back into the rotation. Duke’s two bigger wings are Mark Mitchell and Dariq Whitehead.

Mitchell is really the only consistent outside threat they have, although he has a bit of a funky left-handed delivery. He’s made 38% from downtown (team high), but he just doesn’t look to shoot. He’s just 1/8 in 2023 despite starting every game. Whitehead was the #2 recruit in the nation (Lively was #1, Mitchell was #28), but hasn’t exactly lived up to that billing yet. He’s made just 38% from the field. He’s also missed the last four games with an injury, and his status for this game is unknown.

This Duke team is better defensively than they are offensively. That’s not been something you can say about Duke for a long time. They aren’t a lot better defensively (31st ranking), but they are better. With shot blockers inside, the perimeter players can play tight up top. And they are strong on the defensive glass. Guard the paint, and guard the three. That’s a pretty good strategy.

For the most part, teams that have beaten the Blue Devils have done so by scoring the ball efficiently. Teams that beat Duke have averaged 1.12 points per possession, which is elite. On the season, Duke has allowed just 0.94 points per possession, which is also very good (Virginia is just 0.006 ahead of Duke). Another thing about this young Blue Devils team is that they’ve checked out of games they’ve fallen behind. That’s why they lost by 24 to NC State and they are coming off a 22 point drubbing at Miami.

Virginia can score, and proved on Wednesday that they can do it without knocking down the three. But NC State defensively and Duke defensively aren’t the same thing. Virginia is going to have to knock down some threes to win this game. Reece Beekman has some experience hitting big threes against Duke. I’ll just leave you with this.