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The BIG PREVIEW: Virginia vs Duke in the ACC Championship

Evaluating tonight’s matchup in the ACC Tournament Championship.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 11 Duke at Virginia Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball program has played in eight ACC Championship games, winning three. One of those wins, in 2014, came over the Duke Blue Devils. Duke has never beaten Virginia in an ACC Championship. Virginia’s record against UNC in Championship games is 2-2, and they are 0-2 against everybody else.

That 2014 win was a landmark victory, as the Virginia program really announced itself as elite under Tony Bennett. Nobody doubts UVA’s acumen right now, but another win over Duke could really cement the idea of Virginia as the top program in the ACC.

These two teams faced off exactly one month ago, at JPJ. The Hoos were the better team, but could not make free throws. By shooting just 9/22 (40.9%) from the stripe, Virginia allowed Duke to stay in the game and ultimately to have a chance to win.

I don’t know what happened on the final play of regulation. I’m not sure the officials on the floor even entirely know what went down. But I do know that block from Beekman looked awfully clean to me. I also know Kyle Filipowski was 0/2 from the free throw line and 0/5 from the field on the day. It was far from a certainty that he was going to make a free throw in that situation.

Here is our preview from that game.

Both of these teams are better defensively than offensively, and neither of these teams will run much. That’s about where the similarities end. Duke is the single biggest team in the nation, based on minutes played. Two seven-footers (or close to it) are on the floor at almost all times. They are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, which is good because they can’t shoot.

Jeremy Roach is a 33% shooter for his career, but he’s wide open after the offensive rebound and knocks it down. Roach hit two early threes, and scored 12 of Duke’s first 14 points in that game in February. He single handedly kept them in a game while they were otherwise being dominated. Duke actually shot the ball quite well, making 9/23 (39%), but they did not have their usual success in the paint. Filipowski struggled, going scoreless in 30 minutes. And fellow seven-footer Dereck Lively scored the first two points of the game and did not factor in again after that and played just 11 minutes. Lively, by the way, is the one of the best offensive rebounders and shot blockers in the nation, at least by rate.

Against all that size, Virginia largely went small, with 6’8” Ben Vander Plas as the biggest guy on the floor. BVP’s loss will be felt more in this game than the previous two. He has experience in big games, plus his ability to defend bigger players allowed Tony to play small and open up the floor on offense with five shooters (even if maybe BVP isn’t a lights out shooter). Ryan Dunn is 30 pounds smaller than BVP, and will struggle with Derek Lively or Ryan Young in the paint. Kadin Shedrick (7 minutes) and Francisco Caffaro (11) combined for one point, two rebounds and one block. And six fouls. They’ll have to be better.

Playing small opens up the floor for driving lanes. That’s either for a drive and dish, or a drive and finish.

This was obviously the most entertaining of the drives, but there were a lot. Even McKneely got in on the action with a couple of nice drives.

BVP helps this play with the screen on the help defender. The lane opens right up for McKneely. The downside to playing two seven-footers is having to defend much quicker players with one of your bigs.

McKneely scored just four points on 2/7 shooting. He also had two TOs. A better game from McKneely, who is basically the only consistent outside threat the Wahoos have, would be a huge boost in this game.

Despite being at a size disadvantage, the Hoos outscored Duke in the paint 42-24. Virginia also attempted 22 free throws, against 12 for Duke. If they’d made their shots at the charity stripe, that game might not have been close.

Last night, in a dominating win, the Hoos shot 6/17 (35%) from downtown. Though that is far from “good,” it is better than recent games and was a factor in that game. Taine Murray came in and knocked down a couple of shots, including a tough contested three. That was a big shot, and anything Virginia can get from Murray at this point in the season is, again, a bonus.

The recipe is the same for the ‘Hoos. Use quickness to overcome the size advantage, and pester Duke’s ball-handlers into turnovers and easy buckets. Hit some free throws too, and maybe even knock down a few threes.