Conference schedules do not always allow for epic rematches within 3 weeks of the original meetings. But that’s the scenario in the ACC this Saturday night as the Duke Blue Devils visit the Virginia Cavaliers in a battle of top-5 teams in college basketball.
Duke may have won the first match-up in Durham on January 19th. But the final score of 72-70 leaves oddsmakers and the betting public in no position to handicap a wide point spread. Bovada’s lines include host UVA (-2) and a (136) Over/Under total for a tip-off at 6 PM Eastern time.
Looking Back at an Instant Classic
Coach K’s hosts ran out to a 5-point halftime lead on 1/19, but wound up hanging on for dear life as Virginia put a quartet of scorers in double-digits. There was far less scoring depth on the Duke side as the Blue Devil effort turned into the R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson show. The frosh forwards combined for 57 points and 14 rebounds, dwarfing the output of their teammates.
When UVA tried to accelerate its come-from-behind attempt with fouls and 3-point bombs in the final moments, Barrett sank a pair of key free throws with 13 seconds left to give Duke the winning margin.
Veteran guard De’Andre Hunter paced coach Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers with 14 points.
Defense Wins Championships (Sometimes)
Virginia is one of the most menacing defensive teams in Division 1. Bennett relies on shooters like Hunter to collect enough buckets for the team to win, but the game plan is always built around the squad’s stubborn guarding and rebounding on its own end of the court.
6’10” upperclassman Jack Salt is an intimidating physical presence around the net.
UVA held Notre Dame to just 55 points in a win a couple of weekends ago, and on February 2nd held the Miami Hurricanes to just 34% from the field. Hunter again scored 14 and Salt grabbed 9 boards as the Cavaliers prevailed 56-46.
However, the team is playing under constant pressure in ’18-’19 after a shocking early exit in last year’s NCAA Tournament. Virginia earned a #1 seed in the 2018 bracket but was blown out by #16 UMBC in one of the most amazing long-odds upsets in basketball history.
Devil in the Details
Coach K has to be pleased with his diaper dandies, but a national title will not be forthcoming unless the Duke Blue Devils get bigger contributions from their role-players and veterans.
Barrett and Williamson continued to dominate scoring in anxious wins over Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech following the victory over UVA. But a trio of lopsided triumphs over Notre Dame, St. Johns, and Boston College since then has given the program reason to believe that a complete team could be developing. 5 players finished in double-digits in the 91-61 win over the visiting Red Storm a week ago, and 6’8″ sophomore forward Cam Reddish paced the squad with 16 points in an 80-55 thrashing of BC on Tuesday.
Duke at Virginia: Prediction and Best Bet
The O/U outcome strongly correlates to the likely W/L outcome in this contest. If Virginia is allowed to play its game, the Cavaliers will bottle-up the guest Blue Devils with effective long possessions and stifling defense which could lead to a comfortable low-scoring win. But if Coach K’s NBA prospects run wild in Charlottesville, there may be little that the hosts can do to try to keep up.
To Duke’s advantage, the Blue Devils would still have a chance to win a sloppy contest in the 100-120 total-point range while Virginia would have a hard time coming out on top in a 160+ point shootout. Duke prevails in more potential scenarios than the Cavaliers prevail in.
Play the percentages and take the visitors to cover (+2).
Photo from YouTube.