Friday, January 30, 2015

game preview: Duke

Date/Time: Saturday, January 31; 7:00


Record against the Blue Devils: 50-116

Last meeting: UVA 72, Duke 63; 3/16/14, Greensboro, NC; ACC championship

Last game: UVA 50, VT 47 (1/25); ND 77, Duke 73 (1/28)


UVA: 58.3 (#350)
Duke: 68.1 (#45)

UVA: 117.8 (#5)
Duke: 117.4 (#6)

UVA: 83.9 (#2)
Duke: 94.1 (#50)

UVA: .9801 (#2)
Duke: .9275 (#8)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (5.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 4.4 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (13.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.7 apg)
SF: Justin Anderson (13.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.9 apg)
PF: Darion Atkins (7.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 0.6 apg)
PF: Anthony Gill (11.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 0.8 apg)


PG: Tyus Jones (10.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 5.0 apg)
SG: Quinn Cook (14.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.8 apg)
SF: Justise Winslow (10.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.8 apg)
PF: Amile Jefferson (8.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.1 apg)
C: Jahlil Okafor (18.7 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.5 apg)

I haven't done a single one of these yet this year in light of scaling back the regular posting schedule, but how can I resist College GameDay?  This is gonna be fun.  UVA gets showcased for everyone who tunes into some college hoops on Saturday as a Super Bowl warmup, and they couldn't have picked a better opponent because pretty much everyone (who's otherwise neutral) will be hoping to see Duke get humbled.  UVA gets a lot of temporary fans on Saturday night.

This is game one of a four-game stretch of doom.  Most pundits are calling it three, but NC State is no pushover and that one's on the road.  ESPN is already using the "u" word not in terms of the season past, but the season future, so you already know what kind of hype is at stake over the next week.

Duke is having a rough go of it in the ACC, having lost to every non-crappy opponent they've faced, except for Louisville after busting out a surprise zone defense on Rick Pitino.  Their case for being #4 in the country is built mainly on three legitimate things: beating Wisconsin and Louisville on the road, and Jahlil Okafor.  These aren't to be sneezed at, but the Fightin' Coach K's have proven vulnerable, too, and UVA is a decided favorite here.

-- UVA on offense

The Hoos had a little trouble with the VT zone last weekend, so despite the fact that Duke is usually known for aggressive man-to-man defense, you can expect to see them break it out on Saturday.  I mean, it's been working, it certainly worked against Louisville, and it seems to be their best shot at reversing the trend of mediocre defense they've been lamenting this season.

With three freshmen in the starting lineup, it's probably not all that surprising that Duke's defense isn't elite.  Duke's defense possesses the fingerprints of a team whose perimeter defense is beaten off the dribble with some regularity: relatively high 2-point shooting percentage allowed and rather high free-throw shooting percentage allowed, while at the same time relatively few opponents' baskets are assisted.  Why include free-throw percentage allowed?  Teams with higher numbers there are likely to be fouling guards more than bigs.  All this points to a vulnerability to slashing guards - hence the switch to a zone defense, which compensates for that weakness.

A slasher is something that the UVA offense lacks.  The UVA ballhandlers aren't exactly bad at this, but there isn't that one elite player who can do anything on the dribble.  With Rasheed Sulaimon's dismissal from the team, chances are excellent that either Justin Anderson or Malcolm Brogdon - probably Brogdon - will spend a lot of time matched up against a smaller player, which should encourage that mid-range jumper that Brogdon is pretty proficient at shooting.

UVA's offensive rebounding prowess could pose a problem for Duke - not just in second-chance points, but foul trouble.  Grabbing an offensive board and going straight back up is a great way to draw a foul, and Duke is thin in the frontcourt following the early-season transfer of Semi Ojeleye.  Jahlil Okafor and Marshall Plumlee rotate at center with Plumlee being used mostly only to give Okafor a breather.  Amile Jefferson is the only other true big; when he's out of the game, Duke usually pairs Justise Winslow with Matt Jones as small forwards.  Okafor is an obvious freak of nature, one of the quickest big men you'll ever see, but also the only Duke big who matches up well with UVA's frontcourt.  Mike Tobey can score on Plumlee, Jefferson is too skinny to easily handle either Anthony Gill or Darion Atkins, and the remaining forwards are 6'6" or smaller.  And Okafor isn't a big-time shot-blocker - he's about average for his size, really.

Putting him in foul trouble spells bad news for Duke's frontcourt.  Putting any of them in foul trouble, really.  Gill is a bad mismatch for anyone who might guard him save Okafor, in which case Atkins should be able to go to work.  It might be tempting to start Tobey in order to force Duke to guard him with Okafor and let Gill take advantage of the resulting mismatch.

-- UVA on defense

Okafor is scary.  It's not for no reason he gets a lot of hype.  It's rare to see such a big guy move so well.  Okafor is 6'11", 270, and moves like he's 230.  He scores on about 2/3 of his shots, and his season low is 10 points, with eight 20-point games and seven double-doubles.  He's a top-notch offensive rebounder, and by the way that foul trouble thing we talked about earlier is rare, letting him play over 30 minutes a game.

Expect, then, a healthy dose of post-doubling when Okafor gets the ball.  UVA won't front him per se, but the pack-line footwork is still designed to force him to catch the ball somewhere where he doesn't want it, and to let the double come quickly.  Expect also a lot less post-doubling on anyone else, lest they find Okafor with an awful mismatch on him.

It's not a one-man show, though; it wouldn't be Duke if they didn't have a bunch of guys who could score.  Quinn Cook moved off the ball to take a more active shooting role and let Tyus Jones run the point.  Cook made 65 threes last year; a bit more than halfway through the season, he's at 53.  Jones and Winslow aren't hacks at the long ball, but with Sulaimon gone, Cook is the one really big distance threat.  And he's automatic from the stripe, missing only two of 44 free throws this year.

Jones, Winslow, and Jefferson are all perfectly capable scorers, too.  Jefferson is shooting .639 from the field, all from two; Jones and Winslow are rangy players who like Cook can score from a lot of different places.  But that's about where the good news ends for Duke.  The loss of Sulaimon costs the Blue Devils their most versatile player and only reliable bench scorer.  Matt Jones isn't used to shouldering any scoring load, Marshall Plumlee is a body that Duke uses to give Okafor a rest, and Greyson Allen doesn't appear to yet have the full confidence of Coach K.  When Tyus Jones would go out of the game, it was Sulaimon, not the former point guard Cook, who would take over at the point; Duke's choice now is to either hand it back to Cook or make Jones play all 40 minutes.  The former detracts from Cook's scoring focus and the latter is a huge risk and not sustainable.

Sulaimon provided most of his minutes at the three, though, which leaves Duke with another choice: lean more heavily on Winslow or Matt Jones.  Leaning on Winslow takes away his availability at the four, and leaning on Jones risks letting Justin Anderson run wild.  Sulaimon's flexibility gave Coach K a lot of options; his loss is a bigger depth hit than one man normally is.

-- Outlook

Make no mistake, this is a tough game, one of the season's hardest.  My guess is that Duke will lean as hard as they can on their starters in the absence of Sulaimon to back them up, because the more they go to the bench the more they play into the hands of the deeper Hoos.  Their starters can, mostly, match up well with UVA's, and they probably have an advantage at most positions.

But that's why UVA perfects a system, and that system has beaten Duke two years running.  And Duke's margin for error is much smaller than UVA's.  Okafor has had nagging knee twinges in more than one ACC game, and Duke can't afford to have a bad game from any of their starters or have prolonged scoring droughts, because their defense hasn't been good enough to hold off opposing runs.  And playing in what's sure to be a fired-up environment won't help matters.  If UVA's offense is clicking, it's over.  Duke could zone UVA into oblivion, or shoot hot from three, or see one of their stars go off on a big-night bender, and put an end to UVA's win streak in a hurry.  Chances are, though, that to win they'll simply need to play a more complete and balanced game - with fewer players - than they have for most of the season.

Final score: UVA 71, Duke 65

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