It will be a big night in Charlottesville, Virginia, as ESPN’s College GameDay crew will be on hand at the John Paul Jones Arena for a rematch of last year’s ACC tournament final, when second-ranked Virginia plays host to No. 4 Duke at 7 p.m. ET Saturday. Virginia (19-0) is off to its best start since the 1980-81 season, when that team, led by Ralph Sampson, started 23-0.
Virginia leads the nation in scoring defense (49.2 points per game). The Blue Devils, meanwhile, average 81.6 points, led by freshman center Jahlil Okafor (18.7 ppg), senior guard Quinn Cook (14.4), freshman guard Tyus Jones (10.9) and freshman forward Justise Winslow (10.7).
"It's really going to test our defense," UVa. forward Anthony Gill said. "They're a great team, and we're a great team, so we're going to see who comes out on top. There's been a lot of anticipation building up to this."
Head coach Tony Bennett can add personal observations to the Cavaliers' scouting report on Okafor. Bennett was an assistant coach on USA Basketball's U19 team in 2013, and he's not surprised by Okafor's success as a Duke freshman.
"He's such a talented player," Bennett said. "He's so good. He's such a good passer. He's so strong, and there are so many things [Okafor does well]. But they have such good players around him, too. So it's not like, well, you just kind of deal with him and forget about the others."
In its Pack-Line defense, Virginia often double-teams post players when they get the ball down low, and Okafor has 47 turnovers, the most of any Blue Devil this season. Still, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski likes Okafor's decision making when trapped in the post.
"He's done an excellent job, especially for a freshman," Krzyzewski said. "Part of it is, he's got really huge hands. So he can pass out of it one-handed, which gives you a little bit more room to pass. You can pass over or pass to the side, because you're longer than you would be with two hands, and wider, in making your passes out.
"He can pass, and he wants to pass. He has made, overall, great decisions in handling that."
Bennett, not surprisingly, declined to divulge how the 'Hoos plan to defend Okafor.
"You just have to be sound, you gotta be consistent," Bennett said. "Obviously, we trap the post -- there's no big mystery there -- at times ... You just gotta make it as hard as you can on [Okafor], but you can't just leave everybody else alone."
The 'Hoos are aware of the buzz surrounding this game, Gill said, "but I think that we really understand where we're coming from. Last year we were in a situation where we got put up real high in people's eyes, then we got knocked down real hard. I think that we understand where we need to be and what we need to do in order to win games."
"It's just real competitive, and they really challenge each other," Bennett said. "Of course they want opportunities to play, but they're pushing each other, and I think they're making our team better. And it can be a different guy at a different time."