No. 2 Virginia took down No. 4 Duke in Cameron Indoor for the first time in 23 years on Saturday.
Here are six things we learned from the Hoos’ 65-63 win.
MORE: Duke-UVA box score
This Virginia team plays with a fearlessness past Virginia teams haven’t
Virginia has been excellent ever since Tony Bennett arrived – but the Cavaliers play such a precise, specific brand of basketball that they generally don’t take the risks other teams do.
Saturday’s game against Duke felt similar for a while – the Cavs dominated the first half; the Blue Devils went on a run to take the lead in the second. But this Virginia team is different in its willingness to take what’s perceived to be a “bad” shot. Ty Jerome, ladies and gentlemen:
O-N-I-O-N-S pic.twitter.com/MJuGLMitr6— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) January 27, 2018
Virginia’s entire offensive identity hinges on chewing up clock and taking the most efficient shot possible. That’s great, but if you never expand, you run the risk of becoming stale. Some unpredictability is good – it makes you harder to guard. If Duke has to defend Jerome that far away from the hoop, it opens up easier looks.
Jerome and Kyle Guy have upped Virginia’s risk profile. Neither shot well against Duke, but they shot well enough. The Hoos essentially have a starting backcourt of gunners – talented gunners. Combine that with the always-deadly Pack Line, and you’re dealing with a national title contender.
Virginia reserves scored eight more points than Duke reserves played minutes on Saturday. Seriously. The Hoos had 14 bench points; the reserve Dukies totaled six minutes.
UVA wouldn’t have won without electrifying freshman DeAndre Hunter – such a good athlete that it’s hard to believe he’s wearing a Virginia jersey. Hunter scored 12 points before leaving with an ankle injury and was key in breaking down Duke's zone from the high post. He was the only Cavalier to have much success playmaking from the elbow; he whipped canny passes all over the court.
In Mike Krzyzewski’s defense, he didn’t get much out of Alex O’Connell and Javin DeLaurier in the six minutes they played. Neither scored. But like... it’s six minutes. To ask your starters to play 37-plus minutes in such a high-stakes game is tough – not to mention, Duke could have used O’Connell’s shooting. The Blue Devils went 4-for-15 from 3-point range. Grayson Allen struggled mightily; Trevon Duval is a non-threat from outside of the paint.
Limited attempts, sure, but O’Connell is shooting 52 percent from 3. Considering Duke was in a zone, he wasn’t going to kill the Blue Devils defensively. It’s understandable why DeLaurier didn’t play more – Wendell Carter and Marvin Bagley were magnificent – but Duke was gassed down the stretch, and it’s easy to see why. Virginia’s bench production was the difference in the game.
Carter and Bagley are slowly learning how to play with one another
At first glance, Carter and Bagley don’t complement one another. Early in the season, they just got in each other’s way. But both are too talented not to make this work – and despite the loss, Carter and Bagley dominated Virginia.
Bagley’s newfound 3-point shot helps the spacing. He canned two of them on Saturday. Carter drained one, too – and tallied four assists, a sweet figure for a center. He found Bagley on a few nice high-low actions.
The Virginia defense had answers for all of Duke’s perimeter guys; it had zilch for Carter or Bagley. Duke outrebounded UVA 42-27. The frontcourt is clearly its biggest strength, and the shot attempts should be distributed to reflect that.
Duke’s best defense is a zone
Duke played man-to-man in the first half before switching to zone in the second. The Blue Devils gave up one more point in zone than in man – but Duke’s sheer length in the 2-3 forced Virginia to take some uncharacteristically difficult shots, resulting in long rebounds. The Blue Devils stormed back early in the second half thanks to transition offense.
This has to be killing Coach K, the man-to-man savant that he is. But the numbers are the numbers:
Duke has allowed .78 points per possession while playing zone and .84 points per possession while playing man-to-man in ACC play; the difference between ranking 12th and 105th in half court defensive efficiency.— Synergy Sports Tech (@SynergySST) January 27, 2018
Duke has the personnel to play a devastating zone. Duval and Allen are quick up top, and Bagley and Carter make up for the zone’s biggest potential downfall – allowing offensive rebounds. Those two hardly needed to box out to collect 29 caroms.
It will be interesting to see if the Blue Devils use the 2-3 as their base defense moving forward.
Virginia’s defense is capable of stifling anyone
This is meant in a team context – Virginia couldn’t stop Bagley or Carter. But Duke had the No. 2 offense coming into Saturday. Virginia had the best defensive rating of the KenPom era. Something had to give.
The Hoos certainly weren’t budging. They held the high-powered Blue Devils to 22 first half points and allowed 63 on the day.
MORE: Full CBB scores
It’s not as if Duke was just missing open looks. It couldn’t create open looks. Allen had no driving lanes, Virginia snuffed out the elaborate maze of screens that usually result in open Gary Trent 3s, and Duval struggled with ball-security.
If Virginia can stifle Duke at Cameron Indoor, it can stifle anyone. A guy like Bagley is its kryptonite – someone so long, athletic and skilled that no scheme can stop him. But the Cavaliers have a solution for every other problem. They showed that on Saturday.
These teams are both are title contenders
You can nitpick several stats and say this game could have gone in Duke’s favor. The Blue Devils missed more than half of their free-throws. Allen was nonexistent. Trent, scorching hot as of late, went cold.
Bottom line: both of these teams are really, really good. They’re on the short list of programs who could cut down the nets in San Antonio.