Saturday’s primetime matchup on the college basketball schedule features the no. 2 Duke Blue Devils visiting the no. 3 Virginia Cavaliers. After squeaking out a 2-point win over the Cavs at Cameron Indoor last month, Duke is a 2.5-point underdog in the rematch.
Since their Big Monday loss to Syracuse last month, the Blue Devils have rattled off six wins in a row. Their game against Virginia was the only game during that span that was close. Even after trailing at halftime to Boston College earlier this week, Duke still won by 25. It’s safe to say the Blue Devils have hit their stride at this point in the season.
As for the Cavaliers, that game in Durham remains their only loss of the season. Virginia has won four in a row, putting them in a 3-way tie with Duke and North Carolina for the top spot in the ACC standings at 8-1. They are also 20-1 overall but are somehow flying under the radar because they don’t have multiple lottery picks on their roster.
One Man Short?
There continues to be uncertainty over whether junior Ty Jerome will play against Duke. Jerome is officially day-to-day with a back injury and sat out Virginia’s game last weekend against Miami. He’s the team’s third-leading scorer, averaging 13 points per game. Needless to say, if Jerome is unable to play or isn’t playing at 100%, it’ll be a huge hit for the Cavaliers.
Fortunately for Virginia, they have other scorers who can step up. Kyle Guy is just as deadly of an outside shooter as Jerome. De’Andre Hunter is also a high-level scorer who can put the ball in the basket in a number of ways. He scored 18 points against Duke in the first meeting, even without making a three-pointer. However, the key could be freshman point guard Kihei Clark. He stepped into the starting lineup in place of Jerome against Miami and scored nine points while dishing out six assists. On the downside, he also turned the ball over six times, which could be a concern against Duke’s defense.
Back at Full Strength
The Blue Devils managed to beat Virginia last month despite the absence of point guard Tre Jones. With Jones available this time around, the Blue Devils will be even more formidable. Despite their struggles from the perimeter, the Cavs had a strong offensive showing without Jones around to pressure the ball. This time around, Jones will either be checking Jerome of the 5’9’’ Clark, which could make it difficult for Virginia to get into their sets and run their offense.
Meanwhile, the usually stout Virginia defensive needs to find an answer for Duke’s freshmen tandem of Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. Those two combined for 57 of Duke’s 72 points in the first meeting. The Cavaliers should make some adjustments to their pack-line defense after that performance. But if Virginia can’t keep Williamson and Barrett out of the lane, they’ll have a hard time stopping the Blue Devils.
No Such Luck
Even at home, the Cavaliers face an uphill battle against Duke, especially if Jerome doesn’t play. Even with Jerome, the tandem of Williamson and Barrett could be too much to handle. Bet on Duke at least beating the 2.5-point spread, if not getting the road win in Charlottesville.