Despite suffering its third loss in the past six games a few days earlier and seeing one of the key players dismissed from the team, the #4-ranked Blue Devils were able to end a tumultuous week on a high note, knocking off the #2-ranked Virginia Cavaliers, 69-63. Duke was able to muster up enough effort to go on a 16-5 run to finish off the second half push by Virginia, which looked to be in control of the game on their own home court. Coach K was instrumental in Duke’s run by employing the use of a zone to throw off the Virginia offense. The first coach to 1,000 victories has recently turned more to a zone to curb some of his team’s defensive deficiencies, something which he seldom used in the past.
This win marks Duke’s seventh impressive win away from home, with victories against the likes of Michigan State, Stanford, @Wisconsin, UConn, @Louisville, @St. John’s, and @Virginia. For any team to be able to go on the road and defeat top-10 teams such as Wisconsin, Louisville, and now Virginia is an incredible feat. One aspect that gets somewhat lost in Duke’s impressive slate of wins is the how young but poised the main players on the team are. As it is often said in the NBA, “big time players make big time plays,” and that is precisely the case for Duke. Freshman Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, and to a degree, Justise Winslow, continue to make the correct plays no matter the hostile environment and situation. All three will be playing at the next level sooner rather than later, and the game against Virginia showed why.
Where does UVA go from here?
Next on the docket for Tony Bennett’s team is a road game against North Carolina, followed by a home game against Louisville, and then a match-up against NC State in North Carolina. This tough stretch will be crucial in how Virginia’s responds to a tough loss. Will the previously undefeated be exposed further? Probably not, but it will be interesting how they handle a loss.
Virginia will likely slide a few spots down in the rankings, but that isn’t much of a referendum on this team. After all they had the lead for awhile in the second half against Duke. Even when Duke played zone, Virginia was able to move the ball very well and get pretty good looks from the perimeter or elbow. The fact remains that the team will be a tough out come March because of their stifling defense, experience, play-makers, and Coach Bennett’s acumen.
What’s ahead for Duke?
Things don’t particularly get easier for the Blue Devils, as they have a rematch against Notre Dame on Saturday after playing Georgia Tech on Wednesday. Duke also has to play Syracuse and North Carolina four times between now and the end of the season, neither of which will be cakewalks. The experience of playing strong opponents in hostile environments will do a lot for Duke come tournament time.The dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon, however, does do some damage to Duke’s depth. It may not have showed against Virginia, but come March foul trouble may cause Coach K to rely on freshman Grayson Allen more than he’s ready for.