Virginia vs. Duke Basketball: 5 Keys to a Cavalier Upset
Looking at the ACC standings, fans would be shocked to see who is on top of the leaderboard.
No it is not North Carolina, the team of future NBA stars, nor is it the consistent arch-rival Duke Blue Devils.
Do not get me wrong—both have a 1-0 ACC record and are in the Top 10 in the country—yet, there is only one team in the conference with only one loss on the season.
That's right, the Virginia Cavaliers are 14-1 for the first time since Ralph Sampson was wearing the orange and blue.
Virginia is ranked, and although their strength of schedule has been criticized, they can prove to everyone just how good they are this week when they go to Cameron Indoor and take on the Duke Blue Devils.
To be fair, Cameron Indoor has been a house of horrors for most teams, but certainly Virginia.
The Cavaliers have not won at Duke since 1995 in double overtime. In fact, they have rarely been competitive in those contests. Last season though, Virginia led at the half against Duke and even stretched its lead to nine before finally falling 76-60.
The Cavaliers last won against the Blue Devils in 2007—also the last time Virginia made the NCAA tournament.
Can Virginia keep their hot start to the 2011-12 season going with a big victory over Duke? If they do, here is how they can do it.
Mike Scott+ Joe Harris+ Sammy Zeglinski = Virginia's Offense
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Virginia's offense is rather limited.
The Cavaliers rely on three players to carry the load. In the middle of these three Musketeers is Mike Scott.
The fifth-year senior is having one of the best seasons in the country, averaging 16.5 PPG and 8.9 RPG. Scott had to sit and watch last season on the bench when two surgeries knocked him out of playing. That frustration has boiled over into one gritty player.
When Virginia needed him, he has stepped up. When the team struggled against Seattle on the road, Scott had a career-high 33 points. Last Saturday against Miami, he added 23 of Virginia's 52 points and helped them escape with a one-point victory.
That may be all well and good against Seattle and Miami, but this is Duke.
Mike Scott cannot expect to carry the offensive load: His other two Musketeers need to step up to the plate.
Sophomore Joe Harris is coming off of one of his worst performances as a Cavalier. Not only did he go 1-of-5 from the floor with three turnovers, he missed the front end of a one-and-one in the final minute that could have salted away the game.
Harris is averaging over 12 points per game, and needs to put up those kind of numbers if Virginia has any chance against Duke.
They will also need the trick shooting of long range assassin Sammy Zeglinski. His ability to make clutch shots is a necessity on any team and a key to Virginia's success.
Assane Sene Has to Be a Factor on Both Ends
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Assane Sene may be the forgotten starter on Virginia's roster, but his play may prove critical against Duke.
Sene has always been limited offensively, but last year he stepped up when Mike Scott went down. Granted, Sene was not an offensive juggernaut by any stretch, but he was able to make defenses respect him with his hook shot. He forced defenders to play him tighter and thus created space for drives to the basket.
This season—with a great player like Scott by his side—Sene has regressed a bit. Despite all his work this offseason to improve his hands, Sene is missing shots he made last year.
Sene is averaging 5.1 PPG, but he needs to do a better job catching and shooting this time around. He is going up against some of the best big men around in the Plumlee brothers. He cannot afford to be slow or he will be stripped of the ball.
On the other hand, Sene has to be careful on defense. Sene leads the team in fouls, and at Cameron Indoor, that microscope is intensified.
With a lack of depth, Virginia cannot afford for Sene to sit too much because of foul trouble. While his shot-blocking is a huge key and his ability to rebound is a must for a Virginia victory, he must play intelligently.
If he does that, Sene could be a hidden weapon for the Cavaliers.
Control the Pace of the Game
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This is a rather simple concept: Virginia wants to play it slow and Duke loves to speed you up.
The Cavaliers average nearly 66 points per game, while the Blue Devils average over 82 points per game.
Virginia has the second-lowest opponent point per game average in the country, and that is because they control the ball and force opponents into a half-court game.
Duke's greatness comes from its ability to go on runs and force the opposition to play catchup. It takes teams out of their comfort zones, and a small gap becomes huge in a matter of moments.
Virginia cannot get tricked into playing an up and down game—particularly with a seven-man rotation.
The Cavaliers simply got tired against Miami in the second half. When you work so hard on defense and screen so much on offense, it is only natural to see a drop off.
Virginia cannot expect to keep up with the athletes of Duke in a sprint. They can try to keep things together in a crawl, though, particularly when one stays sound fundamentally.
The Cavaliers had trouble in their first two road games—Oregon and Seattle—of playing to the opponents speed. At points, coach Tony Bennett, a former point guard, was yelling for them to slow it down. That means point guard Jontel Evans will need to stay more disciplined and control the clock.
If he does that, they can take the Cameron Crazies down a few decibels because of the slower play and make the atmosphere slightly more hospitable.
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On the road, turnovers will be deadly every single time.
Virginia leads the ACC in turnover margin, but Duke is third and can definitely force the Cavaliers into mistakes.
Last year, Virginia had 13 turnovers to Duke's 15. That number is not as important as the points scored off of turnovers, though—something that Duke has become an expert at doing.
The Blue Devils want to send that knockout punch, and Virginia must do its best to not fuel the flames.
Too many times, a good Virginia team has let momentum slip away and faced an overwhelming margin at Cameron Indoor. Virginia may have good numbers so far this season, but they have not played an opponent of Duke's caliber and they have few true point guards.
Freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon must be careful—his ball-handling has been sloppy the past few games and Duke will notice that.
If Virginia can make Duke face their set defense, they have a chance. If they do not, then the outcome is not really in jeopardy.
Play with Confidence (Believe in the System)
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Playing on the road, especially at Cameron Indoor, is all about belief. Teams cannot be intimidated by the atmosphere or the name on the front of the jersey.
Calls are not going always going to go Virginia's way in Durham. The team will get frustrated and pushed around. But, they must suck it up and continue to play hard.
There is a reason why Duke has achieved such a high level of success. It has afforded them one of the toughest places to play in the country.
Virginia is going to go on dry spells offensively. There will be possessions where, despite perfect defense, Duke scores.
The key is to stay true to the pack-line defense. They have to pressure the ball, they have to take good shots on offense and they have to get back quickly.
Too many teams are destroyed because they start to hang their heads or begin to doubt. Fortunately for Virginia, this team has already shown incredible moxie in just 15 games.
Against Miami, Sammy Zeglinski and Jontel Evans defensively smothered a Hurricane player twice their size and slowed him down to the point that the clock expired and Virginia won their fourth straight ACC opener.
Against Seattle, Virginia blew a double-digit lead only to nail some late shots and block a shot on defense to secure the win.
Against LSU, Virginia made two back-breaking tries against the Tigers to snap their seven-game winning streak on the road.
Virginia has faced plenty of adversity—barely beating teams like Towson and Seattle—but knocking out teams like Michigan and Oregon. They have risen to the challenge game-in and game-out. This one game is almost a pass: They are expected to lose, and thus can play without the same pressure Duke will be facing.
Can Virginia keep focus mentally and provide a shock wave throughout the country and the ACC?