GameDay Crew Offers Perspectives on Virginia-Duke

By Jerry Ratcliffe

The formula for beating Duke is simple in Seth Greenberg’s view: take care of the basketball, keep the Blue Devils off the glass, and set your defense.

Any team that can put those three things together has a chance to win. If any one of those items are missing, forget about it.

Those were thoughts from ESPN’s studio and College GameDay analyst Greenberg, who knows No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Virginia about as good as anyone in the game today. Greenberg formerly coached against both Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Virginia’s Tony Bennett during his stint at Virginia Tech and has a clear idea on those team’s strengths and weaknesses.

Greenberg and crew are in town for tonight’s colossal top five rematch between the Cavaliers and Blue Devils. According to oddsmakers, Virginia is a 2.5 point favorite in the game, which tips off at 6 p.m. in Charlottesville.

In the previous meeting, a 72-70 Duke win in Durham, Wahoos fans sat in shock and awe as the Blue Devils took advantage of UVA in those areas that Greenberg mentioned.

Even without point guard Tre Jones, Duke scored 15 fast break points, a rarity against the Cavaliers. Jones, who missed that game with a shoulder injury, is back and healthy and is truly an X Factor heading into tonight’s game.

Duke also scored 13 second chance buckets in that first meeting (the Devils scored 46 points inside UVA’s vaunted “Pack-Line” defense), mostly coming from either Zion Williamson or R.J. Barrett’s put backs of offensive rebounds.

If Virginia can’t defensively find a way to keep one of those two Blue Devils under control, particularly in the paint, then it could be curtains.

Williamson, a beast of a player, is quite simply impossible to simulate in practice because there’s no one to compare him to.

“There’s never been a guy like him to play this game,” said Jay Bilas, another game and studio analyst on site for tonight’s big showdown. “There’s two guys I’ve seen lately that I’ve never seen before. One is Giannis Anteokounmpo (NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks), and the other is Zion.

“That doesn’t mean that Zion is the best player I’ve seen, because he’s not,” Bilas continued. “I’ve seen better players and played against better players. But he is unique. He’s 280, can move like a ballerina, doesn’t run people over, his lateral explosiveness is impressive. The way he gets off the floor, his second jump, his finish, is crazy.

“His efficiency rating is breaking the scale,” Bilas said. “They had to modify the vertical leap measurement device because he outjumped it. There’s never been anybody like him that’s played this game.”

In the first meeting, Williamson was good on 10 of 16 field goal attempts, doing most all his work in the paint, for 27 points (including 7-14 free throws). Meanwhile, R.J. Barrett was 11-for-19 shooting for 30 points (7-11 at the free throw line).

With a week to prepare for the Blue Devils, you can bet your bottom dollar that Bennett has emphasized a tightening up of the “Pack-Line,” with the idea of clogging the lane and making Duke, not a particularly good shooting team, to win from the perimeter.

“You can’t let Duke beat you on second shots, turnovers and straight line drives,” Greenberg said. “I went back and watched the first game a couple of times and there were a couple of baskets in transition that I’m sure made Tony cringe.”

You think the “Pack-Line” was tight before, what you’ll see tonight is a road block that Burt Reynolds’ “the Bandit” would have trouble getting through.

In the first matchup, Duke was a mere 2-for-14 from the arc. The Devils only shoot about 34 percent as a team anyways.

Virginia, which actually converted 53 percent of its shots in that game (58 percent in the first half), was also bad from behind the 3-point line, only 3-for-17.

The Cavaliers are going to need to make at least eight 3’s tonight if they’re going to beat Duke in Greenberg’s opinion.

That means Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, status unknown due to a back injury that kept him out of last Saturday’s Miami game, will have to be on from long distance. Guy, the most accurate 3-point shooter in Virginia history, has been a little off.

Greenberg thinks he knows why.

“Kyle just didn’t shoot the ball well (2-for-7 on 3’s),” Greenberg said. “You’ve got to give [Duke] credit and consider their length. But even the [3-pointer] that Zion blocked, it came right back into Kyle’s hands. It was a wide-open three (missed). The game before that, against Virginia Tech, Kyle made every shot.”

Guy was 3-for-5 in that one, 5-for-6 against FSU in an earlier game last month. Jerome was actually 4-for-7 vs. the Hokies.

“To me, last week Virginia looked tired and rightfully so,” Greenberg said. “They weren’t as good with the ball, they turned it over at a high percentage rate, they didn’t cut as hard, didn’t screen as well. I read that Tony gave them two days off (this week). They have to have good legs.”

Greenberg is spot on in his analysis. The Cavaliers appeared out of sync and tired in an overtime win at N.C. State and a home win over struggling Miami, a game in which Jerome missed with his back problems.

It will be interesting to see if Virginia can stop Duke in transition and prevent a healthy Jones from having a strong impact on the game. Greenberg believes that Jones’ defensive pressure can disrupt an entire offense, can take a team out of its offense by pushing out the opposing point guard a full step more than accustomed in order to start the offense.

That’s what the old Duke teams used to do, the ones with good defense, and something that Jones allows the Devils to do again.

Jones is also a threat to steal the ball or force a turnover, leading to transition baskets, the big major no-no in Bennett’s “Pack-Line.”

Bilas believes tonight’s game will be similar in pace to the first game, high 60s, low 70s, but agrees with Greenberg that a major factor will be whether or not Virginia can prevent Jones from making a strong impact. Jones will definitely apply more pressure to UVA’s ballhandlers.

“The last game ended up becoming an isolation game,” Bilas said. “Both teams isolated, taking you off the dribble and I really didn’t anticipate that. We’ll see what happens in this one. My guess it won’t be quite the same.”


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