Virginia hoping to rebound from FSU loss at Duke tonight

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Duke Coach K

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Duke is hoping to spring an upset over No. 7 Virginia tonight and use the momentum toward a run at next month’s NCAA Tournament.

The Blue Devils, 9-8 overall and 7-6 in the ACC, haven’t missed an NCAA Tournament since 1996 when Coach Mike Krzyzewski missed the final two months of the season with a back injury. While even a strong finish might not be enough to salvage Duke’s season, the Devils want to extend a two-game winning streak.

Virginia, reeling from last Monday’s lopsided loss at Florida State, is hoping to get back on track in tonight’s game (8 p.m. on ESPN). The Cavaliers opened as a 2-point favorite before betting momentum thrusted Duke as a 1-point pick, now back to 2 points according to Vegas Insider.

The Cavaliers, 15-4 overall, 11-2 ACC, could regain their confidence after getting overwhelmed against second-place FSU earlier this week. The Seminoles physically dominated UVA, with Tony Bennett pointing out to his team that it needed to step up that aspect of its game.

Krzyzewski could relate to that issue, criticizing his team for the same reasons after a loss at Miami on Feb. 1. That loss followed a blowout win over Clemson, giving the Blue Devils hope that they had turned things around. Instead, that was the start of a three-game losing streak.

“I thought we were soft and I saw it in practice and tried to take steps to change that and we were ot able to change it,” the Duke coach said after that loss to Miami. The Hurricanes were at the bottom of the ACC at that point, adding salt to the Blue Devils’ wound.

Krzyzewski made adjustments to Duke’s ball screen coverage in its man-to-man defense after losing a high-scoring game to rival North Carolina and to Notre Dame.The Blue Devils hammered Wake Forest on Wednesday (84-60), and were more physical in the win.

Those adjustments helped 7-foot freshman Mark Williams to become a more efficient rim protector. Duke had struggled with its post defense.

A pair of Virginia’s starters, 7-foot Jay Huff and wing Trey Murphy III, will be returning home for tonight’s game. Both grew up in Durham and would like nothing more than beating the Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Huff was an avid Duke fan growing up and attended camps there as a youth.

While Duke hasn’t been Duke this season due to a relatively young team, there’s still talent on the roster and the Blue Devils can score. If anyone has had Tony Bennett’s number over the past decade-plus, it has been Krzyzewski, who is 11-4 against Bennett.

Tonight’s game will pit two of only three coaches in ACC history to have led their programs to 10 consecutive winning conference seasons. The other is the late Dean Smith of North Carolina.

If nothing else, expect a close game. Four of the last six meetings have been decided by two points or less, which would suggest that Vegas knows what it’s talking about.

 

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