Virginia Cavaliers face Duke Blue Devils in pivotal ACC showdown
Virginia guard Kyle Guy doesn’t remember the score from the Cavaliers’ preseason scrimmage at Villanova on Nov. 5. But he remembers one thing about the closed-door session: The Cavaliers more than held their own.
That’s why Guy was so surprised the Cavaliers weren’t even ranked in most preseason polls. As far as Guy was concerned, it was a pretty big snub for a program that had won at least 23 games and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament in each of the previous four seasons.
“We don’t like to listen to the noise very often because people really don’t like our style of play,” Guy said. “But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t upset that we weren’t ranked. It was a little bit of a slap in the face. It’s put a chip on our shoulder now.”
No. 2 Virginia is getting the last laugh as it reaches the midway point of ACC play with Saturday’s showdown at No. 4 Duke. Virginia (19-1, 8-0 ACC) has won 11 consecutive games and is the lone remaining unbeaten team in ACC play.
Virginia, which hasn’t reached the Final Four in 34 years, is the first ACC team to go from unranked to No. 2 in the AP Top 25 (the 2012-13 Miami team was the other).
Virginia’s unexpected rise started with its trip to Philadelphia nearly three months ago.
“You can’t hide in those games,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “It shows you a lot. They were good. They play so hard. It exposed some things where we needed to get to work. But it showed our guys, ‘Hey, if we get to work and play the way we’re capable of, we can compete and not get our doors blown off.'”
Duke (18-2, 6-2 ACC) will provide Virginia with its most difficult test so far. The Blue Devils are averaging 91.7 points per game and 1.245 points per possession, which are the highest averages among Division I teams.
The Cavaliers are allowing only 51.6 points per game and .836 points per possession, which are the lowest averages among Division I teams.
Virginia has allowed 51 points or fewer in each of its past four games, including a 61-36 victory at No. 18 Clemson on Tuesday night. The Tigers had scored at least 60 in every previous game this season.
“[Bennett] preaches defense when he’s recruiting you, but you don’t really understand it until that first practice,” Guy said. “That’s the only thing in which he demands perfection — playing your rear off on the defensive end. If we do that, everything else will fall into place.”
Virginia isn’t about to change its style of play now, not even against Duke, which hasn’t scored fewer than 52 points at home since a 47-46 win over Georgia Tech in 1982, which was Mike Krzyzewski’s second season as coach.
The Cavaliers haven’t won at Cameron Indoor Stadium since a 91-88 win in double overtime on Jan. 14, 1995.
“Obviously, we know they have a lot of talent,” Virginia guard Devon Hall said. “If we stick to what we do, we’re capable of a lot. We scramble and we’re continuous [on defense] and we don’t give up on that end of the floor. We try to make every possession difficult, and that’s not something teams like going up against.”
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The No. 10 Tar Heels’ hopes of three-peating as ACC regular-season champions might have been dashed with Monday night’s 80-69 loss at Virginia Tech. UNC (16-5, 5-3 ACC) already trails Virginia by three games in the ACC standings, and it certainly can’t afford a rare loss to rival NC State on Saturday if it’s going to stay in the hunt.
The good news: The Tar Heels have played better at home than on the road, and they’ve been exceptionally good against the Wolfpack, winning 20 of the previous 22 games (and 43 of 53!) in the series. Last season, UNC handed NC State one of its worst losses in the rivalry, winning 107-56 at the Dean Dome. It was UNC’s most lopsided win in an ACC game since the league’s inception in 1953.
The Wolfpack (14-7, 4-4 ACC) have been surprisingly competitive at times this season under first-year coach Kevin Keatts. NC State won back-to-back games against then-No. 2 Duke and No. 19 Clemson earlier this month, to go along with another RPI top-25 win over Arizona in November. But the Wolfpack have won only once on the road this season and only once at the Dean Dome since 2004.
The Wildcats were largely left for dead after their three-losses-in-three-days trip to the Bahamas for the Bad Boys Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis in late November. Since that stunning early-season swoon, however, the No. 11 Wildcats (17-4, 7-1 Pac-12) have won 14 of 15 games, and they avenged their only loss during that stretch with a 80-71 victory over Colorado on Thursday night.
Arizona has grabbed sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 heading into Saturday’s home game against Utah. One of the biggest reasons for the Wildcats’ turnaround: Deandre Aytona 7-foot-1 freshman, who is trending toward perhaps becoming the school’s first No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. He is averaging 19.7 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
“We were surprised [by the early losses],” Ayton told ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt earlier this week. “We came in there as the No. 2-ranked team in the country, and we were really shocked at how teams were really coming after us. We settled down. It was a wake-up call. We got back to Arizona and got back in the lab and really worked hard on the holes in our game.”
Villanova remains No. 1 in the rankings, but its apparent lack of depth is about to be tested (or exposed?), starting with Sunday’s game at Marquette. The Wildcats (19-1, 6-1 Big East) will be playing their first game this season without junior guard Phil Boothwho broke a bone in his right hand during an 89-69 rout of Providence on Tuesday night.
Booth, who was limited to three games last season because of a knee injury, is averaging 11.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists this season.
Booth is one of only six Villanova players averaging more than 20 minutes per game this season. Wildcats coach Jay Wright used only eight players against Marquette, and sophomore Donte DiVincenzo will probably move from the bench to the starting lineup in Booth’s absence. Freshman Collin Gillespiewho broke a bone in his left hand in December, also figures to see increased minutes.
If Arizona’s 0-for-3 performance in the Bahamas served as a wake-up call, Purdue’s two losses there might have been a two-alarm fire for the Boilermakers. Since dropping consecutive games to Tennessee and Western Kentucky in November, the No. 3 Boilermakers haven’t lost since, winning 16 games in a row for their best start ever in Big Ten play.
Purdue (20-2, 9-0 Big Ten) can break the school record for consecutive wins on Sunday with a victory at rival Indianawhich has dropped five of the previous six games in the series, including both contests last season.
The Boilermakers’ recipe for success: They shoot the 3-pointer better than anyone else in the country and defend opponents like crazy. Purdue had made 114 3-pointers in its past 10 games, making 50 percent of its attempts. Before playing the Wolverines, it had held 12 consecutive opponents to fewer than 70 points and 13 foes to worse than 40 percent shooting this season.