3 reasons Virginia vs. Duke will be awesome

Photo of 3 reasons Virginia vs. Duke will be awesome

It’s No. 1 vs. No. 1 Saturday afternoon in Durham, and it should be awesome.

One of the most hyped regular season games of the 2018-19 season to date took a bit of a hit earlier this week when Duke freshman point guard Tre Jones went down with a shoulder injury and the Blue Devils were subsequently dealt a surprising overtime loss by Syracuse.

Jones isn’t expected to be sidelined for a significant period of time, but he is expected to miss Saturday’s showdown with unbeaten Virginia. That’s a bummer, but this is still a meeting of the only two teams in the country that rank in the top five of both Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency rankings. It’s also a meeting of two of the teams that are undoubtedly near the top of list when talking about the team’s most likely to cut down the net on April 8.

Here are three more reasons to get hyped for the game, which tips off at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN.

No. 1 vs. No. 1

Virginia currently owns the odd distinction of being No. 1 in the coaches poll, but just No. 4 in the AP top 25. The top-ranked team in the latter poll, at least for the time being, is Duke. That means Saturday’s game is going to give us just the fourth “No. 1 vs. No. 1” clash in the history of college basketball, and just the third in the regular season.

The list of previous No. 1 vs. No. 1 tilts:

Cincinnati 77, California 69 (March 18. 1960) (Final Four)

Ohio State 49, Wisconsin 48 (Feb. 25, 2007)

Kansas 109, Oklahoma 106 (3 OT) (Jan. 4, 2016)

Twice, the AP No. 1 (Cincinnati, Kansas) has prevailed, with Ohio State being the lone coaches poll top dog to claim victory.

The most recent of those three games was notable for Oklahoma star Buddy Hield dropping 46 points inside Allen Fieldhouse despite his team’s heartbreaking defeat. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the 1959-60 Cincinnati team hammered NYU (95-71) one day after its win over to Cal to claim the 1960 national championship.

Extreme Contrast of Styles

Virginia-Duke is always going to feature a heavy contrast in styles, but some of the games within the games featured in this year’s first matchup are particularly noteworthy.

—Virginia plays at the second slowest pace (62.1 possessions per 40 minutes) of any team in college basketball, crawling behind only Siena. Only one of the Cavaliers’ opponents this season has been able to play above its average pace against UVA. That was Marshall, whose achievement came hand-in-hand with a 100-64 drubbing. Duke, meanwhile, plays at the 8th-fastest pace of any team in the country. The Devils have had zero games with a pace lower than 71, while Virginia has had exactly one game above that pace.

—Shooting just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc, Duke is on pace to be the worst three-point shooting team in program history. The Blue Devils still attempt a whopping 25.5 three-pointers a game, but their percentage ranks them 267th out of 353 Division-I teams. They’re coming off an especially frigid performance from deep, connecting on juts 9-of-43 treys in their overtime loss to Syracuse. On the flip side, Virginia defends the three better than any team in college basketball, limiting opponents to just 25.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

—Only seven teams in the country get a higher percentage of their points from transition baskets than Duke does, which makes sense given the Blue Devils’ elite speed and athleticism. As always, though, Virginia ranks in the top five in Division-I in transition defense.

Is Virginia’s Offense Really this Good?

Assuming Virginia continues to be one of the most impressive teams in college basketball for the next month and-a-half, the stage is set for all of us to be bombarded with “Why is this UVA team different?” columns come early March (refresh SBNation.com constantly for more).

For some, there’s no answer to that question that’s going to suffice. Until Virginia plays up to its potential in the NCAA tournament and the Hoos breakthrough into the Final Four, they will be labeled as perennial March chokers by a large segment of the sporting public.

For those who want to give Tony Bennett’s team the benefit of the doubt until proven (again) otherwise, the obvious difference between this Virginia team and other recent Cavalier squads is that this one is superior on offense. Entering this weekend, UVA is averaging 74.3 points per game and is No. 3 in Ken Pom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings. For the sake of comparison, last year’s Virginia team — which entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed — ranked No. 30 in this same category. Two seasons ago they were No. 50.

Virginia has scored more than 80 points in two of its four ACC games to date, and just dropped 81 in a 22-point beatdown of No. 9 Virginia Tech Tuesday night. That said, Duke will be the best defensive team UVA has faced to date. The Blue Devils are fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency, eighth in effective field goal percentage defense, second in block percentage and first in steal percentage.

The home team will have an obvious advantage when it comes to size and athleticism Saturday afternoon. How Virginia deals with that when it has the ball will be the most interesting aspect of this game.

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