Two of the top three teams in the country square off on Saturday with #3 Virginia (20-1) hosting #2 Duke (20-2).
Duke and Virginia are also tied for first place in the ACC with an identical 8-1 conference record. Three weeks ago, Duke hosted Virginia in Durham, North Carolina and won a thriller 72-70. The Blue Devils handed the Cavaliers their sole loss of the season. Freshmen sensations Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett combined for 57 points to lead Duke to victory.
In the rematch, Duke heads up to Charlottesville. This is one of the hottest tickets in recent memory. Approximately 30 hours before tip-off, $233 is the cheapest ticket on StubHub.
Virginia is known for their three-point shooting skills and stifling defense. They are led by a trio of guards: De’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy, and Ty Jerome. They combine for 42.2 points per game, or approximately 58 percent of Virginia’s total offense. All three shoot over 40 percent from three-point land, with Guy leading the way with a 43.8 percent clip.
In mid-January, Virginia was ranked #4 and riding high with a 16-0 record to start the season. They headed south to face Duke for the first time at historic Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Heading into that game, top-ranked Duke returned home after being upset by Syracuse in overtime a few days earlier. Duke played without starting point guard Tre Jones, who went down with a shoulder injury in the Syracuse game. Freshman Cam Reddish stepped up and added 9 points and 9 rebounds.
The refs favored Duke with a little home-cooking in the first game with 14 more free-throw attempts than Virginia. If Duke has a weakness this season, it’s at the charity stripe. Tre Jones averages only 43 percent, which is atrocious for a guard. If there’s any flaws in Williamson’s game, it’s at the free throw line where he’s only a 61 percent shooter.
Over the last few years, Virginia lives and dies by trey.
“If you scored, you beat good defense,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “If you didn’t score, good defense beat you.”
Against Duke, they came up short from long range hitting only 17.6 percent of their three-pointers. Duke held Virginia’s sharpshooter, Kyle Guy, to only 2-for-7 from beyond the arc.
Jerome’s (Sore) Back
Jerome, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, is in his third season with the Cavs. He averaged 10 points in his sophomore season. This season, he averages 13.0 points and 4.9 assists per game. He’s the team’s third leading scorer behind Hunter and Guy.
Jerome hits 40.6 percent of his three-pointers. Yet, Duke held him to 1-for-5 from three-point range. Despite the rough night, Jerome still scored 14 points.
“That was our game,” Jerome said. “We had that game. We lost it. Made mistakes that we can control.”
Jerome is nursing a sprained back and missed the last game. His status will be a game-time decision against Duke.
Zion and RJ
While Virginia has their trio of sharpshooters, Duke is led by two powerful freshman: Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. While Williamson is getting a significant amount of press as a potential lottery pick bound for the New York Knicks, Barrett has been quietly flying under Zion’s radar.
Barrett leads the Blue Devils in scoring with 23 points on 45 percent shooting. Williamson averages 22 points with a staggering 69.2 percent shooting from the floor.
Duke won the first game with point guard Tre Jones. Barrett dropped 30 points in the first game and Williamson added 27.
Jones only missed two games with a shoulder injury. In his last two games, Jones averaged 12 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds. He is Duke’s top defender and they will need him to stop Virginia’s deadly shooters.
#1 Seed at Stake
If March Madness were to begin today, both Virginia and Duke would secure #1 seeds in the tournament. That could all change this weekend.
Tennessee currently holds the #1 spot in college basketball. With a 21-1 record, Tennessee won 17 games in a row. The Vols host Florida (12-10) this weekend in SEC conference action. They should hold onto the top spot so long as they beat Florida. Duke can regain the top seed with a win against Virginia and an upset by Florida.
Virginia will secure the #2 seed overall with a victory over Duke. But more importantly, they will take over first place in the ACC.