A top-5 showdown in the ACC takes center stage on Saturday evening, as the second-ranked Virginia Cavaliers put their perfect record on the line against the fourth-ranked Duke Blue Devils at John Paul Jones Arena.
At 19-0, the Cavaliers are off to their best start since the 1980-81 team that was led by Ralph Sampson went 23-0. Tony Bennett's squad is one of just two unbeatens left in the nation, with top-ranked Kentucky being the other. All the wins haven't been easy, including last weekend's 50-47 come-from- behind victory over rival Virginia Tech, pushing the Cavs to 7-0 in conference play.
Mike Krzyzewski became the first coach in Division I history to reach 1,000 career wins, as the Blue Devils knocked off St. John's last weekend at Madison Square Garden. However, getting the 1,001st victory is still on the table, as Duke lost a marquee matchup with eighth-ranked Notre Dame earlier in the week, 77-73. The loss dropped the Blue Devils to 17-3 on the season, with a 4-3 league ledger.
Duke holds a commanding 116-50 lead in the all-time series with Virginia, but the Cavaliers have won two of the last three meetings, including a 72-63 decision in last year's ACC Tournament title game.
The Blue Devils had the Irish on the ropes at Purcell Pavilion this week, but couldn't put Notre Dame away, as the home team rallied late behind the superb play of All-America candidate Jerian Grant, who finished with 23 points and 12 assists. Duke tried to match with its own national player of the year candidate, as freshman Jahlil Okafor posted 22 points and 17 rebounds in Duke's loss. Guards Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones checked in with 15 and 14 points, respectively, while Justise Winslow added 13 points in the bitter setback.
Duke has the ability to win games at either end of the floor, averaging a robust 81.2 ppg this year on .496 shooting, while allowing just 64.6 ppg. The 6-11 Okafor has lived up to the hype, as he leads the ACC in both scoring (18.7 ppg) and field-goal percentage (.662), while ranking third in rebounding (9.4 rpg). Cook (14.4 ppg) can fill up the basket as well, complementing Okafor's dominant low post game with great perimeter skills. Cook leads the team with 53 3-pointers. Jones is a dynamic playmaker at the point, netting 10.9 ppg, while doling out (4.9 apg). Winston (10.7 ppg) is another freshman with a huge upside. Duke has taken a hit in terms of depth however, as Coach K released junior guard Rasheed Sulaimon (7.5 ppg) this week.
Duke is going to have to put up big offensive numbers to knock off the Cavaliers, but that hasn't been easy to do this season, or any season for that matter under Bennett. Virginia leads the nation in scoring defense, yielding just 49.1 ppg, while ranking second in field-goal percentage defense (.341) and third in rebounding margin (+10.8). Three of the team's five starters are averaging double figures, led by Justin Anderson's 13.9 ppg. Malcolm Brogdon is a close second at 13.3 ppg, followed by Anthony Gill and his 11.3 ppg. Gill is the top rebounder on the team with 6.7 caroms per contest.
It didn't look good for the majority of the game against Virginia Tech last weekend, but Virginia got going late, going on a 12-0 run down the stretch to keep its perfect season intact. Anderson was key, netting eight of his 12 points during that decisive run late in the game. No other Cavalier notched double digits in the win, as the team collectively, shot a disappointing .347 from the field overall.