ACC Championship Preview: #6 Virginia vs. #7 Duke

Posted by Brad Jenkins & Matt Patton on March 16th, 2014

It’s the game that we all expected when the ACC Tournament brackets came out last weekend. Duke vs. Virginia. Let’s preview the ACC Championship game by answering the key questions headed into this one in Greensboro.

Joe Harris gets a second shot against Duke this season with an ACC title on the line (credit: Geoff Burke/USA Today).

Joe Harris gets a second shot against Duke this season with an ACC title on the line (credit: Geoff Burke/USA Today).

1. Can Virginia’s balanced scoring offset the star power of Duke’s Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood?

Yes and no. The Cavaliers can’t get in a shootout, but I don’t think they’ll try. Virginia is an experienced team that plays to its strengths. I’ll be very surprised if Duke can push them out of their comfort zone. That said, if Hood and Parker are both firing on all cylinders, I’m not sure how Virginia will put up enough points to win. Look for them to try to make Parker into a jump shooter or to force things against multiple defenders since he’s struggled passing out of double teams when he gets head full of steam. Hood is a little more difficult to contain (since he’s really a second option), but I expect to see a lot of Justin Anderson hounding him. Neither of these teams will quite be at 100 percent, playing their third game in three days, but I think that favors the more balanced team.

2. Duke hasn’t been hitting as many threes lately. Who do you expect to help keep the offense going if shots aren’t falling?

If the outside jumpers aren’t falling — and by playing the third straight grueling game in as many days, there’s a good chance they don’t — then Duke will have to rely on its two future NBA forwards to make plays. Jabari Parker makes plays that are almost unstoppable, even by great defenses like Virginia’s, so he figures to be the best candidate. Rodney Hood’s conditioning will be tested after chasing T.J. Warren all over the court yesterday. Rasheed Sulaimon has had success in the tournament with his penetration, so he may also try to create scoring chances that way.

3. This is Virginia’s first ACC Championship game in 20 years. How will they handle the magnitude of the moment against a school in Duke that regularly plays in these situations?

This is a really good question and one many people will ask about the Cavaliers until Virginia’s season is over. I think it will help that there’s such a strong UVA showing in Greensboro this weekend. That should keep the team somewhat comfortable. There’s a lot of experience on Tony Bennett’s roster, but very little postseason work. Still, remember, only three (OK, four if you count Todd Zafirovski) Duke players have played in an ACC Championship, and the team’s two best players haven’t had any postseason experience at all prior to this weekend. Long story short, I think it’s a wash, but you never know how players will deal with super-high expectations, so it may turn out to be a factor.

4. In long stretches against NC State and Clemson, Duke couldn’t come up with a stop. Do you expect that to be an issue against Virginia?

Duke's Parker and Hood Will Test the Virginia Defense

Duke’s Parker and Hood Will Test the Virginia Defense

Sometimes Duke gets caught in “Let me score… I’ll let you score” games, as in the first game with Syracuse and the first half of yesterday’s game with N.C. State. This won’t be that type of game, so Duke better not let Virginia go on any one of those runs that have plagued the Blue Devils on so many occasions this season. That will be tough to match against the Cavaliers, a team that makes opponents work hard on each and every possession. Virginia is also deeper and more mature physically so if Duke’s defense falters it may be because they are worn down.

5. Duke has an elite offense that was really clicking on Saturday. Can the Cavaliers’ pack-line defense rise to the challenge?

Definitely! With one disclaimer. If Duke is hot from three, Virginia (and every other team in the country) is in serious trouble. Tired legs usually don’t help jump shots, however, so I think the pack-line will fare just fine today. One place Virginia should excel is keeping Duke off of the offensive boards. The Blue Devils have pieced together remarkably good offensive efficiencies at times despite occasional poor shooting because of its offensive rebounding. Virginia was the best team in the ACC at keeping opponents off the offensive boards, but people also forget that Tony Bennett’s team had the second best offensive efficiency in ACC play, so it’s not some David-Goliath battle on both ends of the floor.

6. Neither of these teams really put away their opponents Saturday. Which team do you trust more with a lead?

I would have to say Virginia because they were playing a tougher Pittsburgh team that’s playing really well. Duke struggled to hit free throws yesterday and Mike Krzyzewski blamed fatigue. If that’s true, then I can’t count on them making those shots at the end of a slug-it-out game with the Cavaliers. Another reason to doubt Duke is the fact that we’ve seen them blow second half leads in multiple games already this season.

  • Duke wins if: Parker and Hood play at such a high level that Virginia just can’t match them offensively. Even then, that may not be enough to overcome the deep and versatile Cavaliers, so Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon must at least break even with Virginia’s excellent backcourt. Finally, Virginia will probably win the points-in-the-paint battle, but Duke can’t afford to be overwhelmingly dominated in that area.
  • Virginia wins if: the Cavaliers continue playing at a high level and avoid offensive droughts. An Achilles heel for this team is that they sometimes go long stretches without a basket. That’s less likely against a poor defense like Duke, but incredibly dangerous against such a potent offense. If Virginia sticks to its game plan and takes high percentage shots, they have a great shot to win. It wouldn’t hurt for Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon to knock down a couple of tough shots either.
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