Charlottesville, VA – The third-ranked Duke Blue Devils will attempt to remain within striking distance in the race for the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title, as they take on the Virginia Cavaliers in a key league tilt at John Paul Jones Arena on Thursday.
Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils have won two straight and eight of their last nine games, but despite a stellar 24-3 overall record, Duke sits two games behind league-leading Miami in the conference standings with four to play. Duke made light work of Boston College this past weekend in Durham, 89-68 to move to 11-3 in-conference. The Blue Devils have shown some weakness on the road this year at just 4-3 in true road games and will certainly be put to the test by the Cavaliers.
Virginia is a dangerous team that has won 15 straight in Charlottesville and is an impressive 16-1 in its own building this season. Tony Bennett's team is fueled by strong defensive principles and that has led to a 19-8 overall record, including a 9-5 league record, good for a third-place tie with North Carolina. The Cavaliers ended a two-game slide with an emphatic 82-54 drubbing of Georgia Tech last weekend.
Duke holds a huge 115-48 edge in the all-time series with Virginia and has captured eight straight meetings and 17 of the last 18 matchups overall.
The Blue Devils put Boston College away early on, netting 51 points in the first half en route to a lopsided win. Overall, Duke delivered on 53.8 percent from the floor and was a solid 26-of-33 from the free-throw line as well. Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon had the hot hand, going 10-of-15 from the floor to tally a career-high 27 points. Mason Plumlee was once again dominant in the paint, finishing with 19 points and 15 rebounds, while Amile Jefferson (14 pts), Quinn Cook (12 pts) and Seth Curry (11 pts) added to the scoring deluge.
A dangerous offensive squad, Duke is delivering on 47.6 percent of its shots overall, including 41.6 percent from behind the arc (fourth nationally). The result is a squad that ranks eighth nationally in scoring at 78.9 ppg. Plumlee and Curry are as potent an inside/out combo as there is in the country. The 6- foot-10 Plumlee has really made a huge leap in terms of production in his first season as the go-to-guy for Duke, averaging team-highs of 17.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, while shooting just under 60 percent from the floor. Curry lets it fly from beyond the arc at a .437 clip (15th nationally), as he pours in 16.8 ppg. Fellow sharpshooter Ryan Kelly (13.4 ppg) has been sidelined for weeks with a foot injury, but both Sulaimon (12.4 ppg) and Cook (12.1 ppg) have lessened the blow at the offensive end.
One of the top defensive teams in the entire country, Virginia comes into this matchup allowing just 54.0 ppg (fourth nationally), as foes are shooting just .385 from the field (19th nationally). The offensive numbers are a bit modest at 65.0 ppg, although the team is shooting a healthy .466 from the floor overall. Junior guard Joe Harris is a big reason for that efficiency, as he is delivering on just under 50 percent from the floor overall, including a ridiculous .464 from 3-point range (64-of-138), ranking fourth in the conference with 16.6 ppg. Akil Mitchell (12.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg) gives the team balance in the frontcourt, but is the only over Cavalier averaging more than 7.0 ppg.
Virginia certainly found its offensive groove against Georgia Tech last time out, hitting an impressive 54.2 percent of its shots overall, rolling up 82 points, its second-highest point total on the season. Mitchell led four Cavs in double figures in the win with 18 points. Harris poured in 15 points, while Justin Anderson and Jontel Evans tallied 11 and 10 points, respectively. Evans came close to a double-double, doling out a game-high eight assists.