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Previewing men’s basketball vs. No. 7 Duke

The CD Sports senior staff gives their takes and predictions on Saturday’s ACC bout between Virginia and No. 7 Duke

<p>Sophomore guard Kihei Clark and the Cavaliers look to down Duke for the first time at home since 2013.&nbsp;</p>

Sophomore guard Kihei Clark and the Cavaliers look to down Duke for the first time at home since 2013. 

Virginia faces No. 7 Duke in a battle of ACC heavyweights at John Paul Jones Arena Saturday evening. Following the Blue Devils’ (23-5, 13-4 ACC) upset loss to bottom-dweller Wake Forest Tuesday night, the surging Cavaliers (20-7, 12-5 ACC) will have a chance to contend for second place in the ACC in a season that looked bleak for the defending national champions just a month ago. 

Despite the fact that ESPN’s College GameDay will not return to Charlottesville for what would have been the fifth time in six years, this match-up is poised to have huge implications for not just both teams, but also seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Given this, here are The Cavalier Daily Sports Senior Staff’s predictions for the 173rd all-time meeting between the Cavaliers and Blue Devils. 

Vignesh Mulay, Sports Editor

Virginia and Duke enter this game trending in very different directions. The Cavaliers have addressed many of their most pressing issues and have only lost once in their last nine games. The Blue Devils, on the other hand, have lost to a pair of unranked opponents within the last week or so. While Virginia certainly has momentum on its side, the talent gap between Duke and the Cavaliers will be difficult to overcome. Duke averages a stellar 83.3 points per game with four different players averaging at least 10.5 points per game. While Virginia’s defense is rock solid — holding opponents to just 52.7 points per game — the Cavaliers have struggled against opponents with a combination of skill and athleticism, such as Louisville who dropped 80 points on them. 

That being said, Virginia’s dominant defense will limit Duke throughout the game, and the trio of senior forward Mamadi Diakite, sophomore guard Kihei Clark and senior guard Braxton Key will keep the Cavaliers in the game. However, towards the end of the second half, expect Duke to pull away as the Blue Devils’ star players — freshman center Vernon Carey Jr. and sophomore guard Tre Jones — come alive. Virginia’s offense won’t be able to respond as Duke sneaks out of Charlottesville with a win.

Prediction: 68-63, Duke

Akhil Rekulapelli, Sports Editor

As Vignesh mentioned, the Cavaliers and Blue Devils head into this match on very different trajectories, with Virginia having just knocked off its in-state rival, Virginia Tech and Duke falling to North Carolina foes NC State and Wake Forest by a combined 34 points in two of its last three games. Nonetheless, as is the case when most teams face Duke, the Blue Devils have the clear talent advantage, regardless of their performances in their last stretch of games. Carey Jr. is a surefire ACC Player of the Year candidate, and it will be up to a revolving trio of Virginia freshman center Francisco Caffaro and forwards Diakite and junior Jay Huff to stop him from having his way inside. In the backcourt, Jones has shown his ability to take control of games when it matters most, often willing the Blue Devils to victory off of clutch free-throws and lock-down defense. Clark showed flashes of his ability to guard the dynamic Duke guard and will need to bring his A-game defensively Saturday. 

Duke will stun the Cavaliers initially with its world-class athleticism to take a healthy lead into half-time, but Virginia’s defense will keep the Blue Devils within arm’s length. In the second-half, with the Blue Devils smothering junior guard Tomas Woldetensae, the Cavaliers will look for perimeter production from sophomore guard Kody Stattmann, who will catch fire from the three-point arc and ultimately seal a Virginia victory with a go-ahead three-pointer late in the game. 

Prediction: 61-58, Virginia

Caroline Lund, Senior Associate

Although Virginia has won eight of its last nine games, including an upset victory over Florida State, its chances of defeating Duke are slim. The Cavaliers are a dominant force on defense this season, but their offense has largely come up short in tight situations. While Virginia will have the home advantage Saturday, the Blue Devils will likely hold onto the lead with top scorers like Carey Jr., Jones and freshman guard Cassius Stanley. The Cavaliers will need to rely on Diakite as their defensive anchor while looking to Clark to generate offensive opportunities. Carey Jr., Jones and Stanley will likely all jump into double digits despite Virginia’s strong packline. If the Cavaliers can find a way to spark some offensive power, perhaps from Woldetensae behind the arc or from Diakite inside the paint, I think there is an opportunity for Virginia to keep the score within a 10-point margin. However, I don’t see an upset victory in the cards for the Cavaliers. I predict Duke will build a comfortable advantage in the first 10 minutes of the half and carry that momentum into the second period, winning with ease. 

Prediction: 78-54, Duke

Eva Surovell, Senior Associate

Men’s basketball seems to have been gaining momentum over the last month. The most recent victory against in-state rival Virginia Tech brings the team’s consecutive winning streak to five — including eight wins out of the last nine games — so I’m optimistic about the chances against Duke. The Cavaliers also have the advantage of playing at home, a benefit that will hopefully give them a slight edge over the Blue Devils. That being said, this is not going to be an easy game for Virginia — offensive leaders like Clark, Key and Diakite are going to have to step up to the plate in order to put points on the board during this face-off. If the Cavaliers can pull this win off, it will bring them one step closer to March Madness and defending their national title.

Prediction: 69-65, Virginia

Tip-off between the Blue Devils and the Cavaliers is set for 6 p.m., and the game will be broadcast live on ESPN. 

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