After a strong 74-71 road win against Miami on Saturday, Virginia basketball will look to recreate its best moment of the season as No. 7 Duke comes to John Paul Jones Arena Wednesday evening. The Cavaliers (17-10, 11-6 ACC) won the first matchup between the two teams, as sophomore guard Reece Beekman hit a game-winning three-pointer with just one second remaining to silence the Blue Devil faithful and escape from Durham with a 69-68 victory. Now, in a game that would do wonders for Virginia’s uninspiring NCAA Tournament resume, the Blue Devils (23-4, 13-3 ACC) come to Charlottesville looking to avoid being swept by the Cavaliers for the first time since the 1994-95 season.
Players to watch
Virginia junior guard Armaan Franklin
Having started every game this season, many were rightfully concerned when the Indiana transfer played just 16 minutes in the Cavaliers’ 74-71 win over Miami on Saturday. Coach Tony Bennett later revealed that Franklin had been struggling with a toe injury that limited both his minutes and production. A key cog of Virginia’s rotation, Franklin has been struggling to shoot the ball this season, but still offers a fair amount of production, averaging 11.6 points per game — second best on the team. In the first matchup against Duke, the junior guard also showed his prowess defensively, leading the team with four steals. In order to beat a team the caliber of the Blue Devils, every player needs to step up, so it is crucial that Franklin is healthy and ready to play.
Duke freshman forward Paolo Banchero
By all accounts, the first-year player from Washington has had a great season for the Blue Devils. Banchero leads the team in both scoring and rebounding, and is widely regarded as a top-three pick in next year's NBA Draft. Against the Cavaliers in their first matchup, however, it could be said that Banchero disappeared for large parts of the game, especially in the second half. The freshman finished with just nine points, and was held scoreless for the entirety of the second period. Much of the credit for his struggles has to go to Virginia’s defense, but it was undoubtedly an exceptionally tough game for Banchero. How he responds in Wednesday’s matchup will be very intriguing, as his performance could decide the game one way or the other.
Keys to the game
Neutralize Duke’s size advantage
One of the main concerns going into the first game between the two teams was how Virginia would be able to handle the size of the Blue Devils. The Cavaliers aren’t a particularly large team, especially on the perimeter, while Duke boasts one of the tallest lineups in all of college basketball. What happened, however, was nothing short of spectacular from the Cavaliers. They dominated the paint, holding a 52-28 scoring advantage in the area, and while the Blue Devils out-rebounded Virginia, the Cavaliers forced starting center Mark Williams into foul trouble, opening up even more scoring opportunities. If Virginia is to pull off the sweep, it needs to at least make sure that Duke does not take over on the inside, as many suggested they should have tried to do more in the first matchup.
Be more efficient from beyond the arc
Under most circumstances, no team that shoots just 2-13 from three against Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium is walking out of Durham with a win. Yet that is what the Cavaliers managed to pull off, thanks to strong defense and the aforementioned success in the paint. It would not be recommended to try that again, but luckily for Virginia, the Cavaliers showed signs of life from outside, going 5-16 against Miami Saturday. If Virginia can at least show the Blue Devils that it can make a three-pointer, Duke’s defenders will have to respect the Cavaliers, opening up even more space to operate from the inside, such as senior forward Jayden Gardner’s patented midrange jumper. Although they beat Duke without three-point success before, in order to feel even more competitive, the Cavaliers have to get going from beyond the arc.
Tip-off for the game is set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, and the game will be televised on ESPN.