Blue Devils look to roll over Cavaliers

Seth Curry's offense will be key for Duke tonight against Virginia. AP Photo/Eugene Tanner

Seth Curry's offense will be key for Duke tonight against Virginia. In one of the best early-season ACC conference games, the sixth-ranked Duke Blue Devils face the 17th-ranked Virginia Cavaliers in a classic strength-versus-strength matchup on Thursday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The Blue Devils are the nation's fourth-most efficient offensive team, according to the rankings at kenpom.com; the Cavaliers are ninth in the country in defensive efficiency.

Duke has failed to score less than a point per possession in just two games this season; Virginia has allowed only one opponent to score more than a point per possession.

However, the Blue Devils present a unique challenge for the Cavaliers. The two plays that Virginia is the worst at defending are also the ones where Duke has had success this season.

Duke Offense vs Virginia Defense
Pick & Roll Ball Handler, ACC Ranks


Three of Duke's guards -- Austin Rivers, Seth Curry and Quinn Cook -- have been really efficient in generating offense as the ball handler in the pick-and-roll. Each ranks among the top six in the ACC in points per play (min. 20 plays), and both Curry and Rivers are shooting over 50 percent in those situations.

Duke was at its best running the play in its 68-61 victory over the then-14th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks. The Blue Devils’ pick-and-roll ball handlers torched the Jayhawks for 10 points (season-high 1.25 points per play) on 4-for-7 shooting, including two 3-pointers.

The Cavaliers have struggled to shut down their opponents in this situation. In their last five games, opposing ball handlers executing the pick-and-roll have made 13-of-24 shots and totaled 31 points on 28 plays.

Duke Offense vs Virginia Defense
Isolation Plays, ACC Ranks

Duke also excels in isolation, leading the ACC in points scored this season. Most of their success has come down low, where Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly have combined to score 30 points on 27 isolation plays while shooting 8-of-14 from the floor.

Virginia's starting frontcourt of Mike Scott, Assane Sene and Joe Harris has been exposed when defending in isolation. The trio has combined to allow a point per play as on-ball defenders and their opponents have connected on more than half of their shots in isolation.


The ultimate predictor of this game could be Duke’s long-range shooting.

The strength of the Cavaliers defense is defending the perimeter where opponents are shooting just 27 percent, a rate that ranks them in the top 10 nationally. Duke, however, has had the hot hand shooting from beyond the arc, making 41 percent of its three-point shots and ranking in the top 10 as well.

Virginia has allowed only one opponent to shoot over 40 percent from long distance this season. Duke has shot below 30 percent from three-point range just three times, though one of those was its most recent game vs Georgia Tech and another was in its loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes.