DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — No. 4 Duke has piled up huge point totals and impressive offensive numbers against every opponent on its schedule.
Now comes the biggest test to date — second-ranked Virginia and the nation’s best defense.
It sets up one of the most intriguing chess matches of the season, and certainly the game of the year in the Atlantic Coast Conference — at least, so far — between the Blue Devils (18-2, 6-2) and the Cavaliers (19-1, 8-0) on Saturday.
“They’re going to play their game — you’re not going to speed them up,” guard Grayson Allen said Friday. “But we’re also going to play our game. … We’re going to stick to what’s been successful.”
Duke brings the nation’s best offense, averaging 91.7 points while scoring at least 80 points in every game but one. The Blue Devils have faced four teams ranked in the top 50 in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency rankings — three in the top 10 — and still found ways to put up big numbers.
They scored 85 points in an overtime victory over Texas (ranked sixth by KenPom) in the PK80, put up 83 on the road at Miami (ninth) and scored 88 in a neutral-site win over Michigan State (10th) while also outscoring 48th-ranked Florida State 100-93. They have shot at least 39.5 percent in each game and dominated the glass, with an average rebounding margin of plus-11.5 in those four games.
“You’ve got to move the ball. What they’re really good at is, a lot of times, it looks like five guys are defending the ball because everyone’s ready to help and recover,” Allen said. “The ball has to be moved. The offense can’t be stagnant.”
The Cavaliers seemingly have reloaded coach Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense, and after starting the season unranked have reeled off 11 straight wins while climbing to No. 2 in the national polls. Virginia allows just 51.6 points per game, tops in the country, and only two teams — No. 7 West Virginia (68) and Virginia Commonwealth (67) — have scored more than 61 points against it.
But neither of those teams has the offensive explosiveness the Blue Devils do, with Duke averaging roughly 11 more possessions per game than the Cavaliers.
“Every game in this league is big, of course. Duke, at Cameron (Indoor Stadium), all that and there’ll be a big story line made of it and what it will come down to is what it comes down to every game,” Bennett said. “It’s not even who is the best team, it’s who plays the best.”
The key could be whether the Cavaliers can keep Duke’s elite front line — led by freshman big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. — in check, whether that’s keeping them off the offensive glass or making it tough for guards Allen and freshmen Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. to rotate the ball and to prevent them from passing into the post.
The Blue Devils rank third nationally in offensive rebounding, averaging nearly 15, and Bagley is eighth individually with an average of four. So the Cavaliers can’t afford to give Duke’s big men all those second chances to score. That’ll be a challenge for a Virginia team that ranks 239th on the defensive glass, and puts pressure on 6-foot-10 center Jack Salt and 6-8 forward Isaiah Wilkins.
“It’s going to be a really good test for us, and we’re looking forward to it,” Virginia guard Kyle Guy said.
AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz Jr. in Charlottesville, Virginia, contributed to this report.