Duke Basketball: Interview with a Virginia Blogger

Streaking the Lawn - SB Nation

Streaking the Lawn – SB Nation

There’s no time to sulk around the Duke basketball program right now. While this past Saturday’s loss to Clemson was certainly disappointing, the Blue Devils have to get right back to work and ready to go for a big game against the Virginia Cavaliers on Monday night.

Virginia is coming off a dominant win on the road at N.C. State and has to be feeling confident going into this match-up against Duke. This is one of the most talented teams Tony Bennett has had during his time in Charlottesville and the Hoos absolutely have the ability to knock off the Devils in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Considering how both teams are playing right now, I don’t even think it’d be much of an upset if UVA wins.

The game tips at 7:00pm EST and will be televised on ESPN.

For a better look at the UVA basketball program, we spoke with Brian Schwartz. Brian writes for Streaking the Lawn, the SB Nation site for the Cavaliers, and he gave us some great perspective on this team and tonight’s game.

Virginia has to feel good after the impressive win on the road at N.C. State. Do you think the Hoos have put their road woes behind them?

After struggling on the road last season and dropping our first two true road match-ups this year (Green Bay and Tennessee), it certainly felt good to beat two quality opponents, FSU and NC State, at their own places. And I’m sure it will give the team additional confidence playing away from home, which can only help.

That said, “road woes” aren’t limited to the Hoos. All teams in college basketball struggle on the road. We may have pulled off a couple wins, but winning on the road is still hard, and I’m sad to admit that we’ll assuredly run into more woes in the future.

Duke has struggled this season with bigger frontlines. How do you think UVA can use the frontcourt combination of Mike Tobey, Akil Mitchell and Justin Anderson to their advantage?

I should give a brief overview of the Wahoo frontcourt, as it is very deep and Tony Bennett will rotate everyone in, as matchups dictate. While Akil Mitchell hasn’t had the kind of offensive season that led to his selection as third-team all-ACC, he showed signs of life at NCSU, and is a defensive stopper, along with Darion Atkins. Our best offensive front-court player has arguably been transfer Anthony Gill (63% eFG%), who has the ability to get to the rim or the free-throw line most consistently. His style is the more aggressive while 7-foot Mike Tobey has a well-developed “old school” game. Anderson generally plays the “3”, but he is a high-energy fan-favorite who has the type of athleticism that could match Duke’s.

One thing that jumps out at me is that UVA should have a pretty clear rebounding advantage. Duke is a pretty poor offensive rebounding team, while UVA is ranked 3rd nationally in defensive rebounding; limiting second chances for Duke’s potent offense will be key. On the other side of the floor, Tony Bennett has allowed the team to compete for offensive rebounds (yes, this is a new thing), so the Hoos could get some second chances of their own.

Duke’s guards have the quickness to beat some of our’s off the dribble, and it will up to the frontcourt to provide help when that happens and alter shots.

The Blue Devils are a different team in Cameron Indoor Stadium compared to what we’ve seen when they play on the road. What will UVA try to do to take Duke out of what it likes to do offensively?

UVA will do the same thing against Duke as against everyone. Force the Blue Devils to play in the half-court, slow down the game, and clog the lane to force (hopefully contested) jumpers. Slashing guards have given the Packline issues in the past, so UVA will try to use its interior advantage to free up the frontcourt to help quickly.

I don’t think any team in the nation could be counted on to reliably slow down Duke’s offensive attack. But Virginia’s style and emphases are built to compete in games like this one. Duke will have to take and make contested jumpers; the Blue Devil shooters certainly have the ability to do so, but the Hoos will make it tough on them.

It seems like Joe Harris hasn’t had quite the impact this season as many were expecting from him. What are teams doing differently to slow down the talented guard?

The main reason for Harris’s lower impact is more likely internal to UVA’s roster than because of opposing defenses. While Harris has certainly been quieter, he hasn’t actually been less efficient. (Stat-wise, his eFG% and ORtg are both a touch higher than last year’s, actually). Rather, Harris has simply taken fewer shots, as he has struggled a bit to adapt to the team’s newfound offensive depth. He’s generally hesitated to force the action and look for his shot as often as last year, and he’s occasionally chosen to be aggressive at the wrong times.

These issues have been emblematic of struggles for UVA’s offense as a whole, where a lack of chemistry has been the consensus diagnosis. This is an area that has improved significantly after the team lost by 30 at Tennessee, and Tony Bennett stated a desire to simplify the offense.

That said, since the FSU game, when he suffered a concussion, Harris has looked much more comfortable in his past two games. This season, UVA has shown the ability to win without big performances by Harris…but things are much easier when he is playing his game.

Do you think the quick turnaround for this game (both teams played Saturday) helps or hurts Virginia?

It’s a good question, and a tough one to answer. Duke has the energy of the home-crowd behind it, which may be the most significant of all advantages here. UVA has the energy of playing a team called “Duke.” Duke has to travel back from a rough game at Clemson, which can’t be fun. UVA has stayed the weekend in Raleigh and Durham, which is similarly non-ideal. And, while the Hoos have to be feeling good after a big win Saturday, I hate to have to face Coach K’s squad when they are angry.

I’m tempted to say we have the edge, since Virginia probably has the advantage in depth and also played a blow-out on Monday. Additionally, we rely more on our frontcourt, which may remedy problems with tired legs for jump shooters. But, when it comes down to it, all these effects are relatively minor and roughly cancel out. Basically, if the losing coach mentions the quick turnaround as an excuse, I am going to roll my eyes.

What’s your prediction for the game?

I feel VERY good about this game. We are playing our best basketball of the season and are catching Duke during a slump that surely won’t last long. UVA should be playing loose on offense, and actually have an interior advantage over the Blue Devils.

I would confidently pick the Hoos to win at JPJ and would without hesitation take us on a neutral floor tomorrow. That said, UVA hasn’t won at Cameron since 1995 (though we were close 2 years ago when Mike Scott had a good look at the game-tying three). I feel like the Packline will quiet Duke’s dominant offense, the Mitchell/Tobey/Gill trio will score freely inside, and Joe Harris will come out firing. But, I still fear that the Blue Devils will feed off the crowd, go on a big run or two, and spoil our upset bid. So I’ll say that Duke edges UVA 66-63, and then celebrate tomorrow when I am proven wrong.


A big thank you to Brian for sharing his thoughts. You can catch more of his work on Streaking the Lawn and check him out on Twitter at @BSchwartzUVA. You can also follow Streaking the Lawn on Twitter at @TheUVAFool.

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David Aldridge

David Aldridge

David has been a die hard fan of Duke Basketball since the 1990's, when Coach K and the Blue Devils slapped the floor and made their way into his heart. During his playing days, David perfected his role on his basketball team as being the guy who would hold everyone on the bench back after a teammate would make a clutch shot. He once played N.C. State legend David Thompson in a game of H-O-R-S-E. David won.

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