Virginia Cavaliers vs. Duke Blue Devils
Line: Duke -3
Where: Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, North Carolina
When: Saturday, 3/11 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Mike Krzyzewski is no longer on the sidelines for Duke, but you certainly wouldn’t know it right now.
The Blue Devils are peaking in March just as they did many times under Coach K, and they can improve their NCAA Tournament seeding even more when they face Virginia in the ACC Tournament title game on Saturday night. They have rattled off eight consecutive wins since losing to then-No. 8 Virginia in overtime on Feb. 11.
Duke’s latest win came in an 85-78 decision against regular-season champion Miami on Friday, as the Blue Devils have now made the title game in 17 of the last 25 conference tournaments. Virginia cruised to a 76-56 win over Clemson on Friday, earning its first trip to the ACC title game since it won the tournament in 2018.
Oddsmakers opened Duke as a 2-point favorite, but the early betting action has moved that line up to -3. Meanwhile, Saturday night’s total opened at 123.5 and that’s where it remains at most spots.
Virginia was a 6-point home favorite when it covered the spread in the 69-62 overtime win on Feb. 11, with the extra session pushing the game ‘over’ the total of 127. The Cavaliers are 23-3 as favorites and 2-3 as underdogs this season, while Duke is 24-4 as a favorite and 1-4 as a ‘dog.
First-year head coach Jon Scheyer is going to be the first coach to make the NCAA Tournament in his first season at Duke since Vic Bubas in 1959-60. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Blue Devils listed as a No. 5 seed in his latest bracketology projections—Virginia is a No. 4 seed .
Star freshman Kyle Filipowski led Duke with 17 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in Friday’s win against Miami, while Jeremy Roach hit a 3-pointer to put his team up by seven points with 1:32 remaining. The Blue Devils shot 54.9% from the floor and knocked down 8 of 16 from 3-point range one day after shooting 62% with a tournament-record 27 assists against Pittsburgh.
“I just think early in the year we were kind of letting the ball stick, and it was sticking in one guy’s hand and that’s been a big thing this whole season,” Roach said. “(Scheyer’s) been telling us all five guys got to touch it. And when all five guys are touching it, everybody has got confidence.”
Duke is one of the youngest teams in the country, ranked No. 295 in KenPom’s experience ratings, but it stayed composed down the stretch on Friday. The Blue Devils made 14 of 16 free throws in the second half and committed just four turnovers following the intermission.
They will be turning around and facing one of the most experienced teams in the country on Saturday night, as Virginia ranks fourth in that category. The Cavaliers are led by fifth-year senior point guard Kihei Clark, who was a member of their 2018-19 NCAA Tournament title team. He is averaging 11.0 points, 5.6 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game, scoring 16 points in the lone regular season meeting between these teams.
The Cavaliers opened their ACC Tournament with a 68-59 win over North Carolina, effectively eliminating the Tar Heels from the Big Dance. They backed up that performance with a 76-56 win against Clemson on Friday, shooting 50% from the floor and outscoring Clemson 40-22 in the paint.
“I think the guys are taking care of the ball, they are cutting hard, and our screening has improved,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “They are seeing things as the game presents it. And that’s the best basketball to me when you give them a structure and they play the game out of it.”
These teams have only met once before in the ACC title game, with Virginia posting a 72-63 win in 2014 behind MVP Joe Harris. The Cavaliers are 4-1 against the spread in the last five meetings between these teams, while Duke is 4-1 ATS in its last five games this season. They have gone ‘over’ in five of their last seven head-to-head meetings.
The pick: Duke -3
I generally tend to back the experienced teams at this time of the year, but Duke is a freight train that I have no interest in stepping in front of right now. The Blue Devils have been able to get everything working at the right time, and they are motivated to avenge a loss that came via a blown call when these teams met in the regular season. Their height should be a bigger factor this time around, as they are the tallest team in college basketball and Virginia is No. 262 in KenPom’s ratings. Duke ranks sixth on the offensive glass, while the Cavaliers are No. 266, so I expect that to be a crucial element of this contest. The Blue Devils have covered the spread in six straight games in March.