It’s impossible to forget Tony Bennett’s failures in March, but this Virginia basketball team is his best yet and — at the risk of getting fooled again — it’s definitely realistic to predict a deep NCAA Tournament run.
First of all, the Cavaliers are not weak offensively, currently No. 3 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings, after failing to finish in the top 25 in those rankings the past two years. Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome are double-figure scorers who shoot better than 40 percent from 3-point range.
Only Gonzaga and Tennessee rate higher offensively than Virginia, which is also No. 2 in Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. Duke ranks No. 4 in offense and defense, setting the stage for Saturday’s dynamic showdown.
Shed no tears of pity for Mike Krzyzewski, but he’s missing his point guard at the wrong time. Tre Jones left with a shoulder injury during the Blue Devils’ stunning loss to 17-point underdog Syracuse this week. Breaking down the suffocating Virginia defense, the nation’s best allowing 51.7 points, is a monster challenge without a point guard, especially for a team that prefers to score in transition and struggles in half-court sets. The Cavaliers are excellent at defending the 3-point line, and the Devils are not shooting well from distance.
Duke still has three players (Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish) who could start for several NBA teams, and it’s tough to imagine Coach K dropping back-to-back home games, so Virginia is an underdog for the first time this season.
The Cavaliers (16-0) are 10-1 against the spread in their past 11 games while laying 3½ points or more in each of those games. Bennett guided the Cavs to a 65-63 win at Cameron Indoor last year, and it would not be a big surprise if he turns the trick again.
The total has dropped from 140 to 136. The pace of this game should be similar to Duke’s 69-58 victory over Texas Tech in December.
Plays: (601) Virginia ( 3½) over Duke and Under 136
Other plays for Saturday:
(606) Wisconsin (plus-3½) over Michigan
The Badgers are dangerous in this spot, desperate and frustrated after narrow losses to Purdue and Maryland. The Wolverines (17-0) are coasting and due to get pushed to the wire on the road. Could they get caught sleeping in this early-morning tip in Madison? Michigan is 31-1 in its past 32 games, losing only to Villanova in the NCAA title game. John Beilein’s team is neither deep nor overwhelmingly talented offensively, but the Wolverines are elite on the defensive end, allowing 56.6 points per game. This should be a low-scoring grinder. Wisconsin forward Ethan Happ (19.4 points, 10.4 rebounds) is a crafty low-post scorer and guards Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice can get hot from the 3-point line.
(633) Indiana (plus-5½ 1H and plus-9½) over Purdue
After a pathetic performance in a loss to Nebraska, the Hoosiers are riding a three-game losing streak on their bus trip north to West Lafayette. This is a huge rivalry game for two teams that might wind up on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Archie Miller is about to find out if he’s got a tough-minded team or not. Indiana has two high-level scorers in freshman guard Romeo Langford (18.8) and senior forward Juwan Morgan (16.5), and containing Morgan will be the Boilermakers’ defensive focus. Purdue guard Carsen Edwards is the top scorer in the Big Ten at 25 points per game, but it’s always a mystery how much help he will get from a thin supporting cast. This line is inflated, and so is the Boilermakers’ overall rating (No. 14 in Kenpom.com), so look at the road ‘dog in a desperation spot.
(636) Notre Dame (plus-2) over North Carolina State
(651) Kentucky (plus-4½) over Auburn
(692) Butler (-5) over St. Johns
Junior guard Shamorie Ponds and the Johnnies bring bad memories to Hinkle Fieldhouse, where Ponds shot 0-for-12 in a 70-45 loss last year. The Bulldogs have defeated St. John’s by at least 20 points four straight years in Indianapolis. Butler is 2-2 in its past four Big East games, blowing out DePaul and Creighton with a pair of one-point losses at Seton Hall and Xavier.
(699) Fresno State (plus-2) over Boise State
(715) Texas Tech (-3½) over Baylor
(769) BYU (plus-6½) over San Francisco