Duke basketball looking to play its way back on NCAA Tournament bubble

Duke basketball forward Wendell Moore (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball forward Wendell Moore (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports) /

Duke basketball is looking to play itself back on the NCAA Tournament bubble against No. 7 Virginia. 

After a February 9 loss at home to Notre Dame (9-10, 6-7 ACC), it looked like the Duke basketball season had unofficially come to an end.

It was the third straight loss for the Blue Devils (9-8, 7-6), their second three-game losing streak of the season.

The consensus among many experts was that Duke needed to either win its remaining games in the regular season or win the ACC Tournament to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Well, two games down and four to go for the Blue Devils and their hardest test on paper is now here.

No. 7 Virginia (15-4, 11-2 ACC) and its stout defense come to Cameron Indoor Stadium for a Saturday primetime matchup that the Blue Devils need to keep at-large hopes alive.

After its first official game without freshman forward Jalen Johnson, Duke looked much freer and more focused on the court in its demolition of Wake Forest, but the Blue Devils might actually miss the former five-star recruit against the Cavaliers.

While Johnson’s body language certainly didn’t exude interest either on the bench or while playing defense, his ability to score in isolation sets was very good.

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Against the pack-line defense of Tony Bennett’s team, you need to have an isolation scorer like Tre Jones, RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, or Jalen Johnson in order to be effective on offense, and Duke doesn’t have that anymore.

Matthew Hurt has been scoring from the field, averaging 23.0 points per game in his last two outings while shooting 84.2-percent from the field and 81.1-percent from three-point range.

Hurt can create offense with the ball in his hands, but it’s coming in the form of a step-back jumper, which is his bread and butter.

The sophomore has not been very effective against bigger and more physical defenders, so Mike Krzyzewski should try to keep Matthew Hurt away from Virginia center Jay Huff as much as possible on both ends of the floor.

Duke basketball must win battle in backcourt

If the Blue Devils wish to defeat Virginia, they must win the battle in the backcourt.

Guards such as Jordan Goldwire, Jeremy Roach, DJ Steward, and Wendell Moore have to be better than the crop of Cavalier guards led by Trey Murphy III and Kihei Clark.

Sam Hauser, brother of Joey Hauser, who Duke saw against Michigan State, is the superior of the two forwards. And Matthew Hurt will have his hands full with the senior, who averages 14.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game while shooting 50.7-percent from the field and 43.7-percent from three-point range.

Duke freshman center Mark Williams gets another test against a physical, veteran ACC big man in Jay Huff as the young Blue Devil will see if he can continue his impressive stretch of games.

It’s a ‘must-win’ game for Duke inside the confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium, where opponents have left victorious four times this season. The Blue Devils need a signature win that they have yet to secure this season.

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The last time an unranked Duke team played a ranked Virginia team in Cameron?

Sophomore Grayson Allen hit a driving layup as the buzzer expired.

They say history repeats itself, right?

Sophomore Wendell Moore hits a driving layup as the buzzer expires.

Also, Virginia was ranked No. 7 in the game Allen hit the buzzer-beater. Virginia will be ranked No. 7 entering Durham on Saturday night.

Tipoff is scheduled for 8:00pm EST (ESPN).

PREDICTION: Duke 67, No. 7 Virginia 66

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