Virginia’s home game with Duke on Thursday night may not make or break the Cavaliers’ NCAA Tournament hopes, but a victory would go a very long way in getting them into the field of 68.
The Cavaliers begin the week at 19-8 overall and 9-5 in the ACC with an RPI of 73. The low RPI is a result of two bad nonconference losses, one in particular to RPI No. 320 Old Dominion in December. A win over Duke, which is ranked No. 1 in the RPI, would elevate Virginia’s RPI up into the low 60s or possibly even the high 50s.
If Virginia can then manage to not fall apart in closing out the regular season, it will find itself in the NCAAs and probably with a seed higher than usual for a team with its RPI. But first things first: Duke is playing well again after falling at Maryland, and presents some matchup issues for the Wahoos.
But Virginia also presents some issues.
Virginia is longer on the perimeter and likes shooting 3-pointers. If the Wahoos can consistently get good spacing out there they have an edge. Most important in how things flow will be the play of 6-foot-6 junior wing Joe Harris, who is averaging 16.7 points per game, nearly hitting 50 percent of his 3-pointers, and has emerged as a legitimate ACC Player of the year candidate.
“They’re really good, they are a tough team to defend…,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Sunday after the Blue Devils beat Boston College. “Harris is one of the best players in the country. That kid is rock solid, he’s terrific. He’s the heart and soul of their team.”
But the Cavaliers are more than just Harris. Tony Bennett’s club has really come together in league play. They are healthy, which helps, and now everyone understands their roles, which is vital under Bennett’s system.
“They play outstanding defense, but they’re okay with pushing the ball up the court,” Krzyzewski said. “I think that’s a misnomer about them. They’ll push it up and shoot. They’re a good basketball team, and at home they’ll be even better.”
Duke (24-3, 11-3) is playing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and if freshman wing Rasheed Sulaimon keeps shooting 50 percent from the field and the Blue Devils play like they did this past week, they may walk away from John Paul Jones Arena with a victory.
But Virginia is just so tough at home and has grown into a better team than Maryland and N.C. State, both of which have beaten the Blue Devils. And, Virginia will score the ball, as Krzyzewski said. It’s averaging 74 points a game in its last six contests, but excluding a 50-point effort at Miami, the Cavs are scoring 78.8 points a game in that stretch and three times have been over 80 points.
Pick: Virginia, 70-65
Wake Forest (12-14, 5-9) at Florida State (14-13, 6-8)
When: 9 p.m. Full Court Press: Wake Forest has not played well at all on the road and Florida State hasn’t played well period of late. Also, the Demon Deacons beat the Seminoles at home by 26 points two weeks ago, but that probably doesn’t matter at this point. Keys here are simple: This is FSU’s game to lose. The Seminoles need to be ready to play and get nice games from Michael Snaer and Okaro White. Pick: FSU, 67-60.
Virginia Tech (12-15, 3-11) at Miami (22-4, 13-1)
When: 7 p.m. Full Court Press: If the Hurricanes are going to rebound back to what they were before three consecutive lackluster performances they need to wax the Hokies. Slow down Erick Green, dominate the glass and get its open court game going is what Miami must do to get back into its groove. Pick: Miami, 77-60.
Boston College (12-15, 4-10) at N.C. State (19-8, 8-6)
When: 8 p.m. Full Court Press: Boston College has been pretty bad on the road, so this is the right opponent for the Wolfpack to host to get back on track after a disappointing loss at UNC. Maybe C.J. Leslie will be engaged in this game, because he sure wasn’t in Chapel Hill. This game also serves as an opportunity for coach Mark Gottfried to send the talented junior a message, which could be a factor in how the rest of the season plays out. Pick: N.C. State, 83-68.
Maryland (19-8, 7-7) at Georgia Tech (14-12, 4-10)
When: 8 p.m. Full Court Press: Once again, the Terrapins face a road game they should win but well could lose, which would further squash their NCAA Tournament hopes. They lost at Boston College last week a few days after beating Duke. Now, they head to Atlanta after taking care of Clemson. Guard play will be big, and it’s not an area Maryland always excels. Pick: Georgia Tech, 64-59.
North Carolina (19-8, 9-5) at Clemson (13-13, 5-9)
When: 7 p.m. Full Court Press: Road games are great tests for the new-look Tar Heels and their smallish lineup. Clemson will defend and try to muck up things, so UNC must stay dedicated to its approach and continue to play unselfishly. Clemson must hit perimeter shots and be even on the glass to have a chance. Pick: UNC, 71-60.