Duke entered Saturday’s ACC rematch with Virginia recognized as the top overall seed by the NCAA tournament selection committee. It ended Saturday leaving little doubt about who the nation’s best team is, convincingly taking down a disciplined Cavaliers team on the road, 81-71, and grabbing firm control of the ACC in the process.
Even though Tennessee is the No. 1 team in the AP and coaches polls, Duke now has two victories over a projected No. 1 seed to bolster its already stellar résumé.
The Blue Devils (21-2, 9-1) followed a similar strategy to their first win over Virginia back on Jan. 19 — riding the offense of stars R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson. Except this time fellow freshman Cam Reddish joined in on the fun and gave Duke a solid third option. The trio combined for 61 points, all but 20 of the Blue Devils’ total output; Barrett and Williamson combined for 57 points in Duke’s first win over Virginia, that game a much closer one-possession game.
Key takeaways from NCAA seed unveiling:: Duke, Tennessee neck-and-neck as No. 1s
Saturday’s contest saw a superior Duke team hitting its stride, while shooting a blistering 62 percent from beyond the arc. Floor general Tre Jones was also at top gear in this matchup, finishing with 13 points and seven assists.
With LeBron James watching, Barrett and Williamson were a little sloppy, combining for 10 of Duke’s 14 turnovers. But of course there were highlight-reel moments to masquerade that stat, with Williamson impressive on defense with three blocks and three steals.
Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome paced Virginia with16 points apiece in the loss.
What does this loss mean for the Cavaliers (20-2, 8-2)? It means they still have a profile worthy of a No. 1 seed and have only lost to one team in the country. Even if Saturday’s result was more convincing and ended up as a bigger statement for Duke than the last loss, coach Tony Bennett’s team still has an excellent overall portfolio with just two respectable losses. Not to mention this group will have a mission to set things right come March given last year’s historic upset to a No. 16 seed.
All signs here in February point to Duke holding on to be the top overall seed in the Big Dance. But there’s still a lot of basketball to be played — eight ACC games, including two games against North Carolina, to be exact. And the Blue Devils won’t always be shooting as well as they did against Virginia.
But regardless of whether there’s a heavy reliance on the three elite freshmen, Barrett and Williamson especially, coach Mike Krzyzewski figures to have one of his most dangerous teams ever come March, a team that just proved its worth as the country’s most elite.