Duke-Virginia Thursday Matchup

#3 DUKE WILL MAKE ITS CASE FOR #1 IN THE POLLS THURSDAY NIGHT AT DANGEROUS VIRGINIA

With #1 Indiana already suffering a loss this week, and #2 Gonzaga being one of those teams that the mainstream media will bend over backwards to avoid sticking in the #1 spot, #3 Duke has a great opportunity Thursday in Virginia to make its case for the top spot in the polls...kicking off a three-day period where the Blue Devils can settle once and for all where they stand in the national championship chase.

Thursday: Duke at dangerous Virginia
Saturday: Duke hosts #5 Miami of Florida in a huge revenge game

A pair of big victories, and Duke will probably surge up to #1 in the polls, and will almost certainly have locked in a #1 seed in the Big Dance. One loss, and then questions will remain about whether Coach K and company really are amongst the nation's elite this year (if they're struggling vs. the only good teams in the ACC, what would they be doing in the much deeper Big Ten and Big East?). A pair of losses? Well, that's a longshot given the pointspreads...but that would make it clear that Duke is a pretender this season who shouldn't be considered seriously as a national title hopeful. Last year's team lost to Lehigh in its Dance opener. Having five ACC losses before the ACC tournament even starts would say all that needs to be said about this year's chances.

The extended three day "moment of truth" starts at Charlottesville. Let's run the game through our gauntlet of indicators. You may be surprised to find that the respected computers we follow are much higher on Virginia than most of the nation.

WON-LOST RECORDS
Duke: 24-3 (11-3 in the ACC)
Virginia: 19-8 (9-5 in the ACC)

Virginia took awhile to get things figured out. And, even after that...they still haven't mastered late game execution. They've suffered some close losses...and those are punished much more in the national consciousness than they are by computers. Virginia knows they can make up for lost time with a Thursday update...one that would move them within a game of Duke in the ACC standings.

COMPUTER RANKINGS
Duke: #5 with Sagarin, #6 with Pomeroy
Virginia: #27 with Sagarin, #17 with Pomeroy

Virginia isn't ranked in the polls...but they would average out to #22 in the country based on where Jeff Sagarin of USA Today and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy have them. Duke is getting respect in the computers because they started the season so well. They haven't played like a top five team in the ACC as a general rule (well, sometimes they do...but too many unimpressive performances to think of them as a superpower). They really were a superpower in November and December because Coach K has his team ready from the get-go...and his teams are often smart and experienced.

COMPUTER STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RANKINGS
Duke: #7 with Sagarin, #11 with Pomeroy
Virginia: #101 with Sagarin, #112 with Pomeroy

Duke played the much tougher schedule by all accounts. Coach K challenges himself early when he has the biggest edge over name teams. Virginia had way too many creampuffs. It's amazing that they rate as well as they do in the computers given their lack of top quality opposition. Duke isn't afraid of anybody because of that tough schedule. Maybe that's part of their near annual problem of playing to their seeds in the Dance. They need to be more afraid of teams who can beat them inside!

WON-LOST RECORDS VS. SAGARIN'S TOP 50
Duke: 7-2
Virginia: 4-2

This is another reason the computers like Virginia. When they have stepped up and played good teams...they won at a .667 clip! One of those losses was a road nailbiter at Miami too. This is what makes Virginia so dangerous at home Thursday. They have confidence against quality. They're not going to shrivel up just because Duke is in town.

JOE LUNARDI'S BRACKETOLOGY
Duke: projected #1 seed
Virginia: projected #13 seed

Huge difference here between where Lunardi of ESPN has Virginia and where the computers have them. Pomeroy would have them as a #4 seed, Sagarin as a #6 seed. Lunardi barely has them in the brackets! Well, he has them as the worst seed for an at-large team...though he oddly doesn't list them among his last four in. The play-in games for spots on the #11 and #12 rungs are to blame. The bottom line is that Lunardi still sees Virginia barely on the right side of the bubble...while the most respected computer assessments are pointing to a possible Sweet 16 run.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED OFFENSE RANKINGS
Duke: #5
Virginia: #31

We move to the chess match now. Duke has a terrific offense. Some of that is because of three-point proficiency in friendly territory...and because officials tend to smile on them more often than not during the regular season. That creates statistical "efficiency" that is hard to duplicate in neutral court tournament games when treys are dicier and refs have to call it straight. Still...they can get the ball in the hoop. Virginia is probably much better than you realized on this side of the ball. They play extremely slowly, which creates a lot of low scoring games. Once you adjust for tempo and caliber of opposition, Virginia has a top 35 offense. Maybe that won't be good enough to scare top contenders in the Dance. But, opponents better not make the mistake of thinking Virginia can't score. Virginia runs a lot of clock, then scores.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED DEFENSE RANKINGS
Duke: #22
Virginia: #21

These are virtually dead even defenses when you take tempo out of the mix. You'll see in a moment why that's such a big deal! Once you're talking about the very best teams in the country trying to win a championship, rankings at this level are a negative. A #20 defense looks soft against a top 5 or top 10 defense. And, historically, Duke has tended to play softer defensively in the Dance than its adjusted rankings would have suggested. Some of Duke's "defense" is outmatched opponents panicking amidst desperation deficits. That disappears when you face good teams in the Dance.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED TEMPO RANKINGS
Duke: #62
Virginia: #338

Duke is one of the fastest national contenders, which allows them to run away from lesser teams. Virginia is as slow as slow gets. This is about as extreme a differential as you're likely to see the rest of the way. You've seen time and time again that the HOME team tends to force its preferred tempo on a game. That will give Virginia a shot to grind out a win Thursday. Duke is most vulnerable when people patiently work for a good shot against them. Duke is most lethal when opponents are outside their comfort zone.

BEST EXPECTATION
Well, given Duke's woes on the road in ACC play this year...you'd have to assume that Virginia can slow down tempo and pull out a win.

Duke lost at ACC leader Miami
Duke is #2 in the ACC, and hasn't played #3 or #4 of the ACC yet until tonight
Duke lost at ACC #5 NC State
Duke lost at ACC #6 Maryland

Heck, Duke could only win at Boston College by a point, and BC is tied for next-to-last in the ACC with a 4-10 league record. Virginia is tied with North Carolina for the 3-4 spots. What you see above makes it clear they can win.

That being said...slowdown basketball creates coin flip endings...and that should allow Duke to stay within striking distance at the very least. Maybe this is the game Virginia finds out that they're not really ready for the big time yet. The computers are known to fall in love a bit too much with teams who have a knack for close losses.

JIM HURLEY could have a big play in this one. It's a busy card Thursday. Other possibilities include:
#2 Gonzaga at BYU
North Carolina at Clemson
LA Clippers at Indiana in the NBA
Minnesota at LA Lakers on TNT

Non marquee games in the Sun Belt, the Big West, and other mid-major conferences will allow for an off-the-radar game to sneak in for a big money play as well. You can purchase the final Thursday slate with your credit card right here at the website. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back with you tomorrow for an early-bird breakdown of Saturday's Syracuse-Louisville game in the Big East. That's a very early tip Saturday so we'll run the marquee matchup through our gauntlet of indicators in the Friday edition of the NOTEBOOK. Saturday we'll provide showcase coverage for a slew of huge games like Miami-Duke, Arizona/UCLA, Wichita State/Creighton, Butler/VCU, and Notre Dame/Marquette. Sunday brings Michigan/Michigan State in a Big 10 thriller that's been pushed back a day from its original Saturday start time.

Today is the last day of February...which means it's time for MARCH MADNESS WITH JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

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