Though it’s still not No. 1 in the polls, Duke reinforced the notion that it’s the best, most dangerous team in college basketball on Saturday thanks to a season sweep of the Virginia Cavaliers.
And if Virginia can’t beat Duke at home, where it seldom loses under Tony Bennett, then there might not be copious amounts of hope for the rest of the sport.
Because Virginia’s only losses this season have come against Duke.
Duke won 81-71 inside John Paul Jones Arena, validating the No. 1 overall seed status it was given earlier in the day when the selection committee released its annual February reveal of the top 16 teams in the bracket. Duke won in the most surprising of ways: by slaying the Wahoos from deep. Duke finished 13 of 21 from 3-point range. That equates to 61.9 percent, essentially doubling its 3-point average heading into the game (30.8).
It’s stunning, considering Virginia rated as the best 3-point defense in college basketball at the start of the day.
It also got the occasional/expected insanity from Zion Williamson, whose biggest highlight of the game came late in the second half when he populated himself like Nightcrawler to swat away De’Andre Hunter’s would-be 3-point attempt.
This is freakish.
Hold up. Let’s check that in slow motion.
Williamson had 18 points, five rebounds, five assists, three blocks and three steals — but RJ Barrett was the most important player in the game. Duke’s leading scorer set a career high with six 3-pointers on 10 attempts. He finished with a game-high 25. It was his play early that jumpstarted Duke, which proved important. In recent games, the Blue Devils got off to slow starts before taking over in the second half.
The Blue Devils also had Tre Jones on the floor for this one, which wasn’t the case when Duke won by two vs. UVA on Jan. 19. Jones proved effective as almost always, finishing with 13 points, seven assists, six rebounds and a pair of steals.
The game got off to an unpredictable start: Duke’s first five 3-point attempts all went in. By the time the game had its first break, Duke led 19-9. No one could have forecast that, not with Duke shooting so badly from deep for most of the season. Through 20 minutes, Duke’s 72.7 percentage (8 for 11) from deep foretold the game’s ending.
It’s plausible that the No. 1 overall seed going to Duke could wind up having this game to think — at least in part. Virginia still rates, in spite of the loss, as a top-three team in college basketball. It’s unlikely the Cavaliers lose many more games before March. If that’s the case, Duke’s pair of victories over the Wahoos will only grow stronger.