Duke dominates Virginia and might be fulfilling its preseason potential

DURHAM, N.C. — A basketball game?

More like one team tossing another into a woodchipper.

“There’s not much to say,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “I mean, they pretty much got what they wanted.”

It’s rare to hear that level of resignation from the Cavaliers’ championship-winning coach, but what else is he supposed to say after a loss like that? This wasn’t one team simply beating another; it was overwhelming obliteration — Duke 73, Virginia 48 — from the opening tip. Virginia won the jump, scored on its first offensive possession … and trailed 19-6 less than seven minutes later. Ballgame.

Even if Duke hadn’t scored for the final 16 minutes and 30 seconds on Saturday, it still would have won.

So much for any spirited fight between the ACC’s second- and third-best teams. Duke and Virginia may be next to one another in the league’s standings, but as Saturday made painfully clear, there’s a chasm between their on-court competency.

“That’s probably,” senior guard Jeremy Roach said, “one of the best (performances) we’ve had.”

Now, this Virginia team is not one of years past. While these Cavaliers have the nation’s third-best adjusted defensive efficiency since Jan. 13, per the barttorvik.com sorting tool, they also struggle mightily with one of basketball’s core missions: putting the ball in the hoop. The Hoos came into the weekend “producing” a miserable 63.7 points per game — which ranks 353rd out of 362 Division-I teams — and have now scored below 50 in four of their last five games. Even with Bennett’s pedigree and a formidable defense, a juggernaut team this is not.

But still: Duke completely undressed a team that, at the very least, is still on the NCAA Tournament bubble. For most of the first half, sophomore forward Kyle Filipowski was single-handedly outscoring the Hoos; at the under-four timeout — when the margin had already ballooned to 25 (!!) — Filipowski had 15 points … and Virginia’s entire team had 13.

At the half, Filipowski had seven made baskets.

Bennett’s entire team had six … and seven turnovers.

This was not accidental, though. This was a Duke team imposing its will in every sense — and looking more and more, every game, like the team it was expected to be back in the preseason.

Question: Why can’t this Duke team, the one that so thoroughly dominated Saturday, make a deep run in March? Especially when it has Filipowski — a shoo-in for All-ACC honors, who will also garner serious All-America support — aggressively attacking the basket like he did Saturday. A week after he banged his knee in a Wake Forest court storm, the 7-foot sophomore played one of his better games of late: 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting, with seven rebounds, three steals, and two assists. “When he’s that way,” coach Jon Scheyer said, “I don’t think there’s anybody like that in the country.”

You could say the same about this Duke team as a whole. Despite the loss to Wake Forest a week ago, per the barttorvik.com sorting tool, the Blue Devils have been a top-five team nationally over their last 10 games, trailing only Final Four favorites like Connecticut, Houston and Arizona. Over that stretch, they’re one of just three teams — alongside Connecticut and Houston — with a top-20 adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Pegged as preseason contenders, Scheyer’s second squad may have taken some time to round into form, but it clearly has. Asked about the team ratcheting up its intensity in the last month of the season, Filipowski’s quick addendum makes obvious where this team’s current mindset lies.

“Let’s say the second-to-last month of the season,” Filipowski responded, “because we’re going for the Final Four in April.”

In some ways, Duke had too many pieces — too many moving parts, all trying to ascertain their best role — earlier in the year. There were standout games for individuals, but rarely was the entire roster clicking in one 40-minute contest. Scheyer would rather have freshman Caleb Foster — who is currently out on a week-by-week basis with a lower-body injury — than not, but in a roundabout way, his absence has allowed for streamlined role definition.

That was abundantly on display vs. Virginia. Filipowski dominated in the frontcourt; he was critical to Duke scoring 44 points in the paint, the most the Cavaliers have allowed all season. But so was Mark Mitchell, whose and-1 on the game’s opening possession set the tone for Duke’s aggressive attack. (Duke moved to 32-3 all-time when Mitchell — who finished with 10 points, five rebounds, and two blocks — scores in double-digits.)

Point guard Tyrese Proctor — who has missed games this season with both an ankle injury and a concussion — was as effective leading the team as he’s been in weeks. Remember that it was Proctor’s emergence late in his freshman season that spurred Duke’s 10-game winning streak and ACC tournament championship. So while Proctor’s 15 points and five assists were impressive, they were maybe less so than the way he controlled the game. “It reminds me of what he did at the end of last year,” Scheyer said, “except even better.”

That’s without mentioning Roach, the reliable veteran, and freshman Jared McCain — two every-game starters this season. Both had quiet nights by their usual standards — they combined for 13 points, eight rebounds, and five assists — but shoot better than 40 percent from 3 and can catch fire anytime.

The outline for all that was there in the preseason. Now it’s finally come to fruition.

“Everybody expects it to be instant: minutes, scoring, production,” Scheyer said. “But we’ve learned this year and last year, throughout the season, you have to step up.”

Duke showed what that looks like, in a best-case scenario, on Saturday. Win out, and it can still share a piece of the ACC regular-season title. And beyond that?

Well, the Blue Devils are as well-situated for the postseason as any team in the league.

“Just do what you did tonight,” Scheyer joked. “Whatever we can do to do that, that would be really good.”

(Photo of Duke’s Kyle Filipowski shooting over Virginia’s Ryan Dunn: Rob Kinnan / USA Today)

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