Tonight, the newly ranked #23 Duke Blue Devils will look to jump start what they hope to be a new run of excellence as they face off against the University of Virginia Cavaliers. Duke and Virginia both come into the contest held at Cameron Indoor Stadium with records of 12-4. Coming off of a very tough road loss at Clemson, the Blue Devils will face a Virginia team that has won 5 of their 6, including road wins at FSU and most recently NC State. Since conference play started, the Cavaliers are 3-0 while Duke is 1-2. Here is a breakdown of the UVA starting 5:

            In their last contest against NC State, the UVA starting lineup looked as follows: senior Joe Harris (6-6 225lbs guard), freshman London Perrantes (6-2 189lbs guard), sophomore Malcolm Brogdon (6-5 217lbs guard), sophomore Mike Tobey (6-11 253lbs F/C), and senior Akil Mitchell (6-8 235lbs forward). Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon lead UVA in scoring with around 10 PPG each. Mitchell and Brogdon are the rebounding leaders with 6.4 per game and 5.3 per game respectively. Perrantes and Harris are the leading assist getters with 3.4 and 2 per game respectively.

            If Duke wants to win this game and win any game from here on out, there needs to be a concerted effort to stop the driving into the lane and stop allowing second chances. In the loss to Clemson, Duke was outrebounded by 18 and gave up 14 offensive rebounds. Something must change here for the Blue Devils as there is no shot blocker down low to control the paint. As I have said previously, this is not a typical Duke team of past years. There is no Mason Plumlee, no Miles Plumlee, no Brian Zoubek, no Josh McRoberts, no Shelden Williams, no Elton Brand, no Mike Gminski or Jay Bilas. All of these guys changed the way teams would prepare because they knew that if they drove to lane, their shot would get rejected by a 7- footer.

            Duke needs this win and needs to make a statement. It can come down to one question and it is this: Who wants to step up? Who wants to be the guy to step into the roll of protecting the paint? Is it Josh Hairston? I doubt it because he is not a natural shot blocker and would rather take a charge. Hairston doesn’t change a defense’s approach either because, as we have seen, teams will drive against Hairston and not worry about getting their shot blocked. Is it Jabari Parker? It most certainly isn’t because he is too valuable to the offense to be gaining fouls by trying to block shots. He doesn’t have the natural ability of someone like Mason Plumlee who stepped into and embraced the roll of blocking a shot.

            Is it Marshall Plumlee? It could be. Key word: Could. Marshall Plumlee has the build of a man who blocks shots. The problem is that he isn’t developed enough yet to get consistent minutes. Is it Amile Jefferson? I think it has to be and this is what I would look for in this one. Will Amile or Marshall step up as the paint protector who will alter the opponent’s shots and change UVA’s game plan? UVA is a big team with Mitchell standing at 6-8 and weighing in at 235lbs and Mike Tobey who is 6-11, 253lbs. Who will stop Tobey who has 3 inches on the tallest Duke starter? Look for UVA to play their offense through these big men and look to expose Duke’s weakness down low. Another thing to look for is who will guard Joe Harris who is a 6-6 guard. Here is who I believe will:

Cook – Perrantes

Sulaimon –Brogdon

Hood – Harris

Parker – Mitchell

Jefferson – Tobey

This is a huge game for Duke, one in which they must show that they can control the paint and limit opponents from willing getting to the bucket.