How does UVA guard Duke? How does Duke guard UVA?
First, the elephant in the room: Zion Williamson.
What does Tony Bennett do to stop the unstoppable force?
I don’t think, at the outset, that you approach Williamson with a single guy. No such guy – a Shutdown Zion Williamson Guy – exists, not in college, not in the NBA.
You don’t stop Zion Williamson, as the saying goes: you only hope to contain him.
What you will see will depend a bit on how Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski approaches his Tre Jones problem.
Does he go big – with Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier surrounding his Big Three? Does he spread the floor – going with three-point guys Jack White and Alex O’Connell?
Most likely, it’s a little of both, to see what works.
When Duke goes big, I think you see Tony Bennett counter, lineup-wise, with what has been his starting lineup for the past month: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter, Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt.
In that configuration, I think Hunter starts out on Williamson, to try to take away Williamson’s dribble-drive game, make him one-dimensional, in the post, with help when he gets the ball in the post from post-to-post doubles from Salt or Diakite.
I’d expect, too, to see Diakite get some defensive possessions on Williamson against the Duke big lineup. Hunter can hold his own against either DeLaurier or Bolden in the post, and you’d force Duke to recognize the switch and run a set for Williamson to get the ball on the wing.
You basically tell Diakite in this setting, sag, give him space for a jump shot, let Williamson be a jump shooter, then close out.
You could try Salt, but, no, actually, I don’t know that you could try Salt. That just invites a clear-out and an ESPN highlight.
If Duke goes small, if you can call White at 6’7” and O’Connell at 6’6”, alongside Williamson (6’7”), R.J. Barrett (6’7”) and Cam Reddish (6’8”) going small, the best defensive lineup might be Guy, Jerome, Hunter, Diakite and Braxton Key.
With this lineup, you can rotate three guys on Williamson: Diakite, Hunter and Key. Post-to-post doubles are still key here, and rotations behind the doubles are even more important, with three Duke guys spotting up on the three-point line, and Barrett cutting backdoor, as the price to pay for getting caught out of position.
Now, the other side of the Zion Williamson story: who does he guard?
Williamson, to his credit, is the top-rated defender in the Duke rotation, per sports-reference.com.
Part of the reason for that is that he has been playing the four defensively, and playing post D at 6’7”, 285 in college, you’re not going to get a lot of college kids who can compete, strength-wise, with a guy that NFL left tackles would need help from a tight end or running back to protect the blind side.
I wrote yesterday about how the loss of Tre Jones impacts the Duke offense. What his absence means defensively is, yes, you don’t have him hawking the opponent point guard and streaking into passing lanes, but another impact is on what it means for where Williamson needs to be able to check.
If Coach K goes big, that means Williamson is at the three, which puts him on Hunter.
Now, Hunter, on the defensive end, gives up 60 pounds to Williamson, which invites Williamson to take Hunter into the post to use his size and strength to his advantage.
But Williamson being stuck on Hunter when Duke is on defense invites Hunter to take Williamson away from the basket, which does a couple of things.
One, Hunter has the advantage there, either dribble-driving or shooting the open three if Williamson sags to prevent the dribble drive.
Two, pulling Williamson away from the hoop makes it harder for him to patrol the lane for the help side block that ESPN has also come to love.
So, chess match: as much as the big lineup looks great on paper, the need on defense may force Duke to go with the smaller, three-and-D lineup with their Big Three alongside White and O’Connell, which allows Williamson to guard whoever Virginia’s big is – Diakite or Salt – leaving him free for rim protection.
How does Kihei Clark fit in?
I wrote yesterday that the absence of Tre Jones may make it hard for 5’9” freshman Kihei Clark to have much of an impact on this one.
Clark was the defensive MVP of Virginia’s 81-59 win over #7 Virginia Tech on Tuesday, getting in the head of Hokies senior guard Justin Robinson to the point that Robinson ended up getting T’d up in the second half of a frustrating nine-point, two-assist night.
Clark got 30 minutes off the bench Tuesday night. I’m not sure what he gets Saturday at Duke.
The two ways I see Duke going lineup-wise to account for the loss of Jones has them going basically big either way.
The smallest guy on the court in either scenario is 6’6”. Clark, if you believe that he’s actually 5’9”, is giving up nine inches to everybody.
I suspect that Krzyzewski will give some bench minutes to 6’2” sophomore guard Jordan Goldwire, but by and large, he likely goes to a point-guard-by-committee approach, with Barrett at 6’7” the primary.
I’d love it if Clark got some minutes on Barrett and had anything resembling the level of success that he had checking Robinson Tuesday night, but, c’mon, that would be incredibly ballsy for Bennett to even try.
How does Duke defend Virginia without Jones?
Virginia gets a lot of credit for how hard it makes life for opponents to run offense, but it can be just as hard or harder on the defensive end keeping up with the Mover-Blocker for 20, 25 seconds, constant screens and cuts, running a marathon and fighting through bumps 60 times over the course of two hours.
That’s what Barrett and Reddish can look forward to on Saturday, assuming Duke plays straight-up.
Both Jerome and Guy are threats from the perimeter, on dribble-drives into the lane and dump-downs to bigs cutting to the rim, and the way Virginia initiates is unlike anything Duke has seen and will see.
The wear and tear that you get from having to keep up has as much to do with the effectiveness of the Pack Line as the hard hedge, the post-to-post double and the backside rotations.
Which is why it wouldn’t surprise me to see Krzyzewski go zone: either sprinkling it in for stretches, or just chucking the man entirely.
With the size that either lineup that I’m expecting Duke to use being almost absurdly big, the effect could be Syracuse-like in terms of what you’d see in terms of impact on jump shooters.
You’re talking at least 6’6” at the top and on the wings, and crashing down on the high-post entry pass at the free-throw line.
One thing a zone does is concede tempo to UVA, because you’re not going to get a lot of run-outs from a 2-3.
You could look at that, though, and say, might as well concede tempo anyway, because, it is Virginia we’re playing here.
Forget the live-ball turnovers, which aren’t going to come, and try to out-Virginia Virginia, in essence.
There would be a surprise element to this strategy, for sure. Duke used zone last season to cover up for deficiencies in that group’s defensive abilities, but this year’s Duke team has proven to be borderline-elite in the man-to-man.
But that was with Tre Jones.
I’d suspect that Bennett is working at least some on zone offense in anticipation.
Column by Chris Graham