Virginia will make life difficult for Duke

It is not often the nation’s top-ranked college basketball team has two losses while the challenger that comes in at No. 4 is undefeated, but that is the case in the Duke-Virginia matchup.

Virginia has been a cover machine this season, going 13-3 against the spread with covers in 10 of its past 11 games. In that span, Virginia has been laying at least 3¹/₂ points in every game.

The Cavaliers also have held every opponent they have played except Virginia Tech in the months of December and January to season lows in points. This is a testament to its defense, which is second among Division I teams in efficiency and second in fewest possessions per game.

Duke has a ton of freshmen who never have played against a pack line defense like Virginia has, and the Blue Devils will be without starting point guard Tre Jones. He was injured in the first half of the team’s overtime loss to Syracuse on Monday, a game Duke led 14-6 prior to his departure.

This means RJ Barrett likely will have to handle the ball a lot, much like he did against Syracuse, though having Cam Reddish back after he missed that game will give him added support. Barrett had nine assists to two turnovers in that game, but he and Jack White shot a combined 4-of-27 from the 3-point line as they had a difficult time finding quality looks.

With Virginia first in the country in opponents’ 3-point shooting percentage on defense, it will make it difficult for Duke to find open looks.

Pair all this with Virginia being third among D-I teams in points per possession and making 40.9 percent of its 3-pointers as a team, it is clear the veteran Cavaliers are the side to back in this spot.

The play: Virginia, +2¹/₂.