Duke vs. Virginia: The Blue Devils' loss to Syracuse hasn't diminished Saturday's clash vs. the Cavaliers

DURHAM, N.C. -- When we last heard from Duke, the Blue Devils were answering questions about a surprising loss to Syracuse and preparing to play without Tre Jones for a while. Falling to the Orange was bad. The shoulder injury to the point guard seemed worse. And Mike Krzyzewski was explaining how life sometimes presents unexpected challenges and openly wondering how Duke would address these obstacles -- both longterm and in Saturday's matchup between Duke and Virginia that's so anticipated the cheapest ticket available via the secondary market, according to StubHub, was priced around $600 early Friday.

But the mood here on campus is different now.

The loss to Syracuse isn't really stinging anymore because time has a way of easing that pain. And the past few days have by all accounts been good days for Jones, who is now expected to return to the court soon even if he will miss this showdown with Virginia.

So that's the good news for Duke.

The bad news?

The bad news is that Virginia is up next.

And Virginia is tough bordering on impossible.

"They're tremendously talented -- and the guys who have been there and gotten more experience have gotten better," said Duke forward Javin DeLaurier, a Virginia native who went to high school just two minutes away from Virginia's campus. "Their perimeter -- Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De'Andre Hunter -- they're all tremendously talented. And they're deep. Coach [Tony] Bennett has a pretty good system up there. So they're going to be a tough team to face."

That's putting it mildly.

Duke, as you probably know, is ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 Poll and Sagarin ratings. But Virginia is No. 1 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, KenPom and NET rankings -- which makes this a rare No. 1 vs. No. 1 matchup. The Cavaliers are 16-0 with 12 double-digit victories. They're No. 3 in offensive efficiency. They're No. 2 in defensive efficiency. Only two teams have cracked the 60-point barrier against them. And they're coming off of a game in which they held No. 9 Virginia Tech to 59 points while shooting 58.5 percent from the field, 54.2 percent from 3-point range and 100.0 percent from the free-throw line.

I mean, what?

Another thing that makes this a difficult matchup for Duke is rooted in a quote Syracuse guard Tyus Battle delivered after the Orange beat the Blue Devils earlier this week. He said: "We were just letting them shoot the 3 — just backing up and trying to limit Zion [Williamson's] touches as much as possible."

Those words came after Duke missed 34 of 43 3-point attempts against Syracuse and underlined the biggest weakness for this immensely talented team -- specifically that Duke is shooting only 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this season, which ranks 267th nationally. Meantime, literally nobody guards the 3-point line better than Virginia -- which is holding opponents to a national-best 25.1 percent from 3-point range. So this is an obvious area of concern for the Blue Devils. If they don't shoot 3-pointers better than they shot them against Syracuse, and better than teams usually shoot them against Virginia, they'll likely enter next week on a two-game losing streak. All that said, don't forget this: Duke still has three projected top-five picks, the winningest Division I men's basketball coach in history and home-court advantage. So even without Jones, the Blue Devils are capable of beating Virginia.

Anybody suggesting otherwise is silly.

Bottom line, by Sunday morning, the sports world's attention will be focused on Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, on Drew Brees and Jared Goff, on two massive NFL games that will create the Super Bowl matchup. But Saturday night belongs to college basketball.

It's No. 1 Duke vs. No. 1 Virginia.

It's the biggest game of this season to date.

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Gary Parrish is an award-winning college basketball columnist and television analyst for CBS Sports who also hosts the highest-rated afternoon drive radio show in Memphis, where he lives with his wife... Full Bio

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