Virginia’s veterans have plenty of big-game experience. The fourth-ranked Cavaliers will need all of it to get through a week that includes two matchups against top-10 Atlantic Coast Conference opponents.
The Cavaliers have a home game Tuesday against ninth-ranked Virginia Tech followed by a trip to top-ranked Duke on Saturday, a two-game set that will headline the week’s schedule for AP Top 25 teams.
“The team that’s most ready, that executes for 40 minutes or whatever it takes is the best team for that day,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said on the league teleconference of his team playing with the high ranking. “Otherwise it’s inconsequential. It doesn’t matter. It can mean up to that point, you’ve played good basketball … but once you step between the lines, it’s not as significant.”
Virginia (15-0, 3-0 ACC) enters the week as one of the nation’s last two unbeaten teams along with second-ranked Michigan. The Cavaliers are 3-0 against ranked opponents this season, including a win against then-No. 9 Florida State last week.
And that comes after last year’s Cavaliers went 20-1 against ACC teams to sweep the league’s regular-season and tournament titles. The lone loss came at home against the Hokies (14-1, 3-0), who return to Charlottesville on Tuesday carrying their first top-10 ranking in a season since January 1996.
Then there’s a trip to Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, where Virginia won last year to essentially wrap up the ACC race in late January.
This year’s Virginia team entered the week ranked sixth nationally in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency (117.8 points per 100 possessions) and second in adjusted defensive efficiency (84.9). Both of those numbers are better than last season’s average, while veterans Kyle Guy (15.3 points), De’Andre Hunter (14.0) and Ty Jerome (13.1) have all upped their averages to lead the offense.
The attention at Duke has focused on star freshmen Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, but the play of freshman point guard Tre Jones — particularly his ability to pressure the ball — has been a key component to making the Blue Devils’ defense work. That’s why Monday’s overtime home loss to Syracuse could prove to be a critical moment.
Jones went down with a right shoulder injury when he collided with the Orange’s Frank Howard while pursuing a loose ball in the first half and didn’t return. The school later said Jones has an acromioclavicular (AC) joint separation and will be out indefinitely, which could be a major blow to a defense that ranked third nationally in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency (87.0 points allowed per 100 possessions) entering the game.
Duke also played without freshman Cam Reddish, who was dealing with flu-like symptoms.
“This was a very difficult night for our basketball program, and our team,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “and we’ll figure it out.”
Kentucky jumped six spots to No. 12 in Monday’s latest poll , matching No. 15 Marquette for the week’s highest jump. The Wildcats (12-3, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) have two league road games this week, first at Georgia on Tuesday before visiting No. 14 Auburn on Saturday night. The latter is a matchup of the preseason SEC favorite in the Wildcats and a Tigers team picked to finish third.
WOLVERINES ON THE ROAD
Michigan (17-0, 6-0 Big Ten) visits an unranked opponent in its only game, though the Wolverines are visiting a Wisconsin team that was ranked for seven straight weeks before dropping out of last week’s poll. The Badgers peaked at No. 12 in early December and played Virginia close in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game in the Bahamas over the Thanksgiving holiday.
The top 10 remained unchanged from last week, but there was plenty of movement after 12 of the 15 teams outside the top 10 lost at least once while combining for 17 defeats. The changes included No. 24 Mississippi State falling 10 spots after two losses (the Bulldogs face Florida on Tuesday) while four teams joined the poll.
One was Mississippi, which checked in at No. 18 after beating ranked Auburn and Mississippi State to earn its first AP Top 25 ranking since January 2013. The Rebels host LSU on Tuesday night in their first game as a ranked team in six years.
Louisville went from looking shaken after losing to Pittsburgh to a team with revamped confidence in handing a ranked North Carolina team its worst home loss under Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams. The Cardinals led the teams receiving votes just outside the poll and have favorable games at home against Boston College and at Georgia Tech this week.
The next wave of teams among the top unranked vote-getters were Nebraska, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa State — teams that have all been ranked this season. The Cornhuskers got off to a good start by beating No. 25 Indiana on Monday night and will face No. 6 Michigan State on Thursday.
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