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Virginia vs. Duke Odds & Pick: Bet the Blue Devils Without Jalen Johnson

Virginia vs. Duke Odds & Pick: Bet the Blue Devils Without Jalen Johnson article feature image

Mark Brown/Getty Images. Pictured: The Duke Blue Devils.

  • The Duke Blue Devils will take on the Virginia Cavaliers in an ACC matchup on Saturday night.
  • Duke is now without star freshman Jalen Johnson, but it might move forward as an improved team.
  • Stuckey thinks that's the case, and he explains why the Blue Devils can cover without Johnson on the floor.

Virginia vs. Duke Odds

Virginia Odds
Duke Odds
-136 / +112
Time | TV
Saturday, 8 p.m. ETESPN
Odds as of Saturday morning and via DraftKings.

Don’t forget that Virginia is still the reigning national champions.

The Hoos, who probably would get a No. 3 seed if the season ended today, will once again have a say come March. They currently sit atop the ACC standings at 11-3 although they did drop their most recent game at Florida State.

The picture isn’t as rosy for Duke, which sits at 9-8 overall and 7-6 in the ACC. If the season ended today, the Blue Devils would likely be on the outside looking in.

Can they pick up an enormous Quad 1 win to boost their resume on Saturday night? Let’s take a look.

Reasons for Optimism in Duke Country

We know who Virginia is under Tony Bennett.

The Cavaliers play at the slowest Adjusted Tempo in the entire country and run a packed-in defense that doesn’t allow much of anything at the rim.

The Hoos don’t turn it over offensively (15th nationally) and don’t crash the offensive glass (319th) by design in order to prevent teams from getting out in transition. They also don’t force many turnovers (323rd) in their pack-line, but that allows them to dominate the defensive glass (16th).

Usually known for its defense, Virginia has actually been better on offense this year. It ranks in the 99th percentile (sixth overall) in terms of points per possession in half-court offense, per Synergy.

Jay Huff is a 7-footer who presents plenty of matchup problems on both ends, and he’s also a dead-eye shooter. Kihei Clark runs the show and has two deadly shooters on the wings in Trey Murphy and Sam Hauser. It’s an uber-efficient offense.

The defense has still been good, but it’s not as elite as we’ve seen in recent seasons. It doesn’t allow much in transition but has struggled mightily in that department when teams can get out and run.

And in the half-court, it only ranks in the 65th percentile nationally. The Cavs are still dominant against pick-and-roll and in the post, but teams can beat them on the perimeter if they can penetrate and kick to capable shooters. Virginia ranks only in the 31st percentile on spot-up jumpers.

So, can Duke take advantage? I actually think it can find some success on offense with a rejuvenated lineup. The primary question you have to ask when it comes to the Blue Devils right now is are they really much better without Jalen Johnson, who recently opted out for the remainder of the season, and if so, by how much?

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I had to pay to find out after fading Duke the past two games, but I actually think the answer is a resounding yes.

There were rumors of major locker room and chemistry issues with the uber-talented Johnson, who could never really find his role with the club. I also think they are much better defensively with 7-footer Mark Williams defending the rim.

Johnson was great on offense in creating offense near the rim and on putbacks, but that’s just something nobody is really going to get against Virginia. I also have seen dramatic improvement overall on the defensive end of the floor from Duke, which just looked so soft in that department early in the year.

Betting Analysis & Pick

You have to make some assumptions on just how much better this Duke team is now without Johnson, but the eye test and some recent underlying metrics (albeit in a small sample size) suggest some reason for optimism in Durham.

Something like this happening also isn’t unprecedented for Duke. Some may recall in 2015 when Coach K dismissed Rasheed Sulaimon from the team after 20 games.

Some had questions about the Blue Devils at the time, but they eventually went on to win 19 of their final 20 games, including the national title, after losing Sulaimon.

Now, this team doesn’t have anywhere close to the same ceiling and Johnson is a better talent, but that doesn’t mean this Duke team can’t become a tournament team.

This very young Duke team (344th in experience, per KenPom) will have to bring its A-game against this tricky defense. And it will certainly have to make outside shots, but it at least has capable shooters unlike North Carolina last weekend, which simply doesn’t have the shooting prowess.

Now, fading Bennett and the Hoos has not been a profitable venture in the past (223-169-6 ATS 56.9%), and this Virginia team should come out hungry after its loss against FSU.

However, I think I may take a shot on what I’ve seen from the Blue Devils here in the ultimate desperation spot for a young team oozing with confidence without Johnson.

Pick: Duke +2 or better.

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